Is the poem "If" by Rudyard Kipling good advice about how people should behave?

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thanatassa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

It is perhaps not completely realistic to expect four stanzas of poetry to serve as a complete guide to behavior for all people everywhere in the world. This poem was written in 1895, in part in response to the actions of Leander Starr Jameson, a doctor who played an important role in the British colonial leadership in South Africa. He was a charismatic figure who was extremely popular, but his leadership of the Jameson Raid was not entirely legal, and he was in fact put on trial for it and found guilty. Thus the sort of stoic individualism and hypermasculinity the poem recommends is somewhat problematic.

For example, the poem says:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings 
    And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss, ...
The idea of gambling all your savings on some high-risk project might make an appealing popular movie, but in reality, investing in a diversified portfolio and focusing on building up savings is actually a much more sensible way to live.
 
While being patient and not listening to "knaves" or "fools" might make sense, there is a good chance that "when all men doubt you," it might be time to reassess your actions.
 
While willpower, grace under pressure, and persistence are virtues in moderation, there are times when one should recognize that some actions or causes are futile and move on to something more productive.
tinicraw eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The poem "If" by Rudyard Kipling itemizes the ups and downs associated with life and describes how to find mental and emotional balance while going through them. There are pieces of advice associated with all aspects and ages of life, from the very young to the very old. Kipling addresses success, failure, crisis, manners, ethics, the golden rule, and taking risks in life; then he advises how to handle them all with a humble attitude and without complaining. Then, at the very end, after making a list of many of the attitudes and events that might face a person in life, he makes the following promise:

"Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,   

 And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!" (Lines 31-32).
The promise is that anything in life and on the Earth can be yours if you follow these principles. The effort to attain adulthood or a fulfilling and abundant life is available if one behaves properly under pressure as well as while succeeding. This is great advice!
Read the study guide:
If

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