Many might think there is nothing worse than lying in bed in the dark and hearing a mosquito buzzing around our ears, but there is something worse than that — it is not hearing that same mosquito buzzing around our ears in the dark, as if it is quiet it must be biting us! It might serve to remind us of the well-known saying that, “If you think you are too small to be effective, you have never been in the dark with a mosquito.” A mosquito is tiny but it can cause immense irritation and itchiness, not to mention the potential for malaria.
by Tim Middleton
In a similar way, the very word “if” is small, but it can still be extremely effective. It is a small word with huge potential with regards to our life. In fact, it may have escaped your attention that “if” is in the middle of the word “life”; it must not escape your understanding that life is all about “if”.
Firstly, the word “if” is saying there is a chance. It is a hopeful word; it says there is still an opportunity, a hope, a possibility. It says it is not over yet. It is not “when”, but “if”. People who see it in this light would be seen as the optimists. One wit said of the former US president: “If [George] Bush were the captain of the Titanic, he’d say we were stopping for ice.” A soccer coach might look at the situation at this time of the year by saying that “If we can win all our last 15 matches by at least six goals each, we will avoid relegation…” The situation may look bleak but there is still hope! It is not over, as the saying goes, until the fat lady sings. We need to help our youngsters to see this.
Secondly, the word “if” is saying there is a choice. It is an important word because it says there is a decision, a test, an option, even if it may only be what is defined as “Hobson’s choice”, which is basically a choice of “take it or leave it”. It provides an alternative as a resolution — as another way put it: “If something I said can be interpreted two ways and one of the ways has made you sad or angry, I meant the other one.” The famous poet Robert Frost wrote the classic lines, “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—I took the one less travelled by, And that has made all the difference.” Our youngsters have to learn to make the right choices as it is not a matter of if they will have choices but when they have choices.
Thirdly, the word “if” is saying there is a condition. It is a significant word as it says the result is not guaranteed, is not a right. For something to happen, certain things need to be fulfilled. Youngsters need to realise the incredible importance of this. They cannot simply expect others to do things for them, be it their parents, teachers, governments or employers. If they want to do well, they will have to work hard; if they want to win, they must train.
Fourthly, the word “if” is saying there is a consequence. It is a challenging word as it says certain things will follow our choices. It is the same as in a Mathematics equation where we read that “If this, then that” — in Maths youngsters have to learn what happens as a result of the condition; in life they have to learn what will happen as a result of their choices. Small events can turn into major issues.
The word “if” can imply something hypothetical. People joke that a man is always wrong which caused one man to ask:
“If a man speaks his mind in a forest and no woman hears him, is he still wrong?” However, what we are saying in this article is not hypothetical — this is real. This is important. At times, the word “if” can even introduce something humorous [“If we are here to serve others, what are the others here for?” and the bumper sticker: “If you can read this sticker you are driving too close to me”] but what we are saying here is serious. If only our youngsters would realise the power of the word “if” — we must help them do that. If only they would make the choice and take the chance — we must encourage them to do that. “If” is a positive word because it is a possibility. Like the mosquito, the small word “if” is very effective, and youngsters can be effective if they see the significance of the word. If, if, if…
As a wise man once declared, “If at first you don’t succeed . . . sky-diving is not for you” (though it may be for mosquitoes). But if you do succeed, the sky is the limit!
Tim Middleton is the executive director of the Association of Trust Schools and author of the book on “failure” called Failing to Win.