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Resilience.

The word is often misunderstood. Most people think the word means “bouncing back.” We often refer to people, especially kids who get knocked down as “resilient” kids. While there is some truth in that comparison, I have learned that resilience as a life virtue is something much greater. And important.

glencoe-panorama-ray-devlin

Glencoe Valley, Scotland. Photo by Ray Devlin

This post is a reminder of why I started writing–thinking of my children first, and then others that I love and want to encourage. In life, we are forged by our experiences and resilience is the tool. It is tempting to retreat when hard times come our way. As I reflect on my life, I’ve been guilty of doing so and regret it every time. Self-doubt, insecurity, and depression can haunt us. They are the levers of defeat and none of us can escape them fully. Enter resilience. My reminder of resilience is the picture above of Glencoe Valley in Scotland. It hangs in my office. Glencoe was carved out of some of the harshest weather of the Scottish Highlands. I’ve traveled through Glencoe in clear skies, shadowy mist, and even blanketed snow. There are no perfect weather guarantees at Glencoe and that is why it is so beautiful and mystical. It haunts me because it is resilient.

I recently listened to a podcast interview with Eric Greitens who wrote a book about the virtue and properly titled it, ResilienceThis is perhaps one of the most important books to our development as human begins. I love the writing style Greitens utilizes as a friend sharing wisdom with another friend. After all, we as frail people needs good friends and mentors to encourage us along the way.

For a long time, I looked at Eric Greitens as someone who is too good to be true. Athlete. Duke graduate. Rhodes scholar. Humanitarian. Navy SEAL. Founder of a non-profit supporting veterans. Governor of the state of Missouri. All accomplished by a 43-year-old. His public appearance is of a man who has done all of the right things.

After reading, it is evident that he as suffered as most people do and has developed a sense of humility about it. Resilience has been an important book to help me dive back into the classics by Homer and Aristotle, and is helping shape the way I think about the world and my life challenges. I am grateful for this book and would put it at the top of a must read for anyone wanting to understand their suffering or how to help someone who is going through trials.

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There are many challenging quotes from the book that I pulled. I hope you will be encouraged to fight through with resilience. You are not alone.

Why Resilience

“We all need resilience to live a fulfilling life. With resilience, you’ll be more prepared to take on challenges, to develop your talents, skills, and abilities so that you can live with more purpose and more joy. I hope something here can help you to become stronger.”

“What happens to us becomes part of us. Resilient people do not bounce back from hard experiences; they find healthy ways to integrate them into their lives. In time, people find that great calamity met with great spirit can create great strength.”

Leadership

“Leaders lead from the front. Never ask someone to endure more than you are willing to endure yourself.”

“Beware the person who seeks to lead and has not suffered, who claims responsibility on the grounds of a spotless record.”

“We are almost always better led by those who have pushed themselves up to and past their limits than by those who don’t know where their limits are.”

The Fight

“And it’s often in those battles that we are most alive: it’s on the front lines of our lives that we earn wisdom, create joy, forge friendships, discover happiness, find love, and do purposeful work. If you want to win any meaningful kind of victory, you’ll have to fight for it.”

“When we have meaningful, fulfilling, purposeful work, it radiates through our lives.”

“You’ll understand your own life better, and the lives of others better, if you stop looking for critical decisions and turning points. Your life builds not by dramatic acts, but by accumulation.”

“What usually matters in your life is not the magical moment, but the quality of your daily practice.”

“If we are intentional about what we repeatedly do, we can practice who we want to become.”

“Resilient people do not bounce back from hard experiences; they find healthy ways to integrate them into their lives.”

Responsibility

“At the root of resilience is the willingness to take responsibility for results.” 

“You are not responsible for everything that happens to you. You are responsible for how you react to everything that happens to you.”

“People who think you are weak will offer you an excuse. People who respect you will offer you a challenge.”

“Any nation that draws too great a distinction between its scholars and its warriors will have its thinking done by cowards and its fighting done by fools.”

Facing critics

“Know this: anyone who does anything worthy, anything noble, anything meaningful, will have critics.”

Understanding pain and hardship

“Resilience is the virtue that enables people to move through hardship and become better.”

“To work through pain is not to make it disappear, but to make it mean something different for us—to turn it into wisdom.”

“To move through pain to wisdom, through fear to courage, through suffering to strength, requires resilience.”

“An unwillingness to endure the hardship of a depressed time keeps us from the possibility of capturing the wisdom and strength and joy that can exist on the other side. There is a season to be sad. Painful things hurt. Allow yourself to be hurt.”

Humility

“I begin with humility, I act with humility, I end with humility. Humility leads to clarity. Humility leads to an open mind and a forgiving heart. With an open mind and a forgiving heart, I see every person as superior to me in some way; with every person as my teacher, I grow in wisdom. As I grow in wisdom, humility becomes ever more my guide. I begin with humility, I act with humility, I end with humility.”

