Discouragement, or at least its temptation, regularly accompanies intentional living. Even if we do not formulate it explicitly we find ourselves feeling “why do the good things I want have to be so difficult?”
It is a consolation to know this is not unique to our time. “Fine things are really hard to achieve,” says Plato’s Socrates in the Republic. In fact, he is reflecting on something much akin to our situation, namely, how someone with a ‘philosophic nature’ tends to fair in the world. The image he uses resonates:
For, just as a foreign seed, sown in alien ground, is likely to be overcome by the native species and to fade away among them, so the philosophic nature fails to develop its full power and declines into a different character.
Socrates’s focus here is on the importance of good formation and the challenges of living in a negative context. He is, however, anything but a defeatist. His whole approach to life illustrates a principle which we might encapsulate: the worth of the good life far exceeds the effort required.
This says volumes about his high estimation of the good life, given how much one must endure along the way. That courage is one of the ‘cardinal’ or hinge virtues in life points to the arduous or even extreme character of human flourishing. Socrates speaks of courageous souls as ‘dyed’ with the truth, so that “their belief about what they should fear…would become so fast that even such extremely effective detergents as pleasure, pain, fear, and desire wouldn’t wash it out…”
Life it seems will be like a rough run in a washing machine. It’s not surprising we can find ourselves wishing someone would just turn it off. Or at least down a notch.
Yet such dis-couragement can give occasion for courage to take deeper root.
Slowly, steadily it begins to dawn on us that the effort and the difficulties are not random. They are not roadblocks to where we are aiming. They are part of the way. Courage is not so much a security against falling as the ladder for our ascending. Or to use our other image, the rough wash is precisely what works to make our colors brighter.
Amazingly, near the end of the Republic Plato has Socrates give this ultimate angle on the travails of life:
Then we must suppose that…a just person who falls into poverty or disease or some other apparent evil…this will end well for him, either during his lifetime or afterwards, for the gods never neglect anyone who eagerly wishes to become just and who makes himself as much like a god as a human can by adopting a virtuous way of life.
Thus does a wise ancient Greek think about the difficulties of life. When I face discouragement, how much more might I have hope that my efforts toward ‘adopting a virtuous way of life,’ for myself and others, will ‘end well’ and meet with something very far from neglect by God. ~ ~ ~
**LAST WEEK to SIGNUP for LifeCraft Day at the Barn October 7 to reflect on authority, discipline and the cultivation of virtue, LIVE IN PERSON in the Shenandoah Valley.
This week’s SHORT VIDEO in the GOOD NEWS series:
Husband, father, and professor of Philosophy. LifeCraft springs from one conviction: there is an ancient wisdom about how to live the good life in our homes, with our families; and it is worth our time to hearken to it. Let’s rediscover it together. Learn more.