The power of persistence

 by Henrylito D. Tacio

THERE is a fine line between persistence and obstinacy. I have come to realize the key is to choose a problem that is worth persistent effort.” That statement comes from the mouth of Dr. Judah Folkman when interviewed by Fran Lostys for an article which appeared in the American edition of Reader’s Digest.

In the early 1970s, Dr. Folkman proposed an idea in cancer research that did not fit what scientists “knew” to be true: that tumors did not generate new blood vessels to “feed” themselves and grow. But he was convinced that they did. “You’re studying dirt,” his colleagues kept telling him. It means that his project was futile science.

Unknown to most of his colleagues, Dr. Folkman has kept a reproduction of a 1903 ‘New York Times’ article in his archives. In it, two physics professors explain why airplanes could not possibly fly. The article appeared just three months before the Wright brothers split the air at Kitty Hawk.

Inspired by the article, Dr. Folkman disregarded the catcalls of the research community. Lostys wrote: “For two decades, he met with disinterest or hostility as he pursued his work in angiogenesis, the study of the growth of new blood vessels. At one research convention, half the audience walked out. ‘He’s only a surgeon,’ he heard someone say.’”

But Dr. Folkman always believed that his work might help stop the growth of tumors, and might help find ways to grow blood vessels where they were needed – like around clogged arteries in the heart.

He persisted. And in the 1980s, Dr. Folkman and his colleagues discovered the first angiogenesis inhibitors. “Today, more than 100,000 cancer patients are benefiting from the research he pioneered,” Lostys noted. “His work is now recognized as being on the forefront in the fight to cure cancer.”

Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence,” declared American president Calvin Coolidge. “Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan ‘Press on’ has solved and always will solve the problems of human race.”

Thomas Alva Edison thought so, too. The American inventor changed the lives of millions of people through such inventions as the electric light and phonograph. His statement, “Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration,” is one of the most often-quoted lines.

Perhaps it may come to you as a surprise that this American inventor had only three months of formal schooling. History records show that he knew more failures than successes. For 13 months, Edison kept on searching for a filament that would stand the stress of electric current. As he pondered whether he would be able to discover the elusive thing, he got a note from people backing his experiment that they would no longer be giving additional funds for what he was then doing.

News like that may bring a person to quit, but not Edison. In fact, it did not deter him from continuing his work. He refused to admit defeat and worked without sleep for two more days and nights. Eventually, he managed to insert one of the crude carbonized threads into a vacuum-sealed bulb. “When we turned on the current,” he recalled, “the sight we had so long desired finally met our eyes!”

Before that, however, Edison had to endure a string of failures. “What a waste! We have tried no less than 700 experiments and nothing has worked. We are not a bit better off than when we started,” a couple of men who were working alongside him said. He just shrugged this comment, telling them, “Oh yes, we are! We now know 700 things that won’t work. We’re closer than we’ve ever been before.”

Edison looked at things differently. He refused to be discouraged. Take the case of a postage stamp. Its usefulness consists in the ability to stick to one thing till it gets there. And just remember, by perseverance the snail reached Noah’s Ark.

If you believe in what you do, then you must do it – no matter what. Remember Musa Alami, the Arab man who made to blossom a rose in the midst of a desert? After graduating from the Cambridge University in England, Musa returned to Palestine where he became a well-to-do man. Then, in political turmoil, he lost everything, including his home.

Musa went beyond Jordan to the edge of Jericho. Stretching away on either side was the great, bleak, arid desert of the Jordan valley. In the distance to the left, shimmering in the hot haze loomed the mountains of Judea, and to the right the mountains of Moab.

With the exception of a few oases, nothing had ever been cultivated in this hot and weary land, and everyone said that nothing could be, for how could you bring water to it? To dam the Jordan River for irrigation was too expensive and, besides, there was no money to finance such a huge project.

What about underground water?” Musa suggested. You must be kidding, the people who heard him laughed. Whoever heard of such thing? There was no water under that hot, dry desert. Ages ago, it had been covered by Dead Sea water; now the sand was full of salt, which added further to the aridity.

But then Musa heard of the amazing rehabilitation of the California desert through subsurface water. If it happened there, it will also happen here. All the old-time Bedouin sheiks said it couldn’t be done; government officials agreed, and so, solemnly, did the famous scientists from abroad. There was absolutely no water down there. That was that.

But Musa was determined. He thought he could find water under the ground. A few poverty-stricken refugees from the nearby Jericho Refugee Camp helped him as he started to dig with pick and shovel. Everybody laughed as this dauntless man and his ragged friends dug away day after day, week after week, month after month. Down they went, slowly, deep into the sand into which no man since creation had plumbed for water.

For six months they dug; then one day the sand became wet and finally water, life-giving water, gushed forth. The Arabs who had gathered round did not laugh or cheer; they wept. Water had been found in the ancient desert!

Lots of people limit their possibilities by giving up easily,” author Norman Vincent Peale reminds. “Never tell yourself this is too much for me. It’s no use. I can’t go on. If you do you’re licked, and by your own thinking, too. Keep believing and keep on keeping on.” — ###

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