If and only if

If you can keep your head when all about you  
    Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,  
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
    But make allowance for their doubting too;  
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
    Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
    And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:

The poet begins with a father listing the various things the son should do to be a true embodiment of a human being which he terms as a Man. The son here is representative of all human beings and the father is echoing the poet’s own worldly wisdom. The poet tells us that we should keep our calm when others around us are losing their patience. He details that we should trust ourselves when men all around us doubt us but we should be open enough to accept their criticisms. The poet says that we should wait and not get tired of waiting and if we are lied to, we shouldn’t deal in lies or being hated shouldn’t give way to hating others. We shouldn’t look as if we are too good or talk as if we are too wise.

If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;  
    If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;  
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
    And treat those two impostors just the same;  
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
    Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
    And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:

The poet tells us to dream but we shouldn’t get lost in our dreams so as to not work on our aims at all. We should think but shouldn’t restrict ourselves to just thinking. We should accept triumphs and disasters just the same. We should have the ability to hear the truth that we have spoken being manipulated into something else by deceitful people to trap gullible people. We should have to ability to accept the things that have given our life to, fall into pieces but we should stoop and start rebuilding them with our tired self.

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
    And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
    And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
    To serve your turn long after they are gone,  
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
    Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’

We should have the ability to gamble all of our winnings and if we lose, we should start again and never breathe a word about the losses we may have suffered. We should force our tired and old body to keep going even when we are old. We should hold on when we have nothing left in us except the inner will which says us not to give up.

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,  
    Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
    If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
    With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,  
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,  
    And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!

We should have the ability to talk with varied people and not lose our true virtue. We should walk with Kings but not lose our common roots. The poet says if neither our enemies nor friends can’t hurt us and if we can have the ability to keep going despite adverse circumstances such as a bad period of time where nothing goes right for us then we will truly be a Man.

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