The Good Man

Who am I?

 

We make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honor and are shocked to find traitors in our midst. We castrate and bid the geldings be fruitful.” —C.S. Lewis

“I’m nice men”. – Han Solo

“Good Man that Cody” – Obi-Wan Kenobi

 

The Jedi Model

The Jedi can be described as a model of chivalry and dare I say it, manliness. They were after all inspired partly by the Samurai and the Arthurian Knights. The Jedi were not Warrior Monks in the classic sense. The primary role of the Jedi were to act as peacekeepers in the Galaxy. They represented the Senate on important diplomatic affairs and assumed senior military rank during conflict. They were a combination of Soldier, Diplomat, Mediator, Academic, Adviser and Teacher whose purpose was to serve the greater good. The traits and code of the Jedi is what set them apart. On this Earth there is no contemporary or historical comparison to the Jedi.

What interests those who look to the fictional model of the Jedi for inspiration is their character traits and virtues. Jedi had decorum, measure, tact and an ease in the way they carried themselves. A Jedi appeared to be as solid as a rock yet free of any great mental burden. The Jedi responded rather than reacted to the world around them, living in the present moment. Weighing each word and action carefully but without strain or hesitation. They were objective and rarely judgmental. Decisive and resolute without being rash. The Jedi also demonstrated etiquette in how they carried themselves and interacted with others. In many ways, Jedi were and remain ideal fictional role models for men; refined and Stoic. They had a sort of real world chivalry which was once valued but has now all but been lost in our world.

Why am I focusing on the male Jedi as opposed to all Jedi? Certainly there were many inspiring female Jedi. Ahsoka Tano was an exemplary Jedi though she never reached that rank.  Jedi Master Luminara Unduli  heroically commanded the 41st Elite Corps in many battles before she was executed under Order 66 by Palpatine. There were very many brave Jedi females among their male counterparts so why is it important to single out males?

 

Boys in Crisis

Males today are in crisis. Boys are falling well behind females in areas of academia and have less direction and are less driven to achieve on average than girls. Many boys are repressed of their natural propensity to be boys by the education system. Being “boyish”, competitive, boisterous and curious is frowned upon . With an absence of enough male mentors and good role models there is a generation of boys who are confused about how to behave in society, interact with peers and how to engage with and treat females. Many of the role models of today in politics, popular culture and sports seem to foster the worst type of attributes in boys today.

Traditional male roles have become blurred or expunged. To express a desire to be a warrior, protector or provider, something inherently masculine, is increasingly being scorned by a society that is beginning to treat young boys as merely “defective girls”.

The result of this “masculinity crisis” is a generation of boys who  are less likely to enter into higher education or gain meaningful employment than girls. Who are less likely to succeed in life. Technology has also provided a surrogate reality which promotes disengagement through instant access to online porn and round the clock computer games. Social media, smart phones and the instant random “hook up” culture has eroded the essential  social skills boys need to build meaningful relationships. Boys are conditioned to shirk responsibility and have become apathetic to the world they live in. Men are becoming a type of “Post-Modern Man-Child” obsessed with instant gratification and riding the mindless hedonistic carousel.

 

Initiation

In pre-modern cultures boys were initiated. The tradition provided a ritual for boys to enter into the world as a man with an inner moral compass and a heritage to pass on to the next generation. In my travels I have seen forms of this tradition in South America, the Middle East, Africa and Aboriginal Australia. I went through my own rite of passage through the misery of six months of Infantry basic training. In Star Wars, Luke Skywalker entered into manhood through the rite of training and initiation under the guidance of Yoda and the crucible of combat. The ritual of initiation is absent in our postmodern world. In its place is a growing number of confused uninitiated young men who are more likely to be depressed, angry and alienated than their forefathers were.

The emergence of the “Post Modern Man-Child” threatens the biological imperative of gene preservation. A larger proportion of millennial males will fail to meet a suitable long-term mate and become husbands and fathers. Those who do are less likely now more than ever to remain in that relationship and have access and provide paternal care to their children. A generation of boys are growing up without a paternal figure in the household. This is where the decline starts as the cycle will perpetuate. Society will eventually begin to unravel.

 

The Lost Boys

Boys eventually grow in to men. A man today is twice as likely to fall into drugs or alcohol  addiction, four times more likely to die a violent death or commit suicide than a female. Men are ten times more likely to be incarcerated. Men are still being sent to fight and die in wars at rates far higher than women. High risk, physically debilitating or dangerous occupations are still largely taken up by men. Although women have higher rates of mental illness, men are far less likely to seek help.  Funding for governmental support services for men’s health is also far lower than it is for women. The value of a man’s word has become diminished. Men are guilty of being afflicted with being born male.

The crisis facing males is largely ignored or glossed over by society. The problem is no longer a gender issue but an identity one. Women are largely empowered in our society and know who they are and what they want while men are increasingly finding themselves less sure about their place in this “Brave New World”. Struggling to navigate in an increasingly hostile world, males face an existential identity crisis. Boys are hurting. I see it every day.

I have a teenage son and like any parent want to see him thrive, grow, prosper and succeed. Boys have it a lot harder now than in my generation. I get the sense that Boys are wandering half lost through a world that looks down at them for who they are and what they are and represent; “The Patriarchy”. As a society we cannot afford to lose our boys to a notion of gender politics and victim-hood culture.

 

The Other Side

None of this is to intended to point an accusing finger at women. Women also have their own challenges. For example, the rate of anxiety, depression and PTSD is far higher in women than in men. Women endure far higher rates of domestic and sexual abuse than men. Fortunately society is not blind to this.

In progressive countries women’s rights have become largely  enshrined in law and cultural mindset. In many parts of the world, however, women still face horrendous abuse sanctioned by religion and culture. During a tour of duty in East Africa I witnessed the impact of slavery, genital mutilation, kidnapping and the forced arranged marriages of young girls to violent men. I saw the horrific consequences of systemic mutilation, torture and rape on women because of ethnic war and religion and the impact that had on the community. These injustices are widely recognized and condemned around the world but remain reality for millions of women and girls.

The point is that no one side has a monopoly on hurt and injustice;  everyone suffers. Men and women both.

 

Gender Wars

There appears to be a subtle war going on between the predominate genders, male and female. This is of course a struggle for domination that cannot be won by either side. We no longer live in a “Man’s World”. In my view the “Patriarchy” is already dead or at the very least dying in the west. Even the latest Star Wars movies alludes to this fact and infers the struggle between the masculine and feminine. We are reminded of destructiveness of male toxicity through the desperate and childish antics of Kylo Ren. The reckless and churlish nature of male expression in Poe Dameron is laid bare. Even when Poe’s intentions are noble they are still portrayed as wrong and incompetent. In “The Force Awakens” we find Han Solo turned out to be the “Dead Beat Dad”.

In “The Last Jedi”, my childhood hero and role model, Luke Skywalker struggles to “man up” as he trips over himself on Ahch-To. Luke constantly appears the cantankerous old man before self-sacrificing and finally redeeming himself as worthy.

The fictional Star Wars Universe used to remind me that males and females are strongest when they work together and complement each other. Princess Leia could keep up with the boys and fight her way out of a jam without needing a “White Knight” to rescue her or by losing her femininity. We adored her indomitable spirit. Luke and Han could put on a show of strength, determination and be the leaders they were meant to be while still revealing a chink in their armor and a weakness for friends. They had vulnerable compassion and a raw grit, a type of heroic chivalry born of self reliance and sacrifice that is all but dead today.

In the Clone Wars series, Ahsoka tempers Anakin’s darker emotions and he loves and respects her in return and watches over her. They made a formidable, unstoppable team.

When the feminine and the masculine are acknowledged and celebrated as different but essential parts of the whole we are enriched and bought closer to together. We should be encouraging boys to be men and ask men to step up once again and be good “manly” men.

 

Return to Chivalry

Perhaps we should be encouraging a return to chivalry and some old fashion values such as courtesy, civility and decorum. A Man should not be afraid to hold open a door for a lady, to offer to carry her burden or to court her with sincere charm, decency and respect. Even, if I dare suggest, to offer to pay for dinner. To be the Gentlemen. But chivalry is more than these things. It is the way a person lives and abides by a code of ethics, a personal philosophy for life.

Although I had a poor father role model and eventually took to alcoholism myself I still had a clear image of what a good man ought to be or should be. That image was partly inspired during my childhood by fictional characters like Luke Skywalker, Han Solo and Obi-wan Kenobi. I was lacking in real role models so I looked to fiction, the Star Wars mythology to provide a standard. Luke, Han and Kenobi were my role models of chivalry and manliness. My problem was that although I aspired to be that “ideal man” I failed largely through lack of self-awareness, confidence, knowledge and discipline.

Alcohol can possess a man and literally take his manhood. He becomes a shell of the person he once was. In recovery you start to reclaim more than your sobriety. You begin to discover what a Good Man is meant to be and you strive to become that.

