Though one would think there’d be no shortage of information about the right stuff that human beings need to know, and like to know, it turns out there is little data of import about the significant place the good fight has in our lives. Just how disappointing, meaningless and unfair life is remains a problem to be solved. Especially now.
Of course, much of this discontent is covered up. We, ourselves, have probably been conditioned to look as if we are fine, cool, never better. Looks are only skin deep, however, and the problem persists. And what about the circumstance that leaves millions of us ill-prepared, by dint of birth or limited opportunity, to prevail in the challenge that life is? If we have even a shred of conscience, we feel the moral obligation to endure, to stand up and be counted, to make it matter that we lived at all.
But we’re not born with the means or substance to fight the good fight or to leave our legacy on the right side of history. Our good fight will never have the punch we want it to have if we don’t make it our business to acquire the powerful substance that gives heft, versatility and persuasiveness to our means and tactics.
Face it. Life can be very tough. So much of life feels like a self-defeating struggle. Everyday life is adversarial. Anger is really hard to dissipate. Disappointment is hard to metabolize. Our feelings can become burdens and limit our ability to be productive, to endure, to persevere. Our nerves can be frazzled by the demand for principled and virtuous behavior. Competition can be unnerving. And self-motivation is often a struggle. Conflicts of interest, honest or malicious, whether material, existential or spiritual, will and do occur — in the marketplace, in politics, in education and medicine, in the home.
The gap between how it is and how it ought to be is vast, and the number of competing claims for how it ought to be continues to escalate. We thought it would be one way and sadly, cruelly, unfairly, it’s another way. And we have a very unsettled relationship with discontent, particularly our disappointment with how things turned out. We experience it profoundly. We feel it sap our strength. Our effectiveness. Our affinity. But because we’ve been conditioned to think that discontent signals a lack of character, we try to put our attention on something else.
Real substance — real depth — the intellectual, emotional and moral substance it takes to survive, thrive and lead in the fight — is hard-won because our subjectivity must struggle against inborn resistances as well as prevailing attitudes. Neither culture nor our formal educations predictably teach us how to be an honorable contender in the competition for life and lifestyle. Or in the struggle for the soul of humanity. The fight is not realistically described. Yet the struggle never ceases. We’ll always be called upon to get over our unexamined visceral immediacy in favor of practices we recognize as rational, decent, civilized. As a result of this not-up-to-par preparation, we may find ourselves either painfully inconsequential in the scheme of things or else in the ring without enough of the right stuff.
However, I believe our shot at living a meaningful life is directly correlated to our skill in the ring, which has everything to do with the perspective we have and the substance we have. Of course, our effort to acquire the perspective and the substance of the honorable contender doesn’t mean we’ll win every round in the ring of life. Even if perfectly fit, disciplined and psyched, we’ll win some and lose others.
But adversity itself is not a defeat. Losing a round is not a defeat. Nor is a knock-down. Changing rings to find a better fit, to find a place to excel, is not a defeat. Nor is backing up for a moment for a breather. Clearly, though, our effort to perfect our performance does mean that we always get back in the ring. That we are always adding to our intelligence and our skills. That we never give up on the good fight. That when we go down, if we go down, we go down fighting. And tomorrow we rise again!
In other words, what’s called for is a tough-it-out responsibility for our condition and circumstance. To recognize, accept and respond creatively and effectively to the pragmatic and moral demands of autonomy. To physically, mentally and morally contend and prevail when what is at stake is how life is going to be.
The question is are you fighting the good fight? For example:
- Do you underestimate the value of moral character, depth and substance and personal authority?
- Do you stand for projections and hopes that exceed what has often become corrupted in business, politics and everyday life?
- Do you persist when all of the “fight” has been sapped by anxiety or misdirected?
- Do you maintain the necessary gravitas of character in order to play fair and abide by the rules?
- Do you shoulder the burden of your condition, circumstance and circumscription and wrest creative control over your way of being in the world?
In sum, much of life is out of our control. Nothing provides a permanently rewarding conclusion or comfortable respite. Every day we face life. Every day we face creation. The good fight is a long-term commitment. The promised existence, the achievement of a personally rewarding life of our own design awaits the individual who fights the good fight. Such effort creates a reflective and principled authority that allows us to thoughtfully shape the content of our lives and provides leadership for those who depend on us.
I’ve been teaching classes on autonomy and life for over 30 years. This coursework offers a philosophic perspective, vocabulary and strategies for acquiring a life of our own design. As an American Philosopher, this work stands firmly on America’s promise of freedom, justice and equality and the opportunity for not just living our life but for owning our life. More information is available on my website: autonomyandlife.com.