Watching the wall-to-wall coverage of the devastation following Hurricane Harvey, many people have wondered how the inhabitants of Houston will ever recover. Gen. George Patton said, "The test of success is not what you do when you are on top. Success is how high you bounce when you hit bottom." The people of Texas are in for a big test of their bounce-ability.
The ability to bounce back, keep things in perspective and then begin to climb or build again is a vital characteristic of those who ultimately achieve success. That bounce-ability has been part of the American experience from the beginning.
In contrast to our country's stunning victories, breakthroughs, innovations and achievements, America and its people have endured epic failures, losses, dark days and heart-wrenching defeats. In addition to natural disasters, America has had many moments where it would have been easy to just cower in the corner or completely give up. Early battles of the Revolution, the initial days and weeks of the Constitutional Convention, Abraham Lincoln's political career and personal life, Pearl Harbor, stock market crashes, space shuttle disasters and 9/11 are just a few of the countless moments when America plummeted to very low points. The resilience of our country and its people is part of our history, which continually propels us toward a better tomorrow.
There's a story about a sign hanging from a rusty nail on the front porch of an old farmhouse that said much about the bounce-ability, persistence and resilience of the farmer who had lived there for 75 years. The sign read: "Burned out by drought, drowned out by flood, ate out by jack rabbits, sold out by sheriff — STILL HERE!"
Everyone has faced or will face adversity, challenges or obstacles. The determining factor for our success in the coming years will be this: What will we do when the adversity comes and we hit bottom? Will we persist or panic? Will we murmur or ponder? Will we look for reasons to push forward, or will we find excuses to quit or give up? Will we join in the group griping and pity parties in crying about how unfair it is, or will we explore the numerous opportunities that are ahead of us?
Sometimes success comes from simply showing up day after day after day. We often run out of energy and bounce long before we run out of opportunity. In life, and in business, it is a war of attrition where more and more of the competition simply quits because the frustration, failure and setbacks seem so devastating. But those who understand the power and importance of their bounce simply see any challenge or difficulty as an opportunity to show their mettle, test their mental toughness and prove their potential.
In the coming days Houston's bounce-ability will be on full display. Its people have already shown incredible willingness to help each other in the midst of the storm, with countless stories of heroic rescues and neighbor helping neighbor being reported. The American people have also opened their hearts, their homes and their wallets to assist in the early response to the devastation. Houston's test, and ours, will be found in what we do three weeks, three months and three years from now. The bounce-ability of the nation is always displayed by what we do over the long haul.
Perspective, resilience, determination, vision — all of these help improve bounce-ability and enable us as individuals and communities to survive the present and achieve the extraordinary in the future.
Boyd C. Matheson is president of Sutherland Institute,
a conservative think tank that advocates for a free market economy, civil society and community-driven solutions.