 

The Good Man

So what is chivalry and manliness in these times? No two people will provide the same answer that would be accepted by everyone. I would argue that George Lucas can still provide a good role model through his beloved male characters in the Star War mythology. Let the words and actions of those characters be a guide for young men today.

 

Resolution

” No! Try not! Do or do not. There is no try.” – Yoda

 

It is OK to try and fail but to never try in the first place what you want to achieve is real failure. Having an Indomitable Spirit in every attempt to achieve a goal is a virtue that men have always admired. Finishing what you started, being true to your word and more importantly keeping your word shows resolution and true grit.

 

Compassion

 

“Compassion, which I would define as unconditional love, is essential to a Jedi’s life. So you might say, that we are encouraged to love” – Anakin Skywalker

“To answer power with power, the Jedi way this is not. In this war, a danger there is, of losing who we are.” – Yoda

 

A man shows compassion to all living things. Resisting passion and grasping attachment. The jealous possession of Love suffocates it. Love is given freely rather than taken being the gift that it is. Having compassion means that even in the darkest of times never lose your humanity.

 

 

Humility

 

“We can learn from others, but we must also learn from our own experiences and our own mistakes” – Luke Skywalker

“Suspend your judgment, and every being has something to teach you.” – Qui-Gon Jinn

 

Never confuse humility with lack of self-esteem or decorum. Humility is both. A man always admits when he is wrong and seeks to learn from his mistakes. A man knows he always has more to learn and never stops growing. The “silent type” who does not feel the need to be heard every minute and who measures his words and actions exercises humility as well as self-control. A humble man esteems and respects himself but neither puts himself beneath or above others. Humility means accepting there are lesser and greater men in the world.

 

 

Responsibility

“Every generation has its challenges to face, its own battles to win. Why should yours be any different? Running away from your responsibilities won’t solve anything” – Luke Skywalker

“Who’s more foolish, the fool or the fool who follows him?” – Obi-Wan Kenobi

 

Being a Man is taking responsibility for your actions and words. Allowing emotions to exist but not being owned by them. Accepting the responsibilities in your life as duty and sticking to them despite the inevitable doubts and hardships that come.

 

 

Self-Discipline

“The Force may not have a Light or Dark Side, but we do… and we must choose.” – Luke Skywalker

“No! Unfortunate that you rushed to face him… that incomplete was your training. Not ready for the burden were you.” – Yoda

 

Life is essentially about choices, the choices we are confronted with and what we do with them. The choices you make are entirely up to you. The challenge is to make the correct choices armed with the information, experience and knowledge that you have. Sometimes there is little more than intuition and a moral compass to help you in making that decision. This includes exercising temperance and moderation in all facets of your life. Being in control of your actions despite the tug of emotions. Having the self-discipline to make that correct choice and sticking to it is the hall mark of a man. Self ownership and self discipline is the mark of a man.

 

So what are you waiting for? Go out and Be Jedi, Be a Good Man.

 

Further Reading on Modern Chivalry:

https://www.theatlantic.com/sexes/archive/2012/12/lets-give-chivalry-another-chance/266085/

Heart

You are the Chosen One. You have brought balance to this world. Stay on this path and you will do it again… for the galaxy. But beware… your Heart…” – The Father (Future) “Ghosts of Mortis”

Anakin and Ahsoka Tano were a great team during the Clone Wars. Both had an immense amount of “Heart”. Two very different beings pushed together by a sage Yoda. The wise old Jedi Master saw the potential for perfect synergy between Ahsoka and Anakin when he paired them.  Both Jedi were head strong, loyal, dynamic, extroverted and mission orientated. They had a deep and intangible connection and were a perfect match.

Ahsoka Tano could bring Anakin down a rung and temper his wild emotions with her caring attitude. When Anakin wanted to charge in with Lightsaber flashing, only Ahsoka could hold him back. At the same time Anakin could mentor Ahsoka and get the very best out of her. The relationship was one of the most endearing partnerships in the Star Wars saga. The bond that existed between them even lingered after Anakin had fallen to the dark side.

Anakin was meant to bring balance to the Force. A shadow lay over Anakin since he was a child. Fear and anger turned to hate. Darth Sidious used that to lure Anakin to the dark side. In doing so he took whatever Heart Anakin had within him and snuffed the life out of it.

 

The Heart

“The heart will break, but broken live on” – Lord Byron

The Heart is an important and powerful symbol in all human cultures. The shape of the heart universally symbolizes love but also life and what the Greeks called “Eudaimonia”. Feelings of belonging, happiness and well-being. The bond which exists between members of a family, tribe and people. All of these things are represented by a Heart. Forms of the heart are seen on religious icons, medical and academic symbols and spiritual texts. It is a powerful and universal symbol. We express our love and affection for others, our pets and the planet through the shape of a heart.

In short, the Heart symbolizes love, life, strength, courage, compassion, forgiveness and hope. It is a strong and powerful symbol.

 

The Warriors Virtue

A good head and a good heart are always a formidable combination.” – Nelson Mandela

The word “Heart” is also a virtue. One of the first times I heard the word “Heart” used in the context of virtue was in the Army. During basic training we were taught the “code of the soldier”. We were told that the virtues of sacrifice, self-discipline, integrity, honor and heart were essential. All the other terms I was vaguely familiar. “Heart”? What was that? I imagined it meant being nice to people and kind to kittens. What sort of army was this?

I soon realized that “Heart” did not mean a rose coloured world of love hearts, kittens and unicorns. In fact the word “Love” was generally replaced by “Pain” and “Fear” at least in my experience. If you weren’t thrusting a bayonet in to a rubber and hessian bag hard enough and without a convincing blood curdling scream you weren’t showing “Heart”.  Showing a lack of commitment, courage and determination was having a lack of “Heart”.

 

Soldiers Heart

Your heart is free, have the courage to follow it.” –  Braveheart

The image of a Warrior was imprinted in to our minds. With complete acceptance and surrender to the system all you needed to bring was “Heart” and display the requisite virtues. This meant giving 110% and displaying self-discipline and obedience. Whatever you were doing whether it was in training or combat or ironing your parade kit and polishing brass and boots you showed “Heart”.  Never quitting. The standard, if achieved, ensured a successful career or at least a trouble free one.

A type of military “Eudaimonia” that came from full physical, mental and emotional integration to the corps was assured for those that toed the line. Divergence from the preferred model ensured a steady and spiralling decline in one’s prospects and a proportionate amount of grief. I soon found out that the military spoke about “Heart” but were heartless with those that did not assimilate.

 

 

Heart on a Sleeve

“Your vision will become clear only when you look into your heart. Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakens.” – Carl Jung

My pursuit of a personal type of “Eudaimonia” led me to booze. Throughout my life I had been trying to find belonging and a place to call home. I wanted to be surrounded by people I cared for an who cared for me in return. The Army had seemed to offer this type of refuge. I found that it was a superficial illusion.

Disillusioned I sought “fellowship and happiness” through alcohol. I was trying to fill a hole that could not be filled by relying on things external to myself. It did not matter; being drunk at least filled a hole in my soul for a transitory period of time. The consequences of this error seemed worth it at the time.

 

Losing Heart

The less you open your heart to others, the more your heart suffers.” –  Deepak Chopra

Being an alcoholic in the real world is relatively easy. One can still function to a point. An alcoholic can still reasonably juggle drinking with work, family and other commitments. Eventually it catches up with her as the drinking gets worse and the hangovers more severe. People start seeing through the lies and deception. Employers start to offer counselling or support services, friends provide advice and family try to intervene. Sometimes it wakes the alcoholic up and they begin to recover. At other times nothing avails and she continues down the path to oblivion. At the end they sometimes find themselves alone in their misery. The “Heart” seems to die and we sense its loss.

The Army had many functioning alcoholics. The longer the service and higher the rank the easier it was to juggle booze. The consequence messing up and being exposed could lead to an end of career and public shaming that was spectacular as it was final.

My service was a paltry few years and I was lucky to have any rank at all. The support was non-existent. There were no counsellors or help offered. Alcoholics who had crossed the Rubicon were branded “defective, for disposal”. That is exactly what happened to me. If I had “Heart” at the time, I would not know. It had been replaced with anger, resentment and delusion. I felt completely dead inside. I stayed that way for a long time after.

 

The Fall

Ahsoka and Darth Vader battled. She the Rebel now fighting the Monster that was once her beloved master. A small flame still burned in Darth Vader, a memory of the man he had once been. A flicker of emotion and possibly regret and sadness came upon him as he faced Ahsoka. It was a shadow of Anakin. Like an autumn leaf it was swept away and Anakin was dead again. All that remained was a Sith Lord about to extinguish the life of a pathetic Rebel. If Darth Vader had a heart it must have been as cold and hard as a lump of coal.

 

I won’t leave you! Not this time.” – Ahsoka Tano

“Then you will die” – Darth Vader

 

The Redeemed

In the end it was only love and compassion that bought Anakin back to life. Heart rekindled, the Sith Lord receded and Anakin was redeemed. Love conquered the Dark Side.

