Triumph and disaster – nothing lasts for long


I walked down a road called Grand Drive in Morden today and stopped outside a tennis academy, which had a quote from Rudyard Kipling’s If printed on a large, Wimbledon branded, hoarding:

“If you can meet with triumph and disaster and treat those two imposters just the same.”

Rudyard Kipling

I’ve read If before and like the bit about not losing your head when all around you are losing theirs (and blaming it on you.) Dad quotes that to me occasionally. Working in a Higher Education setting, it’s good advice. But the bit about triumph and disaster hadn’t caught my attention.

It’s interesting that the All England Club Community Sports Ground chose to put this quote in a prominent place (visible from the entrance of the ground). I caught the attention of a security guard in a hut by walking up to the gate so I could take a picture of it.)

“It’s ok!” I reassured the guard, “I’m not coming in, I just want to take a picture of that quote.” He smiled at me in a slightly pitying way and went back to his paper.

But the quote made me think. Often, I hear giddy sports journalists bouncing up to cricketers and trying to get them to display a bit of emotion after a particularly spectacular win, or defeat (mostly win these days, amazingly.) “How did that feel?” they implore, hoping the triumphant captain will drop the veil of grace and humility and admit that they enjoyed smashing all hell out of New Zealand just a little bit.

They absolutely refuse to comply. Presumably, media training these days recommends that an astonishing victory or defeat should not lead to a change in behaviour. Why? Because of the knock on effect on team mates and our own confidence. Melancholy, or complacency, sets in, and performance is negatively affected. Much better then to treat the latest result as a fleeting occurrence, and to get back to the nets.

Tennis stars are much the same. Andy Murray used to come in for a drubbing by the satirical Radio 4 show, Dead Ringers, which used to poke fun at his monotonous responses to any and all questions from journalists. But whatever you think about Andy Murray as a person or a player, the approach is spot on. Whether we win or lose, we should disengage from the result, and get back to practice.

The I Ching agrees. When we look at hexagrams such as 63: After Completion, it counsels to avoid any kind of unbalancing thoughts that might disturb our dignity or independence (Anthony, 1988). The I Ching may be a bit ‘woo’ for many Walk the Pod readers, but my position on things like tarot or tao is that if the guidance is sound, and written by a wise person whose values I agree with, then it doesn’t matter whether cards, tea leaves or the shape of an ink blot was the origin.

I don’t believe that anything supernatural is going on, but I like to believe that in a world where we can occasionally see all of science overturned by a new theory, it’s possible that human intuition taps into something more profound and scientific that we don’t yet understand.

The ancient Persian saying, ‘this too shall pass’ is popular for just the same reason. The good, as well as the bad, shall pass, and this phrase reminds us to take it one day (one hour, or one minute) at a time when things are bad, and to enjoy every moment when things are good. Because nothing lasts for long.


Anthony, C.K., (1988) A Guide to the I Ching. 3rd edn. Massachusetts: Anthony Publishing Co.

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