Fortitude is What We Need Right Now
I have very little use for books written by politicians. They are ALWAYS self-serving pseudo autobiographies offering meaningless platitudes and vague policy proposals in an attempt to buff and polish the subject enough to make them seem electable. Also, they ALWAYS suck.
So, now comes my Congressman, Representative Dan Crenshaw with Fortitude: American Resilience in The Era of Outrage. I stand corrected. Far from the standard politician's book. I believe this is a book we should all read right now. This selection comes pretty close to his thesis:
Outrage is weakness. It is the muting of rational thinking and the triumph of emotion. Despite what you've been hearing and seeing as of late, it is not a virtue. It is not something to be celebrated, nor praised, no aspired to. It is a deeply human emotion--even understandable at times--but rarely is it productive, virtuous, or useful. It is an emotion to overcome, not accept, and overcoming it requires mental strength. This book is about acquiring that necessary mental fortitude.
Before he was a politician, on June 15, 2012, Dan Crenshaw was a Navy SEAL on deployment in Afghanistan. Crenshaw and his team were clearing a mud-walled compound when his Afghan interpreter stepped on an IED two feet from Crenshaw. After the explosion, he writes that the only thing that didn't hurt was his eyes, but they were not working either. Crenshaw was able to walk to the medevac helicopter, but he woke up in a hospital in Germany, still blind, likely for the rest of his life.
This book is part autobiography and part "self-help" though in the same way that Marcus Aurelius' Meditations is a "self-help" book. Dan Crenshaw is not Oprah or Joel Osteen. The lessons Fortitude offers are profound and timeless drawn from Crenshaw's life and mostly his training and experience in the world's most elite fighting force, the SEALs. They are also hard. Of course, books by former Navy SEALs are not in short supply. That is as it should be because the men that become SEALs are by definition "elite," and most people are interested in what they have to say. However, Fortitude is unique even to the "Navy-SEAL-Offers-Life-Lessons" genre.
Fortitude is something new because Crenshaw applies these lessons to the current state of our culture, politics, and media. Also the book is not demanding that someone else has to change. Instead, it is calling US to be better than the current moment. Crenshaw, God bless him, still believes we can be. He is not offering a suite of policy prescriptions to solve our problems. He is not suggesting that we elect a new slate of leaders who can enact these policies and make all our dreams come true. I have not finished the book yet, but I am pretty sure he does not even ask me to vote for him. Crenshaw has fingered where the real problem lies, it is with us. WE ARE THE ONES WHO HAVE TO CHANGE.
"No Plan B" is one of the stoic mindsets Crenshaw exhorts his readers to embrace, but that is probably not a surprise coming from a SEAL. "Be Still" is the one that caught me off guard. Crenshaw adapts the SEAL standard procedure of SLLS (an acronym for Stop-Look-Listen-Smell) to life:
It is a patrolling tactic. But I attribute far more meaning to the term than simple tactical procedure. For our purposes, it is a mind-set to live by. It is a reminder to literally be still. Don't overreact, don't let your emotions drive your action, think before you act . . .
It is highly unlikely that anyone has written a book combining lessons from Marcus Aurelius and SEALs practicing "downproofing" (the art of swimming with your hands and feet tied together) to teach you how best to respond to social media posts, enraged political opponents, or to avoid being triggered by family members at the other end of the political spectrum at Thanksgiving dinner. But, it is a lesson we need to learn if we are going to keep from coming apart to the point of outrage by our politics and culture.
Crenshaw urges this mindset as well as others to build that essential quality we need: fortitude. He concludes that fortitude is part of our American inheritance and story. It is a story about ourselves that we need to relearn and embrace. Buy this book. It may not change your life, but it is the book we sure could use right now.
Reading this book during a global pandemic and the outbreak of protests/rioting in many major cities across the country seems particularly timely. Crenshaw does not offer any policy prescriptions about COVID-19 or racial tensions, but his advice on fortitude is equally applicable in both cases. For my own purposes, this book has challenged me to work on my own inner fortitude. I am not about to make SEAL Team Six, but I am trying to cultivate my "inner Dan Crenshaw" by avoiding cable news of any stripe or ideological spectrum. I have personally found that reading my news instead of subjecting myself to the visual stimulation of my preferred news channel allows me to process the news in a more rational way. I have also tried to develop a higher degree of skepticism about every claim, pronouncement, or declaration by ideological friends and foes. The goal is to focus on known facts, rather than accepting conclusions of others. Finally, imploring a large circle of grace toward anyone I encounter is essential. Results so far are mixed at best. But the effort is worthwhile if we are to recover our ability to talk to one another and reason together.
As a personal aside, I was honored to meet Rep. Crenshaw at a luncheon just before is primary run-off win in May 2018. Growing up with Norman Adams as my dad, I have met my fair share of politicians. I have not met any office seeker as approachable, humble, and genuine as Dan was to me and countless high school students heading into military service that day (this was literally the day of the run-off). What a thrill to have Rep. Crenshaw as my congressman. I can only hope that this is just the beginning of many years of civic leadership. He is the real deal.