Contest 1: Withstanding. Toughness Training

Suppose there were a first contest in toughness and it was called “withstanding” or “wise endurance.” A tough person is someone who withstands or wisely endures certain things. Forgo the puzzling matter of which things should be endured and which should not. (Here see Plato’s Laches.) Simply suppose that this is something that needs to be withstood or endured.

Then consider with me: what enables someone to endure what needs to be endured? Some answers seem question-begging: fortitude! But fortitude seems a bit like saying toughness, and my ear tells me that they are, at least in this case, one and the same. Other non-question-begging starting points: confidence, experience, and hope. Let’s have a look.

Rule out hope immediately as I’m convinced that hoping implies passivity. Conceive of when you hope for X and realize soon enough that you’re hoping because your hands are tied. Nobody who can do something is hopeful, though he might be expectant.

What to make of experience? Someone with experience may be able to make reasonable claims: X, though painful, won’t likely last very long; things like X have been endured in the past; X, although painful, is doing no actual damage to me, is not maiming me, and cannot harm me. Experience seems to give us grounds for saying what is plausible, what could plausibly be so. (It does not give us grounds for certitude.)

I believe experience has more to do (though not all) with the nature of reality: how painful something is, how long it will likely last, what effects it may likely have on me, etc. What then of confidence? Confidence seems to be saying more about what I’m made of. It’s not just that I’ve done something like X before. It’s that in this case I have the belief that I can carry things through. I trust that I can bring it off. And I think what strengthens my confidence is the belief that I’m withstanding X for the sake of something good, worthwhile, and significant. A soldier endures life in the trenches for the sake of country; a Christian endures persecution for the sake of divine love, wisdom, and mercy.

I think what I’m arguing is that experience gives me a “boost” from the right use of the past while confidence urges me toward the good I seek to maintain–whether that be our home now under attack, the Christian ideals being assaulted, or the illness that I won’t think to whine or complain about.

(Bear this in mind always: toughness in the mode of withstanding is opposed to softness in the mode of complaining.)