Defining Principles

Maybe it’s a good thing that the Olympic games are starting soon. Even if they are held on the other side of the world, I think it’s as good a time as any to remind this nation of the spectacular feats of strength, speed, and sport that can be accomplished when talent is combined with hard work and perseverance. But more than just being a welcome distraction for sports fans, I’m hoping that the entire nation takes note of these individual stories of trial and success.


While I don’t know who will win medals this August, I can tell you fairly confidently that those who do will all share at least one thing in common: They have all faced times in their lives when they dealt with the hardship of putting their long-term goals ahead of short-term gain. They all accepted the absolute need for sacrifice while facing only an uncertain probability of success.


That’s why the athletes who participate in this Summer Olympics are to be cherished, not because they run faster, jump higher, or throw further, but because they prove the value of strength in character that enables strength in competition. It’s a lesson that we all need to learn in our own daily lives, whether or not we ever pick up a javelin or strap on a pair of cleats.


In my opinion, it’s this lesson that is often escaping a growing percentage of the American population. With the individual struggles that flourish in an unstable economy, now is a time to hold fast to the values that made this nation great. Hard times call for a strengthened resolve and a passion to persevere. I’m not suggesting that we all don’t need a helping hand once in a while, or that the government can’t take an active role in assisting its citizens in need. But, what determines whether or not the ideals of social assistance will work is not how programs are established or how much money is allocated. What matters most is each person’s definition of the words “can’t” and “won’t”.


I have no problem with helping a person who CAN’T do it on their own, but it gets a little more complicated when we’re talking about mandatory assistance for those who simply WON’T do it on their own; because it’s difficult, because they might have to take a longer road to success, or because they might have to work harder, overcome more obstacles, or fight unfair prejudices or policies.


My concern is that the politicians who currently inhabit most of Washington seem to allow any given circumstance to qualify as a valid reason to quit. And it’s teaching people the wrong thing. If things aren’t equal, you don’t stop fighting; you fight harder. If the game is not to your advantage, find a way to win anyway; don’t just sit and wait for someone to change the rules.


Kids today aren’t even allowed to play certain games at school because parents are worried about the implications of any possible failure. Well, I’m here to tell you that when I was a kid, we played dodgeball, we played tag, and we even played a game called “smear the queer”. I was small, I wasn’t that strong, and yes, I was constantly picked last. And you know what? I lost more often than I won. But I picked myself up again and again, and eventually persevered. And those lessons stay with me to this day.


With gas prices skyrocketing and the rest of our utility bills sure to follow suit, it’s an unfortunate reality that we as a nation will face an increasing number of needy and underprivileged families. But while a government check might sound simple and straightforward, it doesn’t necessarily provide the best method of assistance. As the proverb says, give a man a fish and he eats for a day, but teach a man to fish and he eats for a lifetime. But what’s lost in that lesson is that the man has to WANT to fish, has to want to learn the trade, has to want the opportunity to work hard and bring in the catch.


And that desire isn’t something that can be given. It has to be learned on its own. It has to come from the heart of a person who realizes that failure is not a final destination, but a necessary risk toward eventual achievement. And that is why I cringe when I hear politicians offering broad sweeping handouts or revolutionary new welfare programs that do nothing to assure that the effort will be put forth.


With the cost of living soaring and the average income failing to keep pace, we will all face challenges and choices. The true cost of convenience will have to be evaluated by every individual and the price of short term luxury will have to be weighed against the need for long-term security. Just as an athlete must overcome mental boundaries and physical limitations, we will all likely face new hurdles.


But, I’m hoping that the competitive nature in all of us will pull through. I’m hoping that a new American teamwork will prevail. I hope that those who can will help those who can’t, and that those who wouldn’t before will now make an attempt. And this August, I hope to see those who fought hard rewarded, if not with a medal, then at least with the admiration of all of us who recognize the importance of the will to try.

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Volume 4, Issue 15, Posted 8:53 AM, 07.14.2008