“If you start with humility, you see every person as your teacher.”

 

Recently, I received an advance edition of The Good Spy: The Life and Death of Robert Ames by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Kai Bird.

When I picked it up I thought, “Who doesn’t love a spy novel?”

This book was different and it was by no means a novel. It was raw and captured some of the most important events in the Middle East of the past fifty years through the eyes of a real CIA agent.

In its description, The Good Spy is Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer Kai Bird’s compelling portrait of the remarkable life and death of one of the most important operatives in CIA history – a man who, had he lived, might have helped heal the rift between Arabs and the West. His name was Robert Ames and his time with the CIA spanned from the 1950s to the 1980s.

On April 18, 1983, a bomb exploded outside the American Embassy in Beirut, killing 63 people. The attack was a geopolitical turning point. It marked the beginning of Hezbollah as a political force, but even more important, it eliminated America’s most influential and effective intelligence officer in the Middle East – CIA operative Robert Ames. What set Ames apart from his peers was his extraordinary ability to form deep, meaningful connections with key Arab intelligence figures. Some operatives relied on threats and subterfuge, but Ames worked by building friendships and emphasizing shared values – never more notably than with Yasir Arafat’s charismatic intelligence chief and heir apparent Ali Hassan Salameh (aka “The Red Prince”). Ames’ deepening relationship with Salameh held the potential for a lasting peace. Within a few years, though, both men were killed by assassins, and America’s relations with the Arab world began heading down a path that culminated in 9/11, the War on Terror, and the current fog of mistrust.

The Good Spy: The Life and Death of Robert Ames by Kai Bird

I loved reading the The Good Spy for many reasons. First, it was a terrific narrative about the making of a CIA officer and it provided a terrific context of the twentieth-century Middle East conflict. Second, it revealed a different kind of spy that I did not know exists. What I appreciated most about Robert Ames was how different he was from what movies portrayed about spies. When we think of spies we think of James Bond, Ethan Hunt, or Jason Bourne and the destruction that they created. Although those fictitious agents are entertaining, I can imagine they are far from how things actually get done in the espionage world.

Robert Ames was a clandestine CIA agent, which meant that his job was to do business as unnoticed as possible.

Robert Ames is one of those spies who got things done.

He possessed a quality that none of this type had: Patience.

In the description of Ames, the distinction of his patience stood out in the book’s narrative. Impatience is something in my life that I struggle with and I suppose we all do in some way or another. We live in a “electronic-now” post-modern culture and we are losing the ability to approach life at a pace. Ames’ patience is what made him unique and probably so successful as a spy. I am thankful for Robert Ames’ life and I believe that his legacy to us is more than just how Middle East policy is upheld today.

Robert Ames’ life gives us five lessons in patience:

  1. Patience recognizes other people’s perspectives: Ames was a ferocious reader and student of the culture he worked within. He also understood that by taking the time to listen to people meant that he would be able to gain a deeper understanding of everyone’s plight, whether Israeli or Palestenian. His patience garnered better intelligence. For me it is a reminder about the importance of taking time to listen to people, especially people who are different from me and to better understand their point of view.
  2. Patience welcomes criticism: Ames was criticized for not signing up his key asset as a paid ones so the exchange was more official by the books. Instead, he focused on building a trusting relationship that would provide better intelligence rather than a quick purchase of information. Some within the CIA felt Ames was not strong enough to do this but Ames believed in this, ignored the criticism and found success over time.
  3. Patience looks beyond ourselves: Ames believed in peace in the Mideast. Tragically, he was killed before he could see more progress. Ames knew the risks of being a CIA officer and operated in a way that looked at the big picture because with how complex and difficult Mideast peace would be to obtain. He knew that it was unlikely for his own eyes to see this happen as it could take lifetimes. This is also a lesson of faith.
  4. Patience displays humility: Robert Ames as a clandestine agent was not looking to be noticed. He knew if he ever did anything amazing, very few if any people would know it. Ames wanted to move up within the CIA but he also knew that what mattered most was getting the job done no matter who received the credit.
  5. Patience is Biblical: From what I read Ames was a great family man and a strong Catholic. It seems like his faith got him through some of his toughest times. Patience through the Bible’s lessons were ingrained in him and I can imagine him reading these verses to be encouraged during his service.

And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. – Galatians 6:9

And endurance produces character, and character produces hope, – Romans 5:4

Patience is better than power, and controlling one’s temper, than capturing a city. – Proverbs 16:32

I hope to see Robert Ames one day again in heaven to thank him for these great lessons.

 

Do you struggle with impatience? How do you handle it?