What is the message of "If" by Rudyard Kipling?

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rrteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

"If" is intended to instruct its readers on the character qualities a good leader must possess. The first stanza of the poem counsels self-confidence and integrity, the ability to "trust yourself when all men doubt you." On the other hand, it also warns against the foolishness of arrogance, pointing out that men still need to "make allowance for their doubting" as a means of learning from others. Most important, one should not repeat the behaviors that one does not appreciate in one's own life: "being hated," one should not "give way to hating." This warning against excess of temprament is repeated throughout the poem. Kipling says, in not so many words, that his reader should dream, while not becoming an idle dreamer, and be able to be a person of action. A man, according to Kipling, should bear loss and fortune with equal fortitude and resilience, and should always stay true to his convictions, to "talk with crowds and keep your virtue" and never lose the "common touch" even though he might "walk with Kings." In short, Kipling is suggesting that a true leader, a "man," ought to be able to balance contradictory positions, living in the world, with others, while maintaining his own virtue.