Holding On For Life is Dear
I have been thinking about tenacity. I was moved to see the families of those who died at Hillsborough win a Women of the Year Special Award this week. Campaigner Margaret Aspinall, who lost her son James collected the award on behalf of the "mothers, sisters, daughters and aunts" and their 27-year fight for the truth. Ninety-six Liverpool fans died in Britain's worst-ever sporting disaster on 15 April 1989. Fresh inquests concluded in April that the victims were unlawfully killed. Police errors were blamed for the crush while the Liverpool fans were cleared of any blame.
What struck me again was the women's tenacity, 27 years is a long time to hold on and perservere. As yet another women’s magazine editorial invoked me to ‘find my power’ this week, I thought about the particular kind of power that tenacity represents, and how tenacity might benefit us emotionally.
Tenacity disrupts the current context of ‘nowism’, one that is pushing us to be present in the moment, rather than thinking about the past or worrying about the future. Tenacity steadfastly plays the long game. To me, it is a different proposition to the idea of positive thinking, in which, with an optimism bias we imagine and anticipate that things will be ok. In tenacious thinking the point is that we don’t know that things will be ok, and in fact we might live closer to the fear that they won't, and we hang on to that thing that matters most and perservere. I don’t know what Margaret Aspinall or the other relatives held onto on the darkest of days, I don’t know what they individually or collectively held onto on the brighter days. I do know that for 27 years, they held on.
As a behaviour, tenacity can have some very strong emotional drivers; anger, hurt, loss. Of course some tenacious behaviour might be self-destructive, a dogged refusal to let go of something that is hurting us, but tenacity can also be a powerful and positive expression of autonomy, coping and resilience, we will hold on because letting go is simply unimaginable.
The American poet Adrienne Rich talks about ‘wild patience’. She leaves its meaning open to interpretation. My interpretation sees it as waiting in a fully alive state, alert, curious, focused. It is a visceral, untamed, unruly ability to just wait and see. Its power, potentially, lies precisely in its opposition to pathalogical planning, outcome hoping and goal setting. I wonder if it is some element of wild patience that feeds tenacity and keeps it alive. Patience can feel unnatural and unfamiliar to so many of us, wild patience even more so. Modern lives (and I day this without judgement as someone who colludes in it all) that are time-pressed, time - competitive, over-stuffed with activities and craving instant gratification don’t easily organise around it. It may be something that we need to practice.
How might we go about practicing wild patience? You might have it already, you might be naturally tenacious, or you have learned to be in the face of something that has happened. For those of us, who like me, are dis-inclined to wild patience here is a strategy. I don’t have one, I don’t know, I have no idea, wait and see.