- 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.