Mental Pivot

Notes and observations from a lifelong pursuit of learning.


Book Notes: “Fortitude” by Dan Crenshaw

Summary

Fortitude: American Resilience in the Age of Outrage by Dan Crenshaw (2020) is a book about building personal character. Crenshaw calls this kind of character “fortitude”: the aggregate of many positive characteristics. A short list would include perseverance, positivity, personal responsibility, attention to detail, good humor, a sense of purpose, humility, a calm mind, reason over emotion, a desire to always improve, self-awareness, and a sense of gratitude.

The author asserts that these values are not only in short supply, but that they are also under attack. The culprit? Outrage culture. Crenshaw describes outrage culture as “the tendency to reflexively assume the worst of intentions when reacting to news or commentary, or political discourse, and default into an emotionally driven hatred of the ‘other,’ whoever that may be.” Outrage culture manifests itself in the antagonistic headlines that fill our news feeds, our inability to constructively engage with those holding opposing beliefs, and the tendency for people to play the victim card. Crenshaw sounds the alarm on the long-term consequences of outrage culture: “A culture characterized by self-pity, indulgence, outrage, and resentment is a culture that falls apart.”

Fortitude is the antidote to outrage culture. Crenshaw spends most of the book describing, in practical terms, how to build personal fortitude. He draws upon a healthy combination of his life experiences and external inspiration and influences. His career as a Navy SEAL figures prominently into the narrative. This should please most readers since these are easily the best parts of the book. It’s also clear that Crenshaw is strongly influenced by Stoic philosophy.

Fortitude is written by a politician (Crenshaw is the GOP representative for Texas’s 2nd congressional district), and I typically try to avoid overtly political books. At the same time, I like to expose myself to different points of view. It’s a healthy habit and keeps your perspective broad. Crenshaw does his best to be balanced (for instance, he makes two flattering references to President Obama), but partisanship does creep into his prose from time to time. Still, this is a worthwhile book for people regardless of political affiliation (disclosure: I’m an unaffiliated, moderate voter who leans left-of-center). If we are to overcome outrage culture, we must learn to engage respectfully with people with whom we don’t always see eye-to-eye.

Pros: Concrete ideas for building personal resilience. Crenshaw’s stories about his experiences as a Navy SEAL are gripping.

Cons: Mostly avoids any heavy-handed religious discussion and tries to remain politically balanced. However, Chapter 7 has the most overt religious commentary and Chapter 10 veers into partisan territory at times.

Verdict: 7/10


Notes & Highlights

Introduction: Stay Outraged

  • Author encounters protestors on Capitol Hill wearing “stay outraged” shirts. Wonders what the goal of staying outraged is.
  • “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.”
  • “Outrage is weakness. It is the muting of rational thinking and the triumph of emotion.”
  • Outrage is rarely productive, virtuous, or useful.
  • The antidote to outrage is the topic of the book: mental fortitude.
  • Some forms of outrage are justifiable: righteous indignation, anger stemming from a real tragedy or injustice.
  • Outrage culture: “The tendency to reflexively assume the worst of intentions when reacting to news or commentary, or political discourse, and default into an emotionally driven hatred of the ‘other,’ whoever that may be.”
  • “It is about the hypersensitivity that has infected our society, where undesirable language is the equivalent of physical violence.”
  • “Outrage culture is the weaponization of emotion, and the elevation of emotion above reason.”
  • “The more outraged one is, the more authentic one is perceived to be. And the more authentic one is, the greater one’s moral standing.”
  • In [the book] The Coddling of the American Mind…the authors find that a culture of ‘safetyism’ has become widespread, wherein students actually feel that opposing views are a literal danger to their physical well-being.”
  • “People are increasingly interpreting the actions of others in the least generous way possible and assuming the worst of intentions.”
  • Haidt and Lukianoff: “Common-enemy identity politics, when combined with microaggression theory, produces a call-out culture in which almost anything one says or does could result in a public shaming.”
  • “The entire US political system seems to be infected by these problematic culture trends, cheered on by our media and opinion journalists who thrive on drama, conflict, and strife.”
  • Popularity of internet and broad range of media outlets, pundits and observers makes it difficult to distinguish between objective journalism and opinion journalism.
  • Too much power and voice has been given to “victimhood.”
  • Don’t allow others to dictate your emotional state. “If you are outraged it is because you lack discipline and self-control.”
  • “A culture characterized by self-pity, indulgence, outrage, and resentment is a culture that falls apart.”

