‘Keep moving forward!’

Let me tell you something you already know. The world ain’t all sunshine and rainbows … You, me, or nobody is going to hit as hard as life. But it ain’t about how hard you hit. It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward; how much you can take and keep moving forward. That’s how winning is done!

It’s a great speech, isn’t it? It’s from the film Rocky Balboa at a point when Rocky is giving his son a lesson in life. Many of our Middle School boys know these words, some off by heart. I think the reason it resonates with them so strongly is because it reveals two essential truths.

The first is that life isn’t fair.

About 15 years ago, I took a group of students to a marketplace in Kuala Lipis in northern Malaysia. I remember being confronted by the sight of beggars who had been deformed and mutilated in order to heighten tourists’ sense of pity.  I also remember, the morning of the 9/11 terrorist attack, standing before the incomprehensible footage of the carnage on television. And I remember the day of the Port Arthur massacre, and being dumbfounded by the pointlessness of it all. Life isn’t fair.

But it’s not just tragic events that make it unfair. Sometimes we suffer in the course of an ordinary day. Word gets back to us of something somebody said that is mean-spirited and hurtful. Sometimes someone embarrasses us, or undermines us or just doesn’t acknowledge us, and it hurts. It wears us down. Makes us not want to come to school. Or Saturday sport. Or camp. There’s a name for it – death by a thousand cuts. They may seem like small things on their own, and to the people who make us feel this way, they’re forgotten as soon as the laughter fades, but to the victim, things feel very different. Life isn’t fair.

This leads me to the second essential truth in Rocky’s speech. It’s not how hard you hit that matters; it’s how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward. People are remarkable. I shared the stories of a number of remarkable people in assembly last week. There’s not space for their stories here, but if you want some inspiration, look them up: Louis Zamperini. Juliane Koepcke, Douglas Mawson, Harrison Okene, Aron Ralston, Hachiko the dog.  

This year, the Year 7 students have been studying The Hobbit and I hope many of them go on to read The Lord of the Rings. My brother and I have a long-standing argument over who is really the hero of these books. We agree that Aragorn is heroic but my brother argues that Frodo is also the hero because he’s the protagonist and the one who bears the Ring.

I have a different view. I believe it is Frodo’s loyal servant, Sam, who is the true hero. Sam supports Frodo unreservedly. Over the course of the 1500-mile journey to Mordor, he takes many hits. He is attacked, betrayed and eventually banished by the very person to whom he has shown enduring loyalty. He blames no one for his failings and remains humble to the very end. Ultimately, it is he who has the self-belief to take the final steps to Mt Doom in order to destroy the Ring. Sam defines persistence.

It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward … If you know what you’re worth, then go out and get what you’re worth, but you’ve got to be willing to take the hits, and not pointing fingers saying you ain’t where you want to be because of him, or her, or anybody. Cowards do that and that ain’t you. You’re better than that!

Paul Stewart
Head of English (Middle School)