Voices from the past
It was in 1987, as we set up Education 2000 (the precursor to the 21st Century Learning Initiative) that I was facing a tough time in trying to get people to think outside the box. One day a friend sent me this comment from Edmund Burke (1729-1797):
“Those who carry great public schemes must be proof against the most fatiguing delays, the most mortifying disappoints, the most shocking insults, and the most presumptuous insults of the ignorant upon their designs.”
I found that most reassuring! More recently I have found myself going back even further to the most unlikely of writings, namely that of Machiavelli and what he wrote in The Prince (1513).
“And it ought to be remembered that there is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things. Because the innovator has for enemies all those who have done well under the old conditions, and lukewarm defenders in those who have the laws on their side, and partly from the incredulity of men, who do not readily believe in new things until they have had a long experience of them. Thus it happens that whenever those who are hostile have the opportunity to attack they do it like partisans, whilst the others defend lukewarmly, in such wise that the prince is endangered along with them.”
Much more recently Rudyard Kipling, not as popular now as he was in the days of the British Empire, also understood perfectly the lonely road of the innovator when he wrote one of his most famous poems, If. This is a long poem, so I will be selective.
“If you can keep your head when all about you
are losing theirs and blaming it on you…
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build ‘em up with worn-out tools…
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the will which says to them: “hold on!”
Wonderful as these sentiments are, that is impossibly strong stuff! Kipling has frequently been parodied. The one I like best starts
If you can keep your girl, when all about
Are losing theirs, and blaming it on you!
Think on this when you are on the lonely road!