Chapter 1: Perspective from Darkness

  • The story of Crenshaw getting hit by an IED in Afghanistan in 2012 is intense and well-written (he was a Navy SEAL). The author suffers serious injury in the aftermath (including the loss of an eye).
  • Crenshaw writes about his admiration for the Afghan people: They are able to endure suffering most American can never imagine. “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.”
  • The IED (Improvised Explosive Device) forced a change in American combat tactics. They are cheap, easy to assemble and deploy and ubiquitous. “An IED, well hidden and well built, maximizes the insurgent’s advantages of concealment, surprise, and terrorization—and minimizes our advantages of firepower, communication, and action.”
  • “Know the difference between cover and concealment. A thick mud wall is cover, because it stops bullets. A thick bush in the mud is concealment, and does not stop bullets.”
  • “Ordinary tactics went by the wayside. We traveled in single file—which is a crappy tactical formation in normal circumstances—because stepping outside of that could mean death, or at best not “Keep Your Feet 2012.”
  • “Interpreters are the unsung heroes of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. They often suffer threats and ostracism for their willingness to endure the battlefield alongside us. Their motivation isn’t money; there isn’t enough money to make it worthwhile facing down insurgents who know where you and your family live. They’re idealists. They work and risk death because they believe in our common cause of freedom.”
  • Crenshaw’s mother dies when he is in grade school (cancer): “From this grief [of his mother’s death] came learning. I got to experience the nature of a true hero, and the example she set was the most powerful, fortifying, and selfless thing I have ever seen—including in combat.”
  • Doctors tell Crenshaw (after the IED incident) that he has “virtually no chance of seeing ever again.” Crenshaw latches onto the word “virtually” which is to say: he focused on the small chance of seeing again.
  • “Self-deception and optimism are sometimes indistinguishable.”
  • “My optimism, my self-deception, my belief that the coming surgery on my left eye would work and that I would see, was nothing less than a delusional gift that allowed me to keep my sanity.”
  • “From that darkness comes realism. From that realism comes gratitude. From gratitude comes perspective.”
  • “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…”
  • Perspective can be obtained in many ways. Experience is one way but the author believes it can also be self-taught or learned.
  • “With many big problems cured, reduced, or eliminated, our small problems have been elevated remarkably in our public discourse…we complain vehemently about proper pronoun usage and disrespectful remarks on Twitter…the size of chairs…[are] deemed a micro aggression to overweight people…”
  • We can choose our perspective. We can choose to be bitter. We can choose to be grateful and optimistic.
  • “Aristotle wrote that habit defines us. Before we pursue our higher purpose, before we have quality of character, we have habit.”
  • “My habit was to never quit. My habit was to avoid self-pity and believe in a better future…my habit was to strive for self-improvement and learn to adapt.”

Chapter 2: Who is Your Hero?

  • Experience is the best teacher.
  • “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.”
  • “When I graduated from high school, I wasn’t anything close to being a SEAL. But I knew I had to start believing I was someone who could be a SEAL.”
  • Crenshaw suggests looking at hero archetypes rather than actual people. Archetypes are symbols, ideals and amalgams of characteristics.
  • “Archetypes provide a culture like ours with some basic heroes. And there are lessons to be learned within each one of those characters, real or imagined.”
  • Christopher Reeve (actor): “A hero is an ordinary individual who finds the strength to persevere and endure in spite of overwhelming obstacles.”
  • Traits identified in a book by Allison and Goethals: Smart, strong, selfless, caring, charismatic, resilient, reliable, and inspiring.
  • Character traits that Crenshaw says were important to the SEAL team:

    • You will be someone who is never late.
    • You will be someone who takes care of his men, gets to know them, and puts their needs before yours.
    • 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, 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.
  • “The SEAL ethos…is a statement of WHO we want to be.”

  • More traits cited by the author:

    • Make progress every single day.
    • Identify a goal and stick with it.
    • Reliability is a type of fortitude.
    • Learn to delay gratification.
    • Be even-tempered. Don’t let emotion drive your behavior.
    • Be humble. Don’t expect people to do things for you that you can do yourself.
    • Listen and internalize what others say before responding. Be polite not dismissive.
  • “Identify your heroes, and emulate the character traits that make that person more successful than you currently are.”

