“You do not develop courage by being happy in your relationships every day. You develop it by surviving difficult times and challenging adversity.” –Epicurus
Interpersonal relationships? My relationship to my possessions? My relationship with food? My relationship with myself? My relationship with my students as their teacher? Family relationships? Intimate relationships?
I suppose that postulate is purposefully vague. It could refer to any, or all, of those things, and I would have to concede that they are all valid. The point here, I assume, is learning to endure the hardships that go along with everything else in life. Of course, “difficult times” is plain enough. But “challenging adversity?” Does that mean that the adversity itself is challenging? Or that we should somehow challenge Adversity ourselves?
Practically any relationship can be challenged by difficult times. My relationship to food could be challenged by scarcity. My relationship to my possessions could be challenged by theft, destruction, or by a matter of simple access. My relationship with my students could be by their behaviour, or by my schedule assignments, or even my own approval or disappointment regarding their progress.
Personal relationships, though. That’s one I don’t care to dwell on significantly. I am not comfortable with people. I have only ever had one attempt at an intimate relationship. Perhaps because I feel I’ve failed already, I am unwilling to examine myself in this area? Two relationships here come to mind; my relationship with my best friend R., and my relationship with (coincidentally enough, also) R., my former lover, and current friend. The details of both of these relationships, I will not go into here.
Because the point of this particular meditation is not the relationship itself, is it? It’s courage. But why would Epicurus choose relationships as the battleground for developing courage? Courage for what? I think I know, but only because I am a coward in this arena. Courage to be perfectly honest with someone. Courage to be vulnerable to someone. Courage to be honest with oneself.
But Epicurus says you don’t develop such courage during happy times. So, presumably, he means when relationships are under strain? Or under assault? Did I even have difficult times with R.? Either of them? Certainly. But what did that teach me about courage?
Epicurus’ point about courage being cultivated and exercised through adversity is well taken; but I believe I learned a lot more about courage from Hanshi B. than from my relationship with R., or my troubled relationship with R. Perhaps it is merely the way I learn best.
Or, perhaps I am misunderstanding what Epicurus means here by relationships. Perhaps I am missing the point (I’m good at that, actually). Or maybe I just don’t understand relationships properly.