In the old days, war was how things happened. It seems that that was what men did. Perhaps it was in self defence, perhaps in pursuit of glory and power. But historically, it seems the story of man is tied to the story of his weapons and his armour.
As a casual historian, I once began collecting swords. My interest in swords was sparked by a statement I read once, that “Swords are the ultimate weapon – they are the only weapon ever invented that is both truly offensive and truly defensive” Adding to that, it seems that the days of sword fighting were days of real honour in battle – you lived and died by your blade, your talent and reactions, and by the endurance and strength of your arm. If you trained to kill, you also trained to die. There is a strange honest symmetry to that; an honour, an integrity and even a bleak kind of heroism.
There was a balance, even though it was harsh and full of pain. There was a giving and a taking, a gaining and a losing. The Biblical book of Ecclesiastes captures it best, in the words “There is a time for everything, a season for every activity under the heavens… a time to be born and a time to die, … a time to tear down and a time to build, a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance…”
There is symmetry; a sense that all is balanced and order is maintained.
Do we still have that sense of symmetry and balance in the world today? I am not so sure. It seems the trend is to try and avoid the downside of everything and focus on the upside. As the world becomes more “convenience” and “me” focussed, it seems that we want the good, but not the bad. The up, but not the down. The compliment, but not the criticism. The win, but not the lose.
“So what?” you ask, and it’s a fair question. “What’s wrong with wanting the good?” And the answer is, of course, there is nothing wrong with wanting the good. Good is good. Everybody, even those people of old, wanted the good.
But eventually there will be a massive loser; that is simply a fact. The moment we want an imbalance that is positive in our favour, we are demanding an imbalance that is negative in someone else’s favour. There can be no good without bad; no up without down, no faith without doubt, no win without loss. What we are actually wanting, if we are honest, is not that the world be entirely good, we just want it to be entirely good for “ME”.
Which is, of course, not going to happen.
The truth is that we need the downside to happen, and not just to happen, but to happen to US. But why? To try formulate an answer, lets come back to swords.
Swords are fit for purpose. Light enough, but strong enough. Holding a battle edge, balanced, resilient and not brittle etc. They would be pretty useless without these basics. To make a sword, you need iron, carbon, a furnace, a hammer and an anvil. Time. Lots of time. A strong, strong arm, and cold oil.
What makes us as humans fit for purpose? And what gets us there? What prepares us for the responsibilities of adulthood?
I think the sword analogy holds up just fine…
We are children (soft iron). A safe secure environment makes us strong (carbon). To become healthy adults, we go through difficult circumstances (the furnace). We are shaped by events, hammered into shape by a combination of difficult situations (the hammer), and an inability to get out of them (the anvil). It takes years of repeated fires, repeated situations, and persistence. And the cold oil of healthy relationships and wise counsel tempers us, make us resilient, flexible and not brittle)
So, I am ok with tough times. They can be turned to good. It just takes heart.