What is Your “Jaw Bone”?

Living with and working with Angela (my wife of some 39 years) is fantastic.  Every morning we spend time together over a “cuppa” meditating, reflecting and reading something that will inspire us for the day. 

We are both professional coaches and have given each other permission to ask the tough questions. 

Today we came across a long forgotten childhood story about Samson – not the one where he pushes the great pillars of the temple down, but where his enemy had bound him and, on breaking free, Samson found a fresh jawbone of a donkey and killed a thousand men with it.

I was still half asleep when Angela read this but I woke up pretty quickly when she asked me what my “jaw bone” was.  Instinctively, I gave her a pathetic, inane male response.  “No”, she said, “We had our children long ago – that is not what I meant.”

She asked the question again but from a different angle.  “What have you been innately given  (your ‘jawbone’) that has helped you “win the day” when faced with your “enemies”?

Now I was awake!

Like a good coach she remained quiet while I pondered this question.  My first responses centred around my life Purpose of Igniting Enthusiasm and how I expressed love to others in this way. Still silence from the coach.

This was a significant moment.   I began to enter a space of greater self-awareness as I started to think about that one most  obvious, enduring, innate personal trait – my “personal life jawbone”. 

And then I had it – not a tentative, meek, maybe this is it, but a confident, all knowing awareness.  It was perseverance!

At this point, Angela shifted her role from coach to wife.  She began to recall all the times I persevered in the face of adversity, criticism, false accusation, self-doubt, life threatening  illness, financial struggles, relationship breakdowns and much more. 

 I tried to recall when I first became aware of this trait.  At six years of age, I had polio (not severe) and could not bear to stay in bed. I still hobbled around the farm and even milked the cows. Over three months off school was a challenge for an active boy.  Even now, I remember the excruciating pain of the slightest movement but I persevered.

Have you ever had a disastrous public performance? My first “Penny Concert” in primary school certainly was.  I really muffed my first piano solo around the age of 10.  It was a moment of sheer terror, shame and embarrassment when I froze and couldn’t play another note.  The next day we had to go to the Infants’ school and repeat the concert.  My teacher kindly asked if I wanted to play.  At home, I found a new piece, practised it for 4 or 5 hours, learned it off by heart and played it the next day without a mistake. Phew! My teacher said, ‘Well done”. Maybe then I learned the lesson of not giving up.

Then there were the times I attended the Convent after school for piano lessons.  By now I was taking music seriously and wanted to do it for my Junior.  We lived on a farm midway between two small towns. My transport home after the lesson was to hitch hike or walk – 12 km!  A heavy case, old shoes, and feeling tired from a full day at school made this quite a challenge.  It was difficult but I wanted music for my Junior Certificate.  I persevered even when I had to walk home in the rain, or in the cold, dark winter and when no one would stop to give me a lift.

I know what you are thinking.  Why didn’t your parents come and pick you up? Mum didn’t drive and farmers worked on the farm till dusk, didn’t they? But that’s another story! I passed my Junior music (and later my Leaving (Senior) with Distinction. I persevered through adverse circumstances and often sacrificed cricket and footy for music practice.  Only a nerd would do that! My “jawbone” won the day!

Academic work didn’t come easily for me.  In Year 10 (Junior as it was called in the 60’s) my Maths B teacher was the Principal (Headmaster in those days).  He said a terribly deflating thing to me one day – “Gifford, you’ll never pass your Junior.”  I did pass with 8 subjects but failed one. Yes, you guessed it – Maths B! As Head Boy this really pricked my ego and I did hold a teenage resentment.  If only I could have responded the way I know now!

Then, having failed my Leaving the first time due to a case of shingles just prior to and during exams, I had another go. Despite the humiliation of having to go back and mix with a different year group,  I held onto my childhood goal of wanting to be a school teacher, and passed all subjects.

At Uni the Professor talked to me about “recognising my ceiling and limitations”.  Another lecturer said, “We will have to wheel you out in a wheel chair by the time you pass”.  Not only did I pass my BA, then my Dip Ed while working full time but I went on to complete my MA and PhD from London University Institute of Education and along the way did a M.Ed. 

I had been given such a powerful “jawbone”.

And then there was the sport! Overcoming the set back from polio and becoming Captain of cricket, football (AFL man!) and athletics as well as winning the PSA Schoolboy 800m comes from talent and determination.

I guess I was brought up to never give up.  This inherited value was nearly the death of me when I first went to the city from the country town to finish my final two years of schooling.  My sporting reputation had gone before me.  At the cross country trials, I was absolutely “gone” by less than the half-way mark. I just wanted to quit.  The stitch in my side was killing me but I hung on to lead the race. 

With about two kilometres to go, I thought I would black out.  Stupidly, (or was it an inbuilt determination or my Dad’s “tape” in my head?) I kept going.  I led the runners back to the school oval for the final lap – lungs bursting, muscles stretched to breaking point, just willing myself to finish the race.   About 20 metres from the tape, as the new boy from the bush running against the well trained city kids, I became aware of something passing me.  It must have been another runner – all was a blur.  Apparently I did finish but woke up in the school’s hospital hours later with a Doctor hovering over me.

Writing that story some forty five years after it happened, it seems almost as if I were there in the race again.  In my perseverance, was I stupid, proud, courageous or determined?

Later, in my professional life, I came to understand that for my personality type (ENFP in Jungian terms) the questioning of personal integrity is the worst thing anyone can do.  On numerous occasions the “jawbone” of perserverance combined with unconditional love and positive regard toward my “false accusers” have become powerful weapons in winning the day.

 Persevering in relationships in a way where others have to face themselves and not the ugly, fearful manifestation of my ego has enabled me to maintain a peace of mind in adversity. For many, this is unfathomable and they give up or quit relationships without persevering.

There are many more stories like these. One in particular, comes to mind. Some 12 years ago, I hit a wall, as they say. Despite being told by many “experts” that I would never work again, their opinions have been confounded.  In fact, I have had one of the most productive and rewarding periods of my life.   Churchill said in his famous speech to a group of school boys ,”Never, ever, ever give up!” I agree.

Angela’s question was a fantastic catalyst for me to reflect upon and explore a great personal attribute that I have been given. Clearly, it has been my “jawbone” throughout my life and will be for the rest of my earthly days.

Perhaps we could all benefit from seeing  what we already have been given and put it to work, instead of searching in far away places.  Often the answer is right under our nose!

As with many people, right now, what we thought was secure in terms of work and finances has suddenly been lost.  What we have spent the last two years working on has been taken away and considerable finances with it.  This is nothing compared to our fellow Aussies in fire devastated Victoria and the flood victims in North Queensland.  Nor is it anything like the sudden and untimely death of a close friend’s  young wife who was phoned at work recently to be told that his wife had fallen at home and died!

As I close this piece of self-reflection, I am mindful of the shadow side of the “jawbone of an ass”.  The shadow side of perseverance is stubborness.  And to be stubborn is to be a silly ass!

And so, in all of this, I ask myself, ‘What is the core motive for my perseverance?’  Is it borne out of a stubborn pursuit and need to protect and preserve the ego? Is it a blind determination to achieve goals, no matter what the cost?  Perhaps once it was.  Now, older and wiser, I test my reason for persevering in situations against these questions. “How might  I positively serve my character and humankind by persevering in this endeavour?”  “How is it On Purpose for me?”

Samson needed to see what had already been given to him – just the jawbone of a donkey.  But it was sufficient for him to win the victory.

So what is your “jawbone” to help carry you through to success and significance?  Once you realise what you have been given, recognise where it has come from and put it to work you will be amazed at your achievements and insights. Enjoy the discoveries!