At what point did society begin using this expression as a motivator? Instead of encouraging success, the saying is only a way for children to feel good, win or lose, no matter what they actually do. It has become a poison in our society, preventing people from gaining self-sufficiency. It may seem innocent enough when applied to a third-grade dodge-ball game, but it’s not so innocent when it causes children to grow up believing that it applies in the real world, where it does not.
Imagine for a moment that one of these children grows up and finds himself in a life or death situation such as being mugged.
Now, I’ve been a martial artist for many years, and what piece of advice would I give to a person about to be mugged? Would it be, “Just do the best you can,” or something else?
If I tell him to just do the best he can, the question becomes, “What point of reference can he use to determine the ‘best he can’?” Where does he pull this point of reference from, if he has never been mugged before? Maybe the closest experience with physical confrontation he has had is a fight with his younger sister when he was 7 years old. That kind of “best” would certainly not suffice in a mugging situation. He has no idea what his best is in this situation, because he has never experienced this situation before.
So what advice would I give to this person about to be mugged? I would tell him, “Kill or die trying.” Only then would he discover what he is capable of, and only then would he actually “do his best.” He either survives by killing his attacker or dies trying. If he survives, we would know he did the best he could. If he dies trying, we know that he either didn’t do his best or that he did his best and it wasn’t good enough. And both equate to the same result of him being dead.
While I have used an extreme example to make my point, I argue that this concept holds true in any area of real adult life, whether or not it’s a life or death situation. Consider for a moment what happens with someone’s landlord if he doesn’t pay his rent. He can tell his landlord that he tried his best to get a job to come up with the rent money, but no matter how hard he tried, he will eventually be evicted.
The idea of a person doing the best he can loosely translates into this: “Do it up until the point it becomes uncomfortable and then give up. You can then feel OK because you tried.” The problem is that this then becomes a reference point for everything that he will do in the future. His mantra becomes, “Do things until they become difficult, give up, and then feel OK about giving up.”
This is not the recipe for a successful life. The recipe for a successful life sounds more like, “Do it, and keep on doing it until you either win or die trying.”
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