February 17, 2006

Struggling to make sense of 'struggle'

Why is struggle so glorified in Literature, Art, Philosophy, and every other 'ology' when semantically and in real life terms it translates into something that's painful and painstaking. Are we masochists and sadists by nature that we enjoy and take pride in 'struggling'. Sisyphus, the Corinthian king, may not be that tormented afterall; he might love to push that boulder up the mountain; he relishes the struggle involved, and he is doing it with pride, for eternity.

Struggle cleanses; it makes you a stronger individual; it brings meaning to an otherwise meaningless life, it brings forth hidden virtues and strengths and reaquaints you with yoursef; it's an essential part of growing up. These are some of the multiple references to struggle that I can conjure up in an instant. I'm pretty sure I can come up with many more if I were to dwell on it longer.

Struggle seems to be that ultimate goal that all of us must aspire to. However, when we attain it, the struggle, we are bound to experience pain and stress. One may have to take physical blows on the body like Gandhi did, suffer racial humiliation like Dr. King did, bear the onslaught of machine gun and sniper fire like the American soldiers in Iraq did and are still doing, live in subhuman conditions like the Iraqi prisoners in Guantanamo Bay, endure rape and torture like the tribes in Darfur did. The list is endless because struggle is an integral part of human life, and so far I haven't even touched on the struggles of us ordinary human beings. Our struggles go unpublicized because they are so ordinary so mundane and so rampant that our struggle does not merit mention. The common man's everyday struggle to put adequate food on the table cannot make it to this list of eminence. But it does get its bit of glorification in the comments of those near and dear to us "Look how hard he works to feed his family'. "There's a hard working single mother who will do all she can for her children". " Robert is a cancer survivor, and worked even through his Chemotherapy sittings". All of the above are real statements made by real people. The bottomline being, we applaud struggle, no matter how hard it comes.

Literature and Philosophy around the world deifies struggle too. Here are some examples:

“If there is no struggle, there is no progress.”
Frederick Douglass, American Abolitionist

“Need and struggle are what excite and inspire us.”
William James, American Philosopher and Psychologist,

“Once all struggle is grasped, miracles are possible.”
Mao Tse-Tung,Chinese stateman

“Our duty is to encourage every one in his struggle to live up to his own highest idea, and strive at the same time to make the ideal as near as possible to the Truth.”
Swami Vivekananda, Indian Spiritual leader of the Hindu religion

“The struggle itself towards the heights is enough to fill a man's heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy.”
Albert Camus, French Novelist, Essayist and Playwright

“The most excellent jihad (struggle) is that for the conquest of self”
Muhammad quotes

“All is mystery; but he is a slave who will not struggle to penetrate the dark veil”
Benjamin Disraeli, British Prime Minister and Novelist

Is it the imminence of struggle in human life that makes us glorify 'struggle'? Are the existentialists simply stating what we ordinary mortals fear to accept? What is it about 'struggle' that has endeared itself to humanity for generations and across cultures?


Alpha0 said...

Adding to it:
"Struggle is glory".

Here the question is why should I struggle?
Smoking Joe's plain answer is:
Don't if dont need.
But as a matter of fact we always need.
But why?
Let me tell you a small story about
"Terrarium - My Zoo".
It is a simulation of ecosystem, where you have to program your creatures so that they survive maximum.
I realized the Lions dont have to run much while Doers always need to keep searching for food.
If lions start running, they loose health and die.
But lion has to be quick and fast.
Similarly, in our real life system, if we can get everything, just sitting somewhere we dont need to struggle.

Another example from the same game,
what should it do when the creature is week. Should it run in search of food or should it wait for prey to come.
My answer is "Don't let such situation arise."
In single word "Struggle."

Dr. Deborah Serani said...

There are many who get angry when struggle, strife etc are found in literary or artistic work because to them, it trivializes the pain and the anguish with which they experienced. You make great points here about the subject.


Pacze Moj said...

Great post! I don't have too much to add (lots to think about, though).

Question: A person can either breathe or not breathe. Is it a struggle to breathe, to not breathe, or are both struggles?

If both are -- and both take effort -- then aren't we all in at least one constant struggle?


Id it is said...

pacze moj,
Breathing is an involunatry act whereas 'not-breathing' isn't, and that makes the latter a struggle.; probably the only one which isn't glorified because it becomes suicide; the cowards way out, or so they say.