In my mind, I distinguish between telling someone to “hang in there” rather than “hang on” when confronting some difficulty. There really is a difference and it’s not insignificant. To “hang on” during a difficult situation to me implies resignation. The person has surrendered to the event or condition. Hanging on implies that some-one or some-thing will be along momentarily to pluck the individual out of the current mess and set that person on solid, safe ground again. Picture someone waiting on a rooftop during a flood. Hang on. The rescue boat or helicopter will be here shortly and all will be well once again. The person has no “agency” (that sense of personal control and responsibility that accompanies our activity in the world). One who is merely hanging on is one who is along for the ride. Such a one cannot effect the course of events or change anything about one’s situation. That person has given in, given up. That person is stuck.
On the other hand, one who is “hanging in there” is one still engaged in the struggle. The person has not surrendered. Perhaps against all odds, or simply in the face of great difficulty, the person hanging in there is still envisioning a change in the current situation. Things will change because of what that person (and perhaps others hanging in, too) are doing. Those folks see some way that their actions can make a difference and they move. They are conscious of the agency of personal responsibility and control that attends people who work for a better tomorrow and who dream of a just and free society. The taste of real change is what motivates them to hang in there and keep struggling, not the promise of some outside savior riding a political, economic, religious or social agenda that is disconnected from those who keep striving. That person has not given in, given up and is not stuck.
It’s the bottom of the ninth inning. Your team is down by three runs. Listen to the difference in tone and attitude of the following statements that might be shared in the dugout: “Okay, team, we’re down by three runs. It’s the bottom of the ninth. All we have to do is hang on.” Well, no. Just hanging on will mean that you lose. Hanging on implies that your team doesn’t have to score any more runs. All your work is done. You can’t do anything more. Yet, if your team doesn’t score more runs – at least four at this point – you will lose the game. Now this: “Okay team, we’re down by three runs. It’s the bottom of the ninth. Hang in there. Keep swinging. It’s not over yet. Dig in.” – and so on. It’s a call to action. Keep swinging, keep showing up, keep digging in, and keep sucking less.
What to say in the ninth month of this dreadful coronavirus? Hang on or hang in? I can understand the “corona fatigue” that so many people mention. They’ve had it with this stupid virus. They want to go back to living life with no restrictions – go out to eat, go to a bar, send kids to school, perhaps worship live in a building. For them, they have been hanging on, waiting for a vaccine to magically erase any danger with just a shot (or two). While others have simply been in denial, adding to the public health threat. Still others have been hanging in there – doing what they can to mitigate the disease by wearing masks, keeping physical distance, avoiding crowds, frequently washing hands and all the rest. For me, some minor inconvenience (like wearing a mask) so that I can keep others, my family, and myself safe seems like an easy thing to do; even patriotic. I remind people that Anne Frank basically hid in an attic wall for nearly two years during World War II. I go to the grocery store, hardware store, pharmacy – all while simply wearing a mask and staying apart from others. Big deal. I see myself as hanging in there in the battle against COVID. I do what I can. I am not defeated. I am not giving in or giving up. I am not stuck.
How about you? Hanging on or hanging in? Come on. You’ve got this. We can beat this thing.Let’s keep swinging. Show up. Dig in. Suck less. Atta boy. Atta girl.