  • There is a diminishing consensus on what constitutes a good character trait.”

  • “Do we still value the mental toughness that empowers us to be personally responsible in the first place?”

  • Legitimate injustices:

    • Infringement on another person’s life, liberty, and property.
    • Unfair due process of law.
    • Outcomes based on something other than merit.
  • “Victimhood culture…seeks to alter the definition of injustice entirely, where all disparities become discriminations…”

  • “Many people seek status in the ranks of the oppressed.”

  • Thomas Sowell (economist): “We have demonized those who produce, subsidized those who refuse to produce, and canonized those who complain.”

  • “As our culture expands the definition of victimhood, even celebrating victimhood status as a heroic attribute, then the obvious psychological consequence is an angrier culture.”

  • “You don’t get likes on Twitter with nuanced disagreement…this phenomenon creates incentives for seemingly normal people to engage in hysterical behavior.”

  • “There is an assumption that anger must be connected to righteousness. Passion replaces reason. Attitude—owning the libs or the cons—replaces sophisticated argument.”

  • Author laments current situation in which attention is granted moreso to “passionate clamoring” than to “thoughtful commentary.”

  • Examples of non-heroic attributes:

    • Don’t take a joke—find offense where you can!
    • Don’t settle for a tempered reaction—take to the streets!
    • Don’t take responsibility—you have been wronged, and they owe you!

Chapter 3: No Plan B

  • Quitting is a choice. Perseverance is a choice. Which will you choose?
  • “Failure becomes inevitable the moment it is embraced as a possibility. Once you have a Plan B, Plan A goes out the window.”
  • “A quitter is someone who has the meaningful option not to quit, but does so anyway.”
  • “There is always the voice that acknowledges that you could do better. There is always the voice that whispers you could have kept on. There is always the voice that quietly informs you that you didn’t do your best.”
  • “You don’t get to win just because you feel entitled to it. Your status…does not beget privileges that outweigh your merits.”
  • Life is a meritocracy based on your performance the content of your character.
  • Failing is not a problem. Choosing to fail and rationalizing that choice is a problem.
  • “The No Plan B mentality…is about embracing a positive goal as your only choice.”
  • Pope John Paul II: “Every generation of American needs to know that freedom consists not in doing what we like, but in having the right to do what we ought.”
  • Crenshaw differentiates between pure, unbridled freedom and “ordered liberty”:

    • “Pure freedom is chaos, anarchy, and moral decay. Freedom to do what you like—without any moral compass…”
    • “Ordered liberty is the understanding that law exists to prevent individuals from infringing on the inalienable rights of others.”
  • Declaration of Independence lists three things we are entitled to: life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

    • “Two things that we ought to have as such—and one thing that we deserve merely to pursue.
    • Government should not guarantee happiness but “clear the path” for us to chase it.
    • “The chase, you see, is the point. The pursuit is the purpose.”
  • Your job is to find your purpose. The purpose might be great or commonplace. In either case, the purpose is meaningful and important to you and that is what matters.

    • Purpose might be to your family.
    • Purpose might be teaching others.
    • Purpose might be building a business.
    • Purpose might be to help other people.
  • “Search until you find it—and until then, act as if you have it, because you’re wasting time otherwise.”

  • “Focusing on purpose centers your actions, even the small ones, around a cause.”

  • Small choices are important. Don’t discount them. “After all, your big goals are accomplished by an infinite number of smaller decisions.”

  • “We are a nation, unique in world history, that is build upon purpose rather than geography or ethnicity.”

  • “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.”