 

The Flame

“Wherever you go, go with all your heart.” – Confucius

Losing “Heart” is like falling to the Dark Side. By being alcoholic I had lost whatever “Heart” I had. In recovery I discovered that it still existed if all but extinguished. Like a flimsy plant in shallow soil all it needed was to be tended with care and compassion.

Through compassion, love and self-honesty the “Heart” has grown over time. At times it has been buffered and stalled in its growth. Delicate flowers have reluctantly emerged from buds and occasionally bloomed. Fruits have grown, ripened and fallen sprouting new seedlings. The sun has encouraged growth, interrupted at times by passing clouds.

“Heart” may whither but it never really dies. Like coal is has the potential to take flame and burn fiercely. The Heart is perennial and we only need to look there to achieve our own “Eudaimonia”.

Never lose Heart. Whatever you conceive of the word hold it close to you and never surrender it.

 

Further Reading

“A Fighter’s Heart” by Sam Sheridan

Jedi Resilience

“Adventure. Excitement. A Jedi craves not these things,” – Yoda

Over the last few weeks we have been looking at resilience. Ways in which we can build on our resilience have been explored. Strategies aimed at maintaining a level of emotional and spiritual resilience have been suggested. We have considered where we can help others achieve resilience in their own lives.

Anyone with a sustained level of sobriety after years of abuse and addiction has a high degree of resilience. Survivors by nature are resilient beings. They have endured life’s hardships and trials and grown because of it. Rather than allowing harsh experience and tragedy drag them down in to self-pity and despair they have emerged as stronger human beings.

Jedi are resilient. Like warriors they train themselves physically and mentally for combat. Jedi undergo trials that test them to the limits of their emotional, psychological and spiritual endurance. Strong in the Force they become resilient enough to serve others and fulfill their purpose in life. I have seen professional soldiers, paramedics and law enforcement officers who show a high degree of resilience for the same reason. Rigorous training, sacrifice, self-discipline and dedicated commitment to purpose.

 

Resilience Virtues

What are the marks of a resilient person? They are the same as someone with a high degree of emotional sobriety. Resilient people don’t pursue hardship but they are prepared for it. When faced with adversity they use the opportunity to improve themselves. Fear is conquered and transmuted to purpose and outcome. The resilient are not afraid of change and seek the “road less travelled” in their journeys.

Resilient people are realistic with themselves and with others. Self-honesty is seen as a high virtue. Resilient people understand and accept that the world owes them no favours. They make their own opportunities. As a result the resilient achieve a high degree of equanimity in life and a high level of awareness. They are prepared for almost anything and rarely taken by surprise. The resilient are equipped to help themselves and are prepared to help others where needed.

 

Practice make Progress

Patient practice leads to progress. Being aware that you only have what is within your control. You have reasoned choice and command of your rational mind. All is else that reside external to you may be your and then be taken away at any point. Use the tools provided. You will know you have made progress when all choices in life become either the preferred or the non-preferred indifferent. You accept what comes and goes with equanimity and grace.

The “eight worldly concerns” of desire and aversion no longer hold you. Material possessions no longer become a priority. The loss of wealth and possessions no longer upsets or angers. There is no delight in the praise of others or misery in their criticisms or condemnation. Reputation either good or bad is largely outside of your control as are your status and position. Fame and adulation do not concern us.

Happiness and sadness are transitory emotions that we accept as part of life. To fear the loss of happiness brings anxiety and suffering.  No amount of wishful thinking makes suffering go away. Practicing principles is the path to freedom from suffering. From principle springs virtue. The goals of the Jedi Code are realized; Serenity, peace, harmony, knowledge and the Force.

 

False Peaks

It’s not hard to imagine Jedi showing these traits.  Being Jedi is in fact all of these things. It is that simple. The example of the Jedi can provide an azimuth for us to follow. We can see the destination in the distance and move towards it.

Self-improvement however is like a mountain with many false peaks. We struggle up the slope, slipping backwards and stumbling forward sometimes. The peak appears before us and we haul ourselves toward it arriving in relief. With exasperation we realize that we have landed on a false peak and the slope continues before us climbing in to mist and the unknown.

I have climbed many mountains like that, literally and figuratively. The difference is that we only reach the summit of our mountain when we die. Self-improvement is a lifelong climb and at times a great struggle. Sometimes the path is easy and the sun shines through the clouds. At times the road is difficult with many slips, trips and falls.  Always be prepared for false peaks and never forget that life can sometimes resemble a game of chutes and ladders. We only truly arrive at the end of our life.

 

The Promises

When I first read the “Big Book” of AA I found a passage that spoke so loudly to me that I re-read it many times. The paragraph provides an image of what could be accomplished through living the 12 Steps and applying spiritual principles. I visualized myself being that person which the passage described. The description resembled something close to enlightenment. I searched further and found out that the passage is famous in the recovery community and is called the “12 Promises”.

  1. We are going to know a new freedom and a new happiness.
  2. We will not regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it.
  3. We will comprehend the word “serenity”.
  4. We will know peace.
  5. No matter how far down the scale we have gone, we will see how our experience can benefit others.
  6. That feeling of uselessness and self-pity will disappear.
  7. We will lose interest in selfish things and gain interest in our fellows.
  8. Self-seeking shall slip away.
  9. Our whole attitude and outlook on life will change.
  10. Fear of people and economic insecurity will leave us.
  11. We will intuitively know how to handle situations which used to baffle us.
  12. We will suddenly realize that God is doing for us what we could not do for ourselves.

Are these extravagant promises? We think not. They are being fulfilled among us – sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly. They will always materialize if we work for them.

(Alcoholics Anonymous pg83-84)

Build Resilience: Overcome Fear

Facing all that you fear will free you from yourself” – The Clone Wars “Sacrifice”

Fear often stops us in our tracks. Of all the emotions it is the one which hijacks our hopes and dreams the most. Fear of the unknown, fear of failure and ridicule are reasons that prevent people from starting let alone achieving their goals.

Most of the things that we fear reside only in our minds. We spend time imagining different scenarios of what might happen without realizing that there is no evidence or rational argument that supports the fears we harbor. The more we try to resist, avoid or flee from the things we fear the larger they loom. By confronting our fears we often find that they fail to materialize or have been blown out of proportion by our imagination.

Fear can either be an obstacle or an opportunity. We can use our fear to demonstrate faith and practice principles. Through fear lies the potential for power. We must simply overcome our fear and demonstrate our strength, courage and resilience. In order to overcome fear we must go through it.

The more we push ourselves to confront what we fear the more resilient we become. A fighter who enters the ring convinced that he is no match for an opponent has already lost the bout in his mind. We can however choose to enter in to the unknown as best prepared as we can be and face down our fears.

 

The Dagobah Lesson

It is not death that a man should fear, but he should fear never beginning to live” – Marcus Aurelius

When Luke Skywalker stood at the entrance to the dark cave he was about to confront his deepest fears manifested as the Dark Side. Fear is the opposite of faith as dark is the opposite to light. Fear is little more than absence of faith in our own divine capacity to find the light within ourselves. Luke entered the cave and came face to face with his darkest fear, not his nemesis Darth Vader, but his own dark side. Dagobah showed Luke Skywalker that fear resides only within us. Faith or the Force can be used to light our way through the darkness of our Fear.

Fear can also drive us to do courageous things. When we hear of stories of heroism in war and peace we often hear it said that “fear” spurned them in to action. A war hero often can’t explain why he rushed a machine gun nest or ran under fire to recover a wounded comrade. Neither can the bystander who rushes in to a burning house to rescue those trapped inside. Fear can drive a reaction that defies the natural instinct for self-preservation. The mental and physiological effects of fear can produce incredible courage and almost superhuman powers for some while render others completely immobile or send them in to mindless panic.

Our response to fear is at times unpredictable and surprising. In the Army there were those who were outstanding peace time soldiers fall to pieces under fire and a complete disgrace of a soldier in the barracks who surprised everyone with exceptional courage in combat. Some very courageous veterans face the greatest challenges and fears not in active service but when they transition to civilian life and leave behind the protective shell of the Army. The fear is debilitating and devastating because it takes everything and leaves nothing.

 

Fear to Recovery

Fear not the future, weep not for the past” – The Clone Wars “Voyage of Temptation

Fresh out of the Army I was fearful so I got drunk a lot. When I was drunk I could be fearless one night and a pathetic coward the next. Fear riddled my being. The past haunted me and the future terrified me. In the present I found the solace of booze.

Be messy and complicated and afraid and show up anyways” -Glennon Doyle Melton.

In recovery I learned that courage comes in many forms. It is the person in the meeting who has lost everything including her dignity and self-respect and now sits before us holding back the tears and telling the story of how she came to be there. The amount of courage it can take for some to share their stories and seek to make amends in early recovery is in a way far braver than the instinctive compulsion to rush out and save a comrade while under fire. It is the sort of courage that will provide us the strength and resilience to stay sober.

