Humble persistence: Accepting the lessons of our elders

Published: February 28, 2017
Author: Steven Thomas

Last weekend we celebrated the passing of My Grandfather who was 95. I use the word 'celebrate' as there was so much to rejoice in, given his long life.

On the day, I heard various inspiring stories about him from friends and family. When reflecting, I couldn't help but wonder what was it that helped him lead such a long and happy existence. 95 years on the planet is a considerable achievement in itself, but there is a lot more to consider. He married my Grandmother at the age of 20 and remained so until she died over 60 years later. From this, we get an idea of his commitment to relationships. They had 9 sons, three of whom died in their infancy and three who died in their 50's and 60s. His strong sense of family carried him through. Enjoying many happy times. But also adapting to the most brutal of emotional trauma - losing a child.

He worked in an underground coal mine from the age of 14 and continued to do so for another 50 years. He showed an incredible work ethic and ability to stick to the task of providing for his loved ones. Working deep underground, in the grime and dirt and darkness to put food on the table and to provide for his family. Hard work, but work that mattered for all sorts of reasons.

Community was also very important to him. He spent his entire life living in the same small village (about 2,000 people) in West Central Scotland. Playing an understated but active role in village life. The sing-songs and parties with great friends. The constant joking. All coming from a sense of humour and fun that never left him.

A formula for longevity, respect, and happiness

But how do you sum these qualities up? Why do they teach us? I accept that my Grandfather came from a simpler time. A time when he had to walk the 10 miles to his wedding ceremony in the neighbouring village. Making his way through the driving snow. Well, he couldn't call an Uber, right, and my Grandmother was waiting.

Despite our time being different and the constant push for more. Or the fact we're bombarded by distraction and the quest to super-size everything. We can still take stock more often. It is important, now more than ever, that we draw upon the lessons provided by our elders. The principles they held true. In fact, I've come to the conclusion that there is a not-so-secret formula. A formula my Grandfather and his generation applied, over and over again. We too can apply it if we choose to. It may even provide longevity, respect... even happiness.

The formula?

Humble persistence.

That's it. Setting our ego aside, being willing to sacrifice for others and to share with our community.

Ignatius (Nick) and Annie, age 20.

Update: March 1 '17
A good friend asked how the values and insights above could provide a ‘return’ today. He asked if I could expand on the “advice anyone can take from this”.

On reflection, it falls into two parts (at least in my head it does).

Tame the ‘Hungry Ghost’

In this time of plenty, to reach a place of humility, we must first find a way to acknowledge that many of us have enough. For the vast majority of us, it is easy to fall into the groove of searching for the next thing. The better job, bigger house, the dopamine hit from checking facebook. Placing all this to the side – even some of the time – takes practice and self-kindness. When it clicks it then allows us to focus better on the things that actually do matter. Things like family, friends, community and working with a purpose. Buddhists refer to the realm of the hungry ghost. Described as “the domain of addiction"..."Where we constantly seek something outside ourselves to curb an insatiable yearning for relief or fulfillment”. It's clear that my Grandfather and many of his generation were able to tame their ‘hungry ghosts’. By doing so it freed them up to persist with the things that really mattered. It is more difficult in the 21st century but surely that makes it more important to try?

Then persist with the work that matters

Once we have found a way to regularly come back to a place of humility. Important also to acknowledge that, regardless of our purpose, things very rarely work out the way we would like. And so this is where persistence comes in. Persistence is fruitful but by its very nature, requires us to keep at it. Over and over. Taking the knocks, bringing it back to that place of humility. Accepting there is no such thing as a home run and it’s never won. A humble persistence around the work that truly matters.

**for Papa Nick**