This is the Junior Girl Scout Promise:
On my honor, I will try:
To serve God and my country
To help people at all times,
And to live by the Girl Scout Law.
If you old timers remember it differently, there’s no need to scratch your heads. It’s changed a good bit over the years, but that’s a post for another day.
Today, I’m focusing on one word that does not seem to have changed in these many years: try.
I never thought much about that word when I said it as a kid. I think I was lulled by the sing-songy cadence that the Promise took on when we said it aloud at the start of each troop meeting. In fact, our rendition put an unnatural em-PHA-sis on this word “try.”
But that little verb has really insinuated itself under my skin. Ponder:
When “try” is our primary verb in a promise–or any statement–do we immediately let ourselves off the hook? Do we give ourselves tacit permission to fail, or do less than we might?
I’ve thought a lot about this verb in the last 15 years, mostly while recalling the 35 years that preceded it and the countless times I excused my efforts with the words, “I tried.”
Believe me, I say this as non-judgmentally as possible, and I don’t beat up on myself about it. It’s just a statement of truth, and for most of the last 15 years I have “tried” to eliminate “try” from my vocabulary with varying amounts of success.
Thank Yoda for that. Or, more truthfully, thank an old coworker of mine who quoted Yoda to me after I’d “tried” to get something done: “Do or do not. There is no try.” Watch the master say it here:
That line from Star Wars had gone right over my head when I first saw the movie, but it stuck like glue the day it was pointed in my direction. It was a simple principle, a simple lens through which I might honestly assess almost any task big or small, in black or white. Do or do not. Do or do not. Don’t just try.
About two years ago, I was reintroduced to T.S. Eliot‘s Four Quartets in a lyric writing workshop conducted by Berkelee College of Music professor Pat Pattison. He specifically pointed to the passage in “East Coker, V,” below. You can jump to the bottom if you’re in a hurry, but it’s an important and beautiful read, and it’s especially vivid for those of us in the “middle years:”
So here I am, in the middle way, having had twenty years—
Twenty years largely wasted, the years of l’entre deux guerres*
Trying to use words, and every attempt
Is a wholly new start, and a different kind of failure
Because one has only learnt to get the better of words
For the thing one no longer has to say, or the way in which
One is no longer disposed to say it. And so each venture
Is a new beginning, a raid on the inarticulate
With shabby equipment always deteriorating
In the general mess of imprecision of feeling,
Undisciplined squads of emotion. And what there is to conquer
By strength and submission, has already been discovered
Once or twice, or several times, by men whom one cannot hope
To emulate—but there is no competition—
There is only the fight to recover what has been lost
And found and lost again and again: and now, under conditions
That seem unpropitious. But perhaps neither gain nor loss.
For us, there is only the trying. The rest is not our business. **
Ain’t that something? Makes me ache every time I read it, but I fear Yoda might roll his eyes.
To me, Eliot’s simple, human conclusion sentence suggests that our job is to show up, be present, do our best and let the rest go. It has nothing to do with the measurements of success or completion. Or, perhaps in the parlance of Oprah: it’s not the destination–it’s the journey.
So… I am curious. Where do others stand on the whole “try” thing? Are you in the Yoda camp or the T.S. Eliot camp?
* French for “between two wars”
**I’ve added the em-PHA-sis on that last line, and you can read the Four Quartets online here.