 

An Insidious Rumor

“Fear is the path to the Dark Side. Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, hate leads to suffering.” – Yoda

The important thing to remember is that Fear is a natural response to a legitimate threat. Fear is what kept our ancestors alive. In modern society fear has a different nature and is not always legitimate or real. Fear today is mostly insidious and chronic such as the fear of retrenchment, poverty, rejection or illness rather than the acute and immediate threat of being torn apart by a lion.

 “Fear is a great motivator.” – The Clone Wars “Heroes on Both Sides”

Intangible fears have been created to control us better or get us to do what Governments and Corporations want us to do.  We are conditioned through media to fear the perpetual enemy, the existential threat. Be it the Terrorists, Commies or the Russians, someone is out to get us. Fear is the greatest motivator. It was an irrational Fear of mortality that spurned Anakin to seek to control the Force and led him to the Dark Side. The Empire used Fear to control the Galaxy, the Emperor used it to control Darth Vader.

Some of us suffer chronic fear and anxieties that require professional help while others rarely feel any fear at all but have specific phobias that send them to pieces. If we are asked to name our greatest fears many of us can’t. Some of them are like whispers in the dark, a cold draft or a passing shadow. We know fear when we feel it. It is what we do about it that matters most.

 

Own you Fear

“We can easily forgive a child who is afraid of the dark; the real tragedy of life is when are afraid of the light.” – Plato

When we know our fears we can face them. Resilient people have a healthy relationship with fear because they recognize those that are real and those that are false or misleading. Resilient people do not jump to the worst conclusions and automatically create fearful scenarios and doomsday outcomes. An overly positive and optimistic view is avoided as well. In the absence of clear evidence resilient people do not make immediate judgement and then charge them with emotions such as fear or anger.  Resilient people recognize that fear is a tool for them to channel in productive ways. Fear is only to be feared when it short circuits our rational mind and hijacks out capacity for reasoned choice. When fear controls us.

Let us not forget what happened to Anakin Skywalker. As a child he suffered fear and tragedy. A young man and Padawan, Anakin started to feel anger for the injustices of his past. In “The Revenge of the Sith” we saw that anger turn to hatred pushing Anakin to the dark side. Anakin never lost the fear. It was always there, growing stronger with time, controlling him and eventually possessing him. Even as Darth Vader he existed under perpetual fear. Only his son Luke Skywalker could redeem him through forgiveness and courage. It was not the absence of Fear that won the day but the ability to rise above it.

In order to overcome fear and build resilience we must know what it is and what it is not.

Fear is

  • A natural and healthy human response to perceived or actual threats
  • Often the product of imagination or falsehoods
  • Often magnified in our minds through ignorance
  • Contagious and can be manifested in society through prevailing attitudes (eg. Terrorism)

Fear is not

  • Always objective and rational
  • An abnormal responses to life
  • Unique to the individual
  • A weakness
  • A final reason to not do something we want to
  • Unnatural or shameful
  • Inherited and a part of your nature

 

Further Reading

Stoic Warriors by Nancy Sherman (2016)

Build Resilience: Embrace the Suck

I’ve got a bad feeling about this” – Han Solo

Voluntary Hardship is one thing but loving adversity is at an entirely different level. It sounds devious and twisted but it works and it is incredibly effective in building Resilience.

“Embrace the Suck” is a term used in the Military. I’ve heard it used in one form or another in three different Armies in three languages. The term was also adopted in CrossFit and you hear it in the Box around the World.

Embrace the Suck means diving in to the crap and wallowing in it with a grin on your face. You know you are going to hate it and you know it will suck badly but you flick a switch in your head that reads “Beast Mode” and you wade in. It is a process of turning a negative perception of an experience upside down by surrendering to it.

People who wade in to discomfort and vulnerability and tell the truth about their stories are the real badasses” – Brene Brown

 

Kokoro

When a man is beaten, tormented and defeated…He is ready to learn something.” – Emerson

The Navy SEAL former Commander Mark Divine calls Embracing the Suck the essence of the Warrior’s “Unbeatable Spirit” or “Kokoro Mind”. It is the essential ingredient for success and one that alludes 80% of candidates attempting the world renowned and feared BUDs course.

Those that pass selection the SASR or the Navy SEAL BUDs Operator training will tell you that the course was 80% mental and 20% physical. Those that somehow get through it all will admit that the key to success  was to drop all resistance to the experience and truly embrace it with every fiber of your being. This means total commitment and focus. The evolution is entirely mental, emotional and spiritual. The pain and discomfort is an illusion that is temporary and transitory. By “Embracing the Suck” the candidate for Special Operation Forces transcends to another level.

 

Winners are Grinners

The greater the obstacle, the more glory in overcoming it.” —Confucius

I can’t stand heights. Once during a course in the Army I had to traverse across a 50 meter canyon. A cable was suspended across a chasm that was at least 100 meters deep.

I attached my carabiner to the cable and swung on so that my body was lying on it with one leg dangling for balance. Pulling myself across the cable I kept my eyes on the Instructor on the opposite side of the canyon. Pulling myself closer and closer using my hands and mounted leg pumping to slide my body forward. I refused to look down. Suddenly I felt myself swaying to and fro. It became worse and worse and I realized the Instructor 30 meters in front of me was pulling the cable violently. I froze.

“Let go of the cable” the Instructor bellowed, “get the F__ off!” he yelled again.

I shook my head with a stifled no and the Sergeant swore and started to pull at the cable harder. “Let the F___ Go!” he yelled again. A Corporal standing near by laughing went over and also started to pull. The cable lurched back and forth and I felt like I was going to be flung off. I let go.

I was suspended above the void looking straight ahead as I swung with the cable above me. An old blue lanyard and a rusty carabiner was the only thing keeping me from falling to my death. My mind was racing in panic and I wondered if the lanyard and carabiner were going to hold. I heard my number being called.

“Student 67! look at me”, the Instructor yelled out. I stared at him. “Embrace the Suck and grow some balls Student 67! Now look down!”. I looked down and could see trees far below and a dry wadi bed. My stomach rose to my mouth. I heard my number again.

“Stand at attention and give us a smile”. I thrust my arms down and bought my feet together and gave a grin. There was laughter. “What are you waiting for dickhead?” the Sergeant yelled “remount and get over here”. I was back on the cable in a second and apparently broke the record for the fastest time across.

 

Image Source: Lucas Films

Bullet Proof Mind

“Misfortune is virtue’s opportunity.” – Seneca

For us mere mortals the lesson is clear. In order to build resiliency and then strengthen it we must relish any opportunity to put ourselves to the test. Rather than avoiding the unpleasant we must seek it out. This means turning up to training even when you don’t want to. Running the extra mile when you think you are going to puke. Putting your hand up for the most unsavory and unpopular jobs. Taking out the garbage or scrubbing the latrines. It might be filling in for someone’s shift when they can’t come in when you’d rather have the night off. This mean but not just doing it but doing it with enthusiasm and a sense of gratitude that people will start to wonder if you are not quite sane.

“Embracing the Suck” means “The Obstacle is the Way”. Any challenge faced is an opportunity to demonstrate virtues and practice principle. Someone hurls abuse at you in traffic? Give them a smile. You are having a real bad day and falling behind and someone comes to you asking for help on something trivial? Be patient and offer to help later. You have made an expensive blunder at work and fear getting reprimanded or losing your job? Owe up to the mistake, take responsibility and face the music. Making amends but too reluctant to face someone? Just do it anyway. Never compromising on your principles naturally builds resilience.

You have 100 Burpees to do and you want to quit at 40 and puke? I had a Platoon Sergeant in the Army that used to say that “Pain is weakness leaving the body”. Embrace the Suck and keep going.

 

Pain to Virtue

“Whenever you suffer pain, keep in mind that it’s nothing to be ashamed of and that it can’t degrade your guiding intelligence, nor keep it from acting rationally and for the common good.” – Marcus Aurelius

By embracing the adversity and unpleasantness of life as well as the good we are practicing the very concept of surrender. Buddhism teaches that what we resist persists. When we deny what is happening or throw up resistance to it we create suffering.

Every painful event, disappointment, lost opportunity, misfortune and missed chance can be a gift in disguise. We are given the opportunity to practice virtues and improve ourselves.

There is a choice in practicing Voluntary Hardship but in life we encounter hardships and responsibilities every day that “Suck”. A relationship may be on the rocks, work may be driving you crazy, you can’t get out of an emotional rut. Pause and reflect on what you can do to change the situation and get to work.

This means applying your principles and being true to your values even when your ego is telling you to do the opposite. Someone offended you? Suck it up and grin at them. Your look will tell them that you are no snowflake. Embracing the suck is also letting go of your fears. With the internal resistance gone we can flow through and with the experience. Over time things that used to seem daunting will no longer bother us. They will resolve themselves if we stop fighting them.

