The Wisdom of Piura

Thanks to reader Matt Krull for tipping me off to a profile of San Francisco 49ers coach, Jim Harbaugh in a December issue of Sports Illustrated.

What grabbed my attention has nothing to do with football. I was fascinated by an annual pilgrimage Coach Harbaugh makes to a small city in Peru.

Harbough volunteers a week of his time every year to support an old friend from Notre Dame, Father Joseph Uhen. Father Uhen is pastor to approximately 40,000 people in and around the city of Piura.  

The Coach returns there year after year to help his friend … and help himself. Austin Murphy, the article’s author, writes:

“Every year Harbaugh is startled anew by the abject poverty in Piura. Every year he is inspired anew – "transformed," he says-by the joy and generosity of the locals, in the face of that poverty. "Something I learned down there," he says. "They believe it's a sin to give in to discouragement, to give up hope."

This idea ­– that it is a sin to give in to discouragement – is worth remembering when we encounter setbacks and adversity.



Most of us will never face the daunting challenges of Piura. However, no one is immune to setback and loss. Eventually, we will all be challenged – he death of a loved one, illness, job loss, the failure of an important relationship, or an injustice suffered.

No amount of money, power or social position can shield us from it. We must meet it, and meet it head-on. These encounters are revealing. They show us the personal work we have done, the work we have not done, and the work we must do to persevere.

Piura shows us how we meet adversity is the difference maker.



Four qualities help us maintain a buoyant outlook – perhaps even one of “joy and generosity” – in the midst of difficulty. They are Courage, Optimism, Resourcefulness and Trust. It’s easy to forget that we have these resources within us when difficulties arrive. The acronym “CORT” helps us call on them quickly.

Courage: Bravery and perseverance are the hallmarks of courage. Nelson Mandela is a good exemplar of this quality. Despite many years of confinement, punishment and deprivation he maintained the fortitude to do the right thing, in the right way. Maya Angelou reminds us: “Courage is the most important of the virtues, because without courage you can't practice any other virtue consistently. You can practice any virtue erratically, but nothing consistently without courage.”

Optimism: “To be optimistic suggests we believe a successful outcome is possible, despite the obstacles and difficulties. If we do not believe we can prevail we are already defeated. Optimum”, the Latin root of optimism, means “best.” Optimism does not mean we believe everything will go our way. It simply means we trust our ability to do our best in any circumstances. According to writer and philosopher, Elbert Hubbard, “Optimism is a kind if heart stimulant – the digitalis of failure.”

Resourcefulness: The power of creative imagination must be applied as well. We are far more empowered than we may believe. We have an abundance of resources – gifts, talents, character qualities and experience that when applied, can turn the tide. One of my favorite quotes about resourcefulness comes from the science fiction author, Robert Heinlein. He writes: “A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.”

Trust: A firm belief in our own reliability –that we can trust our self – is the solid foundation for the other three qualities. When we trust our own ability to face and address a challenge, there is greater likelihood that we will be courageous, optimistic and resourceful. That trust in self develops with experience and challenges. We never really know who we are, or what our capacities might be, unless we are challenged to dig deep. In his book Remains of the Day, Kazuo Ishiguro writes: “It was one of those events which at a crucial stage in one's development arrive to challenge and stretch one to the limit of one's ability and beyond, so that thereafter one has a new standard by which to judge oneself.”

Every New Year brings its blessings, lessons and challenges. These are the conditions that show us our true capacity. They also stimulate growth and depth, qualities that are associated with maturity. Like Coach Harbaugh, may you be inspired anew – even transformed – by 2014.

Posted on January 9, 2014 .