Thursday, January 31, 2013

The Will to Survive

“It is defeat that turns bone to flint, and gristle to muscle, and makes men invincible, and formed those heroic natures that are now in ascendency in the world. Do not, then, be afraid of defeat. You are never so near to victory as when defeated in a good cause.”  - Henry Ward Beecher

As evidenced in the story of Louis Zamperini who survived shipwreck and Japanese prison camp during World War II or the story of Aaron Ralston, the young hiker who amputated his own arm when it was crushed by an 800 pound boulder, the notion of the will to survive is an important concept when attempting to understand and comprehend why we do what we do. This can be related to either one’s push for survival on the brink of death, or someone who is just trying to find a meaning to continuing their life in the face of severe hardship. Some researchers say that those who have a reason or purpose in life during such dreadful and horrific experiences, will often appear to fare better than those that may find such experiences overwhelming. Every day, people undergo countless types of negative experiences, some which may be demoralizing, hurtful, or tragic. An ongoing question continues to be what maintains the will to survive in these situations.
The years of The Great Depression were especially hard on Kansas farmers because the economic crisis coincided with years of drought and dust storms. Farmers and economists alike had not foreseen the drop in demand for American goods at the end of World War I.  The abundant harvest coupled with falling demand left an excess of crop and not enough profit to pay for expenditures.  Overproduction led to plummeting prices which led to stagnant market conditions and living standards for farmers in the 1920s. Gradually, the small family farm that had long been the model was replaced by larger and more business-oriented farms.
Hundreds of thousands of farmers had taken out mortgages and loans to buy out their neighbors’ property, and now were unable to meet the financial burden. The cause was the collapse of land prices after the wartime bubble which left farmers saddled with heavy debts. More and more small farmers were forced to give up the land and seek employment elsewhere in order to survive.
The power to ‘hold on’ is mental strength characteristic of anyone who persevered in the face of adversity.  They may lack in some other area, have many weaknesses or eccentricities, but the quality of persistence is never absent. No matter what opposition they meet or what discouragement or obstacles they face, they manage to survive through perseverance. It is not so much brilliancy of intellect, or fertility of resource, as persistency of effort and constancy of purpose, that helps them survive. They know that if they ever accomplish their personal goals they must do it by determined and persistent industry.
We hear a great deal of talk about wealth, genius, talent, luck, chance, or cleverness playing a large part in one’s personal success. Leaving out luck and chance, all these elements are important factors. Yet the possession of any or all of them, unaccompanied by a definite aim, a determined purpose, will not insure personal success.
Persistency of purpose is a power. The persistent man never stops to consider whether he is succeeding or not. The only question with him is how to push ahead, to get a little farther along, a little nearer his goal. Whether it leads over mountains, rivers, or swamps, he must reach it. Every other consideration is sacrificed to this one dominant purpose.

Education is nothing without strong and vigorous resolution and stamina to make one accomplish something in the world. An encouraging start is nothing without backbone.
Opposing circumstances create strength. Opposition gives us greater power of resistance. To overcome one barrier gives us greater ability to overcome the next.

Success is not measured by what a man accomplishes, but by the opposition he has encountered, and the courage with which he has maintained the struggle against overwhelming odds. Not the distance we have run, but the obstacles we have overcome, the disadvantages under which we have made the race, will decide the prizes.
Without the cowboys and schoolmarms of yesteryear who persevered in spite of incredible hardships, our country would not have grown and prospered to be the world power it is today.  We owe these pioneers a debt of gratitude for their strength and fortitude.  They are the backbone of the nation and a testament to the power of the human spirit.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

The Lost Art of Courtship

It is ironic that as we approach the “season of love” I am also working on the chapter on courtship for the book version of School Marms and Cowboys. The story is set in the Flint Hills of Kansas at the turn of the last century and focuses on the classic relationship between the cowboy and the school marm at a time in history when the old ways were dying out and the country was on the verge of depression.  While the cowboy represents the past, he must now adapt to a world where his skills are no longer of any great value.  To do this, he needs the education and insight of the school marm.  The question is how these two unlikely people come together and endure through the changes they must face to survive.

The answer is as old as time… courtship!  Whereas dating takes the young girl away from the watchful eyes of her parents, courtship usually occurs under the watchful eyes of the parents or chaperones. It was fun, flirtatious, and sly. Courtship was more like a dance. It included much posturing and maneuvering between the man and the woman to catch the attention of the other and then telegraph one’s interest in continuing the pursuit. Because the dance demanded a certain amount of time spent in the company of others, the relationship could be tested under different circumstances to see how either partner would respond. The outcome of the “test” was clearly evident by the immediate feedback one received from those in attendance. The length of the dance depended entirely on the couple.  Sometimes the pursuit was short and progressed quickly to the heat of passion. Other times, depending on the couple’s readiness to make a commitment to the relationship, the pursuit far outlasted the passion.

 While it’s true that this arrangement did not result in significantly fewer instances of premarital sex, it did give the parents an opportunity to get acquainted with the prospective suitor. In today’s more mobile society, the parents may not ever meet the boyfriend until they come home and find him sprawled on the couch as if he owned it. Dating, and hence, courtship takes place away from the prying eyes of those who might censor or test the relationship, and the period of courtship is often eliminated altogether.

I must admit that I am totally mystified by the concept of online dating.  In this instance, “dating” is little more than an online conversation leading to phone sex. While dating may eliminate the fun of courtship, this arrangement seems to totally take all the fun and enjoyment out of discovering a relationship.  It’s a fantasy arrangement that takes place in the minds of the participants and that is why it is so easy for one or the other of the parties involved to take advantage of the other by feeding on the fantasy. It is not surprising that someone involved in this type of relationship eventually reaches a point where they throw all caution to the wind in order to bring the fantasy to life.  Unfortunately, fantasies are often unrealistic and impossible to live up to.

We all seek relationships with significant others whether it be through physical attraction, or emotional need. In my book I am exploring not only what chemistry sparks this interest in another, but how these relationships change over time.  I am particularly interested in how relationships endure through pain, hardship and loss.

 Does the dance continue even though the music changes?