 

Lessons Learnt

“It takes discipline to focus only on high-value targets instead of giving in to the temptation of the low-hanging fruit life serves up daily.”  – Mark Divine

One of the reasons I failed in my attempts at staying sober for so many years was because I chose comfort over courage. I did not want to suffer and ironically I suffered more by not doing anything to change. My attempts involved trying to force change on others and fighting everything and everyone. I missed the fact that trying to control what is not of my own doing would only frustrate me more. Embracing the Suck meant taking full ownership and responsibility for my Life.

Admitting to a problem or fault takes honesty and humility, deciding to turn over your life to a Higher Power takes Faith, living your principles everyday takes Courage. None of it is easy of comfortable. You are choosing “Courage over Comfort” by taking the plunge. By “Embracing the Suck” you are fully committed and focused and using the experience as a chance to grow.

Imagine taking that attitude in to your daily life. How much easier things would seem. “People who wade in to discomfort and vulnerability” are the real badasses. Those that “Embrace the Suck” create an Unbeatable Spirit that cannot be beaten down.

Further Reading

Unbeatable Mind by Mark Divine.

 

Build Resilience: Voluntary Hardship

Life rises from the ashes. Fire brings renewed growth and  strength. The Forest is resilient. 

Voluntary Hardship is one of the ways we can build our resilience. The Stoics in Ancient Greece and Rome practiced Voluntary Hardship as a way to harden themselves to life. The practice could be as simple as missing a meal or sleeping rough. It was also about being exposed to uncomfortable situations, working with difficult and rude people and seeking out ways to test the limits of mental, emotional and physical endurance.

When I was 18 I decided to join the Army. I felt a need to test my mettle and prove myself a man. There was a need to expose myself to Voluntary Hardship in an environment where my choices were limited and I would be forced to grow. I thought that like a forest regenerating after fire I could be renewed by the furnace of the military.

 

“Lean into the discomfort of the work.” – Brene Brown.

 

Grunting

Being in the Army was like jumping in to a frying pan. Joining the Infantry was like jumping from the pan and in to the fire. It was uncomfortable and harassment constant. The work was dirty and hard. The lifestyle was close to Spartan. Material possessions were few. There was a greater chance of getting injured and suffering long term pain and disability. Knees and backs were shot after years of walking long distances with heavy loads. These are some of the reasons why men (and now women) still choose to do it.

Anyone who has ever been a Grunt knows that the Infantry thrives on a blend or order with random chaos. One minute everything is quiet and calm and then without warning a hurricane in the form of a snap inspection happens. Lockers are over turned, beds and mattresses are thrown about, gear is tossed out of windows and hosed down amidst screaming and yelling.

You find yourself at three am running around outside under a flood light dazed and confused. Grunting in the cold and wet while in your underwear, getting abuse hurled at you through a megaphone, you ask yourself in wonder “I volunteered for this shit?” The Army does this for one reason, to build resilience and prepare soldiers for war.

If you are not miserable, they are not doing it right. Voluntary Hardship works.

 

Yoda’s Method

Remember Luke Skywalker on Dagobah? Yoda pushed him to the limits of his mental, physical and emotional boundaries. The Jedi Master was showing Luke what he was capable of. By pushing Luke hard enough, Yoda was teaching him to find the Force within him and the resilience to meet his destiny.

Yoda: “Mysterious are the ways of the Force.”
Luke: “Did you just make me stand on my head for two hours because I was annoying you?”
Yoda: “Very mysterious.”

During the original trilogy we witnessed Luke evolving from an emotional and petulant Farm boy to a hardened and resilient Jedi. Voluntary Hardship was a Jedi discipline intended to prepare the Jedi for his or her mission.

 

Sane and Safe

Voluntary Hardship is all of these things but not all of us are going to commit to a personal Dagobah. We can do it as part of a sane and safe practice that suits our lifestyle. By constantly testing ourselves and by making life routinely uncomfortable in some way we are hardening ourselves for the day we may need to live it for real.

These days I rely on Voluntary Hardship to help me in my recovery. It is not safe to rest on my laurels and get too comfortable. Alcoholism is a subtle and cunning foe that preys on momentary lapses in reason and weaknesses.

By practicing Voluntary Hardship I am able to forgo things in a mindful way. By doing so I know that I am training myself to resist temptation and better absorb hardship when it comes without warning. I’m better able to deal with HALT* moments that arise and keep my serenity.

We need not deprive ourselves of basic needs. No one who is sane practices Voluntary Hardship by wandering through the wilderness without food or water for forty days or sleeping on a bed of nails. Doing anything at the expense of our health and well being is contrary to the purpose of Voluntary Hardship.

A voluntary hardship might be skipping a meal and going hungry for a night, having a cold shower, sleeping on the floor, leaving your jacket at home when you know it’s cold and raining out donating half of your clothes to charity. You could choose to go without Social Media for a few days or throw your Smart Phone in the drawer. Do it often enough and you begin to understand what scarcity and hardship feels like and that you can live with both if needed.

“The benefits of Voluntary Hardship far outweigh the discomfort.”

 

Easier

You began forcing yourself to get out of bed 6 am a month ago.  At first it was hell but you soon started to get used to it. Soon enough it became routine and then you thought, “why don’t I go for an early morning run?”.  You went from sleeping in till late and struggling out of bed to getting up at sunrise and going for a run.

After a few months you find yourself in the gym. All of the sudden you realize you look and feel great. Why? Because you chose to be uncomfortable.

Incremental improvements happen when we  challenge ourselves. We adapt and become conditioned to hardship and eventually we start to enjoy it.

 

Rewarding

When we were Kids some of us might remember having had “privileges” such as Television revoked for transgressions such as failing to make the bed. The denial was not voluntary but the sense of gratitude we got when the privilege was restored was real.

Imagine denying yourself the pleasures that you routinely enjoy. The truth is most of us don’t because we are on the hedonistic merry-go round. People are constantly seeking new pleasures and distractions. The things that we coveted and received soon lose their shine and we are left wanting for the next best thing. We have forgotten to appreciate the things we have and only want and expect the things we don’t.

What if we were to lose or have some of those things we have withheld? Could we do without them? My Daughter pleaded that she could not do without her Smart Phone until she found out she could. It taught her to value her things more. Still after the next model came out she “needed” that too!

Not having our endless demands met is healthy. Healthy denial teaches us to be grateful for what we have and take the time to enjoy them knowing that life can still be enjoyable without them.

 

Simpler

There is so much we can forgo in life. Peeling away the layers of materialism and settling for a simpler and less cluttered life frees us a lot of stress. Life become more about enjoying the experience rather than amassing possessions.

I do not equate a lack of material wealth as poverty or hardship. Some people do and they are physically and emotionally attached to their belongings in way that it creates a prison for them. By letting go of the clutter we think we need we start to break those bonds.

Wanting less also means having to spend less which means less debt and more money to do things that enrich your life experience.

 

Healthier and Happier

Less stress, more time and money to invest in your health and well-being, putting people before things all lead to a greater sense of self sovereignty, independence and happiness. If Voluntary Hardship leads to adopting a healthier diet, exercise program and positive outlook then all the better. All of these benefits result from having more resilience which results from Voluntary Hardship.

Use your imagination. Have fun with Voluntary Hardship. Remember it is training, not some form of penance.

*HALT: Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired. The four horsemen of the Apocalypse (Triggers) for Alcoholics in early recovery.

 

Further Reading

Ryan Holiday (2014): The Obstacle Is the Way: The Timeless Art of Turning Trials into Triumph. Available on Amazon at http://amzn.to/29HvsMI

Meditations by Marcus Aurelius. Available on Amazon at: http://amzn.to/29R3Ysb

Letters from a Stoic by Seneca the Younger. Available on Amazon at: http://amzn.to/2mqd44A

Build Resilience

The six petal rosette is a symbol of life and resilience in many ancient cultures. Life is resilient and in a constant cycle of birth, death and rebirth. Even a fragile poppy will fall under a storm to re-emerge more vibrant than before.

Trigger Warning

I recently attended a workshop on mental health where a Psychologist opened the session by telling the captive audience that if they want to reduce the risk of suicide in their kids, teach them how to build resilience in life. He was blunt and direct.

The room was full of people who happen to be in the highest risk category for suicide; work-away white males between the ages of 35 and 54 with a good number of veterans and divorced Fathers in the mix. No one was triggered. The statement got everyone’s attention because it was confronting and hit close to home.

Resilience is more than a trait, it is a virtue. Probably the most underrated virtue. The reason it is a virtue is because the choice of how we respond to life remains largely within. We can choose to stay down when life floors us or we can pick ourselves up and keep moving. We can hide from the world or we can face it. The choice is ours.

 

Survivor

I am not what happened to me. I am what I choose to become” – Carl Jung

In recent years the idea of Resilience has been pushed to the background. Identity politics and the emergence of a victim-hood culture and ubiquitous trigger warnings have convinced many people that they do not need to change; society must change to accommodate them. Resilience helps some but not all some might argue. While it is true that many people around the world suffer injustices which should be addressed it does not mean that they should not strive to be resilient in the face of adversity as well.

