“War educates the senses, calls into action the will, perfects the physical constitution, brings men into such swift and close collision in critical moments that man measures man.”
- Ralph Waldo Emerson
I am a peace maker. I will always negotiate or back down when faced with a threat. I will give up my wallet, car keys, or whatever is necessary to avoid getting into a fight. People get hurt in serious fights. Muscles get torn, bones get broken, and generally, it's just not worth the trouble.
I tend to agree more with Salvor Hardin, a character in Foundation, by Isaac Asimov: "Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent". However, if I have exhausted every effort to avoid a fight, and it still comes, I will fight. Hard.
Emerson's war quote may convey an odd glorification of war, yet I cannot dismiss it's accuracy. War does educate the senses. For the soldier, war sharpens fitness, conditioning, strength, and agility. War put's a unique torque on the brain, and the body adapts.
However, I find Emerson's quote more disconcerting on another level. It feels too foreign. In a way, his words are strangely out of reach. It tastes like a bit of medicine without the honey. Is it offensive, repulsive, embarrassing? Maybe what is most bothersome about this quote is that it may shed light on my slothfulness:
Are my senses dulled?
Is my physical constitution under par?
What does it mean to be alert, sharp, focused?
Is life training me to be weak?
Many of us seem more crushed by Covid-19 than we should be. It seems as though we have so little training, that coping with a virus, albeit a bad one, is more devastating than it should be. We seem too weak, too vulnerable and afraid.
Emerson's quote makes me wonder what training we have done to be tough; it asks us to consider what kind of training may instead be contributing to a poorer constitution; a more fragile backbone. Perhaps a reason we respond poorly to stress is that we have been deconditioned, and forgotten our strength.
Most of us work too many hours, get home late and exhausted, and watch tv until we can climb in bed. We get just enough sleep to repeat the mind-numbing endeavor again the next day. Nothing in life encourages us to reflect upon our strength.
Nevertheless, we MUST make time to train, because we are powerful beings, and the implications of our deconditioning are too significant. We don't fight when we should. We give up too easily. We cave in when we should hold the line. Worst of all, we neither strive for, nor achieve greatness. In the end, it is not simply the individual who suffers, but the human race, because we are losing champions.
Conversely, the benefits of "battle readiness" are too valuable to live without: aware, awake, confident, and competent. Winning this battle is your choice. You rule your schedule, and you define who you are. If you are not the fighter you aspire to be, make the changes necessary to win.