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The Meaning of Things

I first read AC Grayling’s “The Meaning of Things” about 10 years ago just as we were setting up our education foundation in Nepal. The short anecdotes on a wide range of values and philosophies are easy to read and are an interesting take on personal philosophy. As read the book again I find it interesting to consider each section in relation to my own life and current environment. You might like to do the same and add a comment, or even feel free to reblog any post.

#2 Perseverance

When I was engaged in the development of leaders of financial corporations some years back, I would often  involve them in discussion about desirable traits and values associated with success. “Perseverance” was always amongst their lists and I would follow this up with two further questions. First, define Perseverance, and second give me a phrase or definition of the OPPOSITE  of Perseverance. Invariably this led to simple definitions such as “keeps going, doesn’t give up, overcomes adversity ….” followed by “gives up easily or quickly in the face of adversity” as an opposite. I would then ask them to consider a scale in which perseverance scored 10 and gives up easily scored 0 and to rate themselves on this scale. Of course they all rated themselves 9-10 mostly, but were flummoxed when I asked them to consider the meaning of STUBBORNNESS and to define it in similar terms to those used in defining Perseverance.  This is much more than semantics when describing human behaviour in a leadership context, or any other context for that matter! So I pose the question: “What is the difference between Perseverance and Stubbornness?”

First though, in the words of AC Grayling about Perseverance:

Courage and hope both depend on a crucial virtue: perseverance, the ability to keep going in adverse circumstances. It is said that perseverance is a good trait except when applied to inappropriate aims. This places the emphasis on knowing when aims are the right ones.


So, according to Grayling, Perseverance is a virtue and definitely a good personality trait to have.  But now read the next words from Grayling:

[There may be]……..  a number of further traits in anyone who perseveres such as determination, ambition and strength of resolve. But the cynic would say that we should frequently substitute ‘obstinacy’, ‘folly’ and ‘blindness’ respectively for these further traits, [and goes on to say]…… The opposite of perseverance is giving up, trying something else, abandoning ambitions.

I would challenge Grayling on his opposite of Perseverance because I believe he has moved only to the right of Perseverance when one can also move to the left. Perseverance, in my view, sits in the middle of a wider spectrum that runs from Stubborn to Gives Up and looks like this:

Stubborn……………….…Perseverance…………….….Gives Up


So we can now apply the traits of obstinacy, folly, blindness to define Stubbornness, and the traits determination, ambition and strength of resolve to define Perseverance. As a practical and topical example, there is a clear movement in the UK today by a group of people (of whom Grayling is one) trying to undermine and indeed overturn a democratically determined decision to leave the EU. I need not go into the detail, but these people are demonstrating obstinacy, folly and blindness in such stubborn behaviour. The people voted, both houses of Parliament debated, no amendments to the Brexit Bill were passed, Article 50 was triggered, so what on earth do Grayling, Blair, Farron, Clegg, Miller, hope to achieve? To conclude, a person who Perseveres knows when his aim is the wrong one and knows when to give up. Stubborn people do NOT.