Trigger warnings don’t happen in real everyday life and they don’t really help. Avoidance can be detrimental. One way to become resilient is to identify our vulnerabilities and expose them to our fears and obstacles.

There is a choice between being the perpetual victim and a survivor with a story to share. Do not fall for the victim-hood culture.

 

Vulnerable

Vulnerability is not weakness. And that myth is profoundly dangerous” – Brene Brown

People are not born equal. That is a fact of life. Society cannot change overnight. Cultural attitudes can take decades and longer to change. Paradigm shifts occur slowly. Sometimes they occur dramatically through revolutions and reformations. Much of this is determined by the social and cultural consciousness that drives the change. As the tide moves we are swept along with it or left behind.

We are also all born vulnerable. That is a good thing. It puts us where we need to be. As humans we are imperfect but we all have within us the capacity to change, to fail repeatedly and get up and try again and again.

Our lives are also largely out of our control. We are more vulnerable to change and chance that we care to admit. Most of us would find it hard if not impossible to recover from a major catastrophe such as the loss of a loved one, financial ruin or a relationship melt down. We are human and therefore vulnerable, we all suffer loss, illness, injury, heartbreak, grief and finally death. Our vulnerability can also be the source of our courage and resilience. How? By being more in tune with our emotions and understanding our relationship with them.

What of today? What can we do now? Regardless of who we are resilience can serve us. Some of us are raised to be resilient and it seems to be in our nature. Others less so but there are ways to build resilience in to our lives.

 

Nothing Ventured Nothing Gained

“Resilience is more available to people curious about their own line of thinking and behaving,” – Brene Brown

If we want to get fit and healthy we exercise regularly and eat nutritious food. We can stimulate our minds and ward of degenerative diseases like dementia by keeping mentally active. Our emotional state is kept in balance through meditation, socializing and spending time with family and friends. Without even thinking about it most of us look after our mental, physical, emotional and spiritual health. All of this helps us in building our resilience to adversity.

Resilience is a virtue that needs to be practiced. Waiting for the “accidental and the unforeseen” to happen is too late. Resilience is built through training and practice.

How do we practice resilience? None of us want to put ourselves in to real situations where we test our resilience. We are not going to upturn our lives so that we can assess our capacity to recover. That would be counter-intuitive. At the same time we can sometimes anticipate when bad things are going to occur. A loved one may have a terminal disease and while we dread it, we know the day will soon come when they will die. Our employer may warn us that retrenchments are coming due to an ailing economy. We are then told to prepare for bad news.

The “unforeseen and the accidental” of Marcus Aurelius is what we are least prepared for. This is where we need to train our resilience.

Over the next seven days we will be looking at 9 ways we can build resilience in to our lives.

 

Recommended Reading

Brene Brown (2017): Rising Strong: How the Ability to Reset Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead. Available on Amazon at https://www.amazon.com/Rising-Strong-Ability-Transforms-Parent/dp/081298580X

Eric Greitens (2016): Resilience: Hard-Won Wisdom for Living a Better Life. Available on Amazon at: https://www.amazon.com/Resilience-Hard-Won-Wisdom-Living-Better/dp/0544705262

Duty

Impossible to see … The Dark Side clouds everything. But this I am sure of…Do their duty the Jedi will” – Yoda

 

Duty is a word that is synonymous with the Jedi. The purpose of the Jedi was to serve the Republic. Duty was at the forefront of Jedi training and conduct. Even as the Jedi Order collapsed and only Luke Skywalker remained alone on the ancient Jedi Refuge of Ach-To the call to Duty was strong and could not be denied. Luke finally answered the call to action because he was Jedi and bound to do his Duty.

 

We are born for cooperation, as are the feet, the hands, eyelids, and the upper and lower jaws” – Marcus Aurelius

 

Call of Duty

Whether we know or not, each of us has a duty to perform. As human beings our first duty is to live in cooperation and collaboration with others. We are social animals and it is in our nature to depend upon each other. In fact our survival as a species relies on it.  No person is entirely an Island by nature.

We also have a duty to ourselves.  As competent adults each of us has a responsibility to safeguard and maintain our own physical, mental, emotional and spiritual well-being. This is necessary for us to function in our roles within society.

Our final duty is that which society accords us in our role. People who earn a living have a duty to their employer. Businesses have a duty to their customers. Teachers a duty to their students and school. Doctors to their patients. Parent a duty to raise their children. All of us interact within the relationship obligations and expectations of duty. We all have a role to play whether we like it or not.

 

Waste no more time arguing about what a good man should be. Be one.” – Marcus Aurelius

 

Do your Duty!

When I was a Soldier I understood the concept of Duty. Through school I had been instructed in the merits of being a dutiful student. We were taught to respect the flag and honor country and God. Duty it was explained was the most honorable virtue bestowed on Man. Without it we were less than savages and had no honor or belonging. We owed it to our families, school, community, country and the church to be dutiful.  I thought that to be a good person one was duty bound to serve.

The Army reinforced this concept. To shirk one’s duty was seen as a crime. The worst offence was to abandon one’s duty through desertion or “by refusing to soldier”. Insubordination was one thing but conscientious objection or “abandoning one’s weapon” while in uniform was seen as the worst betrayal of duty. There were those who felt it was their personal moral and ethical duty to object to orders by “refusing to soldier”. Some expressed that through desertion.  Either way was punished by imprisonment.

 

Into exile, I must go. Failed, I have.” – Yoda

 

Dereliction of Duty

I was not one of those men who saw duty to personal values as being more important than following insane orders. My constant insubordination and eventual desertion was driven by alcohol and a selfish and destructive attitude. As I got deeper in  to the mess of alcoholism I faced one charge for dereliction of duty after another. I found more ways to infuriate the system even more. Eventually I learned that I could not beat the system. Full of anger and resentment I went AWOL.  With little ceremony I was discharged on return and unceremoniously cast out back in to the world. I had failed in my duty. The rejection was a deep blow.

The years after my dishonorable discharge followed a similar pattern. I seldom remained in one place for long. With little warning I would leave. My loyalties were near non-existent or they lasted as long as the booze did. I could swear a blood oath to complete strangers in a Bar but not recognize them the next day. I could not hold down relationships unless they benefited my drinking and gratified my desires. None lasted long. Duty seemed like a foreign word. In the end I despised the notion of duty as it evoked control, obligation and restriction to my freedom.  Duty did not go with drinking.

 

Happiness is the natural flower of duty” – Phillips Brooks

 

Deon

Deon is the Greek word for binding moral and spiritual duty. It is also means “Of Zeus”. The Ancients placed great importance on personal duty marking it as almost holy. Coming in to recovery I had to embrace a new kind of Duty. This was a spiritual duty I owed to myself and others. Unlike the Duty that I had known in the past there was no need for self-sacrifice or submission to others. I was not compelled to do anything I did not want to do. I only had to follow my heart and act in accordance with my own principles and values.

What was required was a willingness to change and putting faith in a Higher Power I call the Force. I had the freedom to think for myself. My Duty was to not pick up that first drink and to follow some simple principles like self-honesty, humility and gratitude. Others showed me that they had a duty to help me stay sober because it also helped them. In time I could also help others and it would help me stay sober. Duty in that sense made complete sense to me.

 

The reward of doing one duty is the power to do another” – Rabbi Ben Azai

 

 

Duty of Care

These days we sometime hear the word “Duty” thrown about. People use it to remind society that it owes them a duty around their personal security, health, welfare and education. The Police, Military, Emergency Services, Hospitals, Teachers and Public Servants are there to provide us with a “Duty”. We live in a hedonistic and individualistic society where personal pursuits are valued more than the collective good. Many people seldom consider what Duty they owe to others and to the community.

Over the recent decades society has seen a decline in personal responsibility and accountability. Self-Discipline is becoming a rare commodity as is faith. Virtues are increasingly considered less importance than entitlement, celebrating diversity, political correctness, instant gratification, fame and physical appearance over character. We can still care about all of these things if they are important to us but we should find a sense of duty and purpose in our lives.

 

Do your duty and a little more than the future will take care of itself” – Andrew Carnegie

 

Ancient Wisdom

The Stoic and Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius wrote a lot about finding one’s Duty in life. Forgoing a life of luxury and pomp in Rome he sought instead to make his contribution in the defense of the Empire in the wilderness of the northern frontiers. In his works “Meditations”, the Emperor records his doubts and anxieties at the enormity of the task.  A sense of moral duty re-calibrates his resolve.

Luke Skywalker consumed by self-pity on Ach-To finally came to his senses and sought to fulfill his Duty as a Jedi. The Last Jedi only had to remember his purpose and his purpose was service.

