I knew this would happen…
I knew that as I was writing, editing and publishing this series that my focus would naturally reflect on the content of the poem and that I would compare myself even more against the poem, the contents of my life being magnified through the lens of IF.
Like, woah, bruh…
By Day 3, I already had massive opportunities to practice keeping my head when all about me are losing theirs (children primarily – teenagers and tweens – but others too), to trust myself and to not grow tired in waiting. Such is life. And I can’t help but sit back, nod and laugh.
I may or may not be nursing a beer or two.
Despite that, I’ve enjoyed this challenge and the process of creating the content and working through it as well. When I first thought about it, it was a novel idea to me. More reflecting on the poem than anything, seeing how someone could make it into some sort of devotional. But then after a couple weeks, I thought, “Fuck it, I’m that someone…”
Beyond creating content around the poem itself and attempting to, humbly, extrapolate on the points Kipling covers… I wanted to challenge myself to write and produce on a level I hadn’t before. To force myself to write. While the series may not be perfect, I’m happy with what I’ve accomplished. Going the distance, as it were, and finishing the self imposed challenge.
Kipling’s poem seems to basically say, “if you can deal with all this shit and keep going, you’ll win”.
I wonder if Sylvester Stallone had Kipling’s “If” in mind when he wrote the scene in “Rocky Balboa” (that’s technically “Rocky 6”) where Rock is talking to his now grown son about life. It’s probably (arguably) the best quote from the entire Rocky saga and he says,
“It ain’t about how hard you can hit. It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward, how much you can take and keep moving forward, that’s how winning is done!”
Sounds rather Kipling-ish to me.
Almost every trial, obstacle or challenge listed in IF is a punch that Life throws at you, sometimes it grazes you but usually the hit connects in some way, pushing you back or just downright rocking you and making your knees wobble. At that moment you are presented with a choice: to let Life, as Rocky says, “beat you to your knees and keep you there”, or get back up and “keep moving forward”, bobbing, weaving, slipping, putting your guard up and enduring the hits and throwing a few back.
Some people would be turned off by this poem, perceiving a “negative tone” in the text. Perhaps, when viewing it they begin to feel inadequate as they read the poem, perceiving the bar set by Kipling as unrealistic or worse, “too macho”. Maybe they feel as if their father (or father figure) is speaking to them, or more accurately, speaking down to them. Personally, I believe that Kipling is trying to impart signposts along the path of manhood and masculinity. Not beating us over the head. He’s telling you, “look, as you go down this road you will come across things that could take you off course and derail you, so be mindful, also if you see these other signs, you are on the right path… keep going.”
Of course it isn’t an all-encompassing discourse on masculinity and manhood.
Those things cannot be imparted merely by reading a poem and assenting to what is presented. Without going into a lot of detail, I believe manhood and masculinity are imparted best into men by other men walking the path. Men who’ve endured the trials, kept moving forward, and they are imparting their wisdom and example to the younger men in harmony with the discipline and actions the younger ones are purposefully undertaking on the path.
But damn, when you read this poem, it’s a great fucking start.
It is an ideal.
I’ve come up short time and time again at the multiple exhortations in this poem. More and more, I see people tempted to try and bring the bar, bring the ideal down to something more relatable. To get a participation award so they can feel good about coming up short.
But that is the point of having a bar, having an ideal to shoot for. To know you came up short and to try again!
Being “mythically minded” (more on that another time), I am reminded of another quote, taken from the 2013 movie, “Man of Steel”. Jor-El, Superman’s father (played by Russell Crowe), tells his son,
“You will give the people of Earth an ideal to strive towards. They will race behind you, they will stumble, they will fall. But in time, they will join you in the sun, Kal. In time, you will help them accomplish wonders.”
Know this is an ideal to strive towards and embrace the challenge.
You aren’t going to keep your head all the time. You aren’t going to perfectly endure people doubting you, lying about you, hating you, twisting your words each time these situations arise. You aren’t going to achieve mastery right away and be able to fill each second of that unforgiving minute with full on energy and exertion. You will, as I did even recently during this “project”, stumble and fall.
But, with an ideal to strive towards, you will do better and better each time because you will develop the self awareness to look at your reactions and actions, evaluate and make course corrections and determine the appropriate adjustments you need to make as you walk the path.
You won’t be a Superman the first time or the fiftieth.
It is a constant mission of improving yourself. That’s what Mastery is about: continual improvement, inch by inch, yard by yard. I’m not “there”, but I make the choice to improve, I get back up. I read about human nature to better understand myself, I create goals and look at poems such as “IF” as an ideal, a guidepost. I look to the Tactical Virtues as written about by Jack Donovan in “The Way of Men”: Strength, Honor, Courage, Mastery as continual waypoints on the map. Continually pushing towards the ideal.
I stumble. I fall. I make wrong decisions.
But I get back up.
Strive towards the ideal, aim high and do not relent, despite 1000 failures. Get up and keep moving forward.
“Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it, and -which is more- you’ll be a Man, my son!”