In 1981 I was invited to a reception given by the Mayor of Geneva. I had been speaking at a United Nations conference on the right of all nations to self-determination. At the reception I fell into conversation with a tall man who turned out to be the head of S.W.A.P.O. (the South West African People’s Organisation). As we talked about Namibia’s struggle for independence, he said something that stopped me in my tracks. He said: “We will triumph, because we are serious.”
His words really sank in. I realised that if you want to succeed at anything, you have to be serious. John McEnroe was flamboyant and cheeky, but he was consistently serious. And because he was serious, he won his matches, until inevitably his body could no longer sustain that high level of tennis. Incidentally, S.W.A.P.O. did triumph.
Looking at the attitude of many people to the big problems of our time – Trump, Islam, inequality, the dumbing down of culture, overpopulation, and climate change, to name but a few – the word that immediately springs to mind is “flippant”, the very opposite of McEnroe and my African friend. Trump is arguably one of the most dangerous people ever to hold high office – because of him, climate change will undoubtedly accelerate, and nuclear war is now a distinct possibility – yet he is allowed to continue without any serious opposition. It is an extremely serious situation that is not being taken seriously.
Just to be clear, I do not claim that it easy to be serious. It is not! This is why truly serious people are very few in number and are, literally, outstanding. Truly serious people have very clear goals. They know exactly what they want to achieve. To this they bring courage, determination, focus, strength, and consistency, qualities that appear to be in very short supply these days. It is very rare to come across someone with all these characteristics. If you happen to meet one, they stand out like a beacon.
I hope I am stating the obvious when I claim that if we want to change our lives, or the world, for the better, we first need to be serious – first and foremost. If we are not serious, then things might change, but it will be by accident, not by design.
At this point, I look at myself in the mirror and then look back at the checklist. Can I honestly say to myself that I have clear goals, and that I embody courage, determination, focus, strength and consistency? Whatever the answer, this surely has to be the most important question of my life.