When my son approached manhood, I gave him Rudyard Kipling’s poem “If.”
No other poem seemed to say all that my mother’s heart felt needed saying in order to prepare him for success in life:
|If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:
As I age, the direction I’m going is not nearly as important as the person I’m becoming. Kipling’s words expose so many of my weaknesses. My hope was for my son’s wisdom and character to exceed my own. Now when I complain about “injustices” I assume people level at me, he reminds me of the wisdom in Rudyard Kipling’s poem.
If you can dream – and not make dreams your master,
This stanza is a rough one for me to accept. I’m a hopeless dreamer who walks around with her head in the clouds. I’ve also had my words twisted and used against me. Then there’s those many times I’ve had to pick up the pieces of failed projects and relationships.
If you can make one heap of all your winnings
This stanza speaks to me about perseverance–an unpopular trait in our instant gratification society. Some of my family members have lost their entire life savings due to dishonest people. Sure they’ve moaned their fair share, but I admire their ability to move past the loss and start again.
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
This is my favorite stanza. What a powerful guide for humility and human relating. Revenge is a powerful human emotion. Believe me, I plot plenty in private. Yet as I ponder my own shortcomings, Kipling’s wisdom pricks my balloon of pride, and thoughts of revenge seep out of a deflated ego.
Yes, Rudyard Kipling’s poem presents a guide for living and relating. It also helps suggests ways to handle hard times–those from without and those from within–due to our own character defects. When I contemplate the power of these words, I aspire to possess the positive attitude my son has adopted for his life.