Grinding it out, day after day, and digging deep when you’re exhausted.
What if you grind it out day after day according to a kind of plan and you work at a job you like—you don’t love it—but you like it OK and it pays the bills and it lets you feed your family? Or maybe you liked it once for what you knew it could be, but it has lost its challenge and edge but you stay because you promised others you would? What if you are careful because you know others rely on you?
All of this is courage, too.
You have to be disciplined and you have to be steady and you have push down the more savage inclinations of your nature every couple of days, or weeks or months, depending on the kind of personality you have. You stick it out day after day because you know that if you sacrifice, your wife and children benefit.
What about that kind of courage?
When I was studying Chinese at the Defense Language Institute I was in class with a guy I really let get under my skin. Wait-- Originally I had written “…a guy who really got under my skin.” I changed it because words shape how we think and it’s better to recognize that we have the power to let others bother us or not. Control the language and you control the argument, even if the argument is with yourself, so be careful what you let yourself think.
Combat Arms Army Officers (that’s Infantry, Armor, Field Artillery, Combat Engineers and Air Defense Artillery)—if they are worthy of the name-- don’t tend to be weak personalities. This guy I let get under my skin was a strong-willed Armor officer. I hope he and I were alike, because I admired him. He had studied Chinese for the Army before, was a New Yorker and had served as an enlisted man. He had many admirable qualities and had overcome much. I admired him but I found him hard to work with. Later we became reasonably good friends and developed a kind of mutual respect, I think. I hope he’s reading this now.
But when we first started working side by side at DLI we rubbed each other the wrong way. We were very different kinds of men. He was from New York. I was from Virginia. He was older than I by some years. He was a little more pragmatic in his leadership style. I was still idealistic. We were in a little bit of a pressure cooker because we were studying a difficult language with some very smart young students and we all wanted to be our best. He had studied Chinese before and was a very good linguist.
In addition to studying the language and having to succeed academically we were all kind of driven personalities in a way. He was disciplined. I was a little out of control in a way. It almost came to blows, which shows you how silly it all was in hindsight. I romanticized being an officer. I had some very high ideals about what it meant to be a tank officer and serve in the Army. In his own way I think he too had some very high ideals and our two sets of ideals came into conflict.
The Most Difficult Form of Courage to Master
In a sort of desperation I went to seek the counsel of our Senior Instructor. He had been an Infantry officer in the Army of the Republic of China on Taiwan. For those of you who find Chinese modern history a little confusing, the Taiwans were the ones the U.S. backed and who lost the war against Mao and the Chinese Communists in 1949. This old soldier had seen a lot. He was an emissary from a different time. He was a very dignified old gentleman and I admired him very much. He had been through a lot and was a patriotic American. I told him I was having a hard time with my classmate and he listened very respectfully. He knew I myself was difficult to work with and I think he wanted to say what he had to say carefully. His reply to my dilemma was exactly what I needed to hear.
He said he had noticed I had been having problems with my classmate and he said,
“Of all the forms of courage, the hardest one to master is the courage to endure.”
Is that Chinese or what? It seemed a very Chinese way of looking at things and I had never thought of grinding it out day after day as a form of courage but of course it is.
Your Masculine Soul in All Its Complexity
Men all around the world do just that. We go to jobs each day and we work and we exercise self-discipline and perseverance and patience. A close friend of mine once said he knew what my job was, after all; it was to keep my mouth shut. He nailed it on the head. When we work for others and serve, sometimes we have to keep our mouths shut and grind it out. We are complicated creatures and we never do anything of any significance for just one reason. But I think the question I would ask is this: When we do that day after day how does it affect us? When we do it more than we do anything else, how does it affect us? We’d better be aware of that, too.
I get the impression as I look around that our willingness to slug it out day after day in silence is without a doubt heroic but to do that we must push other qualities down. The benefit of doing so is that we discipline the wilder, untamed sides of our nature. The liability of doing so is that some of our finer more energetic qualities also get pushed down and if we let that happen for too long we weaken them and the world loses just a little more fire. Are these the only options men should have?
Here’s the question I will leave you with.
Do you grind it out because your actions serve you and others or do you grind it out because you have no other choices? In this world at this time I assure you have choices. The number of choices you have is mind-boggling but it takes vision and courage to face them and start to develop them. Everything you need to have to engage your life on a broader, more brilliantly lit stage is within your reach, but first you have to know what’s possible. The significance of the choices you make and the potential you have to change the world have never been greater. In fact, the potential is so great it’s frightening in its significance. The savage joy of being a man means you can change worlds if you choose to do so.