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The City That Raised Me

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One Word That Gives You All You’ve Ever Wanted

One of my favourite quotes has always been from Thucydides, a Greek historian from the fourth century B.C.  He said, “The Nation that makes a great distinction between its scholars and its warriors will have its thinking done by cowards and its fighting done by fools.”

It’s a call to build the most complete, and thoroughly tested character.  It is absolutely possible to be both wise and strong, both gentle and valiant.  To design and construct skyscrapers during the day, to engage in politics and discourse and then to return home at night to read to your children and pursue your wife.  To run a marathon in the morning and to close a business deal in the afternoon.  To study philosophy from the great thinkers whose shoulders we stand upon, while having the humility (and skill) to chop your own firewood, change your own oil, build a roof over your own head.

The foundation, in a word, for this type of whole character: Industry.

Effort.  It’s the great equalizer.  We all have time.  But what separates the great multidisciplinary masters like Da Vinci, Ben Franklin and Teddy Roosevelt from the ‘masters of one’ is not a private genius, but a mastery of toil.  Insatiable curiosity paired with industriousness breeds legends.

What would we do if we gave time to books instead of television?  What could be built if we designed or wrote instead of scrolled, shared and posted?  We quite literally are a generation standing on an Everest of knowledge, wisdom and literature of the past.  A platform we can harness to continue building into the cosmos.

I am a sucker for the stories of the Spartans.  I think I race in those Spartan obstacle courses just for the opportunity to wear the name on my jersey for an hour.  Despite some controversy about their methods, they were undoubtedly industry personified.  Brett McKay noted that “For centuries after its decline, Sparta continued to be venerated as a polis uncorrupted by luxury and commerce, as a model of the virtues of simplicity, precision, self-sacrifice, martial vigor, mental fortitude, and physical stamina.”  Spartans were not strictly militarily proficient, but were also schooled in music, dance, philosophy and logic.  Literate lovers of both sports and poetry, physical sparring and perfunctory rhetoric.

Industry is the one ingredient that stands behind who we are and who we could be.  What we have and what we’ve always wanted. Between a life of purpose, contribution versus dark void spaces of time, in which the mind draws a blank.  A wasteland of life that somehow slipped through our fingers and we’re left bemoaning that “life passes so fast.”  I wonder if Da Vinci and Roosevelt would agree with Seneca when he says “Life is long if you know how to use it.”

Industry is self-reliance, inventiveness, curiosity and diligence in execution.  What a forgotten virtue it is.  In an Ikea culture we are too quick to just replace a broken or outdated coffee table when a short time ago, it meant heading to the barn to BUILD a new one.  It’s cliché to say that happiness is in the journey, that satisfaction comes from putting in the work, but I’m starting to wonder if DIS-satisfaction comes from skipping the work…

Industry can often mean doing it the hard way—on purpose.  To throw a challenge in your path.  To take the stairs when the elevator works just fine.  To do what is right, instead of what is easy.  Even if you don’t know how.  Because, after this--you will.

You’ll never regret doing it right when everyone else is taking shortcuts.  Be the little pig laying bricks.  It may take longer, but by some karmic laws of the universe, putting in the work always reaps rewards.  How beautiful to reach for humanity’s higher nature rather than allow ourselves simply to sink into our lower one.


“We may prefer the Athenians, regarding them as more like ourselves, and we well be right not only in that judgement but in our moral and political preferences as well.  Our predilections notwithstanding, however, we name our sports teams after the Spartans, and it is about them (and not the Athenians) that we ordinarily write novels and make films--which says a great deal about the ancient Lacedaemonians and perhaps also something about the unsatisfied longings that lurk just below the surface within modern bourgeois societies.”

—Paul Rahe