(Never Say) Never Give Up

January 9, 2015

Never give up.

This is a phrase commonly used when a person is struggling in life or fighting an illness.

Once again, this is a post that came about because of a specific event but is actually a recurring theme in the infertility world. So while the specific event led to me actually writing this post, this post is not solely about that event or an attack on that person who most recently said that phrase. There’s been enough fighting on Twitter about this already I don’t care to encourage more of it. Which is why I thought perhaps more than 140 characters were warranted on the topic. Also, please note that this post has been sitting in drafts for MONTHS. I was only reminded that it was still sitting there because of a recent post on the very same topic.

Never give up.

If you have not attained your goals this phrase is perceived as a rallying cry to spur and cheer you on. It’s meant to help you get to where you want to be. Sometimes that’s a good thing. We all need our own personal cheerleaders sometimes to help us get through trying times.

However, if you have achieved those goals, you often become the one doing the rallying and cheering, “You can do it!”

I believe this all stems from our parents teaching us that anything is possible if you just try hard enough. That hard work is always rewarded. No pain, no gain. Insert more cliches.

But guess what? None of those things is true.

Maybe *you* never gave up and things worked out for you. That’s great. If never give up is your own personal mantra I’m good with that. Keep saying it to yourself as long as it helps you.

But all too often it is the rallying cry said to others. And it’s not fair to tell someone else that s/he should never give up. Because the moral of the story is that the ending is NOT always happy. And that’s OK. That’s life. That’s real.

It’s one thing to be at the finish line telling someone who is winded and whose legs ache to never give up, she can do it, just 100 more feet and she can stop running and finish the 5k. It’s quite another to say that to a person who is asthmatic with bleeding feet and an irregular heartbeat.

But the toll of infertility and specific diagnoses are not tattooed on people’s foreheads. The spread and extent of an individual’s cancer is not usually obvious from the outside. There are countless diseases and struggles in life that are not visible just by looking at a person. So you can’t know who needs to hear never give up and who needs to hear it’s OK to stop.

Just like there are countless cliches like if at first you don’t succeed, try try again there are also quite a few of the beating a dead horse variety.

Add to that the fact that you are sitting on the other side of the finish line – A PLACE OF PRIVILEGE – saying never give up. Even if you only intended that phrase to apply to your own struggle there’s an inherent implication that it applies to everyone with issues similar to yours. You only get to utter that phrase because it worked for you (privilege). It could just as easily have been you on the wrong side of that finish line.

To illustrate my point…if you had survived cancer, would you say never give up to a person who had decided to stop treatments for his cancer? Pops did far more chemo than he should have because of this mantra. He suffered more than he should have because stopping chemo was perceived as giving up and you’re not supposed to ever give up fighting cancer. Right?

Wrong. Each person gets to decide what is right for himself in any given situation. Preferably without all the bullshit cliches compelling him to choose one option over another.

But I digress. The point is this: the phrase never give up comes from a place of privilege. People who take issue with the phrase are just asking you to check your privilege. That’s all. Acknowledge it. Acknowledge that this mantra is not for everyone instead of perpetuating the myth that it’s never OK to stop.

I feel similarly about Hope as I’ve previously written.

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20 Responses to “(Never Say) Never Give Up”

  1. KeAnne Says:

    You are so right about the added insult to injury if you are saying it from the other side and its place of privilege. I think the cancer analogy is a good one, and I think we need to respect others’ decisions and paths. There is no one right way.

  2. gsmwc02 Says:

    Reblogged this on A Few Pieces Missing From Normalcy – An Infertile Man's Perspective and commented:
    A great post on something that needs to change in the infertility community if we’re ever going to become a more supportive inclusive community.

  3. Mali Says:

    I agree. And those who say “I would never have given up” are privileged that they never had to find out.

  4. B Says:

    Sometimes stopping is the bravest thing a person could do. “Giving up” leaves room for relationships to continue and heal, for people to find things to fill that child shaped hole in their hearts and regain a sense of purpose and meaning through other endeavors, it gives space for enough to be enough and for people to have the ability to have forward movement rather being stuck in a waiting place indefinitely.

