The late and beloved rabbi of famed Temple of Shalom in Chicago, Louis Binstock said that often it is not the wrong start but the wrong stop that makes the difference between success and failure. To quit while we’re ahead would be silly; to quit when we’re behind is even sillier. It requires will to hold on a little longer. It requires wit to know that the measure of success is not the luck, the breaks of the game, but the conquest of failure.
The trouble with most of us is that we stop trying in trying times.
I’ve been thinking a lot about Hoover’s response to the Great Depression versus Roosevelt’s response in the context of what our nation needs to hear right now as we go through this pandemic.
Hoover’s response to the crash focused on two very common American traditions: He asked individuals to tighten their belts and work harder, and he asked the business community to voluntarily help sustain the economy by retaining workers and continuing production.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt was elected president in 1932. He immediately embarked on an ambitious plan to get the country out of the Great Depression.
America has seldom felt worse than in 1933, the depth of the Great Depression. With unemployment reaching 80 percent in places, people were desperate. Many lost their homes, and when the banks began to fail, their last dollar as well. The message from newly elected President Franklin Delano Roosevelt was bracing: “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” Roosevelt’s optimism created what Newsweek columnist and NBC News contributor Jonathan Alter calls “The Defining Moment.” Here’s an excerpt:
So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is…fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance. In every dark hour of our national life, a leadership of frankness and of vigor has met with that understanding and support of the people themselves which is essential to victory. And I am convinced that you will again give that support to leadership in these critical days.
Addressing himself to the causes of the economic crisis and its moral dimensions, Roosevelt placed the blame squarely on the greed and shortsightedness of bankers and businessmen.
Roosevelt then turned, in the following excerpts, to the daunting issue of unemployment, which had reached a staggering 25 percent when he assumed office:
…the withered leaves of industrial enterprise lie on every side; farmers find no markets for their produce; the savings of many years in thousands of families are gone.
More important, a host of unemployed citizens face the grim problem of existence, and an equally great number toil with little return. Only a foolish optimist can deny the dark realities of the moment.
Our greatest primary task is to put people to work. This is no unsolvable problem if we face it wisely and courageously.
There are many ways in which it can be helped, but it can never be helped merely by talking about it. We must act and act quickly.
After touching briefly on foreign relations — “the policy of the good neighbor — the neighbor who resolutely respects himself and, because he does so, respects the rights of others” — Roosevelt turned again to the economic crisis, assuring his countrymen that he would act swiftly and with determination.
In these times that we face in Trinidad and Tobago, we need to keep hope alive.
I am not saying ignore the facts. As Roosevelt said – Only a foolish optimist can deny the dark realities of this moment. We cannot deny the realities of the COVID-19 virus but we simply cannot stop trying. We cannot lose hope and we must remain open that there is a way, even if that way has not yet presented itself.
I wrote on Saturday about two businesses that were lockdown inspired. This might be the time that you need to take a step or two backwards to reorient yourself and prepare to take a next step.
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