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.

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The Logical Order of Contests of Toughness

Suppose you wanted to become tougher and suppose too that you believed that you could only do so by training. Suppose, thirdly, that such training would consist of “tests of characters”–events that, putting pressure on you, come your way and require your right response–and of contests. Not quite a game and not quite battle but resembling both in different respects, contests are such as to be sought out and engaged in.

Set aside tests of character for now. Contests would range from easier to harder. What would be the logical order of contests?

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Toughness Trained Through Harder and Harder Contests

Our Predicament

We are forever holding back. We are always backing down. Every day we stand aside, give in, crumple up, let fall. Has panic settled in? This is meekness. Look around you and you will find it–so dour, so damp, so commonplace–almost everywhere.

The Desirability of Toughness

Suppose, like me, you say, ‘Enough is enough.’ Then you would want to know not how to be free of fear but rather able to cheerfully do the right thing, time and again, under pressure.

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Endowment Effect and Wrenching Toughness

In behavioral economics, the ‘endowment effect’ states that individuals ascribe higher value to the objects they possess than to the objects they could secure. If this is true, then we are ‘loss averse’ creatures that prefer to keep what we have and are more disheartened by the loss of our possessions than by the gain of some other, perhaps more valuable item.

In the eyes of the philosopher, the assumption underlying the endowment effect is that fear of loss trumps the pursuit of the Good. This, as I argued in my last post, is why we need to have contests in which

  • our fears of losing what we value highly (or, depending on the stakes, most highly) is pitted against a defensible conception of the Good, i.e., what we reasonably take to be most worth securing, defending, honoring, realizing, or upholding.

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Toughness Training: Four Questions

Suppose someone were to ask you, ‘Are you tough?,’ with the question situated in our historical context. He would not be asking whether you can fight someone to the death, beat someone up, endure weeks of physical torture, or climb Everest. The context would make it clear that he is asking you about a physical-mental nexus of toughness suited for our time and our life.

He might, then, have (at least) four different senses of toughness in mind:

1.) When it comes to assignments or activities, are you someone who can take on incrementally harder and harder tasks (here I’m thinking of the Labors of Hercules) without breaking or feeling ‘overwhelmed’?

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