Luke Skywalker and Marcus Aurelius shared common traits of responsibility, self-discipline, faith in a Higher Power and belief in a cause greater than themselves. That’s all we need. When you know what it is go out and do your duty.  In that pursuit you will achieve the greatest gift; the feeling that you have fulfilled a purpose and lived life well.

 

It is our duty as men and women to proceed as though the limits of our abilities do not exist” – Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

Fives

Source: Lucas Films

Look around! We’re the one and the same; same heart, same blood. Your training is in your blood. And my blood’s boiling for a fight!” – Fives

In doing nothing men learn to do evil” – Cato the Younger

There are many tragic themes in the Star Wars saga. The Fall of Anakin Skywalker is one and the death of Obi-wan Kenobi is another. The betrayal of Ahsoka Tano is also tragic lesson. The death of Padmé Amidala and the separation of Luke and Leia as orphans unaware of their past and common destiny is a sad and tragic story.

The death of the Clone Arc Trooper Fives towards the end of the Clone Wars is particularly tragic as he died trying to prevent a terrible conspiracy from being realized. What made it more poignant was that Fives was a Clone Trooper that was thrust in to a destiny he had no control over. One that would ultimately lead to the fall of the Old Republic and the rise of the Empire. The story is also similar to that of Cato the Younger, who sacrificed his own life trying to save the Roman Republic from descent in to dictatorship.

 

The Clones

Thanks CT-27-5555. That was close.”

It’s Fives. The name is Fives!” – Echo and Fives

Fives was a Clone ARC Trooper and a loyal member of the 501st Legion. He was called “Fives” because of his number (CT-5555). Surviving multiple battles and demonstrating uncommon bravery Fives quickly became promoted and accepted in to the elite Advanced Recon Commandos (ARC). The Kaminoans had engineered and manufactured the Grand Army of the Republic to fight without pity or remorse and to die without hesitation in service to the Republic.

The Clone Army was a military asset purchased by the Galactic Senate to be used against the military might of the Separatist Alliance, the Droid Army. Being Clones with one purpose they were expendable and the Kaminoans took pride in the precision  of their creation.  They had created the ultimate fighting Force. The Clone Fives was a shining example of the Kaminoan product line. Each Clone was a number, however there was a problem; Fives was more than a number, he was different.

Clones were made to be the same in every way; the model soldier. The Kaminoans designed them to display little variability in behaviour and to follow orders without question or hesitation. Any differences were the result of inevitable genetic drift and personality development during training. These were considered defects. Variations that could be tempered through discipline and control biochips.

The Clones also held a secret which only the Sith Lord Darth Sidious, his apprentice Darth Tyranus and the highest ranks of the Kaminoans knew. Each Clone carried an inhibitor bio-chip which contained the orders for Protocol 66.  When that order was eventually given, every Clone that still carried the biochip in his head suddenly turned his weapon on any Jedi in the area and executed them without hesitation and without pity. They were programmed to become Galactic Storm Troopers once that switch was thrown. Only the Clones who had removed their biochips refused to carry out the orders. Some joined the rebellion.

 

No Ordinary Soldier

Fives was no ordinary Clone. Throughout his career he had questioned the morality and sanity of orders. The Clones were connected by a common genome and considered each and every Clone to be his brother. For Fives it was more than that, he truly cared for his comrades and was willing to risk his life for them.  Fives also had a deep respect and admiration for his Jedi superiors and made it a personal mission to protect them. The sentiment was reciprocated by those Jedi closest to him. Anakin Skywalker, Obiwan Kenobi and Ahsoka Tano were amongst those he called friends.

 

Where is the honor in marching to our deaths?” – Fives

 

As Fives saw more and more of his comrades die and many for pointless reasons he began to question his identity and purpose. Fives believed that Clone were not expendable tools but living, breathing, sentients worthy of dignity, respect, free will and above all life. It was Five’s discovery of Protocol 66 which ultimately led to his demise as he sought to warn the Jedi of the plot to kill them. Fives had stumbled on an unspeakable truth and for that he could not be allowed to live.

 

The Last Roman

In much the same way Cato was betrayed by the corrupt Roman Senate.  The Rebel Army surrendered but was ordered slaughtered by Caesar. Cato had almost stopped Julius Caesar from becoming Dictator of Rome. Cato committed suicide rather than seek pardon from Caesar. The rebellion against Caesar  was defeated. This final defiant act was in line with his principles. Cato preferred to die than lose his liberty.

Had Cato succeeded the Republic would have survived. Caesar would never have taken power from the Senate and abolished the Republic.

 

In doing what we ought we deserve no praise, because it is our duty” – Cato (Joseph Addison Play “Cato”)

 

In the same way a single, solitary soldier who was meant to be programmed not to think exposed the greatest conspiracy in the Galaxy. The Jedi were blind to the truth and the Senate was easily manipulated. Only Fives saw it and he was a tragic figure when none believed him. If Fives had succeeded in his quest to unveil the truth, Protocol 66 may have never happened.  The Old Republic would have survived and Chancellor Palpatine would have been exposed for what he was, a Sith Lord.

 

I am not just another number! None of us are!” – Fives

 

The Power of One

Fives was the last known survivor of his Rookie Squad, “Domino”. Each of the Clones were genetically identical but also had unique personalities. When these personalities worked in tandem they were formidable warriors. Like Cato, Fives was the epitome of the Stoic and it carried him through the war.

Cato and Fives were both stubborn and tenacious, loyal and dutiful to their superiors and subordinates. Both soldiers displayed high moral integrity, resolve, strong leadership and led by example. Above all they distrusted corrupt politicians and incompetent leaders who only sought to serve themselves. Cato and Fives were sworn to protect the Republic. Living by principles was not an option but a duty. They both failed in their duties for reasons far outside of their control. The forces united against them were too great to overcome.

 

I know not what treason is, if sapping and betraying the liberties of a people be not treason.” – Cato the Younger

 

I’ve compared my own mental defect, the one where if I’m exposed to alcohol my personality undergoes a sweeping change, a sort of Protocol 66. With booze I am driven to do and say things that I have no control over. It’s like a switch is thrown in my head. I have to remember that alcohol was more powerful than me for most of my life and that only working the Steps and applying spiritual principle overcame it. Ultimately the only thing preventing me from another fall is reasoned choice and reliance on the Force.

Nations and Empires can rise and fall over night with or without our consent but one’s own mind is his own. It is the only thing we truly own. Every day we battle a cunning foe and that foe is our very self. Our better nature holds the high ground as long as reason prevails.

 

Do not expect good from another’s death.” – Cato the Younger

 

The Point

The point of mythology is to provide us with lessons through storytelling. The stories entertain us but they also provide a message. Sometimes that message is a warning. Star Wars serves that purpose and we take from it what we want. The fictional realm can hold a mirror to reality. We can also apply Philosophy to make sense of life. The tragedy of Fives teaches me that even someone who is just a number can still make a difference in the world. Even the most powerful can know the name of a humble soldier. No person is a number and freedom is a choice.

Star Wars is fiction but the story of the collapse of the Old Republic and the purge of the Jedi resembles the beginning of the death of the Roman Republic and rise of the Empire. Whether Lucas was aware of this historical similarity is irrelevant. The point is that it is in our power to change our own lives for the better, to seek truth and to challenge injustices like Cato and Fives did.

 

“Rex….this…it’s…bigger than any of us…than anything…I could’ve imagined….I never meant to…I only wanted to do my duty. The mission…the nightmares…they’re…finally…over….” – Fives

 

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Amathia

 

There is no Ignorance there is Knowledge” – Jedi Code

There is, he said, only one good, that is, knowledge, and only one evil, that is, ignorance” – Socrates

Amathia

People do stupid things. We can all admit to behaviour that in retrospection and on reflection seems illogical, irrational, self-destructive and just plain stupid. Being alcoholic I am qualified to attest to this. Looking at my past I could easily write the book “On Stupidity”. I still remind myself that people are not purposely stupid any more than I was. People just do stupid things. To quote Forrest Gump “Stupid is as stupid does”.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German pastor and Anti-Nazi dissident, wrote that while the reasoned may protest against “Evil” and be inoculated against it there is no such defense against the person who does stupid. Even the person who does “evil” feels a unease with their acts (unless of course the person is a psychopath). “Evil” is however a result of stupidity and ignorance.

The Greeks called such “Stupidity” Amathia, a sort of preventable intelligent “Stupidity”. Amathia is different to the “dull witted” who lacks the mental capacity to know virtue from vice. Socrates considered Amathia the root of evil acts in people. Epictetus described Amathia as anti-wisdom. A spiritual malady that afflicts those that could know and should know better.  Worse than ignorance, Amathia is choosing not to know, the worst type of stupidity.

 

A Stain

Stupidity never receives a clinical description or medical diagnosis. As an affliction it resides outside the realm of psychology. In the Army, “Stupid” or variations of was the worst label one could suffer. Being labelled “Stupid” was like a stain. It marked the unfortunate as “incompetent, unreliable, a liability and a bullet magnet”. “Stupid” was someone who could not be taught because he was incapable. Unable to learn not because of a lack of ability but because of a lack of willingness. Such was a lost cause, a “Cluster”, a “Gomer Pyle”.

