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Fortitude is a straight-talking advice book on how to find the strength to deal with life’s suffering. The book states that we should remove blame culture and use shame to better ourselves through duties. Plus, instead of accepting victimhood, we should be aiming to improve our outcomes by changing our narratives. We need to think less about how we have been hard-done-by and more about how we can learn something from our hardships.
About Dan Crenshaw
Dan Crenshaw is a former US Navy SEAL who served in the War in Afghanistan. After being wounded and losing his right eye, he retired from duty. Subsequently, Dan served as a legislative assistant to Congressman Pete Sessions. He is now serving in the US House of Representatives for Texas’ 2nd congressional district as part of the Republican party.
Outrage Is Toxic
“Antagonistic headlines of the last few years had finally succeeded in manipulating the behaviors and emotions of our citizens and directed these activities to the tips of the Capitol to encourage others along the same path of indignation and everlasting anger.” – Dan Crenshaw
Dan Crenshaw begins the book by telling anecdotes of how he encountered protestors on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, wearing t-shirts saying ‘Stay Outraged.’ Dan questions what the goal of outrage is for these people and broader society.
Outrage should be considered as a weakness in people. Outrage emphasizes emotion rather than rational thinking and, therefore, is rarely productive. We are currently in an era marred by an outrage culture. People tend just to assume the worst intentions and engage with emotionally-driven hatred. However, there are occasions when outrage is justified. For example, righteous indignation and anger stemming from injustice are genuine forms of outrage.
“Outrage culture is the weaponization of emotion, and the elevation of emotion above reason.” – Dan Crenshaw
Currently, politics focuses on common-enemy identity politics. This politics is combined with microaggression theory. It produces a culture that leads to public shaming based on doing or saying almost anything. This effect is being amplified by the internet and the wide range of media outlets that are now available. It is now almost impossible to distinguish between objective and opinion journalism.
The antidote to unjustified outrage is mental fortitude. Dan Crenshaw suggests that we don’t let others dictate our emotional states. Outrage, unless in reaction to an extreme circumstance, is merely because you lack discipline and self-control.
Perspective When Suffering Is Vital
“Afghans we encountered would look relatively comfortable in sandals and a thick blanket thrown over their shoulders. Not much different from their wardrobe in the spring or summer. The biting cold didn’t faze them. Punishment was part of their routine.” – Dan Crenshaw
To introduce the idea of suffering, Dan Crenshaw gives examples from his time serving as a Navy SEAL in Afghanistan and his mother’s death. In Afghanistan, Dan suffered a severe injury that led to him losing an eye and almost losing vision altogether. This suffering came after having lost his mother to cancer when he was a young boy. However, in both of these moments, he used perspective to help him get through this suffering and learn from it.
When in Afghanistan, he had real admiration for the Afghans. They endured daily suffering that the average American could never imagine. However, they got on with their lives and made what they could of their circumstances. Seeing the Afghans’ daily suffering and how they dealt with this suffering helped Dan come to terms with his injuries.
Similarly, Dan experienced great suffering when his mother past away. However, Dan used this time as a learning experience. His mother was a hero until the end and motivated him to be as strong as her. This suffering helped him to deal with his later suffering in Afghanistan.
Dan describes perspective as one of the most important things we can utilize. As well as helping you come to terms with a difficult situation, it can also be an antidote to outrage. Perspective can prevent you from letting self-pity and despair develop. Both of these emotions are precursors to outrage.
“A healthy sense of perspective is an antidote to outrage. It is an antidote to self-pity, despair, and weakness. It is not a cure-all…but it is sure to dull the edges of your worst tendencies” – Dan Crenshaw
The important thing is that we can change our perspective. Our perspectives are altered by experience, but they can also be learned and self-taught. Therefore, we can choose to be bitter or grateful.
