In the book, Character Strengths and Virtues: a Handbook and Classification, persistence or perseverance is defined as “voluntary continuation of a goal-directed action in spite of obstacles, difficulties, or discouragement.” It’s grit, determination, not giving up. In individuals, it is a characteristic that is most often admired. The ability to keep trying in the face of obstacles is impressive. That’s why NBC still spends so much broadcast time during the Olympics on the human story – as much as people say they just want to watch the actual athletic competition, we all still love to talk about the Oscar Pistorius or the Andy Murray. In many ways, the success after failure or trial is that much sweeter for having overcome some major obstacle on the way. Seeing persistence in action gives us hope that we, too, can succeed if we just keep trying.
But what about group persistence? Is it possible? I would argue that it is.
Four years ago, the Growing Up Healthy neighborhood leaders from the Cannon River Mobile Home Park in Faribault suggested that adding more speed bumps to the neighborhood would make it safer for children, particularly during the summer months when they are playing outside. This suggestion was taken to the owner of the park who countered that installing speed bumps would be expensive and impede his ability to keep the streets clear of snow in the winter. Many conversations and four years later, the speed bumps have been installed.
How, you ask? Good old-fashioned persistence. The team of neighborhood leaders and many supporting organizations and individuals never gave up on the idea until it became a reality. From the financial support of Rice County Public Health’s SHIP funding, to the work of AmeriCorps VISTA member Rachel Berkowitz in getting the speed bumps delivered, to the negotiating of park manager Julie Trnka to allow for removable speed bumps, to the volunteer labor of Tony and Scott Line and many CRMHP residents in installing them. It was a group effort – group persistence – and it paid off.
As I shared tacos with residents of the CRMHP neighborhood on Monday evening following the installation of the speed bumps, I couldn’t help but feel like I was part of something really amazing. It was an extremely positive and energizing emotion – and it definitely felt contagious. Persistence is not necessarily one of my own individual character strengths, but experiencing it with a group was truly motivating. The moral? Persistence is not really a spectator sport – and like most things in life, it is easier and more fun with others by your side.
I can’t wait to find out what project we’ll be taking on next!