The power of perseverance
For those of you looking for hope in a seemingly hopeless world, I strongly recommend one watch Bryan Stevenson’s, the President of the Equal Justice Initiative, TED Talk. In it, Mr. Stevenson recounts a conversation he once had with Rosa Parks. As the social activist explains his organization’s mission, Mrs. Parks exhales, gathers her thoughts and responds, “Oh boy… that’s going to make you tired, tired, and tired.”
The lack of political statesmanship, escalating nuclear tensions, non-stop climate disasters, and our country’s largest mass murder have certainly made many of us tired, tired, and tired.
Despite these trying times, I hope we don’t find solace in political solitude. We instead, march on and understand the fundamentally important psychological and politically reasons for persevering.
In these stressful moments, it is understandable to give up and retreat to our ideological echo chambers or simply disengage from politics all together. The perpetual state of outrage and agony wrecks an emotional toll on our mental health. Having to continually keep up with the political mishaps hampers our urge to be civically active, and worse, our ability to be empathetic to others suffering.
President John F. Kennedy once virtuously remarked, “Don’t pray for easy lives. Pray to be stronger men.”
And Psychologist Angela Duckworth explained, “Enthusiasm is common. Endurance is rare.”
Both are right. We must pray to be strong, but also endure. Because there is not the time to succumb to the cacophony of the current Presidential political rhetoric or wave the white flag to dangerous policy changes.
Justifying repugnant rhetoric only invites more repugnance in the future. When our country’s moral compass is out of sync, it is paramount to stand up and fight to properly adjust it and set it on its right course. Moreover, apart from extraordinary exceptional events, creating a silent majority that withdraws from the Democratic process rarely leads to noteworthy progress.
As wearisome as the status quo may be, it is a more perilous period for others. More than four in ten U.S. children are living close to the poverty line, suicide rates for adolescent boys and girls have been steadily rising since 2007, 25% of incoming freshman will fail to graduate from high school, the United States houses 22% of the world’s prisoners, and we haven’t even touched the topics of race, Appalachia, or climate change.
But history shows, if we continue to persevere we can achieve tangible positive results. On June 20, 1979, the Carter administration installed 32 panels designed to harvest the sun’s rays and use them to heat water. He was mocked and ridiculed by both parties. Almost thirty years later we are witnessing the rising rapid adoption of solar energy. Three times as many workers are employed by the solar industry than the entire coal mining industry.
In November 19, 1945 President Truman called for universal healthcare. Granted, the current system is far from optimal, but today 11% of Americans lack health insurance — down from the 35% when America’s 33rd President called for complete coverage.
Around the same time, a young female from Tuskegee, Alabama joined the Montgomery chapter of the NAACP. One morning in 1943, a young bus driver by the name of James Blake ejected this lady from the bus after she refused to re-enter the vehicle through the back door after paying her fare at the front. Over the next decade, she continued to be involved in the Civil Rights movement.
Almost 12 years later, on the afternoon of December 1, 1955, returning home from her job as an assistant tailor at a Montgomery, Alabama, department store, she boarded bus 2857 on the Cleveland Avenue line. When told to give up her seat for a white man, she refused and was arrested for violating the city’s racial segregation laws. Her act of civil disobedience precipitated the 13-month Montgomery Bus Boycott, which was led by Martin Luther King, Jr.
Her name was Rosa Parks.
It’s difficult to imagine or pinpoint the grit or inspiration behind the perseverance for these noble and brave acts. It’s probably even more difficult to fathom that such societal improvements can occur today. My dear friend explained to me that perseverance is something we do when we’re faced with pain — of failure, loss, unworthiness, etc. If it weren’t for pain, persevering wouldn’t be a construct.
We must push through that pain and believe that our young Democracy will continue to experience a graceful evolution that we are unable to currently envision. If we do, I am (somewhat) optimistic that we can persevere and make some progress that decades from now we can look to as a symbol of hope.