Who We Should Aim to Be
“When we ask ourselves who we want to be, we are defining the character traits that we aspire to. Those character traits don’t just appear out of nowhere; they are observed and then adopted. We identify them in others, and we make those people our heroes.” – Dan Crenshaw
Rather than idolizing people, Dan believes we should look to heroes for our motivation. Dan accepts that he wasn’t close to being a SEAL when he graduated from high school. However, this did not stop him from aspiring to become the classic depiction of a SEAL. To become a SEAL, he aspired to be a person who adhered to specific rules. Each of these can be applied to everybody’s lives:
- You will be someone who is never late
- You will be someone who takes care of people, gets to know them, and puts their needs first
- You will be someone who does not quit in the face of adversity
- You will be someone who takes charge and leads when no one else will
- You will be detail-oriented and always vigilant
- You will be aggressive in your actions but never lose your cool
- You will have a sense of humor because sometimes that is all that can get you through the darkest hours
- You will work hard and perform even when no one is watching
- You will be creative and think outside the box, even if it gets you in trouble
- You are a rebel, but not a mutineer
- You are a jack of all trades and master of none
Additionally, Dan advises against aspiring to be someone who:
- Finds offense where they can
- React in an angry way by taking to the streets
- Avoiding responsibility and assuming you have been wronged or are owed something
Choosing to Fail Is a Problem
“Plan B is an alternate universe which only you can choose to engage in. It should be less satisfying in every single way because it represents a lesser version of yourself.” – Dan Crenshaw
There is always an option of whether to quit or not. You should always choose to persevere. Perseverance includes avoiding Plan Bs at all costs. As soon as you start developing Plan Bs, you are letting yourself accept the possibility of quitting. Plan Bs make Plan As fail.
Dan Crenshaw also explains that modern American society has a flawed system of entitlement. People feel entitled to win and do well in life. This entitlement prevents individuals from persevering.
“You don’t get to win just because you feel entitled to it. Your status…does not beget privileges that outweigh your merits.” – Dan Crenshaw
Dan notes that failure is not a problem. Failure is part of life, and we can learn from these experiences. Issues arise when we choose to fail by quitting. One way to lessen your likelihood of quitting is to find a purpose in life. Purposes make persevering meaningful. Dan provides a list of areas where you could identify a personal purpose:
- Your family
- Through teaching others
- By building a business
- By helping other people
Stop, Look, Listen, and Smell
“The only way to properly confront the unexpected is by facing it as calmly as possible.” – Dan Crenshaw
One of the tactical procedures that Dan was taught to use while a SEAL was the Stop, Look, Listen, and Smell (SLLS) procedure. This approach is associated with a key belief of Stoicism, which is stillness. It is essential to assess what you can and cannot control honestly. Staying calm during stressful situations is a fantastic virtue that can be developed through hardship and training.
This same calmness should be applied to our knowledge. Our opinions should come to us slowly and calmly by basing our opinions on facts and experiences rather than emotions.
Don’t Worry About the Big Things and Worry About the Small Things With Humor
“Venting about the little things provides you with perspective on how silly and unproductive complaining really is…it is a frustration-release valve.” – Dan Crenshaw
It is crucial to only worry about the things that we have control over. Therefore, Dan suggests that we only ‘sweat the small stuff.’ However, we have to worry about the small things in a specific way. For example, we should only worry about small problems in a lighthearted and humorous way. Plus, we must force ourselves to be detail-oriented and diligent. Ultimately, complaining about little things can be cathartic. It helps you better understand how complaining isn’t particularly useful, and doing is far more efficient.
Dan believes that humor is essential for building character. Currently, comedians are being driven out of university campuses as their jokes are not PC enough. Dan sees this as a huge issue, as humor is at the heart of emotional expression.
