Monday, February 28, 2011

Sir Winston Churchill - Tenacity

Never give in, never give in, never; never; never; never - in nothing, great or small, large or petty - never give in except to convictions of honor and good sense.

You cannot tell from appearances how things will go. Sometimes imagination makes things out far worse than they are; yet without imagination not much can be done.
Those people who are imaginative see many more dangers than perhaps exist; certainly many more than will happen; but then they must also pray to be given that extra courage to carry this far-reaching imagination.

Robert L. Fielding: You say, ‘Never give in’, Sir, but what if your fear conquers you?

Sir Winston Churchill: We should, I think, first talk about that word – what it means, and what people are afraid of, before we speak of how to never give in, even when the fear inside you says ‘Enough!’ Fear is surely only apprehension of a hurt or a danger, of something going amiss. I do not think fear is an emotion that has any basis in one’s real circumstance.

RLF: But surely, if a man feels he is falling off a cliff, he will be afraid of falling and being killed, will he not?

SWC: He most surely will be afraid. But, my contention is, Sir, that he feels fear before he falls, not while he is falling. The fall deadens his feelings just as surely as the impact when he hits the ground will deaden him. It is the apprehension of the fall that gives him fear, and, as I have said, ‘We have nothing to fear except fear itself’.

RLF: Why did you say that? What did you mean?

SWC: I meant that fear is the moment before the fall, not the fall itself. Yet that fear can make a man immobile, make him as though he were hewn from stone – from granite.

RLF: Can we learn from that? What can we take from that thought?

SWC: We can be like granite – granite-like, I should say, for were we to have remained immobile in those hours of our deadliest danger, we should have perished. Instead, the tyrant and his armies found us granite-like but mobile, conquering our fear of being conquered, and that was why I said what I did, when I did.

RLF: It was a timely utterance, was it not?

SWC: It was indeed, and yet I know enough of my fellow countryman to know him to be steadfast in belief, and we stood alone against all threats to our sovereignty and ourselves, and that we did by first overcoming our fear, even in the face of such an imminent fall.

RLF: You speak of imagining things far worse than they are?

SWC: I did indeed, and I must now speak of my own imagination – imagining things far better than they are, for that is my own fortitude bearing on me. I have been in desperate straits in my life – in South Africa, in Sudan, and standing before tyranny of all hues and dyes, there being but one – black! I have had the fortitude of mind, of spirit, to go on when every sinew in my body cried out to stay and capitulate. Yet, I never, never would, and nor will I ever do so.

RLF: So you overcame your fear, did you?

SWC: I am not so sure that overcame is the word I would use to describe my bearing in times of great peril. To overcome fear might be to ignore it, and that is something that might prove injurious, were we to do it.

RLF: Why would that be?

SWC: Because a certain amount of fear is vital to one’s excelling. As a junior Minister, having to stand at the Despatch Box in the House of Commons, I would almost tremble with trepidation at what I had to do – convince the whole House that what I was saying was correct – the right and proper thing to do.

RLF: How did fear help you, Sir?

SWC: It prepared my mind, as certainly as if my mind were a patch of land upon which furrows had to be made, wheat sewn and harvested in the fullness of time. My mind being prepared meant that I was aware of the enormity of what I had to do, and also that I was equal to the task of doing it.

Can you understand me? My fear, my limited and controlled fear was a tool I used to found the steel of my resolve. I tempered it with the power of my oratorical skills, learned from standing on soap boxes in Oldham and the like while still yet a little green and wet behind the ears. Yet even then, I have seen the power of my own words, how they moved strong men to action, women to tears, and children to ball. For make no mistake, Sir, words are the tools of my trade, and I have conquered my own fear and helped to conquer the fears of my fellows in time of warfare with them.

Let those who face us be afraid, let those who dare to confront our freedoms live in fear for their safety. We will never live under the yoke of tyranny, and will not fear anyone who does not walk in ways that are not ours, or those of the Lord, our God.

RLF: Let us now think about the imagination. You say that sometimes imagination makes things seem far worse than they are. Surely it can make things seem far better than they are too.

SWC: Indeed, I did say that. It seems to me, Sir, that you can just given as nice a definition of pessimism and of optimism as you are ever likely to hear.

RLF: Yes, and that despite ‘things’ being as they are – in reality.

SWC: Ah, reality. What is that exactly?

RLF: It is the actuality of events.

SWC: You are using semantics, Sir, not logic. Can we say that the here and now is reality? What is happening now is real, would you say?

RLF: Yes, of course.

SWC: But as soon as the present becomes the past, is it still reality?

RLF: Surely, it happened, so it must be real.

SWC: But then it is reported – someone relates what happens – how is that real?

RLF: Why is it not real? If you report what has passed here, would it not be real?

SWC: You can say that even in the face of my putting my own gloss on events, enlarging my part in our conversation at the expense of your own, putting your words into my mouth, and mine into yours. Would you still call that reality?

RLF: No, I see what you mean.

SWC: What we call reality – the reality of the past – history, if you will, is always one particular version of events – in battle, the victor’s, in peace, the legislator’s, never the vanquished, or the downtrodden. Their reality would be quite different, would it not?

Were you to ask the defeated of the events of that day in 1815, at the battle of Waterloo, were you to ask the French, they would speak of fortunes of war, of the inclement weather, of the timely arrival of the Prussians. They would say nothing of their own shortcomings, of the Grand Armee’s slavish obedience to that upstart Emperor recently come from Elba to lead his nation against ours. That would be for us to outline in the catalogue of the day’s defeat of the French, for make no mistake, the victor is just as likely to embellish the truth every bit as the vanquished.

RLF: So there is no reality?

SWC: I think reality is a device, if you will, that we use to justify our actions. The imagination is more real than you might imagine, if you forgive my phrasing.

RLF: How can that be? How can something one imagines be real?

SWC: Because it informs actions. You imagine you are about to be defeated in battle, and your valiance is impaired.

RFL: But some might be spurred on by the thought they might be defeated, might they not?

SWC: They might, and that is true fortitude in the face of impossible odds. That is what this race of people possessed in those dark years of the early years of the Second World War, when we stood alone against the might of Germany’s advances to the very shores of mainland Europe. We may well have imagined we were on the verge of catastrophe, but we did not give in to those thoughts, we never allowed ourselves to be defeated in spirit, and a nation that does that can never be defeated, even in the jaws of that monstrous being – defeat.

RLF: So you are saying that although imagination may tell you one thing, you are at will to act in another, are you not?

SWC: I am. Just so. And in that lies the seeds of real freedom – the freedom of the spirit, for that can never be owned or directed if it is not wished for devoutly. It is the frustration of the tyrant – that in spite of all his tyranny, his manic outpourings over that most insidious invention – the microphone – that even despite his rantings, the spirit of the people can never be controlled, if they do but know it.

RLF: And yet they were deceived into thinking themselves greater than others. Is that not deception of the spirit?

SWC: It most surely is, Sir, indeed, but I say again, it cannot prevail in the face of the reality of the millions to the contrary. It is as though the imagination of one people was taken and adapted to fit some great scheme, to work over and above the imagination of a more charitable mind.

To overtake the imagination is possibly the worst of all tyrannies – to make people believe that what one says is true, to the detriment of the very people thus controlled.

RLF: But did you not have some control over people’s imagination back in those days you have just spoken of?

SWC: I did, yes, but I did so to enhance goodness, not to destroy it. That is the difference between the tyrant and the democrat – that one makes hope forlorn, while the other increases it and supplies the wherewithal to bring hope to fruition.

Robert L. Fielding

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