“Virtus tentamine gaudet” is a Latin phrase that translates to “strength rejoices in the challenge.” This weighty declaration speaks to the fact that, in order to be strong in virtue, we must welcome challenges.
Admittedly, this is much easier said than done. Our natural instincts of self-preservation and the avoidance of pain hinder us from eagerly embracing the challenges we face in life. Yet, as creatures capable of higher-order learning and virtues such as self-restraint, patience, forgiveness and altruism, we must accept, yea, embrace, this burden as the price we pay to call ourselves “civilized.”
The word “strength” may conjure up imagery of Olympic bodybuilders or warriors at battle, but strength is a very multifaceted quality that reaches far beyond physical strength. Our heroes may be those who demonstrate characteristics of physical strength, but we are more likely to honor people for their exemplary character, composure, intellectual honesty and self-discipline. We recognize these qualities as virtuous, and we hold these people in high esteem because we acknowledge the great challenges and sacrifice that a virtuous character requires.
Any man can berate with expletives and a feeling of righteous indignation when they’ve been offended. It takes no effort to sleep in instead of responding to the alarm for an early morning workout, and it requires no composure to respond with outrage and emotional fragility when faced with a challenge to our worldview. We surely recognize that in order to describe ourselves as being strong in virtue, we must put in the work and face the challenges required to attain such a noble feat. Much in the way an athlete voluntarily undergoes intense training in order to perform at the highest level, we too must subject ourselves to challenges in order to develop strength of character and spirit. Sometimes the challenges we face are voluntary, other times the hardships come through no apparent fault of our own. An empowering revelation is that we can choose to rejoice in these challenges, knowing they will produce in us the fruit of noble character, self-discipline, and composure.
When we consider the current political and social climate, it is easy to grow discouraged. Talking heads in the mainstream media perpetuate the message that we’re living in unprecedented times of division and strife. The economy is “failing,” and with climate change and the La Nina cycle this year the sky may literally be falling.
At home, we might be experiencing a strained relationship with a spouse or relative, or perhaps we realize that in spite of having 30-plus years of driving experience we still are given over to road rage. It is understandably difficult to cope with our inadequacies and the turmoil in this world.
What may bring some encouragement, however, is the fact that this story is as old as time itself. In the wise words of country singer Tracy Lawrence: “the only thing that stays the same is, everything changes; everything changes.” We can take heart knowing that change is nothing new, and that the challenges we’re faced with now, while unique to us, are not (at their core) unique to history.
Further encouragement can be found in the recognition that we have the capacity for forethought. If we aren’t looking ahead to confront challenges as they come, we will continue to be blindsided by them. We also have the gift of recorded history in the sense that we know, as the saying goes, that those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it. We don’t have to be those people.
It is reassuring to realize how much power we have in facing challenges, but this is the greatest encouragement: it is often only by the forces of pressure and adversity that we experience great change within ourselves. This is a common theme found within hero mythology and actual biographical accounts of our real-life heroes. The heroes we recognize have all had to overcome great challenges in their lives. There is a purification that happens when we allow the fire of adversity to burn away our less-desirable traits and instead embrace the more refined version of ourselves, but we must be strong enough to endure. We must aspire to be like our heroes.
It seems the only way to move through these challenges and become a more civilized people is by laying down the proverbial bricks we’re throwing as an expression of our outrage and instead use them to build something commendable. We must strive to rejoice in the challenges set before us, knowing that they are not simply obstacles to conquer, but opportunities for us to become conquerors. Are we strong enough?