If we are lashed and torn by Fortune, let us bear it; it is not cruelty but a struggle, and the oftener we engage in it, the stronger we shall be. – Seneca
What does that mean?
This quote has a variety of translations, and is part of a much longer discussion on being tough and strong, and that is by being tested.
The good life saps our bodies and minds. It robs them of vitality and endurance. But if we work hard, we get better at that specific ability. Runners have strong legs, laborers have strong hands, and so forth.
Cruelty implies intent, and that is usually lacking in the chances of Fortune or luck. These misfortunes allow us to take stock of our abilities, our strengths, and our toughness.
These situations also allow us to become better, stronger, and tougher through repetition. No one likes having constant misfortune, but constant good luck will not help you become anything besides soft.
Why is struggle important?
One of the examples he gave was of someone who entered the Olympics, and won. Not because they were best, but because no one else showed up. Yes, you get first place, but you have not had a contest, so you have won nothing. Yes, you have the prestige, but that is very hollow.
By being tested, by having misfortune, we can begin to better know ourselves. How do you know how well you can handle pain, if you’ve never had worse than a paper-cut? How do you know how well you will stand up under adversity if Fortune has always smiled on you? You only find out through the struggle.
The struggle against adversity or misfortune is how we strengthen ourselves. By facing and working against these trials and misfortunes, we become stronger and stronger. Skills, attitudes, and wisdom are all improved with repetition and resistance, just like our muscles.
Just as you don’t usually build your muscles sitting in a comfy chair, neither will you become better able to face adversity if all you have is good fortune. If you have only sailed on calm seas, you will not be ready for a storm. If you have sailed stormy seas, it will be just another day.
Where can I apply this in my life?
We’ve all had good days, and we’ve all had bad days. The question is how do you respond to the latter? Do you seek shelter and hide until misfortune passes? Or do you face the storm of misfortune, take the lashing, and struggle against it? One way will help you become stronger, the other will not.
That’s not to say we must weather every storm or misfortune in the open. There are times when prudence must be observed. The first time you face a particular trial, you might want to be conservative if you are unsure of the consequences of trying and failing. Other times, you might not have a choice.
For those who have been reading a while, you know that I have been divorced and bankrupt, and have lost my job any number of times. These are adversity and misfortune. None, not even the divorce, was done of cruelty. It simply was what came my way. Yes, I may have had a hand in the creation, but I also faced the struggle as well.
I know many people who have moved back in with their parents when they lost their job. I refused. I tightened my belt, dipped into my savings, and learned to keep a bigger savings account. As a result, the next time it happened, I was better prepared, I was stronger. That said, not everyone can do that the first time. The second time, …
Where in your life have you been treated to a heaping helping of misfortune? Pick one and think about it. Was there any way to predict that it might happen? What is the chance it may happen again? What steps can you take to help make things easier next time? Or can you do something to prevent the next time from occurring in the first place?
Consider how the struggle helped you become stronger. What skills did you improve? How did your attitude change? What wisdom or knowledge did you glean from this experience? How did your life improve after the misfortune ended? What did you learn, and did you share your insight with anyone else?
If you experienced this struggle this more than once, what did you do better the second time, compared to the first? What about the time after that? Do you see a pattern? Are you getting better, stronger, each time you struggle against adversity?
I urge you to take the time to read at least a few paragraphs from the source, linked below. It is truly an interesting way of looking at life, one which too few ‘modern’ people have considered.