During the American Revolutionary War, Thomas Paine presented his case for independence from England in a pamphlet titled Common Sense. He also wrote a series of essays collectively titled The Crisis. Many of us are familiar with the opening sentence of the initial essay of December 23, 1776: “These are the times that try men’s souls.” With these words he began his ongoing support for an independent and self-governing America through the war’s many crises. General George Washington found the essay so inspiring he ordered it read to the troops at Valley Forge.
Paine emphasized: “The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives every thing its value. Heaven knows how to put a proper price upon its goods; and it would be strange indeed if so celestial an article as FREEDOM should not be highly rated. Britain, with an army to enforce her tyranny, has declared that she has a right (not only to TAX) but ‘to BIND us in ALL CASES WHATSOEVER’ and if being bound in that manner, is not slavery, then is there not such a thing as slavery upon earth. Even the expression is impious; for so unlimited a power can belong only to God.”
We observed and celebrated Independence Day this year in the midst of another series of crises. These current economic, cultural, moral and political crises may be miniscule compared to those in 1776, but they can be truly deemed crises. Experienced individually and collectively, they are present on various levels throughout the world. Thus, it came as no surprise when my recent column titled “Don’t give in, don’t give out, don’t give up” drew numerous e-mails and comments.
One respondent told me, “This could not have come at a better and more opportune time. I have been discouraged by a number of things: some health-related issues, some age-related issues, some family-related issues and some dream-related issues.” A company CEO wrote, “I have had employees making some positive comments about your column today.” An entertainer said, “We all currently need such inspiration and encouragement.”
Readers especially commented on my wife Jean’s words (and the column title): “Don’t give in, don’t give out, don’t give up.” And comments came heavily regarding the column’s final paragraph: “Players, coaches, teachers, students, employers, employees, spouses, parents, children… everyone needs to encourage and to be encouraged. Have you ever failed at anything? I have. Have you ever gotten down on yourself? I have. Have you ever needed encouragement? I have. Have you ever been encouraged by someone? I have. Have you ever been an encourager? I have. As (LSU baseball player) Jared Mitchell said, ‘It’s everybody pulling together…’ and never giving up.”
No, the individual and group crises we are experiencing today can’t compare to those of Thomas Paine’s day, nor can my words of encouragement and challenge make any mark whatsoever on the Richter scale in comparison to Paine’s words. The truth of the matter, however, is that we must never lose sight of the vital necessity of individual and group persistence. Sometimes it’s a huge challenge to maintain the philosophy I emphasize in my Winning Thoughts book: “Often, the main difference between an obstacle and an opportunity is the attitude with which we face it. Are you pinned-in on your own one-yard line – or – do you have a great opportunity to go 99 yards for a touchdown!” It is a challenge. But we can do it. Together.