  5. A. Says:

    Agree – it seems precarious to give any unsolicited prescriptive advice, touting hope and perseverance or otherwise, when circumstances and resouces are so varied. I would humbly offer that most of us want simple empathy, not directives, and that reaches well beyond infertility to apply to most hardships.

    Though I do think it’s interesting to hear my position labeled as “privilege” considering all I endured to arrive here. I have felt lately, on the heels of this recent Twitter-rift, that the pregnant/parenting contingent has been lumped in with drunken cheerleaders who get knocked up by accident, which coldly dismisses our very real histories of trauma. I’m not sure that’s the best tone for opening ears to the conversation. But then maybe I’m just personalizing…

    • Fox Says:

      Privilege exists only in relative terms. You hold privilege relative to me. I hold privilege relative to those who can’t afford to even try ART. And the drunken cheerleader holds privilege relative to all infertiles. The term is not meant to be devisive although some people do take it that way. It’s a common term used regarding race and gender relations, not something I just made up. I’m drawing an analogy from another field of study not drawing another line between PAIL and not PAIL. My apologies if that wasn’t clear. It was not my intent to minimize the effects of the trauma of infertility.

    • Donna Says:

      Agree with this point and thank you for having the guts to say it. I know many agree with you but we all have to do it privately as the group that thinks the term “privileged” is fair (which maybe it would be if there were “tiers of privileged” instead of, like you said, lumping all of us into on category) will give us hostile treatment otherwise. If we had success and we disagree with anyone in this group, we’ll be beaten up on under the guise that they are “educating us” and simply expressing their feelings. For a group who feels like they have to remain silent (although they never do and of course should not!), I don’t think they realize how many people they have silenced with their behavior in the past couple of months. It’s unfortunate. Thank you again for making this very valid point and glad to see that at least Fox responded more decently than most would have these days.

  6. A. Says:

    I’m familiar with the concept of privilege, and I find it has a finger-wagging connotation in reference to other social divides as well. Truth is my comment is based on a culminating feeling I’m getting from particular parts of the blogosphere, and I don’t mean to pin that on you. Your point about ‘never give up’ is a valid one.

    • Fox Says:

      Interesting. I don’t see it as finger wagging but educational. I think it’s good to be conscious of the various ways in which you hold privilege in the world in order to better understand how people without that privilege move around. It breeds empathy IMO. Understanding your own privilege helps you to see what it might be like if you didn’t have it.
      Whether or not we agree on that point I thank you for clarifying your statement.

  7. soangiewrites Says:

    Thank you for this post, Alex. So important to keep my privilege in mind if I hope to engage in compassionate and sensitive communication. I think it’s important to understand that asking us to be aware of our privilege isn’t demanding we give something up. We just need to be aware, and to make safe space for everyone.


  8. Um… YES. I’m actually a huge fan of “giving up” only I call it “walking away.” There are times in our lives when it is totally okay– even healthy– to walk away from something that isn’t working any more. It may be a terrible relationship, an awful job, medical treatments, etc. It isn’t defeatist– it can even be empowering.

    There is such a colossal difference between saying “I give up” vs. “I’m choosing another path.”

  9. Kitten Says:

    Reblogged this on Forever Infertile and commented:
    A great piece on how “Never give up” can do more harm than good, especially when it comes to infertility.

  10. Theresa Says:

    I guess it depends on your viewpoint. To me, choosing to be child free doesn’t constitute giving up, it means choosing another path.

  11. Theresa Says:

    And I just want to say that I mean absolutely no disrespect. We struggled with infertility too, though I’ll admit our journey was “easier” than many others. But perhaps it is because we went through infertility that I have that viewpoint in the first place.

  12. dipitie Says:

    It took me far too long to comment on this! Thank you for always expressing things that I feel, much more eloquently than I could have myself. I wish none of us had to “give up” but that is the reality. Some may have even had this matra themselves, and then the decision was made for them. I truly feel that “giving up” is sometimes the best choice you can make, choosing to continue life, choosing more happiness and less angst, choosing freedom, because that’s what I chose when I “gave up”

  13. satoyafoster Says:

    I understand your perspective. I can totally see how it can come across as a statement of privilege. I guess I kind of look at the ‘never give up’ phrase as more of a way to explore my options and choose according my available options. I can see how this statement, especially from those who don’t understand infertility, can be callus and insensitive.


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