On October 29, 1941 Winston Churchill, who was the first leader to stand up to Hitler and who held England together through those first years of horror in World War II, made at speech at his boyhood school, Harrow.
In that speech he delivered one of his most famous lines: “Young men, never give up! Never give up! Never give up!! Never, never, never-never-never-never!”
The line was clearly intended to inspire, not just Harrow students, but the rest of England. And it did. It helped England stand up and fight. It inspired allies around the world.
Over time, millions more people have been inspired by it. They’ve refused to be stymied by adversity; they weathered it and worked through to success.
Imagine the world if Churchill hadn’t believed so strongly in never giving up. Imagine the US if Lincoln hadn’t been adamant in his opposition to slavery. Imagine so many things without Thomas Edison famous habit of never, ever giving up.
(Although, I guess if Washington had caved to the British we would all be speaking better English.)
“Never give up! Never give up!! Never, never, never-never-never-never!” is a very powerful approach to life.
Still, there’s a counter to that, albeit from someone just a little less heroic than Churchill. In 1978, Kenny Rogers released “The Gambler”. ”You got to know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ‘em,” he sang, “know when to walk away and know when to run.”
Therein lies a rub for us mortals: when to choose between the philosophies of “Never, never, never-never-never-never!” and poker.
For the past year (well, probably since his father bounced that first silver dollar off his head), Trump has played poker with Congress over everything, but most of all, his 5 billion dollar wall.
This week Trump and the Congress are squaring off over whether to shut down the entire government over that one issue. The last time it was shut down in 2013, it put 800,000 people out of work for awhile.
“If we don’t get what we want, one way or the other, whether it’s through you, through military, through anything you want to call, I will shut down the government”, Trump told Schumer last week.
So, now there’s a Mexican standoff over, not infrastructure, not healthcare, not China tariffs, not Climate Change, not the national debt or myriad other things, but a wall for Mexico.
The rest of us are like the little kid in the restaurant watching a couple at the next table fight over that second martini.
If you’re sparring over the passing lane with an 18 wheeler maybe “fold ‘em” is the better approach. If you’re trying to rush a dying friend to the hospital, “never give up!” works a lot better.
If you’re an NFL player, you can get fired for folding. If you’re a college kid you shouldn’t earn a reputation for never giving up in drinking contests. You probably shouldn’t play chicken with a Brown bear.
Relationships are really tricky; when you fight with your boy/girl friend, do you work through the problem or play poker with him/her? It all depends: are you in love or in like?
Most goals aren’t as critical as Churchill’s. Trump’s wall isn’t critical to the country; running an honest government is. It isn’t crucial for every college kid to graduate Phi Beta Kappa. It isn’t crucial for every relationship to be successful –just THE one. The only time to play chicken with a brown bear is when he’s eyeballing one of your kids for dinner.
Churchill couldn’t choose between walking or running. He had to stand fast, persevere. Presidents have a choice about winning political battles, but they don’t have a choice about doing the right thing for the country. A college student’s goal should be to “Never, never, never-never-never-never!” stop trying to learn. If that boy/girl is your best shot at happiness, you should become the Churchill of romance (Ok, that’s a weird visual, but remember, at one time he was trim and dashing – and he and Clementine did, in fact, become each other’s happiness.).
Harriet Tubman, Steve Jobs and John McCain, and so many others, from Lincoln to Martin Luther King, knew when, not just to “hold ‘em” or “fold ‘em”, but to “never give in”.
A lot of life is a poker game. A lot isn’t. Knowing the difference is key.