“The boy who is going to make a great man must not make up his mind merely to overcome a thousand obstacles, but to win in spite of a thousand repulses and defeats. ” The meaning behind Theodore Roosevelt’s quote is to not only overcome adversity, but win while doing so. One can’t just have the tools to be great, they have to use them. Those that use these tools are the ones that truly achieve greatness. The Roman poet Horace explained that “adversity has the effect of eliciting talents which in prosperous circumstances would have lain dormant. Most everyone knows the difference between right and wrong, and when one is not in a situation that immediately demands such a decision it seems easy to make the right choice. To actually do the right thing, when the time calls for it, is a much more difficult. Basically Roosevelt is trying to say that one can win a million times, but if one defeat can cause them to never try again, then the past million times mean nothing. To rise after falling 1000 times and then winning, that is truly overcoming adversity and achieving greatness. Situations where humans are put under extreme pressure are those that show a person’s true character.
In 1988, Andrew Wright, a cave diver and explorer, had been in Nullarbor Plain on the Great Australian Blight Coast for about a month. Wright and his team of 14 explorers were hauling up equipment when a freak storm hit the cave. The storm dumped 400mm of water on the plain in 25 minutes. An estimated 300 million liters of water filled the cave in minutes, collapsing the cave entrance and forcing all but two to remain trapped underground. Wright was one of the two that escaped from the cave. He and the other lucky explorer worked for hours using radios and communicating with the underground team.
He would try to find a new passageway to enter and exit the cave, and those underground would do the same until they met in the middle. Everyone was returned to safety and lived to tell the tale. He found it fascinating how the human dynamics played out in such a high pressure situation. Those that one would expect to lead and keep the team going hunkered down and accepted their horrid fate. Others rose to the occasion and surprised Wright, taking control of the group and helping them to safety. If Horace is right about adversity “eliciting talents that would otherwise remain dormant,” then this is definitely a situation that proves it.
The right choice is not always the easiest. In 1692, Salem, Massachusetts, an atrocity occurred for no reason other than fear. Village folk of all types were accused of witchery by a group of fellow village girls. At first they only accused people who didn’t have a great reputation among the community. They were accused and sent to jail. Then the girls began accusing greater people in the community, and their group grew, causing even more accusations and convictions. Eventually, all that were convicted were hung. The whole time these 200 people of a town with a population of 600 were accused, no one argued.
The few that did were accused of witchcraft soon after. The whole time, the judges and regular citizens didn’t say a word against the girls. Perhaps it was out of fear, but keeping silent was not the right thing to do, no matter how easy it was. When it seems like all is lost, the one who rises again is the one who remains great. Dara Torres is a 45 year old mom. Before she retired, she was an Olympic swimmer. Recently, she came back to the swimming world and went to the Olympics once again. Not a soul would have thought she could do it. She proved everyone wrong.
It goes to prove that anything is possible, but you have to be willing to work for it and after each defeat, rise again. Horace’s idea about adversity was correct. People make decisions based on emotions and fear in high stress situations. Some people make the right choices, and those are the truly good people. Others don’t rise to the occasion, and which says a lot about their character. There is only one right choice, and humans tend to make so many mistakes in their decisions. Humans that can actually make the right choice are quite rare, but that isn’t something we can change easily.