By David Hegg
As a young boy my dad taught me to be careful not to choose the easy path in life. He was a firm believer that anything worth doing was going to demand disciplined effort, and disciplined effort was going to mean hard work. He insisted my chores be done in the right way, which was hardly ever the easy way.
Today, things have changed. It seems our society is addicted to the easy way. Maybe we can blame it on the technology that has poured life into apps, and seduced us into thinking everything should be easy, quick and enjoyable. Or maybe we can blame it on wealth that allows us to hire others to do the hard things. And, perhaps, we can even go so far as to say life is supposed to be easy, free from struggle, and certainly never requiring fatigue or perseverance.
All these may play a part, but behind them all is the insidious lie that the best life is the easy life, the life that offers more leisure and less labor. This toxic ideal has permeated the younger half of our society and we are beginning to see the disastrous results.
At the risk of displaying just how “old school” I am, let me get really old and take you back to Aristotle. He said, “Both skill and virtue are always concerned with what is harder, because success in what is harder is superior.”
Let’s consider virtue first. Take a look around at our society and you will see that deceit, incivility, crudeness, impudence, rash decision-making, lawlessness, vulgarity, pugnacity (look it up!), and all manner of other iniquitous toxins have not only infested our society but are regularly defended and even applauded.
Why? The answer is simple. All of these are the natural proclivities of the person who has not done the hard work of developing self-control, prudence, respect, honesty, honor and love of neighbor. In other words, immaturity comes naturally because it is easy. We’re born with it. But maturity demands intentional effort that perseveres past what comes naturally to build character strong enough to resist the temptation to act as a child. Simply put, we continue to act like children because we refuse to do the hard work that honor, courage, self-control and applied wisdom require. And, I greatly fear, someone, somewhere is trying to build an app for that!
But what about the skill component in Aristotle’s dictum? Once again, if you take a good look at the prevailing ideology of our day in regard to prudence, or applied wisdom, here’s what you’ll find. Gone are the days when experience counted for much. If you’ve been on the job for 20, 30, or more years, you can remember when the prevailing thought was that skill was learned and gained over time, and the more time you spent developing your ability, the more valuable you were to your enterprise. In a word, experience was a plus, if that experience was gained through hard work and the pursuit of excellence.
Sadly, the younger segment of our population no longer sees time plus effort as adding up to benefit. To be fair, there certainly are areas where technology has grown so quickly that those coming out of grad school today know far more about their industry than do the old timers. But, do they understand people? Have they learned from 30 years’ worth of mistakes, problem-solving, and most of all, perseverance through trial?
Lest you think this column is just the rantings of an older curmudgeon, that is not the case. There is a reason our best athletes are those who practice the longest, work out the hardest and are the most disciplined in their field. There is a reason our best researchers, scientists, writers and statesmen spend time and effort perfecting their skills and honing their intellectual capabilities. There is a reason the best and bravest among us often carry the scars of battle as emblems of their perseverance through unimaginable adversity.
The reason is simple. True character and skill aren’t easy to acquire, and once gained, they don’t quit when adversity arrives.
And be assured, adversity is a pervasive element in our world. Those who choose the easy way will never build the ethical muscles and strength of character necessary to keep going when the going gets tough.
Mountains abound in this world, and they demand to be climbed. Only those who learn to push through the fatigue will one day enjoy the view. So choose the hard things. Push yourself to harness your natural tendencies with the reins of virtue. Prize the rigor of perseverance, because Aristotle was right. Success in what is harder is vastly superior to easy victories.
David Hegg is senior pastor of Grace Baptist Church and a Santa Clarita resident.“Ethically Speaking” appears Sundays.