Reading Bonhoeffer’s description of stupidity I am stunned by the familiarity to my own behaviour around alcohol. I never considered myself “Stupid” however I did stupid things and refused to learn from them. I was a “Cluster” in the true sense of the word. This flaw was a stain and it touched everyone who came close to me.

 

Defenseless

Bonhoeffer wrote a letter while awaiting his fate in a Nazi prison. I will quote extensively from it as it serves as a wake up call. Bonhoeffer writes “against stupidity we are defenceless” and goes on; “Neither protest nor the use of Force accomplish anything here; reasons fall on death ears

Most alcoholics are defenseless against the power of alcohol. They are hopeless when it comes to being convinced by others of their condition. Loved one’s and friends try to intervene without success. Employers, work mates and medical professionals try to reason with them. All efforts avail nothing.

Not only addicts are affected. People in general tend to grasp on to their system of beliefs and tightly held opinions that an alternate view cannot and will not be entertained. Extremists come in many shades but all share a common refusal to budge on their beliefs even in the face of evidence to the contrary. Some are even prepared to die for them.

 

“facts that contradict one’s prejudgment simply need not be believed- in such moments the stupid person even becomes critical – and when facts are irrefutable they are just pushed aside as inconsequential, as incidental.”

 

Ignoring Evidence

Even in the face of declining health, lost employment, repossessed house, broken family and destitution an alcoholic will continue to insist that the source of his problems is the fault of others. She will refuse to admit fault or accept being alcoholic. Despite the inevitable cognitive dissonance suffered the person will reject all evidence. This denial and reinforcement of enabling behaviour counteracts any impetus for change.

We call this person sick. Indeed they have a mental, physical and spiritual illness rooted in Amathia.

How often in other areas of life do we put our blinkers on and cherry pick the truth believing only what we want to hear and rejecting opposing views and contradictory evidence as “false”, “fake” or “baseless”? We would rather ignore and reject out of hand ideas or evidence that challenges our perceptions than give them a moment’s thought.

 

The Belligerent

“In all this the stupid person, in contrast to the malicious one, is utterly self-satisfied and, being easily irritated, becomes dangerous by going on the attack.”

 

When we are pushed to consider a view point that challenges our sense of self and potentially destroys everything we believe we can become extremely defensive. Pushed hard enough we may defend our beliefs to the point of violence. It happens with addicts who are forced in to a corner.

Violence is also used by  people who have inflexible and dogmatic views on religion, politics and other contentious issues. Are our valued ideas and concepts worth defending or advancing to the point we need to attack others who challenge us? Do we have the right to smother dissenting views and criticism?

 

A Contagion

Somehow people “become stupid” over time. Progressively they adopt attitudes and beliefs that eventually translate in to habits and character. The element of “Stupidity” is demonstrated in the traits described above. The outcome for an alcoholic is gradual loss of control of their lives and eventual descent to a personal hell. I know this because I lived it.

Stupidity is contagious. Bonhoeffer believed that those that felt a strong need to belong  to a group whether social, political or religious tended to be more willing to accept ideas than those who are happier to find their own path. Ideas and attitudes are fueled by people who share similar mind-sets and views.  As a drinker I sought out Drinkers to socialize and associate with and avoided people who did not drink. People tend to seek out the company of those that validate their character and values and avoid those who don’t.

In many ways recovery is a “Solo” mission. We can get advice and direction from people and seek what fits our own individual needs. There is no “one size fits all”. Most spiritual paths and philosophies are similar. There is a community but we are free and encouraged to go out and find our own way. There is nothing wrong with embracing an ideology however never grasp it so tight that it becomes a tether to the mind and soul. Be free to explore and seek new ideas and thoughts.

“Upon closer observation, it becomes apparent that every strong upsurge of power in the public sphere, be it of a political or of a religious nature, infects a large part of humankind with stupidity.”

 

A Modern Affliction

Bonhoeffer was imprisoned for many years by the Nazis. Despite his long incarceration Bonhoeffer believed that “stupidity” more than “evil” attracted many people to the Nazi doctrine. The rise of populism, “identity politics”, the “social justice warrior”, nationalism, religious extremism and “alt-left” and “alt-right” movements are all facets of the same thing when observed impartially from above. “Right” and “wrong”, “good” and “bad” are subjective.

We live in a world that is becoming increasingly polarized, intolerant and “stupid”.  The argument for reasoned discourse has been drowned out by the noise of divisiveness. People are being conditioned not to think, not to question. At the same time supporters of opposing views claim the moral high ground and possession of the truth. In truth the lack self ownership and independence of thought.

 

it seems that under the overwhelming impact of rising power, humans are deprived of their inner independence, and, more or less consciously, give up establishing an autonomous position toward the emerging circumstances.”

Independence

Alcoholism like any type of dependence is a complete loss of self-autonomy and independence. It is also attachment and ego run riot. We forget how to think critically and with reason. Our actions are guided by something stronger than our own free will. Our inner world no longer belongs to us.

Ask yourself what are you dependent on? People, places, things, ideas and beliefs can all be our sources of attachment and dependence. Despite ourselves we find our own values and ideas are no longer our own, we are simply reciting the ideas and values of others as our own and “preaching to the converted”.

In conversation with him, one virtually feels that one is dealing not at all with a person, but with slogans, catchwords and the like that have taken possession of him. He is under a spell, blinded, misused, and abused in his very being.”

 

Self Wisdom

A person who is self-reliant, independent and emotionally intelligent and capable of critical analysis is unlikely to follow a “false prophet”. Our ego and fears seems to push as that way. Most people want to be part of the crowd. No one wants to be a contrarian. People want to be able to give themselves a label which expresses who they are and what they value. I was no different. Being alcoholic I made many claims and had an inflated sense of self-importance. My disease and the problems it presented defined me.

Recovery has taught me how to be self-reliant and independent. I can differentiate between what is in my control and what it outside of it. My inner world belongs to me. I have command over my proper faculties, my thoughts, perceptions and responses. The tone and attitude I bring in the day is up to me. Opinions and beliefs are mine alone. My spirituality is unique and my own. I choose my values and the principles I live by.

I have little control over people and circumstances. There may be some influence but the world is largely out of my control. Even my body is not entirely under my control. I can choose what to eat and drink from what is before me. My health may fail despite best efforts to be healthy and fit. Cancer or heart disease may still cut my years short. I am my own being and belong to no one but myself.

 

“Having thus become a mindless tool, the stupid person will also be capable of any evil and at the same time incapable of seeing that it is evil. This is where the danger of diabolical misuse lurks, for it is this that can once and for all destroy human beings”

 

Evil is a Symptom

Bonhoeffer witnessed with dismay the rise of the Nazi Party in Germany. Being an opponent of Hitler he was imprisoned and persecuted. Accused of association in the plot to kill Hitler he was interned in a concentration camp and executed during the closing days of the war. Bonhoeffer would not have justified killing, even Hitler. Violence was not in his philosophy.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer suggested that the nature of the “Stupid” person is not an “intellectual” deficit but a “human” one. People are not born “stupid” any more than they are born “evil”. Some people are less intelligent than others, even “dull”, but are less “Stupid” in their nature than those with high intellect. History has shown some remarkably talented and brilliant minds who were ultimately betrayed by their own “Stupidity”.

People believe “Evil” is an independent and a tangible concept. That it has a life of its own. “Evil” is what most people perceive to as the really bad things that people do.  No one considers themselves to be inherently “evil”. Bonhoeffer  believed that people were not evil but only capable of doing evil because of their ignorance. Evil is a symptom of Socrates’s Amathia. Bonhoeffer also believed people could change for the better.

Yet at this very point it becomes quite clear that only an act of liberation, not instruction, can overcome stupidity

 

Liberation

In many ways Bonhoeffer was a real world Jedi Master. Bonhoeffer challenged the Lutheran church with his ideas of spirituality and religiosity but did not alienate himself from it. His views and philosophy of non-violent resistance influenced Martin Luther King, anti-communism in East Europe and the anti-Apartheid movement in South Africa. In his letter from prison Bonhoeffer offered his friends some advice; “Liberation can overcome stupidity“.

More than 2200 years before Bonhoeffer, Socrates suggested  the same thing. Salvation from the worst flaw, the real human evil, Amathia is through the spiritual and psychological liberation that self knowledge brings.

Each of us has the key to our own liberation. Our own reasoned choices determine who we are. We can submit to our own vices or we can embrace virtue. Do we choose to abide by the will of others or make up our own minds? Do we walk the path we want for ourselves or do we follow others blindly? At the same time we can be understanding and compassionate with others, even the “Stupid” that we meet everyday.

In the week the world remembers the Holocaust it is perhaps timely that we reacquaint ourselves with the word Amathia.