“Life is a storm, my young friend. You will bask in the sunlight one moment, be shattered on the rocks the next. What makes you a man is what you do when that storm comes. You must look into that storm and shout as you did in Rome, ‘Do your worst, for I will do mine!’ Then the fates will know you as we know you.”
― Alexandre Dumas,
This quotation is one of my favorite parts of one of my favorite movies. The Count of Monte Cristo (Edmond Dantès) offers a birthday toast to Albert — ostensibly the son of his dear friend, but actually his own biological son. These inspiring words contain some genuine wisdom when a man faces hardship.
It’s better to know than not to know
First, let’s acknowledge that life is a storm. To believe somehow that he will not encounter difficulties requires that a man ignore the plain facts. As the Count says, things can be going exceedingly well, and just as suddenly you’re in a crisis. It can be an accident, a diagnosis, the death of a loved one, or a broken relationship. Note: I recommend living with hope, but I have to be realistic. Some wonderful picnics get rained out.
What makes you a man
We live in a time of ambivalence and ambiguity where masculinity is concerned. The further you move on the social/political spectrum, the more likely it is you’ll believe that gender is a social construct with no objective reality. This despite the unambiguous differences in body shape, chromosomes, and genital morphology. Even though you can look into your Jockeys and see that you’re a man, masculinity is far more than your body’s particular plumbing.
As the Count advises Albert, what makes a man is what he does when he is in the midst of adversity. So here are my thoughts on how to conduct yourself when the storm breaks in your life:
Brace yourself and face it
When you’re hit with bad news or you find yourself in the middle of a disaster, don’t hide. You may need a moment to digest the circumstances, but make as accurate an assessment of your circumstances as possible and stick to your mission. Most people find themselves immobilized by shock or grief. You can keep going — and you must. Others will find their courage as they follow your example.
Take inventory of your assets
The specific questions will depend on the nature of the storm, but what we’re after here is figuring out what you have to work with. Let’s say you’re camping and you or a friend needs first aid miles deep in the woods — what resources are you carrying or can you find to address the injury? Do you have a means of communicating with rangers or other help? Are you certain of your location? Do you have a source of water and a way to sterilize it? Do you have a way to build a fire for warmth and cooking? What sort of shelter do you have or can you make? The answers to those questions — and others — can drive your actions from that point on.
Set your mind to overcome
In my college years I had the misfortune to get embroiled in a personality conflict with one of my professors. This professor was an avowed Marxist and I still am not. I raised a principled objection to her attempted indoctrination, arousing her indignation. Unfortunately, I also had the poor judgement to try to win through outright defiance. That earned me a D in my major field and also marked the two of us as enemies from then on — in a small department in a small college. This professor even tried to prevent several of my classmates and me from graduating — an attempt we addressed through official channels and were able to thwart.
You must apply the Count’s exhortation to shout into the storm, “Do your worst, ” but realize some foes will take you up on it. Jesus told his disciples to be as cunning as serpents and as gentle as doves. I likely would have come out of the experience with higher grades and one less enemy if I had applied this wisdom to my situation.
Even though I was immature, I was right to believe as I did, I was right not to abandon my principles, and I was right to believe that I was not finished even when my GPA took a hit. Believing you will make it through the challenge is a powerful help. Don’t ignore the substance of your thoughts when you’re in a storm, and make sure you’re thinking about and planning to survive and more.
Use the force
No, not the impersonal tao of Star Wars, use your own strength to improve the conditions. When you shout, “Do your worst,” you also shout, “…for I will do mine!” Deploy your assets wisely and with maximum effectiveness, and seek to cultivate allies. But understand that some conflicts — admittedly few — can only be solved by fighting. This is because some foes only understand and adjust their behavior when confronted forcefully. When you’re there and it’s inevitable, then by all means win.
Trust God before the storm hits
As we have discussed as recently as last week, God sometimes allows us to experience hardships to shape our character. My pastor says that pressure-filled situations will reveal what’s inside us, the same way that squeezing a tube of toothpaste will release the contents.
God reveals himself as a Heavenly Father who loves to come through for his beloved children. You can’t avoid hardship, but you can prepare yourself to thrive in spite of it. Develop your relationship with God — not just when you want something from him — but every day. Then when you’re under pressure, what will come out of you is grace, peace and new ideas for surviving the storm.
The fates will know
Again you won’t avoid all trouble, but you will certainly be equipped to push back. Every victory you win makes the next one just that much easier.