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Posted Saturday, January 18, 2003

A Virtue We All Need To Continue to Cultivate
to Remain Young at Heart Perseverance

Failure the Line of Least Persistence

from the book: Say Yes to Life already cited


One of Adlai Stevenson's favorite stories concerned a man who was being interviewed on his hundredth birthday. Naturally, he was asked to what he attributed his longevity.

He answered, "I have never smoked, imbibed in alcohol, nor overeaten. I go to bed early and I get up early."

"You know," said the reporter, "I had an uncle who lived exactly that way, and he only lived to the age of ninety. To what do you attribute that?"

The old man replied, "He just didn't keep it up long enough."

In the old man's humorous response, we find a sad reflection on one of our most common human failings a lack of perseverance and persistence. We set out for great goals with matching enthusiasm, but we just don't keep it up long enough. And when we lose the will and the determination to persevere in our quest, we have lost perhaps the will and determination to persevere in our quest, we have lost perhaps the single most important requirement for success. Failure is the line of least pesistence.

"Nothing in the world," wrote Calvin Coolidge, "can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent."

Persistence is crucial not only for reaching outward goals but also for retaining our inner visions.

One of the glorious characteristics of youth is its capacity for bold dreams, its ability to believe in the good and true and the beautiful. But as we grow older we tend to become weary and cynical, and we shed the high resolves and noble dreams that set us aflame in our tender years.

Reflecting on this change. Dr. Albert Schweitzer wrote:

We believed once in the victory of truth; but we do not now.
We believed in goodness; we do not now.
We were zealous for justice, but we are not so now.
We trusted in the power of kindness, peaceableness; we do not now.
We were capable of enthusiasm, but we are not so now.
To get through the shoals and storms of life more easily we have lightened our craft,
throwing overboard what we thought could be spared.
But it was really our stock of food and drink of which we deprived ourselves;
our craft is now easier to manage but we ourselves are in decline.


It would be most instructive for all of us, and very humbling for many of us, if we compared our goals today with the ideals we cherished ten or twenty years ago. How many lives have suffered a progressive deterioration of motive, a gradual contraction of purpose and shrinking of the horizons?

How many of us went forth in our chosen vocations dedicated to justice, and then decided to play it safe?

How many of us swore in our youthful hearts that we would try to heal the hurt of humanity, only to find ourselves preoccupied exclusively with our own comforts and luxuries?

How many of us stood on the threshold of parenthood and vowed that we would execute faithfully the sacred responsibilities it confers, only to become absentee parents who give our children everything except what they need most ourselves?

How many of us promised ourselves that when we had more time, when life's economic demands would become less insistent, we would take seriously our religious obligations? Then, we came upon more leisure than we had ever had, we became more comfortable than we had ever been, and we decided to invest our added time and resources exclusively in amusement, recreation and self-delight.

Dr. Schweitzer, who sensitively diagnosed our malady, also prescribed a cure. He advises us, "The great secret of success is to go through life as a man who never gets used up. Grow into your ideals so that life can never rob you of them."

Remember, a diamond is just a piece of coal that stayed on the job.