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Human Resolve

As I mentioned in my last blog, I’m not a big believer in new year’s resolutions but I do want to give some thought to the more powerful concept of human resolve.  While a degree of human resolve is needed to stick to a new year resolution, resolve is actually a quality that we might need to draw on at any time in the year if we want to achieve a particular outcome or change a particular behaviour.

The idea of resolve is a very active process and quite different from the rather passive approach of hoping or wishing that a desired outcome will happen. Resolving to do something indicates a level of action and a strong determination to see something through to fruition.

Recently I was lucky enough to see Hamilton The Musical.  Telling the story of American Founding Father Alexander Hamilton’s ascent out of poverty and to power, this critically acclaimed piece of musical theatre has a powerful message.  Set against the backdrop of the American War of Independence, the musical uses well-crafted hip-hop, rap and R&B songs as it takes the audience through Hamilton’s fascinating and important life.  One of the opening numbers is the incredibly energetic ‘My Shot’, which features the lyrics:

“Don’t be shocked when your hist’ry book mentions me
I will lay down my life it if sets us free
Eventually, you’ll see my ascendancy
And I am not throwing away my shot
I am not throwing away my shot”

Now there are many interesting lessons we can learn from this brilliant musical and from the life of Alexander Hamilton, but this mantra – I am not throwing away my shot – for me captures the energy and determination that I believe typifies human resolve.

It is easy to view resolve as only relevant for the big life changing moments but we need different degrees of resolve for any number of actions in all sorts of aspects of our lives.  For Fifth Form pupils looking towards their GCSEs, resolving to achieve the best possible GCSE grades requires an active determination which is very different from simply hoping to end up with a string of top grades. For an aspiring sportsperson, resolving to achieve a particular goal will involve an ongoing process of positive choices and actions. 

And the need for resolve is very personal. Recently I was interested to see the resolve of one of my good friends, Vicky Bingham, headmistress of South Hampstead High, making news in The Sunday Times. When I saw Vicky last summer, she mentioned over lunch that she had decided not to buy any new clothes for a year as her personal contribution to the wider need to reduce climate change.  Returning to school in September, she declared this intention to her pupils and set up a club through which any member of the pupil body could make their own pledge to help reduce their environmental impact. Knowing Vicky as I do, I understand that this is a big challenge for her and I think that is why she told her school community - making her plan public created added incentive for her to stick to her resolve. But just as I know that this is a serious undertaking for Vicky, I know there are countless other people who would hardly notice if they didn’t buy new clothes for a year! The point is that what is difficult, worthy of effort or meaningful is different for all of us. You will all have your own aspirations and goals, and achieving these will require different degrees of resolve and action. 

At some points in all our lives, we have to summon up a lot of personal resolve. One of the great things about consciously resolving to do something is that, in many ways, recognising that resolve is needed means you’ve already acknowledged that there will be obstacles and difficulties associated with your chosen action or change – you’ve accepted that it won’t necessarily be easy or straightforward.  One of the elements that can sometimes stand in the way of resolve is a desire for an outcome by a particular time. Real resolve rarely has a timeframe of achievement or change; it recognises that every challenge we set ourselves has unknown elements and requires an inflexible determination to succeed. And while your resolve remains, you can succeed.

The American author and poet, Ella Wheeler Wilcox, summed up the idea of human resolve perfectly when she wrote:

“There is no chance, no destiny, no fate, that can circumvent or hinder or control the firm resolve of a determined soul.”

Rowena Cole is The Head of St John's School.  Follow her @rowenacole01 and stay in touch with all the news at St John's by following us @StJohnsSurrey