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R-IF-fing on Kipling

I first found this poem in the Other Mens Flowers anthology. I believe that Kipling wrote it as advice to his son on how he should live his life. I really like the way the poem is structured. The way it suggests a virtue, and then the scenario that will require that virtue. ie. take a panadol…if you have a headache.


I have wanted to write about this poem for some time, to really beak it down to see why it resonates with me so strongly. I have presented the poem in its entirety at the end of this post (here), so it you are not familiar with it, I suggest scrolling to the end to read it, before I dissect it. Kiplings words are those in italics. The rest are mine.


If you can keep your head when all about you

Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,


This is about keeping your head. Maintaining focus, and not falling into the trap of “group think”. Keeping cool in the crisis. Sometimes, if you don’t buy in to the panic of those around you, they will turn on you, and blame you as the source of the problem. It is about having the strength to understand that you are in control of your response to a situation. It is your choice how you react.


If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,

But make allowance for their doubting too;


I find this one interesting. To me, this is about perception is reality, or in NLP speak, the map is not the territory. Recognising that you may see things your own way, and that is ok, but also recognising that other people may see the same situation differently.


If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,


I think this is just “be patient”


Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,

Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,


Integrity, don’t stoop to their level. Do the right thing. Two wrongs don’t make a right.


And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:


I’m not sure if humility is the right word. This is certainly about not getting too far ahead of yourself. This is certainly more relevant these days than in the early 20th Century. I’m thinking Instagram, Facebook, Twittter, wannabe entrepreneurs who have done nothing to date in their lives.


If you can dream-and not make dreams your master;

if you can think and not make thoughts you aim;


These make me think of mindfulness. It is ok to have dreams and goals, and to plan for the future, but if you decide to live there, you are not doing justice to the present.

If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster

And that those two imposters just the same;


This is about not dwelling in the past. The need to move on from both successes, and failures, and get on with life.


If you can bear to her the truth you’ve spoken

Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,


I’m not sure about this one. I’d love to hear what you think this is referring to. Maybe it is about if you attain a position of influence, people may steal parts of what you have to say, but mixing the message to have a different intent. I think of some of what you see on the inter webs, the stealing, and re purposing of other peoples content to deliver a different message.


Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,

And stoop and build ‘em up  with worn-out tools:


This is about persistence. A recognition that life will be full of ups and downs, yet you  must be prepared to keep going, and rebuild rather than giving up.


If you can make on heap of all your winnings

And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,

And lose, and start again at you beginnings

And never breathe a word about your loss;


This makes me think of stoicism. Of not fearing loss, and being prepared to take risks, regardless of the consequences. But then, if things don’t go your way, not complaining, or bemoaning to others what has happened, instead, trying again to succeed.


If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew

To serve your turn long after they are gone,

And so hold on when there is nothing in you

Except the Will which says to them: “Hold on!”


Hard work and persistence. To keep forging ahead, even when you may be exhausted. These days, this in more mental than physical, but the same applies.


This stanza, taken as a whole could have been written with the modern day entrepreneur in mind, keep trying things, although some are destined to fail. But above all, be prepared to work very hard.


If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,

Or Walk with Kings – more lose the common touch,


I see this a being about staying true to yourself. If you become famous and have a voice, don’t give way to popularism. Stay true to your message, and beliefs. 


if neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,

Be your own person. I think this is about having a healthy sense of self


If all men count with you, but none too much;

Again, I feel this has a strong meaning, but I am not sure what it is. I think possibly it refers to being popular and agreeable, but not putting yourself in a position where you rely on other people too much.


If you can fill the unforgiving minute

With sixty seconds’ with of distance run,


Time management. Being industrious and using your time wisely. Recognising that time is a very finite resource, so you need to use it wisely


Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,

And – which is more – you’ll be a man my son!


This  could have been the first ever blueprint for the current day entrepreneur. So much of it is relevant to the traits required to succeed in the personal brand driven world in which we currently live. There is not much in here to disagree with, but I feel that there is a bit missing. If I was writing something like this for my children, I definitely would have included something about compassion, and the need help others. To give back, and contribute to making the world a better place. I would also want to give direction of how to be happy, rather than just successful.

Unfortunately I don’t feel qualified at this stage of my journey to make that undertaking, but I am working on it!

POEM IN FULL


If you can keep your head when all about you

Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,

If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,

But make allowance for their doubting too;

If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,

Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,

Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,

And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:


If you can dream-and not make dreams your master;

if you can thing-and not make thoughts you aim;

If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster

And that those two imposters just the same;

If you can bear to her the truth you’ve spoken

Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,

Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,

And stoop and build ‘em up  with worn-out tools:


If you can make on heap of all your winnings

And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,

And lose, and start again at you beginnings

And never breathe a word about your loss;

If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew

To serve your turn long after they are gone,

And so hold on when there is nothing in you

Except the Will which says to them: “Hold on!”


If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,

Or Walk with Kings – more lose the common touch,

if neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,

If all me count with you, but none too much;

If you can fill the unforgiving minute

With sixty seconds’ with of distance run,

Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,

And – which is more – you’ll be a man my son!

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