Never, never, never give up

That is a popular slogan these days. I see it everywhere, but it gives me an uneasy feeling, because I just cannot agree with it. I hope others don’t actually believe it, yet I see it presented  as if it were an infallible truth.

There are times when it is best to give up because usually there is a price to pay for not giving up.

Let’s look at some examples. During the Second World War, Japan gave up. They did not continue the war after the second atomic bomb was exploded on Nagasaki. What if they had followed the rule, and never, never, never gave up? The bombing would have continued. They didn’t know there were no more atomic bombs, but there were plenty of incendiary bombs, and Japan had no air force by that stage of the war. There was a price to pay for not giving up. The price was the war continuing for perhaps another year, perhaps ten million more civilians would die from bombing, starvation, disease. That was the penalty for never giving up.

We should ask the question, never give up … what?
Never give up trying to achieve something.
Although it would seem only sensible to give up once you have achieved your goal.
When we say never give up, it means things haven’t worked out as you hoped; there is a problem but you are told to continue trying. Which reminds us of the adage, Try, Try, Try Again. That makes more sense to me, it still allows you a time to give up.

It is rarely an issue of not giving up, versus nothing.

What about an abusive relationship? A partner, let’s say a man— is bashing his partner, using drugs, raping her, confining her to the house, telling her what she must and must not do, threatening the children, perhaps sexual abusing the children. Okay, but we have the advice, Never, never, never give up. Stay with this man, stay in this relationship, keep trying to make it work, never give up!
Well, giving up is best. Get out of it, give it up, because staying in this type or relationship has a huge price to pay. It can even end in death.

What about a man who goes to the casino, he is convinced, after a dream, that he will win a million dollars if he puts his money on the roulette wheel. So he does, and loses, again and again. But he does not give up! He sells his house, he borrows more money, but he does not give up, never, never, until all his money has gone, his house has gone, his family are destitute, but this is the payment for Never, never, never give up.

Another problem with this advice is that it assumes you are going in the correct direction. But what if you are going the wrong way? What if you lived in New York and you started driving North expecting to get to Miami? You kept on going North, and you never, never, never give up. But would you ever reach your destination?

Now I could tell you a whole lot of stories about people who were successful, when they never, never, never gave up. The most popular example is Edison when he was searching for a material for the filament of the light bulb, he carried out thousands of experiments. He did not give up, until he was successful.

So the critical thing, is to know when to give up, and when not to give up. The problem with the slogan is that it is non-thinking, it is a command to follow without intelligent thought. You are not given any room to manoeuver, you are not allowed to stop.

There is a time to give up. There is a time to continue your efforts. But the effort, must be combined with thought. Edison did not just try materials at random, he was thinking, working, testing. Sometimes we bark up the wrong tree. We might try and do something that is just not feasible, or sensible, like trying to swim across the Pacific Ocean. After the first five minutes would be a good time to give up. But to continue will end with death if you follow the slogan. You might not give up, but you will die.

Your sweetheart breaks up for good. But you never, never, never give up. What is the penalty? You get arrested for stalking or you waste the rest of your life waiting for a phone call that never comes. You sit at home for 20 years waiting for your sweetheart — who does not know you exist — to phone you. Yes, there is a time to give up.

I doubt that there is any simple rule that can make it easy to know when to give up and when not to give up.

But perhaps there are some principles that might guide us.
* How much are you willing to pay, to continue? What will it cost in money, time, effort, confidence, and your other relationships with family and friends if you continue?
* Now balance that with how much can you expect to gain if you never gave up until you were successful.
* How do the two sides balance out?
* Can you see an end to not giving up? Five years, twenty years, fifty years?
* Do you know anyone else, personally, or remotely, who has been in the same situation? What did they do?

I don’t want to be seen as telling people to give up; my own power of persistence is quite strong. But I know there is a time to give up. It might be hard to admit defeat, but if the Japanese Emperor Hirohito could do it and surrender, then we should be able to manage it.
What do you think?

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