I know you can!

When I was a child, my paternal grandfather told me the story of an engine that volunteered to ascend a mountain, pulling a train along. To reach the top would, quite literally, prove an uphill task but the small engine fearlessly faced the challenge. As it slowly scaled the summit, it kept saying to itself, 'I think I can, I think I can, I think I can.' Convinced of its ability to accomplish its mission, the engine eventually triumphed.

My grandfather would remind me of that little locomotive whenever I complained about holiday homework. I hoped that repeating 'I think I can' would have the enchanted effect of making my Mathematics problems solve themselves but, of course, the mantra did not work that way. The whole point, as my grandfather endeavoured to explain, was that the engine was willing to strive and struggle and had a determined rather than defeatist attitude.

More than half-a-century has passed since I first heard about that extraordinary engine and I appreciate it better than I did years ago. Often, when confronted with seemingly insurmountable problems, I recall both the tale and the teller and am inspired to oppose and overcome the obstacles in my path.

While self-motivation is certainly commendable, I believe that we can add an ingredient to that fanciful fable. What if, apart from the engine confidently reiterating that it could manage the climb, the train it was tugging had played a persuasive part in the arduous attempt? Each carriage could have energised the engine with the chant, 'I know you can, I know you can, I know you can.' That invigorating chorus would have been a harmonious counterpoint to 'I think I can' and served to stimulate the valiant vehicle chugging ahead.

All of us need verbal support to keep us going, and have surely received it at one time or another. Let us, in turn, hearten those who feel overwhelmed by the trials and tribulations of life. They may not always emerge victorious but, as someone once said, 'A word of encouragement during failure is worth an hour of praise after success.'

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