'If' by Rudyard Kipling is a poem that speaks to the heart of a masculinity that is rare today.
The idea of being a man, today, has been caught up in a gender discussion that is purely political. It was started by the feminist movement to help women stake a claim to equality in a male dominated world.
There is nothing wrong with that discussion, indeed it’s one that is necessary, but it should not dominate all thought and discussion about men, manhood and masculinity.
In the poem Kipling does not talk about men in relation to women, he does not discuss male domination or patriarchy. He does not mention loving a woman. He discusses men in relation to other men. He explores the concept of being a man as opposed to not being a man.
He proposes a view of manhood in which you can be all that you might be, in which you can honour your time here on earth. That does not envisage any sense of the domination of others, but the honouring of yourself. Kipling urges you to look inside and see what is there.
The poem particularly come to my mind when I think of a disaster that struck me a few years ago. I was a Director of a Lighting Design Practice in London that hit financial problems. I could see the problems building and I could see no solution to them.
I called the other Directors together and recommended that we talk to the bank, from whom we had borrowed a lot of money. There was not a lot of support for my solution but there was a reluctant agreement that we should go ahead and talk to them. They realised that not doing so could be seen as fraud.
As soon as we started conversations we were obliged to call in an insolvency expert who made us go through the accounts and clean them up. We had to get rid of the hopes and dreams and focus on what was actually there.
This made it inevitable that we had to go into receivership and it swiftly brought the end for the company. I was made the bad boy by the director who founded the company. He blamed me for the crash and proceeded to badmouth me in the industry.
I had to put this aside and put aside what people in the industry thought and keep going. I kept working with the bank and the insolvency firm to clear up the mess that had been left. It cost me money and time but I kept going.
Ultimately I created a new firm and ensured that our clients were not affected. I kept my eye on the final goal and refused to let others push me aside. After a few years I even repaired the relationship with the Director who was so upset with what I did. We let the past go and focused on our friendship.
When you are in the middle of a mess like this think of ‘IF’ and hold to your intentions.
The poem urges us to keep our head and not be influenced by others behaviour or what others say about you. We need to trust ourselves and understand why others doubt us. It teaches us to be honest and not lie about or hate others. It urges us to dream and think and face whatever happens and still keep going. We need to learn how to risk everything and not be concerned about our losses but start again and keep going. We should hold our head up high and spend our time on earth wisely.
Then you will have done all you can to make your life worthy as a man.
Does this resonate with you?
The complete poem:
If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:
If you can dream – and not make dreams your master;
If you can think – and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
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 make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
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!’
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings – nor lose the common touch,
if neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And – which is more – you’ll be a Man, my son!