Tuesday, February 2, 2010

The Lesson I Should Have Learned...

Ted Geisel is a name that, for many, rings no bells. He also rang no bells for the more than forty publishers that turned down his first bestseller, The Cat in the Hat. Better known as Dr. Seuss, he went on to publish more than sixty books of the same variety including Oh, the Places You'll Go!, One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish, and Green Eggs and Ham.

It is the last one on the list that caught my attention today. Every night, I read one of Dr. Seuss's books to my 3 year old son, and every night, I wonder why Oliver DeMille listed the entire series on his classics for children list (see A Thomas Jefferson Education). Last night, it struck me: the lesson is "persistence."

As many of you may recall, the story is about a character who calls himself "Sam-I-Am," presenting a plate of green eggs and ham to another character, who is certain he hates them. In true Seuss fashion, they travel through a world of literally pictured rhymes and odd associations. All the while, Sam-I-Am continues to change the circumstances of his pitch as he sticks to his product.

I say product because Sam-I-Am is that greatest of salesmen: naive, enthusiastic, helpful, persistent, and eventually successful. The one advantage that Sam-I-Am has over the grumpy character is faith in the quality of the green eggs and ham. He  never bats an eye at the other character's attacks, but keeps smiling, eventually wearing the other character down. He is helpful, because he knows the grouch has never experienced this food, and is missing out. Of course, the grumpy character's attitude toward Sam-I-Am completely changes when he realizes what the salesman has done for him.

Sam-I-Am demonstrates one of the traits of a leader, and that is why it is a classic. However, many parents, I fear, are annoyed by this trait. They attempt to suppress (perhaps unknowingly) what makes life difficult for them, rather than nurturing the strong individual in the child. This problem continues in education and media, where authorities of all kinds seek a docile, easy to lead mass of men (and women).

Henry David Thoreau said, "The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation." I know from personal experience that this begins with the stifling of rewards for persistence. When a child finally gets the point from failing, that there is no point in trying, his will is broken and he becomes afraid to try.

This is the lesson I should have learned when I was young: always persist.


  1. And having learned at a young age that there is no point in trying, we have created a society that not only lacks persistence, but in fact does not understand it. Persistence stems from a belief in what you are "selling," as Sam-I-Am believed in his green eggs and ham. Is the lack of persistence then a self-fufilling prophecy as we have learned to settle for what is instead of striving for what could be? I too wish I had learned the lesson when I was young.~Evelyn

  2. That is an excellent and well-thought out comment!