‘Hard times create strong men,
strong men create good times,
good times create weak men,
and weak men create hard times.’
G. Michael Hopf, Those Who Remain
There are two constant imperatives borne of man’s human nature. He will first seek security, and then contentment or pleasure. These ideas may be summed up in the ancient adage Bread & Circuses, and he who can give either of those to the Common Man will be amongst the rulers or elite of the people.
Security is difficult to attain, and if you look at history from 80,000 feet, evidently exceptionally hard to maintain for long. And even the Common Man today who has lived sixty years and remembers anything of the lives of his grandparents knows enough of the risings and fallings of man’s works to appreciate the truth of this.
Surviving has been a struggle for us humans during the overwhelming majority of our known history and presumably the entirety of pre-history. And getting and staying ahead is difficult even in fat times. This is just the nature of things.
It is the nature of things because if I do not raise that fork to my mouth, no one else will, and if I do not guard the contents of my plate, someone else will eat from it. I can lay in the grass for a bit, but if I do not seek shelter, eventually I’ll freeze to death, or die of pneumonia, to be eaten by ants, my bones eventually just returning to dust.
So we must struggle and if the struggle doesn’t break us, it makes us stronger and wiser. And becoming stronger and wiser contributes to our security which can lead to greater contentment and pleasure.
Eventually, due to the strength born of our struggle (or our ancestor’s struggles, for we inherit a great deal more than just their looks) we achieve a degree of security sufficient to allow us to devote more time and energy to the pursuit of contentment or pleasure. The problem is that we humans are shortsighted. Living off the fat of our labours, or just good fortune, it’s at this point that we usually neglect the struggle which made us strong. Thus we become weak again, which forces us to struggle once again. And the whole cycle begins anew.
This cycle can only be short-circuited during the good times via understanding, wisdom, and discipline. By understanding we mean correctly interpreting our circumstances. By wisdom we mean knowing what is best or right. By discipline we mean doing that which is best or right even when we do not have to.
This was originally published on Look Away on Sept. 23, 2022.
Mark Atkins has six wee bairns who are all seventh-generation Henry County, Tennessee, and all from the same doe. It is the people of Henry County that he most wants to reach but writes to Southerners generally. He is without credentials but rather dares to speak by the same authority as the little boy who cried 'The king has no clothes!' His core belief and starting point is that like everything, we humans have a nature, it is not so hard to understand, and to pretend that it is other than it is, is to jump off a cliff. Which is what we Americans have in fact done.