If

The Spartans pioneered the laconic phrase.  Lakonia was the general region around Sparta in southern Greece.  As Philip II of Macedon was conquering Greek city-states left and right, Sparta was left alone. Philip had achieved a crushing victory, and Sparta was relatively weak and without walls. Philip sent a message to the Spartans saying, “If I invade Lakonia you will be destroyed, never to rise again.” The Spartans replied with one word, “If.” Philip eventually decided to bypass Sparta as it was a poor region and not worth the fight. Neither Philip nor Alexander attacked the Spartans while they ruled.  It takes nerve to face destruction unflinching.  Though few of us will be in life threatening situations, all of us can learn to face danger with confidence and resolve.

There is a tendency to prejudge outcomes.  What people refer to as a “gut feeling” is actually pattern recognition.  In our lives, we learn that actions produce fairly predictable outcomes.  So, when “A” happens, we expect “B” to follow.  Most of the time, it does.  So it is that we live our lives by truths but, also, truisms.  Truths are immutable whereas truisms are cautionary but more flexible.  Occasionally, there are exceptions to the rules.  In fact, exceptions prove the rules, as well as, provide standards by which excellence is judged.  There is a certain wisdom in restraint and calculation, but faint heart never won fair maiden.  History is seldom influenced by those who insist on full knowledge before firm action.  Our stand on issues may not be Spartan.  They were ready to die.

Fear saps resolve.  If we are anxious over outcomes, inaction assures failure.  Indecisiveness breeds feeble efforts.  Once, I accidentally play nine holes with a golf pro.  See, we were both alone, and he asked me if I wanted to join him.  I didn’t find out until the third hole, and it was too late then to fake an injury.  Well, I left a putt short and said apologetically, “I leave a lot of putts short because I’m afraid to hit the ball too hard.”  My perfect partner said, “Always putt the ball past the hole because, if you don’t, you can’t make it.”  Now, you tell me.  Over the years, I’ve seen this principle play out in my life and in the lives of others.  Like batters at the plate, we are afraid to swing at the high heat we are facing.  Because we are afraid to whiff, we strike out every time.

Preparation breeds confidence.  It’s not that the Spartans, talented though they were, used unknown methods in warfare.  It’s just that they were better at the known.  They trained all the time and from early on.  In fact, boys began at age seven.  Women trained, as well as, men and, though they were not part of the army, were considered fit for tasks beyond those assigned to many women of their day.  I’m not suggesting second graders enlist in the military, but childhood is not too soon to stress character development.  As a matter of fact, if personal development does not begin then, it may well be too late.  One is less likely to be unnerved when confronting a familiar task with practiced skill.  There is no substitute for putting in the requisite time for mastery.

Eventually, attitude must become action leading to affirmation or adjustment.  When Saul questioned David on confronting Goliath, David said, “I’ve already killed a lion and a bear.  He’ll be like one of them.”  David’s confidence came from his fighting knowledge, and the fact that he had actually used his skills.  When we enjoin the fray, theory becomes practice and potential becomes productivity.  We will never answer questions of ourselves and others until we satisfy the “if.”  At some point, we must do more than research and read.  There will be dangerous and decisive instances in each life, and confrontation will not be an option.  We must face our fears.  Another Spartan admonition regarded the valuable battle shield, “Come back with it or on it.” 

Sterl

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