One of those favorite, old, go-to tropes that was often quoted to me as a youngster — lo, those many years ago — was “adversity builds character.” Any time something would go wrong, or …
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One of those favorite, old, go-to tropes that was often quoted to me as a youngster — lo, those many years ago — was “adversity builds character.” Any time something would go wrong, or something would require more effort than I had originally planned on, it seemed somebody older than me was willing to run out that old cliché as a way to encourage me.
Like, right. I’m 12. What I really want is “character,” not that new Atari game.
At any rate, in the intervening years, I have heard that thought amended, I think quite smartly. James Lane Allen said, and I believe Vince Lombardi was fond of repeating, that “adversity does not build character, it reveals it.”
So, so true. When something goes wrong, or an objective requires more effort than was originally planned on, how often do you see the rookies step up and suddenly lead the muddle-through to “build their character”? Or, rather, how often is it the usual suspects, with force of will and a never-say-die attitude, from the eye of the hurricane, that lead the way towards the yellow sun? It’s been my experience that, invariably, it is that second one.
Character sees adversity as a challenge, as an opportunity to grow. Character sees adversity through a lens of problem and solution, rather than inconvenience. Character meets adversity through a filter of objectives and accomplishments, rather than an investment of effort.
(You had to know that was coming.)
How’s our American character looking these days?
Once upon a time, our European betters looked upon Americans as brash young cowboys, uncouth, unsophisticated and annoying. And, for a civilization built on 2000 years of history, from the Caesars to the Popes to the Mongols and all of the Shakespearian histories, that sort of made sense. But, when it came time to fight, those crotchety, ossified western democracies were sure happy to have a few million cowboys storming Normandy and beating the Third Reich back to Berlin. That “American character,” while annoying to our elders, was absolutely necessary to push back when evil men tried to overrun the free world.
We saw the Kaiser and the Nazis as a call to grow, as a problem with distinct solutions, and as a series of objectives that we simply weren’t constitutionally build to eschew. Sure, it took us a little time to take those problems seriously (back then, having two oceans protecting your borders was a pretty good argument that you were safe), but, once we engaged, nobody anywhere doubted our resolve.
So, I ask again, how’s our American character looking these days?
We have people absolutely losing their minds in public over being asked to wear a mask. We have legitimate protests being hijacked to make some of our greatest cities look Mogadishu or Benghazi. We have grandmas being attacked on the streets for trying to put out fires. We have a government that can’t, from day to day, get its own message straight. And when it does, it is often undermined by the head of that government. We have cities that are now advising their citizens to be prepared to simply hand over their possessions, because the city can’t muster the will the protect them any more. We have a Congress being held hostage by ideological non-sequiturs from the extremes of both sides of the aisle, guaranteeing that the people who really need a little help right now won’t get it.
And one report put the number of *Colorado* businesses that have permanently shuttered since March at 6,800.
I used to take it for granted that, if the world were truly going to Hell in a hula hoop, that we, the people, would find a way to pull our acts together and do good things.
Are we really that people any more?
And what, exactly, with any credibility, can we say to our own children about facing adversity these days?
Michael Alcorn is a teacher and writer who lives in Arvada with his wife and three children. His new novel, “Charon’s Blade,” is available at Amazon.com, on Kindle, or through MichaelJAlcorn.com.” His opinions are not necessarily those of Colorado Community Media.
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