As a boy life was full of adventure, every morning stretched out with infinite possibility and every evening held promise of monsters to slay and damsels to rescue. My young mind instinctively grasped the ancient codes of chivalry and the classic conduct of revered heroes. In the workings of my imagination I emulated the strong, purposed, and honest actions of those heroes I worshipped from television, movies, books, and comics. I was John Wayne, Bruce Wayne, Spiderman, and Luke Skywalker. I knew how real men, men of renown, acted and how they thought. These earlier archetypes guided my young mind towards an idealized version of manliness and life, later I would learn the deeper and harder aspects of heroic life, but as a boy my world was full of high flying drama and imaginary villains that fell before my strong hand.
As I grew older, things became more complicated. The easy archetypes of boyhood heroes were replaced by the gritty antiheroes of my teenage years. Books and movies were filled with the protagonists who ended up acting for the good, but were themselves conflicted and broken individuals. My still impressionable mind began to absorb the lesson that being heroic was hard and that none of us are fully up to the task. There are no superheroes and no “great” men. What was once reality for me began to crumble apart, only to be replaced with a framework that was full of holes and pitfalls. I began to wonder if it were possible to live a life of virtue or if life was just one long beating that we could only hope to survive? The pendulum of my heart had swung fully to the other direction and I began to lose the passion that childhood had instilled in me.
Over the course of my twenties I went through many stages of belief and intention, like most of us I would wager; until over the past year, knocking on the door of thirty, I have begun to rediscover the lessons of my childhood and of my Father and Grandfather. I am one of the lucky ones who had a Dad to show me what true manliness was like, who worked hard to support me, and who taught me how to face the difficulties of life. I was also lucky to have a Grandfather who taught me the classic things of boyhood, fishing in the river, farming, country life and the like. Neither one of those men was perfect, but both taught me how to work through imperfection and strive for more in life. It is a lesson I will be forever grateful for. They helped me fill in the holes that my teenage years had imparted on my soul and fleshed out what it means to be a hero in life.
Through the examples of my family and the lessons taught to us by great men throughout history, I have come to realize there are a number of virtues that all successful men share. No one can perfect all of them, but they serve as a map and guidepost to help us attain that life we so desire. As we discussed in my previous post, our lives are authored by the stories we believe and all stories have themes, themes that give an overarching plan to action. The following virtues have served throughout history as themes in the lives of great, historical men and women. None of these are new, unique ideas that I alone am brilliant enough to expose, but timeless virtues that we all recognize on a soulful level. Many of these are repeated elsewhere, once again artofmanliness.com has done a great job with some of these, but I feel that we can glean a little more from them if we take a look together.
Here are the eleven virtues that we must harness and develop of we hope to achieve greatness in our lives.
Take a look at that list, how many of these virtues are common in your life right now? How many have you consciously identified and worked towards over your life and to what result?
Over the next few weeks, we are going to be taking an in-depth look at each of these themes, discussing what each one means and how we can develop them in our own lives. I too am working in my own life to adopt and hone each of these traits, so that I too can embrace life and leave behind a better world than the one I was born into. Looking at these virtues I see some that I have been closer too embodying and some that I have failed at miserably. Some of these traits have become so alien to my life that I wonder what became of that young superhero I once was. What about you, which traits do you currently embody and which do you think will take some hard work to attain? I would suggest writing these down or even commenting below, so that it becomes real to you. We are going to work these attitudes into our life stories, they will form the plot points of our lives and help us to embrace each and every moment we have in this life.
When I look at these virtues I can’t help, but to think of the men from Band of Brothers Easy Company. If you have not read the book or watched the miniseries, you are doing yourself a disservice. It is the story of a company of paratroopers in WWII from Normandy through Hitler’s demise, but more than that it is the story of strangers becoming brothers. We see a wide range of men, some virtuous, some not so much, but both are purified by the fire of battle and brotherhood; they are made strong and courageous. They each have passion, for one another’s well-being and for the country they are fighting for. Therein lays their purpose as well, they fight for each other and for their families and country. They embody responsibility by learning how to be the best they can be and working at it as hard as they can, they make sacrifices to uphold their responsibilities. They are honest with one another and with us in the telling of their stories, despite the good and bad. Courage speaks for itself. Their curiosity for knowledge makes them better soldiers and in turn makes many better in their civilian lives after the war. Love, respect, and loyalty are the overriding themes of their story, in fact it could be said that their love and loyalty for one another was the only thing that helped them survive the war. Lastly, each and every one demonstrates how leadership envelops all the other virtues and brings them to their highest potential. The story of Dick Winters is particularly inspiring, (more on that at a later date). In short, these are men who embodied these virtues and lived them during the most dangerous and trying time in their lives. They were hardened by the fire of battle and made into men who loved life and seized every day like it might be their last. We would do well to emulate those brave men who have mostly passed from this world, but whose memory lasts in the actions of all virtuous men.
Now we have been shaken awake by the state of our lives, we have learned that the stories we believe shape how we live, and now we have a framework to work with to become the best we can be. I hope you will join me in our journey to seize life over the next few weeks. I would love to hear what you think, what virtues I missed, what you disagree with, and where you would like to see us go in the future. This is real life, this is not a game. I am here to take this seriously and I challenge each of you to do the same. No more sitting on the sidelines, just listening to others talk, watching other live. No…now is the time for us to take charge of our lives, make an effort, and work together to rekindle what has been lost by our generation. I look forward to taking this adventure with you, I hope that we too will be strengthened by the fire come journey’s end. It is my hope that we will form new bands of brothers and new bonds to reclaim the mantel of the Greatest Generation. I look forward to seeing you in the trenches.