Churchill’s “K.B.O.” (Or something like that.)

There’s a skill that you and I as long-form writers have had
to develop that will serve us (and everyone else) very well in this “time
of cholera.” I’m not sure this virtue even has a name.

“Remember our motto: ‘K.B.O.’ Keep Buggering On.”

            It’s
a little like Winston Churchill’s K.B.O. “Keep Buggering On.”

            Which
itself is kinda like the famous sign from the tube-station air raid shelters
during the Blitz, Keep Calm and Carry On.

            I’m
reminded as well of John Keats’ concept of “negative capability.”
Have you heard of this? It’s from a letter from Keats to his brother in 1817:

“I had not a dispute but a disquisition with Dilke, upon various subjects; several things dove-tailed in my mind, and at once it struck me what quality went to form a Man of Achievement, especially in Literature, and which Shakespeare possessed so enormously—I mean Negative Capability, that is, when a man is capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason … ‘

          But
it’s not exactly that either. It’s closer to Krishna’s admonishment to Arjuna
in the Bhagavad-Gita that we mortals

          …
have a right to our labors, but not to the fruits of our labors.

          Lemme
try to define this virtue straight out.

It’s the ability to keep on working with undiminished focus and effort even when we believe (or at least strongly suspect) that there will be no external reward or recognition at the finish.

            In
other words, the act of performing a function for its own sake entirely.

          This
is a soldier’s skill, and a mother’s. It’s a nurse’s skill. It’s a physician’s.
In many ways it’s a teacher’s skill.

          For
sure it’s a writer’s virtue, and an artist’s of any kind, and an
entrepreneur’s.

          Whatever
we call it (and I still don’t have a word), it’s a virtue we all need now.

          We
cannot predicate our actions today upon any outcome we can count on tomorrow.
Nobody knows. Nobody can predict. Anybody who claims he can is either lying or
self-deluded or both.

          Yet
we have to keep doing what we’re doing, and we have to keep doing it at a high
level of commitment and fidelity.

          What
makes it so challenging is that human nature was not built to operate this way.
We were made in times of peril to close ranks, to take up our posts shoulder to
shoulder.

          That
won’t work today.

          We
have to, now, maintain solidarity with our brothers and sisters in a crazy,
solitary, self-distancing way. We’re forced in our day-to-day lives to operate inside
our own heads, to define our goals entirely by our own criteria (which may be
very different from what we believed a few days ago), to determine our best
practicable methods of seeking them, and then to self-motivate, self-validate,
self-reinforce as we go forward … and keep doing it today and tomorrow and
the day after, with no credible terminus in sight.

          These
are writer’s virtues, and artists’ and soldiers’ and mothers’ and
entrepreneurs.

          I
don’t have a name for this, but we all need it and we need it now.