Friday, August 24, 2007

We Live in a World of "Soft Men"

In reading Herodotus’ Histories, I came across an intriguing quote. In his advice to the Persians, Cyrus the Great claims “soft lands tend to breed soft men” (IX: 122). Cyrus was, of course, speaking in a literal sense, as he continued on, “it is impossible for one and the same country to produce remarkable crops and good fighting men.” However, I am interested in the statement on a more figurative level.

How strong can one really be without having endured difficulties at some point? This idea has been expressed, or at least experienced, in nearly every facet of life. Simply put by Friedrich Nietzsche, “What does not kill me, makes me stronger.” Being hardened in the past, in the Persian War and now, makes one stronger and better prepared for the present. Imagine a star NFL prospect, breezing through high school and college; always facing weak, outmatched opponents; never truly being called to face superior or even equal opponents. Will he be prepared to be a star professional? Absolutely not. Without having faced true competition, he has not fully prepared himself for the trials that will certainly lie ahead. It is experiencing and eventually overcoming defeat that reveals true character - athletically, personally, professionally. Lack of adversity leads to complacency. In a state of complacency, there can be no improvement. One becomes “soft.”

In the Classical world, this was not an option. Sparta was able to defeat Athens by being the more hardened soldiers. In a land of little agriculture and, compared to Athens, far inferior economic and academic realms, Spartans did not have the option of milling about the agora, discussing the eternal Form of beauty. Rather, they had to be in a constant state of complete military preparedness in order to keep in check the ever-restless helots and protect their expanding land. It is impossible to pinpoint, but one could certainly argue that it was the very nature of Athens soft, academically inclined society that led to its defeat at the hands of the smaller, harder Spartans.

It is in today’s world, however, that Cyrus’ advice may be most crucial on an individual level. The majority of Westerners are able, if they choose, to live a life of leisure (compared to what was available in all but the very recent past). We may play in clean, neatly organized games and play groups, slide through large, unchallenging schools, slip into an unexciting, run-of-the-mill job, ease into quiet retirement in a pampered home and eventually death in soft bed surrounded by family members. Never before have we as a society been so completely unchallenged. If you don’t want to work in school, in most places you will find no one to challenge you to do so. If you have no interest in moving beyond a dead-end job, no one will ask for your resume to promote you. No, it is now our own individual responsibilities to seek out these challenges. Study the hard subjects. Take the difficult jobs. Play the national powerhouse teams. Yes, you will have to work harder than everyone else around you. Yes, you will fail. And, if you continue to work, yes, you will overcome. And then you will have the satisfaction of looking at those around you, knowing that you are quicker, stronger, smarter, harder.

4 comments:

Seamus Andronicus said...

Actually I would put the Spartan defeat of the Athenians at the door step of the plague. I am sure he average Athenian was tough enough (consider a generation or so later the Thebeans were able to beat Spartan soldiers.) The Ancient Greeks in general were about excellence and toughness, as the Olympic games show, but there will always be someone who is "harder" and tat is not always the deciding factor as to who wins.

1025 said...

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紀錄 said...

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Generic Viagra said...

This is a certainly true fact of life. Nowadays, it is so easy to be soft, however, it isn't satisfactory at all.
I think this is a message to support all those little shy who are suffering of a situation of softness.