Fall Down Seven Times, Get Up Eight

From the Headmaster's Desk, March 18, 2019

When I was in school, my dining hall had a number of inspirational quotations written on the walls.  One of them was: ‘in the confrontation between the rock and the stream, the stream always wins, although not through strength, but by perseverance.’  There were several other inspirational lines, although I do not remember all of them.

The quotation I do remember the most, and still think of often, was hanging on the classroom wall of one of my teachers in school.  It is this:  ‘the greatest glory is not in never falling, but rising each time you fall.’

When I was in school, I did not know the word ‘resilience’, but this is exactly what the quotation is about.  Every time you fall down, and everyone falls down, at least proverbially, at some point, you need to get up.  Sometimes this is called bouncing back after a setback – this is what resilience is all about. I have competed in many races in my life, running, rowing, cycling and triathlons, and after a bad day, I often thought of this quotation – the greatest glory is not in never falling, because everyone will eventually falter or fail.  The important point is to rise up each time you fall.

This weekend I was inspired by several moments in sport where competitors showed great resilience.  First of all, our 1st girls’ netball side defeated our boys’ 1st XV 12-11, despite the boys being so physical that they regularly knocked the girls over.  The girls fell down, but got up, dusted themselves off, and showed poise and finesse to beat the boys.

In football, our U12As were down 2-0, but came back to win 5-2.  Man City came from 2-0 down on Saturday to win their FA Cup match.  Brighton also came from 2-0 down to tie it up and then eventually win over Millwall on penalties.

Perhaps the most inspiring was the Scottish performance against England at Twickenham last Saturday.  Some commentators are calling this one of the most remarkable matches in rugby union.

In case you missed it, England stormed out to a lead, scoring their first try within 66 seconds and earning their biggest ever half-time lead against Scotland; it was a record setting first half with England leading 31-0.

Thinking of the quotation above, Scotland had fallen down, and the TV commentators started talking about two years ago, when England scored more than 60 points against Scotland.  In the Scottish dressing room at half time, apparently it was quite quiet – the coach just said that you need to go back out there and win respect.

Scotland showed resilience and then some.  They fought back and scored six unanswered tries.  Shocking England, they kept fighting until they were leading 38-31 in the 76th minute.  Scotland had not won at Twickenham in 36 years, and they looked on the cusp of one of the greatest rugby comebacks of all time.

And finally, it was time for England to show resilience.  They fought back and scored a try in injury time to level the match, which ended in a 38-38 draw.  Both sides fell down at different points during the match, but both sides got up.  It was a remarkable match – one commentator in The Telegraph noted that it must be one of the greatest comebacks in the 150-year history of the game.

There is a Japanese proverb that emphasises this point of resilience: nana korobi ya oki.  This means, fall down seven times and get up eight — literally: seven falls, eight getting up.  No matter how many times you get knocked down, you get up again. Even if you should fall a thousand times, you just keep getting up and trying again. It can apply in education, in business and in sport.  In fact, education is all about learning from mistakes, be it a test or an essay – you take on feedback and you get better.  Much of progress in education comes off the back of mistakes.

Of course it is particularly important to think about this concept of resilience in dark times.  Sometimes there are not quick fixes in life.  Sometimes it will take struggle and perseverance. Success does not have to be fast—it is important to do your best and remain persistent.

They say that in times of crisis people show their true character. Anyone can be cooperative, patient, and understanding when things are going well and life is good.

It’s a busy time of year.  This morning I read out several results and achievements by all of you, but there were many small achievements that I did not recognise.  And in the week ahead, we have GCSE Drama exams, music exams, Lambda exams, UK Maths challenge, a number of fixtures in football, hockey, netball and more rowing.

We won’t win everything we take part in, and sometimes in life it can feel that there are more failures than successes.  Yet I know that you will all continue to do your best, and remember that the greatest glory is not in never falling, but rising each time you fall.  Fall down seven, get up eight.  Have a great week.

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