Never give in, except to convictions of honor and good sense. – Winston Churchill
What does that mean?
This quote is often badly mistaken to mean that one should be stubborn, as the portion of the speech immediately preceding this might seem to say, taken out of context.
But the “Never, never, never… give up” is followed by this part. It urges us not to consider giving up, but giving in, when honor or good sense dictates we do so.
Honor would tell us to do the right thing, even if it is not what we would prefer to do. Sometimes losing with honor is better than winning without it.
Sometimes good sense tells us to give in. When dealing with someone who is emotional, no amount of logic or discussion of right and wrong will win the day. Give in, and deal with the consequences later.
Why is it important to give in when appropriate?
As mentioned above, sometimes we are faced with a difficult, lengthy or intractable situation. Sometimes it is best if we do the noble thing, even if it is to our detriment. At some point in the future, our reputation will improve from that of one who gives in, to one who is both prudent and honorable.
In other cases, we may eventually get an apology from the person to whom we yielded. They will eventually figure out what happened and will understand, and hopefully share that with us. But even if they do not, we will always know. Then it is up to us to remain honorable and not rub their nose in it.
Other times, good sense must prevail. Sometimes to win a war, a battle must be abandoned. In this case, giving in can save us from embarrassment, exposure, defeat or even injury of a physical, mental or emotional nature. If we give in, it allows us to avoid the situation and retreat to regroup.
But if we push on, when it is either prudent or honorable to stand aside, we will cause harm. Whether to ourselves, to our opponents, our reputation or our friendships and relationships, damage will be done. And sometimes it is better to take the hit and yield, rather than fight on and win a Pyrrhic victory.
Where can I apply this in my life?
While this was a speech about the status of the war and the fortitude which stood the British through a particularly rough time, the quote can be applied to many portions of our lives. Any time we have pressed home a point where we were certain we were right, yet did harm to ourselves or others, we have ignored the wisdom of this quote.
Some will feel ill at ease with the thought of giving in when they believe they are right or have the better position. I would ask those who do to take a moment and consider their past, and look for times when they may have been in the right, but still managed to damage a friendship or relationship because they refused to give in.
I am reminded of a time when my dad and I had an intractable argument, where I was (as I later figured out) completely wrong, and my dad was an expert on the subject matter at hand, he yielded or gave in to me. He realized that I was not listening to logic or reason, and the only reasonable course was to follow good sense and give in. He was not wrong, I was not right, but he gave in.
I would imagine all of us have seen this behavior in a friend, a former friend, or in a public forum. Someone just has to be right. Sometimes they are, and sometimes they are not, but they force the other person to yield. It may be great for their ego, but it doesn’t do much for their relationship or reputation, does it?
And you can probably see in your mind how things could have turned out, if one of them had given in to either a conviction of honor, or one of good sense. If you were one of the participants, you can probably feel how different the scene would have turned out, had someone given in, right?
While situations which directly involve you are completely within your control, as you can always yield, you may be able to help defuse a situation between friends or acquaintances before the situation gets out of hand, right? You can make a difference, if you choose to do so.
What would you be willing to do to avoid falling into this situation, or to help others not fall into that situation?
A slightly longer version of the quote:
“…surely from this period of ten months this is the lesson: never give in, never give in, never, never, never – in nothing, great or small, large or petty – never give in except to convictions of honour and good sense.”