Still struggling with struggle

Recently, I was musing on the idea that admiration for struggle is built into the core of American and perhaps all western culture (and maybe cultures beyond that.) If we feel something arose out of great struggle we value it more than if it was born by an easy process. In a way, that’s rather backwards – we ought to admire people who managed to create things easily and efficiently as that is the model we would presumably want to follow.

So, I was in church yesterday – something I rarely do but in this case they were performing a piece of music I wanted to hear – and at one point the Pastor read from The poem “Ulysses” by Alfred Tennyson. This particular passage stood out:

And see the great Achilles, whom we knew
Though much is taken, much abides; and though
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven; that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

Fundamentally, we have an old man in final years, his strength declining but he’s still striving, still seeking, still finding, not yielding! Still struggling. I heard this and thought, “Geeez, that’s not how I want to spend my final years. I’d rather take it easy on a barcalounger with a couple of Mai Tais and watch old Seinfelds.” Why do we have to equate accomplishment with never-ending struggle, with being unyielding?

Certainly, if you go into past human history, I think there was a lot of legitimate struggle. You could run out of food and have to travel the barren lands in search of new meals. You could be attacked by hoards of pygmies who would enslave your children and impregnate your women with their tiny demon seed. But in case you’ve missed it, there’s not much of that happening now. These days, people are struggling to get their kids to baseball practice or their Power Point presentation online. Why don’t we relax a bit?

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