Winston Churchill: A Summing Up
It is incredible to me what Winston Churchill accomplished, even taking into full account the fact that he lived for 90 years (30 November 1874 – 24 January 1965). He spent 55 of them as a member of Parliament, 31 as a minister, and nearly nine as prime minister. He was present at or fought in 15 battles, and was awarded 14 campaign medals for bravery, some with multiple clasps. He had been a prominent figure in the First World War and a dominant one in the Second. He eventually published more than ten million words and painted more than five hundred canvasses of significant quality. He was a member of the Royal Society, a Royal Academician, a university chancellor, a Nobel laureate (literature), a Knight of the Garter, and a member of the Order of Merit.
What can be learned from a life such as this?
In his biography of Churchill published by Viking/Penguin Group (2009), Paul Johnson suggests these five lessons:
“The first lesson is: always aim high…He did not always meet his elevated targets, but by aiming high he always achieved something worthwhile. Lesson number two: there is no substitute for hard work…The balance he maintained between flat-out work and creative and restorative leisure is well worth study by anyone holding a top position. But he never evaded hard work itself: taking important and dangerous decisions, the hardest form of work there is, in the course of a sixteen-hour day…
“Third and in its way most important, Churchill never allowed mistakes, disaster – personal or national – accidents, illnesses, unpopularity, and criticism to get him down. His powers of recuperation, both in physical illness and in psychological responses to abject failure, were astounding…
“Fourth, Churchill wasted extraordinarily small amounts of his time and emotional energy on the meannesses of life: recrimination, shifting the blame into others, malice, revenge seeking, dirty tricks, spreading rumors, harboring grudges, waging vendettas. Having fought hard, hr washed his hands and went on to the next contest.”
“Finally, the absence of hatred left plenty of room for joy in Churchill’s life. His face could light up in the most extraordinarily attractive way as it became suffused with pleasure at an unexpected and welcome event…He was emotional, and wept easily. But his tears soon dried, as joy came flooding back. He drew his strength from people, and imparted it to them in full measure. Everyone who values freedom under law, and government by, for, and from the people, can find comfort and reassurance in his life story.”
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Note: Johnson’s biography consists of only 166 pages but is remarkably comprehensive and, as these brief excerpts suggest, the account is both insightful and eloquent. To those who seek a lengthier biography of comparable quality, I suggest Roy Jenkins’ Churchill and Martin Gilbert’s Churchill: A Life.
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