There’s a rumor I want to dispel. It’s not a rumor about me or my photography, or about you, or about any political figure. Instead it’s a very old rumor which has been repeated so often that it now passes by unchallenged, becoming accepted as general knowledge even though it’s completely wrong. The rumor is that Albert Einstein once said “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” Sometimes the rumor says it’s Franklin, or sometimes Twain, but not only did none of these people ever say such a thing, but it’s also horribly incorrect.
There are two very quick holes I can put through this particular sail. The first is that doing something repeatedly while expecting different results is actually fairly common. Einstein and Franklin, both advocates of science, would recognize this action as scientific rigor. In order to demonstrate that an experiment is repeatable and not being impacted by uncontrolled random factors, it would get done over and over again while expecting their results to vary within a certain margin. And then there’s Twain, a writer whom I’m sure didn’t publish his first draft. No, writers can hammer away at a manuscript for months, if not years, often times re-writing a story completely in the process in order to come up with their final result. The second issue is with the idea of sanity itself. Sanity and insanity are very loose concepts which are very rarely invoked in psychology. If you try to define insanity as having a psychological problem, then we’re all insane — doubly so for the ones who claim they’re not. There is no imaginary line which divides the sane from the insane. To quote the hatter: “we’re all mad here.”
There’s another quality to which we can assign this behavior of repeating things and expecting a different result. What do we call a person who doesn’t give up in the face of adversity? Who marks failure as the evidence of striving for perfection? Who gets knocked down but crawls bloodied and bruised back into the ring to face another round? Find one of these people, one of these pillars built out of pure dogged determination, and that confidence you see in their eyes, that courage, is the face of tenacity.
Such as this face. This is Woody, taken on the day I met him. Do yourself a favor if you see him out and about, and shake this man’s hand. He’ll talk to you about the things he’s seen. About having been a computer programmer. About his boxing career. About tutoring math to young athletes to help them continue their education. About working ringside with some of history’s boxing greats. Talk with him long enough, and he might tell you how the biggest number we ever have to deal with is nine, how you can multiply two two-digit numbers together in your head, or how doing sit-ups is a good way to lose weight. Ask him about his faith, how he’s sinned before and he knows he’ll sin again. Or, if you’re in a lighter mood, ask him about his love for a Krispy Kreme donut. He’ll tell you about any of these things, for as long as you care to hear about them.
And then ask him about his cancer.
Life is rarely simple or easy. Just pick any random stranger you see, and you’ve probably found somebody who’s having problems of some kind. Having problems is a universal constant of human existence, and there are only so many ways we can react to them. We can turn away, either to run from or to ignore them. We can fall down in resignation, our progress halted completely by this unchallenged obstacle. Or we can stare them in the face and come out of the corner swinging. Sometimes the cost of victory will be high, and sometimes we have little hope of making it to the next round. But a fighter is a person who fights, so the only options are to go down fighting or stop being a fighter.
Woody is a fighter. It’s just who he is: a person who knows the value of bruises. A man with the tenacity to stand atop a mountain of doubt and dare the world to try to push him off. These are qualities that we could all stand to learn by looking for the fighters in our lives and watching how they react when they’re faced with problems. I think Woody would tell you that he’s had his rough fights during his career, and now he’s stuck in the ring with a fight he might not be able to finish. But he’s not turning away from it. He’s facing it head-on, not without fear, but with courage. This is why we need tenacity, because falling down is the first thing many of us want to do in the face of difficulty. But we aren’t often afforded an easy path to pursue meaningful things. We fight to carve a path when we have none, so when we have one to follow, we don’t take its ease for granted.
I’m glad to have met Woody, and honored to call him a friend. He reminds me that all of my difficulties — with anxiety, with ADHD, or with running a part-time business alongside a full-time job and a family to boot — are worth fighting. They’re more than just the obstacles, they’re the path. The true mettle of a person isn’t in the way they win or lose, but how consistently they will battle for what they value the most. That’s tenacity, to look at the obstacles in front of us, those invitations to failure, and decide to be a fighter today.
Woody, you keep up your fight. I’ll be ringside.