Contests, Modes of Toughness, and the Spirit of Our Times

Not everything in life is a contest but surely some things are. In a contest, I struggle, I risk something, I stake myself. I can avoid contests but only at the cost of avoiding becoming a more excellent human being.

I doubt whether we can continue to avoid the contests we face in the coming years. Some contests will be easy while others will be hard.

Consider the hard contests in life. What I have in previous posts been calling ‘toughness’ would be a necessary (but not a sufficient) condition for excelling in a hard contest.

Suppose that there are basic ‘modes’ in which toughness is displayed. The five modes that I believe (without furnishing such an argument today) to be most relevant for our time are:

  • Standing for (or stepping up) vs. Backing down
  • Withstanding vs. Breaking down
  • Pressing on vs. Giving up, in
  • Facing up to vs. Turning away from
  • Reaching out for, to vs. Holding back

The first question is whether these are the right physic0-ethical descriptions of these modes of toughness. The second is how to train oneself to stand for rather back down; to withstand greater force and pressure in lieu of breaking down under duress; to press on (in the right situations) instead of giving up; to face up to things as opposed to turning away from things; and to reach out to the world in vitality and in risk rather than cowering and holding back one’s vital powers from manifesting themselves.

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