There is no try
“Try not. Do or do not. There is no try.” — Yoda
“Never give in — never, never, never, never, in nothing great or small, large or petty, never give in except to convictions of honour and good sense. Never yield to force; never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy.” — Winston Churchill
Yoda was telling Luke what Churchill told Harrow. Once it was the case that I believed my country (and my countrymen) adhered to a set of principles and values that didn’t change based on context. I believed in right and wrong and had confidence people and institutions would not openly commit and condone wrongdoing. Today, I can’t think of a single thing we stand for or against: We act individually and collectively out of interest, not principle.
How we see right and wrong, acceptable and unacceptable, admirable and deplorable should reflect our principles and values not our interests. We shouldn’t need to know whether we’ll be exempted or subsidized before we decide where we stand on mandatory health insurance. We shouldn’t need to know the skin colors before we conclude the police acted stupidly. We shouldn’t need to know whether it was from a single mom’s purse or a Wal-Mart cash register before we deplore a theft. We shouldn’t need to know what the polls say before we condemn and act to prevent genocide, terrorism, or international aggression. Without having values and principles firmly in place, we continually find ourselves debating the relative grayness of things and concocting ever more transparent and absurd arguments to support a position we’ve taken or rationalize what we’ve done or not done. In the extreme, we’ll oppose an idea simply because it came from the "other side" and we’ll demonize and disparage others just because they’re not “us." Most of all, in our actions, we should not need to be assured easy success and overwhelming affirmation to act in the preservation of our values and principles.
As a nation, we’ve tried and failed to prevent genocide and spread representative government. At home we’ve tried and failed to eradicate poverty, racism, crime, and drug abuse. In our individual lives we’ve failed in relationships, jobs, and personal achievement. The examples of our collective and personal failures would fill pages and every one of those failures should make us wiser and strengthen our resolve. Those failures show us that what we’ve been doing either doesn’t work or that, like keeping the dandelions off the lawn, that what we’re doing will never be done. It’s important to our own sanity and serenity that we make our decisions and pick our actions based on values and principles and that we affiliate ourselves with others who share those values and principles. Faking it by making choices based on interests then affiliating with others who make the same choices and then fabricating values or principles to rationalize our choices corrodes our integrity and self-esteem. Worse yet, rationalizing means we’ll continue saying things we don’t believe and concocting explanations for how we’ve evolved on issues. Worst of all, we have to know “I wouldn’t want me for a friend."
Individually and collectively, common decency demands we behave consistently and dependably. I’d like to believe John Kennedy didn’t first take a poll and convene a series of pharmaceutically enhanced meetings in some faculty lounge and theorize about the relative costs and rewards when he said:
“Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and the success of liberty.”
He didn’t say we’d “try” until we ran out of enthusiasm or the polls changed. He didn’t say we’d try for a year or two but if it didn’t go our way, we’d curl up, come home, and suck our thumbs.
Few, if any, of us participate in such weighty choices but our individual choices are equally important to those around us. We have made commitments and have responsibilities for ourselves and others who depend on us. It may be as simple as choosing to pay the rent rather than get a new tattoo or it may be as complex as declining an innocent drink-after-work proposition. If we’re stopping to concoct a rationalization or pondering whether we’ll get caught then we’re making bad decisions and it’s time to switch from interests to values and principles. Having failed isn’t a reason to give up: Trying isn’t an option.