Coming to the end of 2020, many of us feel battered. Whether it’s politics, the coronavirus, the economy, or the lockdowns, there are ample reasons to be confused if not depressed. However, given the gloomy mood of the country — and indeed the world — it’s essential to maintain hope.
On this week’s episode of my podcast, “Newt’s World,” I explain why — but its not what you’re expecting.
In the early 20th century, the American writer Edgar Rice Burroughs wrote a marvelous series about John Carter, a fictional Virginian who ends up on Mars, surrounded by Martian civilization.
Throughout Carter’s adventures, Burroughs has him repeatedly say, “Where there’s life there’s hope.” So Carter will get in some bad situation and say that line — and of course, Burroughs makes sure things always work out.
I read these works in maybe eighth or ninth grade and fell in love with them. And they stuck with me for decades.
When I lost my first election, when I lost my second election, when I got to Congress and failed for years to create a majority — each time I would say, well, where there’s life there’s hope.
So I really do believe in the triumph of the human spirit and the need to pick ourselves up. In fact, we coined the phrase “cheerful persistence” to capture how we sought to change history and create a Republican majority in the House of Representatives, which we finally did after 40 years.
I say all this to introduce William Faulkner’s amazing speech that he delivered while accepting the Nobel Prize in Literature in December 1950. In the speech, Faulkner, an immortal American writer, talked about how the human spirit will not only endure but also prevail. His message is essential for all of us today.
Specifically, I want to draw your attention to a passage that just stopped me in my tracks when I first encountered it as a younger man.
“It is easy enough to say that man is immortal simply because he will endure: that when the last dingdong of doom has clanged and faded from the last worthless rock hanging tideless in the last red and dying evening, that even then there will still be one more sound: that of his puny inexhaustible voice, still talking.”
Faulkner then continued:
“I refuse to accept this. I believe that man will not merely endure: he will prevail. He is immortal, not because he alone among creatures has an inexhaustible voice, but because he has a soul, a spirit capable of compassion and sacrifice and endurance … It is [the writer’s] privilege to help man endure by lifting his heart, by reminding him of the courage and honor and hope and pride and compassion and pity and sacrifice which have been the glory of his past. The poet’s voice need not merely be the record of man, it can be one of the props, the pillars to help him endure and prevail.”
I can’t tell you how often over my 62 years of involvement in public life I’ve hit a point of being frustrated, of being almost intimidated, of looking at problems that seemed so bleak.
Yet every time I start to back off, I remind myself of Faulkner — that this is the human condition. Indeed, we have an obligation to live a life of daring, of commitment, of courage.
We need to have a vision worth our lives’ work and then be willing to work toward the vision. Not because we will necessarily achieve it, but because the very act of trying, the very act of enduring, the very act of trying to reach out and achieve something greater than we were, to do something for others, to leave behind some footprints that are worthy of being followed — that’s what Faulkner was talking about.
And he was trying to explain that his entire lifetime of writing was a lifetime of trying to find a way to express this in print, whether in poetry or fiction. There are values worth living for.
Faulkner offered a stronger, better vision of being American than what most of our schools try to teach today. He didn’t teach safety; he taught endurance. He didn’t teach hiding from problems; he taught wrestling with problems.
This year has been a tough time for all of us — some more than others. But we can still live well and prevail, not just endure, and that’s because of the human spirit. If we’re prepared to endure, then we will prevail.
In America, each of us has the opportunity to rise to the occasion — not necessarily to rise to the top, but to rise to the challenge, to make our lives slightly better. Our country is made remarkable because of all the individuals who, in their own way, do remarkable things.
I hope you will listen to this week’s episode of “Newt’s World” and remember that, where there’s life, there’s hope.
To read, hear, and watch more of Newt Gingrich’s commentary, visit Gingrich360.com.