By now, it’s probably apparent from my essays that I take little at face value and rarely take the direct approach to any issue. The discussion of perseverance is no different, I’m afraid! It is important to understand that any part of our Code of Chivalry has a converse.
Without perseverance, it is rather difficult to accomplish anything. Rarely is there anything worth doing that does not require some effort on our part, and if a skill is something that can be improved, it will require sustained effort to accomplish that task. Anyone who attains the rank of Knight within our Order has demonstrated the principle of perseverance, as this is a journey which inevitably incurs obstacles (if only those of daily life’s demands).
Closely related to this virtue is that of self-discipline. Perseverance, however, represents the ability to return again and again, despite obstacles, to the focus of the self-discipline. Though your body may scream at you to quit, though your spirit may beg for rest, perseverance enables you to push through to the goal at the end. It is the ability to sit one more time in meditation, to recite the Warrior’s Admonition again and again until it is known perfectly, or to practice the Zwerchau until it is perfect.
There is, however, the shadow side of perseverance, and it isn’t sloth, or indifference, or giving up. Those are merely opposites. Perseverance has a side to it that hurts us and those around us.
You may ask, how can a Scotsman decry stubbornness as a failure of perseverance? And it is true, there is a certain amount of the pot looking at the kettle and saying “your ass is all covered in soot.” Because I understand my shadow self, I recognize that the potential for unreasoning, unrelenting stubbornness exists within me.
Stubborn doesn’t know when to quit. It does not understand that discretion is the better part of valour. And it can get you killed.
My daughter was recently allowed the opportunity to play on her school’s football team. After one practice, she hated it. She hated the drills. She hated the coach’s way of running practice. She hated that she was the smallest, least experienced person on the team, and hated the fact that because she was the least experienced person on the team she got to play a total of two minutes.
But she wouldn’t quit. She wanted to, but she would not quit. I know that she wanted to quit, because when my wife said “no way, there are boys out there twice your size and you’re going to get hurt” she put up only a token resistance. But my Scottish/Dutch child has some difficulty with the concept of “surrender.” Go figure.
The line between perseverance and stubbornness is a fine one. It’s not always clear when one should “shut up and soldier”, and when discretion is indeed the better part of valour. As Knights, it behoves us to consider this idea carefully, because we will be called upon- by the community, by the Gods- to persevere in the face of adversity. It’s sort of our thing. At the same time, we must learn to temper our stubbornness and understand when it can hurt us or others around us.
Being a Knight isn’t about being stupid, and if we are to avoid the failings of our spiritual ancestors with regards to being hidebound traditionalists we must be prepared to persevere and when to withdraw and regroup to engage once again at a time and place of our choosing, as Sun Tzu enjoins us to do.
(Joseph H. Greene, L.C.S.W., Clinical Social Worker)