In Praise of the Hill

I love hills. 
They give me the opportunity to get exercise, and build my strength, to look handsome and strong
to build my character,
To feel a sense of accomplishment
To see a beautiful view
 and best of all,
to go downhill.


With lifted feet, hands still,
I am poised, and down the hill
Dart, with heedful mind;
The air goes by in a wind.
Swifter and yet more swift,
Till the heart with a mighty lift,
Makes the lungs laugh, the throat cry:
'O bird, see; see, bird, I fly.

'Is this, is this your joy?
O bird, then I, though a boy,
For a golden moment share
Your feathery life in air!'

Say, heart, is there aught like this
In a world that is full of bliss?
'Tis more than skating, bound
Steel-shod to the level ground.

Speed slackens now, I float
Awhile in my airy boat;
Till, when the wheels scarce crawl,
My feet to the treadles fall.

Alas, that the longest hill
Must end in a vale; but still,
Who climbs with toil, wheresoe'er,
Shall find wings waiting there.

- Henry Charles Beeching


If you think you are beaten, you are.
If you think you dare not, you don't.
If you like to win, but you think you can't,
It's almost certain you won't.

If you think you'll lose, you're lost,
for out of the world we find,
Success begins with a fellow's will -
It's all in the state of mind.

If you think you are outclassed, you are,
You've got to think high to rise,
You've got to be sure of yourself before
You can ever win a prize.

Life's battles don't always go
To the stronger or faster man,
But soon or late the man who wins


    The statement in the last poem that it's all in the state of mind is an exaggeration although one's state of mind is very important.  A positive attitude can help us persevere and overcome of obstacles.  A great poem about perseverance based on the story of Christopher Columbus* was written by Joaquim Miller. 

    Although many of those who have conquered adversity are likely to say "Never give up" there are times when it may be better not to persevere.  I pursued a line of work for which I did not have a natural talent.  I persevered for many years.  Finally I switched to another line of work for which I am more adept and I am glad that I did. 

    It may be that problems and obstacles are a prerequisite of our existence, this idea is discussed on the duality page of this web site.  This is not necessarily a bad thing.  Problems and obstacles can help us grow.  This was eloquently put by L. Thomad Holdcroft:

Life is a grindstone. 
Whether it grinds us down
or polishes us up
depends on us.

    When faced with obstacles one can react by becoming depressed and being pessimistic at overcoming them.  We don't have to be  miserable when it rains.  Another reaction is to view overcoming the obstacles as an opportunity.  Often business opportunities arise finding an easier way to deal with a problem.  Winston Churchill eloquently described the two ways one can view situations:

The pessimist
sees difficulty in every opportunity.
The optimist sees opportunity in
every difficulty.

Frank Tyger also expressed this idea with the quote:

"Opportunity's favorite disguise is trouble."

    When faced with obstacles one can react by enjoying the challenge.  Unfortunately many of the obstacles we face have anxiety provoking consequences if we fail to surmount them.  It's difficult to enjoy the challenge when the consequence of failure could be losing one's job.  In this case we have the choice of feeling fear or choosing to not feel fear despite the threat that we face.   That is not easy and approaches to overcoming anxiety are described in the Sword of Damocles section.

    When we fail we can react with concluding that we are failures or we can view our failure as a challenge to improve ourselves and try and learn from our mistakes.  I am in the research field and I make mistakes all the time but each time I learn and get to be more and more of an expert and closer and closer to the mark.  I recently had a big success as a result of not giving up.

    It's natural when the challenges are great to become discouraged.  It's natural to wish the challenges were less.  Phillips Brooks a U.S. Episcopal Bishop had advice in this.   He said:

Do not pray for easy lives. Pray to be stronger men. Do not pray for tasks equal to your powers. Pray for powers equal to your tasks. Then the doing of your work shall be no miracle, but you shall be the miracle.

    When I run into particularly difficult challenges at work I go to an expert for help.  When I gave him a particularly difficult problem he said excitedly, "Aha a challenge".  What an inspiration!

    I love to run in the outdoors and in my college days I once was running up a long hill on a hot summer day when a marine who was on leave caught up to me.  I accelerated to keep up with him and we started a conversation.   He said he loved hills.  He loves hills because he loves a challenge.  That is an inspiring attitude that will take him far and that will give him a much happier life than those who  give up in the face of a challenge. 


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* I don't wish to glorify Christopher Columbus.  When Columbus and his sailors came ashore, the Arawaks ran to greet them bringing food and gifts. Columbus wrote the following in his log...

They...brought us parrots and balls of cotton and spears and many other things, which they exchanged for the glass beads and hawks' bells. They willingly traded everything they owned...They do not bear arms, and do not know them, for I showed them a sword, they took it by the edge and cut themselves out of ignorance...They would make fine servants...With fifty men we could subjugate them all and make them do whatever we want.

Christopher Columbus had no compunction about enslaving the natives and neither did the Spanish. 

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