Is perseverance a quality?
A dialogue between Socrates the stick and Baruch the heron. Socrates knows he does not know anything and this leads him to ask many questions. He then carefully examines the responses. Baruch spends a lot of time still and this allows him to understand that everyone is unique and particular, yet in relation with others and the universe.
Socrates: tell me, Mr. Heron, you who are wise and patient, is perseverance a quality?
Baruch: ah, Mr. Stick, always your strange questions! What do you think I do all day perched on both legs if not persevering? The fish is there, somewhere; I know it will eventually reach me, I do not know which one it will be or if it will be the one I prefer, but I have to eat and it’s an idea that never leaves me. Without it, I would fly from here and there without ever landing long enough to catch something, and I would eventually exhaust myself. I must therefore be constant and determined in my choices, is not this what is also called perseverance? And don’t you believe that it serves me well?
Socrates: yes, indeed. But how do you know if your perseverance is justified? You could stand foolishly where the fish will never go.
Baruch: I made a choice based on my experience; my perseverance is therefore enlightened by my reflection. If it turns out I was wrong, I go elsewhere when I am tired of being where I am. However, I know that by persevering, I realize my essence of heron, so it reinforces my decisions.
Socrates: so you live your destiny without being sure you are on the right path!
Baruch: in that, I’m not alone, don’t you think so? The passing fish that I will catch will be my justification, but beyond this punctual event, when I am perched motionless on my two legs, I know that I am what I must be. My perseverance has its source in a certainty that tells me that I must eat and another that makes me think that the fish is there.
You know, everything is related in a mysterious but necessary way and I’m part of it by being who I am. It is my response to a desire and an observation. It does not assure me alone that I will reach what I want, and it is even a source of questioning when it seems that nothing that I expect happens, but it defines me.
Socrates: it seems very complicated and you understand why I ask questions. It looks like perseverance is an art of dealing with the world; some make masterpieces, others disasters.
Baruch: I hope I make masterpieces! I have to trust what I have learned to achieve what I am aiming for, and that’s the difficulty; perseverance is only a constantly renewed decision to follow my intuition. It is also a sign of my freedom since I always have to decide if I stay in one place or not. Except of course when I’m disturbed and leaving is the only answer possible!
Socrates: I see. Perseverance does not seem to me a virtue because the goal could be immoral and malicious. It is rather a necessary tool to build good or bad things. In your case, to keep you in your being, otherwise you would be a crazy heron! I do not know if this will help me in my research but I thank you for your enlightened opinions!
Baruch: I’m just sharing what goes through my head when I stay still. If that suits you, that’s fine, but you should move away as quickly as you can now because I think you are driving the fish away.
The question here is whether it is always necessary to persevere to achieve goals or whether at some point changing direction is the best solution.
Baruch believes that without perseverance nothing can be achieved and that constancy is essential, a sign of good self-knowledge. He recognizes, however, that it is necessary to know how to change direction when circumstances require it, which does not mean changing goals but rather examining how new techniques could be more effective. Persistence therefore goes hand in hand with a reflection on action and being.
Socrates helps him clarify his thinking by asking questions and reformulating his answers to make them clearer. Perseverance is then defined as an art of living that allows you to get to know yourself better.
What are the differences between being persistent, stubborn and headstrong?
Do you learn to be persistent?
Want to think a little more? See Ethics: with The Treatise on the Emendation of the Intellect and Selected Letters by Spinoza. He explains the purpose of perseverance.
Want to contribute to these dialogues? Write your comments and questions below.
Want to know more about the tastes of Baruch and Socrates? Their preferred books are at the library of the domain.