Happy Sunday, Readers! I hope you have had a decent week.
Today I am featuring the recent Daily Stoic column on Winston Churchill’s so often quoted admonition: “Never give in. Never, never, never, never—in nothing, great or small, large or petty.” I am sure you have heard it before. It is even on greetings cards.
The Daily Stoic reminds us that those few words are part of a longer Churchill statement.
When you read what Churchill said, think about the times your ego caused you to declare, “Come hell or high water, I am not changing my mind!”
I find it so much easier to only accept data that confirms my position (in mental model language: confirmation bias). Don’t you?
But I am also aware that it is wise to stay open. I know that the ability to change my mind is an art that will serve me well.
I recognize that. I try to remember it. But it’s hard, isn’t it?
No one would ever call Winston Churchill a quitter. His whole reputation is built on his instinct to fight. He was the lone objector when appeasement toward Hitler reigned as policy in the 1930’s. He was the one strong enough to inspire the British people to hold out against the Nazi bombardment and a potential invasion until America entered the war. His personal motto was KBO…Keep Buggering On.
You may have even heard the first part of his famous speech which he gave to the boys at the Harrow School, which he had attended as a child, “Never give in. Never, never, never, never—in nothing, great or small, large or petty.”
But did you know there was a second part to it? That Churchill wasn’t saying to hold out forever in every circumstance? This is the full quote:
“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.”
So there you have the famous never-quitter explaining the conditions under which you should quit or give in: when you are honor bound or when it makes no sense to continue.
An example: When Churchill lost the confidence of his government in November 1915, he resigned his position and enlisted in the Royal Scots Fusiliers. His old path ceased to be even remotely viable, so he found another way to serve with honor. And while Hitler might have thought that Churchill was insane for not negotiating a peace with Germany, Churchill actually did see a way through, and knew there was a good chance his country could endure. In one case, it was good sense to give in, in the other, it wasn’t.
The Stoics were all about this balance. Yes, they were big proponents of perseverance and persistence. No, they didn’t run away just because things got hard. But they weren’t masochists either. They didn’t believe in hurling themselves against a wall that would never give way.
Marcus used a vivid analogy for people who continue to be the same person, despite the obvious signs it wasn’t working—he said they were like “animal fighters at the games—torn half to pieces, covered in blood and gore, and still pleading to be held over till tomorrow…to be bitten and clawed again.”
Today we talk about this colloquially as the definition of insanity: doing the same thing over and over again, expecting a different result.
That’s no way to live. It’s good to be tough, but hardly noble to be stupid. Sticking to something is commendable, but not if that inflexibility comes at the expense of other, viable solutions or if it becomes its own vice. Remember that today. Never, ever, ever, ever give in…except when it makes sense. Let honor be your guide, not bullheadedness nor cowardice