The Hard Way
I will not steal a victory.
-Alexander the Great, in Plutarch’s Lives of the noble Grecians and Romans
It’s no secret. Well, if it is you don’t have to keep it to yourself anymore. I’m a history nerd. Heck, I blew a small fortune to study it for four years.
One of my favorites is Alexander the Great. This freak took the throne of Macedon at the age of 20 and over the next 12 years put down an uprising in the Balkans up to the Danube River, and then proceeded to conquer Persia and keep going until he crossed into present day India. While he wanted to continue, his army (which loved him by the way) threatened to desert if he conquered further east, to which he turned around and conquered west through to Egypt where he died at age 32. No one knows how much more he could have conquered if he had continued to live.
One thing I love about Alexander, and what his men no doubt loved about him, was his propensity towards courage. He chose to do what others termed ‘impossible’ or ‘unnecessary.’ For example, his father (King Philip) was looking to buy a horse. When the horse turned out to be violent and unruly, Philip declined the offer. Before the man could leave, Alexander declared he could tame the horse, and did, much to the surprise of the noblemen and ‘horse experts’ who had advised against the purchase.
And that was Alexander. Constantly defying the odds. Engaging armies much larger than his, and winning. Alexander was no Napoleon though—he wasn’t the type to desert armies when the going got tough. Rather, Alexander would organize the fight then mount a horse and lead the charge. Indeed, he was wounded or nearly wounded on several occasions—one king’s blow went so far into his helmet that the only thing between his head and the blade were a few of Alexander’s hairs!
What I take from Alexander’s character is someone who wasn’t afraid to do things the hard way. He wasn’t a coward looking for shortcuts. The opening quote, “I will not steal a victory,” refers to his refusing advice to attack King Darius of Persia at night, lest the night be given credit for the victory. If he couldn’t face his enemy, he didn’t want the victory.
I think we can learn something from Alexander. These days its so easy to steal a victory. When I teach high school classes, I encounter cheating on a regular basis. “I’m just copying.” No, you’re cheating. You see, the end goal for many students is to pass. The means justify the ends. Pass with as little effort as possible, and by any means practical. When they get caught, the usual response is justification more than remorse. When I explain what cheating is to them, I use the example of getting paid to sleep in instead of going to work. They get excited and say things like, “I want that job!” Sorry kid, it doesn’t exist.
Well, attacking at night isn’t cheating, is it? In warfare it’s a legitimate strategy. Yet in life it’s easy to attack under the cover of darkness. It’s easier to talk behind someones back than it is to confront them. It’s easier to fudge numbers on your taxes than it is to pay them. It’s easier to run from our problems than to face them. It’s easier to pass someone than to fail them. It’s easier, it’s easier, it’s easier. Is that what we want? A beige-bland-safe-suburban society? What happened to challenging the wild? What happened to men of courage who don’t take shortcuts in life?
No one who changed the world ever took the path of least resistance. Like ducks flying in a V, it’s the leader who has the hardest job, who faces the most resistance. It’s the eagles in life, who refuse to join the company of low-flying sparrows in their mediocrity, who soar alone… but oh to soar like an eagle. How we need eagles.
You see, we could put together more government programs, nonprofits and NGO’s to address the world’s daunting problems. It’s easy when our ‘help’ comes in the form of taxes or donations. It’s easy to put people into a database where they’ll be guaranteed the help they need. But how often do we step in and personally talk to people who are hurting and broken? Do people need food? Yes. Do people need money? Yes. Do people need medical care? Yes. If all we’re doing is meeting needs, what’s the point? What about love? Don’t people need that too? Can an organization love people? Can an institution or a government love people? I don’t believe so. Only people can do that.
Because so many of us refuse to engage the world around us, we miss out on the whole reason we have programs/institutions/organizations that help people. We feel guilty when we let people suffer while we’re living it up, right? Just write a check, that’ll make their problem go away. Wrong. It’s a patch at best. A shortcut. It’s the easy way to ‘help people’ without getting our hands dirty. Funds impact statistics, but why haven’t all our funds cured the world yet? We’ve got the money to do it. I heard once that the west could take all the money spent on pet food and feed the world with it. IT’S SO EASY!! LET’S RAISE THE MONEY!! LET’S DO IT!!
It’ll never work. The easy way often doesn’t.
Love has a cost to it, and you can’t love by cover of night. You can’t just pay someone else to do things and get full credit for it. You can’t solve the issue of poverty with money. Sorry if you don’t believe that, but money doesn’t solve the worlds problems. If it did, rich people wouldn’t have problems. It’s by engaging people, and through relationships, that we begin to deal with these problems. It’s not an overnight fix. For many people the solution takes years.
I don’t mean to be a downer about this, because I’m actually full of hope. In the midst of this generation of acceptable mediocrity, I’m seeing eagles hatch all the time. I’m seeing young men and women fearlessly leading the charge into the dark places that few will go into. I’m seeing leaders rising who don’t hide their motives for fear of the crowd. I’m seeing men and women running to the fight. They’re standing up against injustice, sitting in the dirt with the poor, visiting the sick and the inmates, listening to people’s stories and sharing what they have with them.
Easier said than done.
Another man I respect for many reasons (though not everything) is John F. Kennedy. In many ways I think he was a man of courage. One of my favorite quotes, and the one I’ll end with, was given at Rice Stadium in 1962:
We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard…
-JFK (emphasis mine)