Chapter 4: Be Still

  • SLLS: Tactical procedure where, after any activity (e.g. helicopter landing), you “stop, look, listen, and smell.”
  • Stoic equivalent of outrage culture is passion. Stoic definition is “strong and barely controllable emotion.”
  • Stoics viewed a mind free of passion as a fortress or citadel.
  • Vice Adm. James Stockdale (POW for 7 years in Vietnam):
What I had was the understanding that the Stoic, particularly the disciple of Epictetus who developed this accounting, always keeps separate files in his mind for: (a) those thins which are ‘up to him’ and (b) those things which are ‘not up to him’…Among the relatively few things that are ‘up to me, within my power’…are my opinions, my aims, my aversions, my own grief, my own joy, my moral purpose or will, my attitude toward what is going on, my own good, and my own evil.”
  • Stillness (key tenet of Stoicism) is “not a denial of reality; it makes it possible to deal with reality…to honestly assess what is in your control and what is not.”
  • Accept what you cannot control BUT take responsibility for the things you CAN control.
  • Stockdale: “There can be no such thing as being the ‘victim’ of another. You can only be a ‘victim’ of yourself.”
  • You can always rationalize an emotional response. But ask yourself: Objectively, does an emotional response ever lead to a better outcome? (Not likely).
  • Crenshaw has the reader consider “gotcha” questions asked by the media: “They ask a question midway through the interview that is less of a question and more of a moral judgment wrapped up in a question atop a false premise (‘How can you support a tax bill that hurts America’s workers?’).”
  • War-gaming is a technique for preparing for difficult situations by mentally considering the problem in advance. You imagine the situation and mentally model and practice your response (and resulting outcome).
  • Crenshaw is asked by a journalist: “Are you comfortable with the fact that President Trump has not visited a military base in a combat zone since becoming president?”

    • Crenshaw considered the question carefully before responding. Considering the loaded assumptions of the question.
    • His response: “I was in the military for ten years. I never once saw a president visit a base, and I felt that I could do my job just fine. The president gives our generals and troops the ability to execute the mission we’ve given them. Troops feel like the president has their backs.”
  • A calm demeanor can be developed through hardship and training.
  • “The angriest, most passionate public figures are rewarded with the most clicks and biggest audiences. Our culture has begun to confuse passion with substance, reward the loudest and angriest voices, and thus incentivize behavior wholly at odds with Stoic wisdom.”
  • Downproofing: SEAL training that teaches how to be calm in the face of a terrible situation. Example is how to swim to shore while hands and feet are bound (Crenshaw describes two techniques: jumping up for air if the seafloor is less than 15’ deep or a dolphin kick in deep water). The point of the training is to learn switch on a “deep calm” when needed.
  • “Panic causes more panic but calm breeds calm.”
  • “The only way to properly confront the unexpected is by facing it as calmly as possible.”
  • “Your opinions on complex matters should come to you slowly, over time, within the context of new facts and experiences.”
  • “There is nothing wrong with not knowing, but there is something deeply wrong about having a strong opinion based on very little fact or reason.”
  • “A mentally tough, confident person does not have a problem admitting they are wrong or unknowledgeable on a subject.”
  • Author encourages curiosity. When faced with a blanket statement or question: consider the premise and assumptions underlying the question. Ask questions, obtain more detail, consider the other side, what are the costs (in addition to the benefits).
  • “More context changes the story substantially.”

    • Example that not all regulations make sense.
    • Consider that regulations carry benefits as well as costs. Too often we neglect to consider the costs.
  • President Obama’s advice to daughters: “Don’t go around looking for insults. If you’re narrowly defining political correctness as a hypersensitivity that ends up resulting in people not being able to express their opinions at all without somebody suggesting they’re a victim…our social discourse and our political discourse becomes like walking on eggshells.”

Chapter 5: Sweat the Small Stuff

  • Author grants permission to complain about small things WITH certain ground rules:

    • Sweat the small stuff BUT do it lightheartedly and with humor and sarcasm.
    • Force yourself to be detail-oriented.
    • Don’t sweat the big stuff.
  • “Venting about the little things provides you with perspective on how silly and unproductive complaining really is…it is a frustration-release valve.”
  • PC culture has driven stand-up comedians out of performing at college campuses due to hyper-sensitivity.
  • “We can’t lose our sense of humor. The alternative is a stuffy emotionally bottled-up society walking on proverbial eggshells.”
  • “As a general leadership rule, you want to punish in private and praise in public.”
  • “In combat, attention to detail is the barrier between life and death. We generally don’t like death, so we pay attention to details.”
  • “The rule of law and societal norms matter. And paying attention to details—even selfishly for your own success—is part of that social contract.”
  • “You ever wonder why we are always doing inspections in the military?…It’s simple: If you can’t get the small stuff right, you won’t get the big stuff right.”
  • Some ways to be more detail-oriented:

    • Ask more questions.
    • Consider context and intent.
    • Consider and make counterarguments.
    • Delve deeper into a topic. Consider repercussions and second order effects.
    • Consider historical context.
  • Example: Minimum wages

    • Superficially minimum wages sound good.
    • Second and third order economic impacts of price controls are not good.
    • Results in fewer jobs, investments in automation and streamlined corporate processes (employers don’t want to spend more).
    • Low-skilled workers are impacted the most.
    • Federal minimum wage is a “one-size-fits-all” solution (consider cost of living disparity between San Francisco, CA and Lubbock, TX).
  • “Sweating the small stuff is…about regaining control over the smaller problems we face.”
  • Rule of thumb: “If you aren’t making someone laugh with your complaints, then you might be doing it wrong.”

