The Stern Compression Of Circumstances

I would like to begin this particular post with a quotation from Winston Churchill: “Famous men are usually the product of an unhappy childhood. The stern compression of circumstances, the twinges of adversity, the spur of slights and taunts in early years, are needed to evoke that ruthless fixity of purpose and tenacious mother wit without which great actions are seldom accomplished.” We may not wish to be famous men or women, with our lives entirely open to the public (even I would find that embarrassing and uncomfortable, as there are matters about which even I like to keep private). All the same, though, if we aspire to do what is great, what is lasting, what is important, we will have to face the fact that a great deal of adversity will have to be overcome.

If we are honest with ourselves, a great deal of that adversity will be brought on by ourselves. The example of Winston Churchill is instructive. Winston Churchill’s career had plenty of ups and downs, many of them brought out by his skill at providing unpleasant truths at precisely the wrong time but lacking the ability to motivate others to follow him until the events forced a recognition (as unwelcome as it was) that he was the man who his dark times needed [1]. Likewise, the loss of popularity that he suffered after the failed attempt to invade the “soft underbelly” of the Ottoman Empire, a lure that would haunt him throughout his career [2] was due to his own blunders and mistakes, and we certainly make those.

Yet Churchill was thought of, correctly, as a great man despite his great flaws. I know that anyone who appreciates me would have to be a forgiving and gracious sort of person, and I would hope that my own actions would show the sort of greatness in some aspect of my life that would provide encouragement for others to forgive me of my own tendencies towards folly and error. Being able to handle the adversities of our lives allows us to develop the tenacity to overcome the dark times that are not our own fault. One of the reasons why we are allowed to suffer the results of our own folly is so that we can build up the strength to endure those times that are not our fault when we come across them, so that our resilience may eventually rebound to our own benefit.

Let us not deceive ourselves that a ruthless fixity of purpose or a tenacious mother wit would always be enjoyable to others. In fact, both of those qualities can be the cause of a great deal of suffering. The same wit that sparkles on a page stings when it is used to describe ourselves, cutting and wounding us. The same ruthless fixity that we appreciate from others when it is loyalty to our relationships and our refusal to betray our covenantal oaths is not a desirable quality when it comes to stubbornness in error. The qualities that we possess are often strengths or weaknesses depending on the character that informs our personality as well as the conduct that results from the complicated forces that press upon us and that come from within us. Let us act wisely, and with nobility, so that we are refined rather than crushed by our experiences, and so that our virtues are developed through the crucible of action, rather than being wasted on the blather of words.



About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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8 Responses to The Stern Compression Of Circumstances

  1. It’s the yin and yang of an individual–the parts that make the whole. I never say or write anything solely for the sake of prose or wittiness. Those who support and love us most are those who can–and are–the ones who will give an honest assessment when they sense the need to do so. True friends will always have your back and, at the same time, they will let you know when you are steering off course or when they see a caution light–and sense that you do not. This kind of truth does not feel friendly at the time. I, for one, remain not fully skilled at social interaction and can easily become defensive (reactive rather than responsive) when “challenged” on a point in conversation. I have to consciously remember that I’m not being personally attacked; differing viewpoints are thrown out there for consideration to complete the full equation–and I have the power to analyze them, integrate them, shelve them for further review or simply toss them aside as I see fit (after asking God for discernment, of course.) This is how I hope that anything I communicate to anyone–especially someone I love–would be taken, for it is given with genuine care and concern. When things said to me sound harsh or mean, and stab or wound me, I’ve learned to ask myself why I responded that way. A good long look in the mirror sometimes lets me know that a grain of truth is couched within those words. In the times when this is not the case, sincere prayers for forgiveness are necessary, for an unhappy spirit has filled their cup to the point that it spilled over onto others like myself. And that’s a really sad place for them to be.

    • Yes, that is certainly well said. We take things how we are, and generally give them as we are as well. It’s definitely a delicate art to deal with interaction, to properly read tone. I do appreciate wittiness as well, but I agree with you that I do not write for that sake alone. The stakes are generally far higher than that.

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