The last few weeks we have talked about our Lenten commitment. I’ve encouraged the children to commit to begin a positive activity such as being more helpful at home, being more loving towards my sibling or to give up a negative activity such as stop fighting with sibling. This seems like a perfect time to discuss perseverance, the act of finishing what you start. Thomas Edison stated, “The three things that are most essential to achievement are common sense, hard work and stick-to-it-iv-ness.” I believe a big factor in discouraging all of us from sticking to our commitments to ourselves is attitude that I’ve already failed once, so why bother trying again. We expect ourselves to be perfect, and never stumble. Once we’ve stumbled, we act like it’s all over. It’s only all over, if we fail to get back up. This is beautifully stated in the Japanese proverb: “Fall down seven times, stand up eight.” As long as we keep standing back up, we can reach our goals. Life is full of obstacles; we are going to bump against them sometimes. We just need to keep getting back up and we will succeed. And we don’t even need to get back up all by ourselves. Its ok to allow others to help us. Remember that no one truly makes it on their own. Let others help you along your journey and offer help to others when you can too. Success is not never failing, success is never giving up.
Our story this week is about Thomas Edison who made many failed attempts to improve the light bulb. He is quoted as saying “I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work.” “Many of life's failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.” Don’t give up and you won’t fail.
Story: THOMAS EDISON NEVER QUIT
Thomas Edison was the youngest child in a busy, noisy household. He had six older brothers and sisters. As soon as he could to talk, he began to ask questions like, “How does that work?” and “Why does that happen?” He discovered that he usually had to figure out the answers himself. He asked questions all through his life, and he worked hard to find the answers. Thomas had so many questions and so much energy that school was a problem. His mother knew it wasn’t the right place for Thomas, so she took him out after three months and he never went back. But Thomas studied and learned with his mother’s help. He diligently tried to read every book in the local library and discovered his favorite subject was science. By the time he was twelve, he had read adult books on chemistry and physics and had set up a laboratory for experiments in the basement. His first job was working for the railroad, selling candy and newspapers to the passengers on the trains. Whenever he could, he did experiments with his equipment in one of the baggage cars, and this led to trouble. One day some chemicals spilled when the ride got bumpy, and the car caught fire! No one was hurt, but his boss was very angry and Thomas wasn’t allowed to work on the train anymore. He sold the candy and newspapers to passengers when they got off the train. After Thomas jumped on the train tracks and saved a little boy one day, the grateful father taught him how to work the telegraph machine.
Thomas immediately started working on ways to improve the telegraph. He once said, “I never pick up an item without thinking of how I might improve it.” That’s how Thomas Edison got to be one of the most famous scientists in the world — he never stopped improving things. The light bulb was one of Thomas’s greatest challenges. Electricity had to go through wires and then over a small thread, or filament, which would heat up and glow. The filament had to be just right or it would not work. Edison wanted to make a filament which was strong enough to last a long time, would glow brightly, and not burn up quickly. It also had to be a material that was easy to work with, affordable, and safe. Thomas tried every kind of material he could think of. He used every kind of plant fiber he knew, and then he tried combining different kinds and testing each combination. When those didn’t work, he ordered plants from other places, such as the Amazon rain forest, and he tried all of those. After testing a few hundred different kinds of filaments, Thomas could have quit. It was tedious, detailed work that had to be done very carefully. But Thomas patiently kept trying. For two years he and his lab assistants kept making new filaments and testing how long they lasted and how brightly they glowed. After testing hundreds, then thousands of filaments, Edison found one that worked better than all the others. He had created, checked, and discarded about six thousand filaments before he found the right one!
Finding the right filament was important, but that wasn’t enough for Thomas. He also tried thousands of ways to make the glass bulb which held the filament. He didn’t stop there, either. He figured out how to put the electrical wires into homes and how to make a switch that would turn the lights on and off. He designed the power station to bring the electricity where it was needed, and Edison didn’t quit until it was safe and practical for people to use. Of course, then he worked on ways to improve it all.
In his lifetime, Thomas worked on thousands of different scientific projects, inventions, and improvements on previous inventions. Scientists all over the world used his methods and his laboratories as models for their own work. Many people didn’t even realize that the hard-working Edison was almost completely deaf. But Thomas didn’t let that bother him; he said it helped him to concentrate. Thomas Edison never stopped asking questions and looking for answers. He once said, “If we all did the things, we are really capable of doing, we would literally astound ourselves.”
Lesson adapted from A JOYFUL PATH: Spiritual Curriculum for Young Hearts and Minds, Year 1 of the Inner Wisdom Series