“We can’t lose our sense of humor. The alternative is a stuffy emotionally bottled-up society walking on proverbial eggshells.” – Dan Crenshaw
As well as only worrying about small problems, Dan recommends being detail-oriented. We should try and focus on every small detail when aiming to gain knowledge. Dan recommends becoming detail-oriented by:
- Asking more questions
- Considering context and intent
- Considering and making counterarguments
- Delving deeper into a topic
- Considering historical context
Shame for Improvement Rather Than Shame and Be Canceled
“Redemption is a trademark of an enlightened society.” – Dan Crenshaw
Generally, shame is being used in an unproductive way. However, Dan Crenshaw believes that the right sense of shame can lead to improvement. Specifically, redemption is a beautiful part of society that is blocked by outrage and cancel culture. People who have recovered from failures will often have better knowledge and understanding, as they have had to learn from these failures.
Therefore, Dan suggests that we should be more accepting of other people’s views. Instead of just assuming the intent behind a view, we should gather as much information from the person to help us understand their intent. At the moment, the mass media are always looking for public figures to shame. This shame does not provide opportunities for the person to learn and redeem themselves. Therefore, rather than productive shame, this approach pushes people into one of two categories:
“The extreme nature of the outrage mob…has forced the shame response into extreme categories. Everyone has two options now: show deep shame, or show no shame.The middle option of showing a little amount of shame in proportion to the actual offense is hardly an option at all.” – Dan Crenshaw
The right amount of shame allows us to remain accountable and improve ourselves. A lack of shame is also wrong, as it justifies bad behavior and self-serving actions. It also makes somebody else responsible for your bad actions and problems. If blame is always placed on somebody else, there is no opportunity for self-improvement. Therefore, we must seek to identify the perfect middle ground of shame.
“Shame is accountability…personal responsibility leads to empowerment, control, and ultimately success.” – Dan Crenshaw
Duty Is the Positive Symptom of Shame
“Shame and duty are closely linked. You must feel shame so that you act on your sense of duty. Duty is a positive result from the negative emotion of shame.” – Dan Crenshaw
Shame is required for us to act on our sense of duty. Dan describes duties as the virtues and values in life that you should pursue for the sake of virtue itself. However, this does not mean we should only pursue substantial virtues. Instead, we should be seeking out duties in everything we do. Dan gives the example of littering. If we don’t feel bad about littering, we won’t feel a sense of duty to pick up plastic bottles near the storm drain before they wash into the ocean. If we are not dutiful in our everyday life, we cannot expect to be motivated to act on our duty when problems arise.
“As an American you have a duty to contribute, even if it is a small thing…there is no job that is undignified. Every small job is a contribution to your country.” – Dan Crenshaw
Dan explains that one way to identify your duty is through the ten commandments. He sees these commandments as divine law and should always be prioritized over human law. Dan does not believe these commandments are debatable. Instead, they are universally true and something we must all strive to abide by.
Engage in Voluntary Hardship
“A life unchallenged by hardship is a missed opportunity…therefore seek to do something hard.” – Dan Crenshaw
Dan Crenshaw believes that we should seek to impose hardship on ourselves. He calls this voluntary hardship. Engaging with and overcoming challenges helps create self-confidence. Plus, it helps us to deal with the next hard thing that is round the corner.
“Suffering doesn’t have to be extreme, but it must be habitual, so that you are in the habit of building up your confidence once challenge at a time.” – Dan Crenshaw
Dan argues that the government should protect our pursuit of hardship. Removing suffering from people’s lives actually robs the individual of their meaning, their fortitude, and their self-confidence.
Control Your Narrative
“After every failure…we create a personal narrative to account for that moment. We tell ourselves a story.” – Dan Crenshaw
We cannot always control events, but we can control the story that we tell ourselves after the event occurs. Dan believes that realizing you have control over your narrative gives you accountability, empowerment, and freedom.
We always have the decision whether to believe something has been done to you (passive) or if the story is about the action or accountability you took (active). The former is associated with an outrage culture. It blames other people for your current state and leaves you helpless. The latter helps you better yourself and, in the long-term, will make you a happier and better person.
Dan prompts readers to ask themselves the following questions:
- Which actions of mine caused this?
- What could I have done differently?
- What will I do when and if it happens again?
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