Chapter 6: The Right Sense of Shame

  • “Redemption is a trademark of an enlightened society.”
  • “Outrage culture has contorted our ability to seek redemption and recover from failure, which in turn has contorted our sense of shame.”
  • Ask yourself: What was the intent behind the other person’s actions?
  • Mass media and the public are constantly looking for public figures to humiliate and shame (almost as entertainment and sport).
  • Crenshaw’s Harvard professor: “While you’re here, try hard not to offend, and try harder not to be offended.”
  • Crenshaw’s experience with SNL is recounted. Comedian Pete Davison makes a joke about Crenshaw that upsets many people. Crenshaw doesn’t respond with outrage but is invited to the show. Davison apologizes and Crenshaw gets a chance to poke fun at Davison on TV. Nobody needs to resign or is publicly humiliated.
  • “The laws of modern politics dictate that you never throw water on the flames of a good controversy if you can use it to your advantage.”
  • “You’re supposed to play the part of aggrieved victim to the greatest extent possible and use that moral superiority to club your opponents into submission.”
  • “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.”
  • “Do we really want to live in a culture where reactive apologies are the norm, even when clearly not required?”
  • The example of Ellen DeGeneres who was called out for attending a football game with George W. Bush.

    • DeGeneres did not bow to outrage mob pressure.
    • “Just because I don’t agree with someone on everything doesn’t mean that I am not going to be friends with them.”
    • “When I say be kind to one another I don’t mean only the people that think the same way you do. I mean be kind to everyone.”
  • We must improve ourselves first before we can attend to bigger problems.
  • The right amount of shame is good. It means we are accountable.
  • “My goal is to encourage a healthy sense of shame so that, at the very least, we are aspiring to a higher ideal, a higher sense of self.”
  • A lack of shame is a justification for bad behavior and self-serving actions.
  • Jocko Willink (SEAL and writer): “Everything is your fault. Be accountable. Take ownership. Take responsibility. From this responsibility you will find freedom.”
  • “A sense of shame only really comes from within.”
  • SEAL mantra: “If you are going to do it, you might as well be the best at it.”
  • High standards, high expectations MUST come from within.
  • “Outrage mobs are born of many things, but one of them is the total unwillingness to learn and discover.”
  • “If we are to engage in truth seeking and avoid outrage, we must aggressively challenge the beliefs and opinions that led us to that outrage in the first place.”
  • “An opinion is valuable only insofar as it can be backed up by some element of reason and facts.”
  • “Honest debate makes us better at thinking more deeply about why we believe what we believe. If you find yourself calling someone a communist, traitor, or RINO because they disagree with you, it is a good indication that your arguments are shallow and your emotions are driving your thinking.”
  • “To have no shame is to wrongly believe you are fine as you are, with no room to grow.”
  • “Shame is accountability…personal responsibility leads to empowerment, control, and ultimately success.”
  • If you are not personally responsible is waiting for someone else to be responsible for them or their problems. This is disempowering, not empowering.
  • Free agency is one of the few powers we possess individually. Don’t allow others to take, direct or control that agency.

Chapter 7: A Sense of Duty

  • Duty is the sense that “there are virtues and values in this life that should be pursued for the sake of virtue itself.”
  • “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.”
  • We must constantly remind ourselves about our duty and pursue it consciously.
  • The small stuff is important too: “If you don’t feel bad about littering, then you certainly won’t feel a sense of duty to pick up the plastic bottles near the storm drain before they wash away into the ocean.”
  • Society, culture and nations imbue a sense of duty into the populace:

    • Greeks believed in the polis: duty to city and community.
    • Communists held an extreme notion of duty to the state.
  • Crenshaw discusses the Ten Commandments and Moses as important divine laws. “Divine law has long superseded human law.”
  • “Human history is a story about the struggle to follow these fundamental truths [e.g. divine law], the struggle to live with virtue in the face of our own dark side.”
  • “The Ten Commandments are not debatable, as man-made laws are. They are simply true.” [me: I don’t buy this statement, but am including it in my notes since it is a core tenet’s of the author]
  • Discusses Chesterson’s fence (but doesn’t refer to it by its name): “Just because we can’t immediately explain something’s purpose does not mean it is not important.”
  • “This republic is rooted in the notion that a diverse people can only live together in liberty and prosperity if we share some common understanding of respect and decency.”
  • “Duty is not just about others. It also begets a sense of self-worth and purpose.”
  • “The man who treats the minimum standard as his maximum effort is not a man we want beside us in a firefight. We want the guy who puts every ounce of effort into everything he does. Anything less is failure…”
  • “There is a difference between getting the job done and SEAL getting the job done.”
  • Ask yourself: “If not me, then who?”
  • “We have a sense of duty to be better, more polite, and smarter with our public disagreements.”
  • “A resilient person can suffer through some punishment, but an anti fragile person is made stronger by it.”
  • “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.”
  • “Ninety-five percent of warfare is logistics.”
  • “Even the smallest thing, like failing to check the batteries in your infrared laser, would mean that you would not be able to aim your gun at night…”
  • “Stop wondering who is going to create the next best thing to make your life better. Create it yourself.”

Chapter 8: Do Something Hard

  • Focus on the now, the present (e.g. the next 10 minutes or even the next 30 seconds). Sometimes looking at things in their entirety is overwhelming. Example he uses is the Navy BUD/S program: better to take it one obstacle at a time.
  • “A life unchallenged by hardship is a missed opportunity…therefore seek to do something hard.”
  • The type of hardship Crenshaw advocates should be self-imposed and imposed upon ourselves. He calls this voluntary hardship.
  • Overcoming challenges creates self-confidence and hardens us to deal with the NEXT hard thing.
  • “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.”
  • “Are you hurt or are you injured? There is a big difference between hurt and injured. Everyone is hurt…” (when talking about breaking his tibia during BUD/S).
  • The reward for doing hard things: meaning.
  • Government should protect our pursuit of hard things. Removing the challenge/suffering robs the individual of both the meaning AND the resulting fortitude and self-confidence.
  • Scott T. Allison (psychologist): “The search for meaning not only alleviates suffering: the absence of meaning can cause suffering.”
  • Meaning is not conferred. It must be earned.
  • “Voluntary hardship builds resiliency so that when the involuntary suffering comes, you are better prepared.”
  • Bible, Romans 5:3-4: “We glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance, perseverance, character; and character, hope.”

Chapter 9: The Stories We Tell Ourselves

  • “After every failure…we create a personal narrative to account for that moment. We tell ourselves a story.”
  • We may not control the event or circumstances that happened, but we do control the story that results from the event.

    • “I didn’t have time to finish that book, or maybe I didn’t make enough time.”
    • “I lost my eye to an IED, or maybe I failed to get out of the way when the bomb went off.”
  • “I take on this perspective because it gives me control, accountability, empowerment, and therefore freedom.”
  • Jordan Peterson (psychologist): “If you buy the story that everything terrible just happened on its own, with no personal responsibility on the part of the victim, you deny that person all agency…you strip him or her of all power.”
  • The WRONG story leads to disempowerment.
  • You get to DECIDE if the story is about something done to you (passive) or if the story is about the action or accountability you took (active).
  • “To be helpless to change your circumstances is to be totally disempowered, and to be disempowered is to be resentful, depressed, and unable to succeed.”
  • Outage culture tells the story of what the system, circumstances, or others has done to them. It is a story of grievances and victimhood.
  • When failure or hardship hits, ask yourself:

    • “Which actions of mine caused this?”
    • “What could I have done differently?”
    • “What will I do when and if it happens again?”
  • “Inward questions accept responsibility and open the door to improvement. Outward questions assign blame and seek to pass failure off on others.”
  • Acknowledges that external, systemic factors, bias are problematic, but advises against “the automatic assignment of blame outward at the expense of self-reflection.”
  • Toxic, negative thoughts focus the mind on anger and emotional responses.
  • “Have to” vs. “get to” as a technique for shifting control back onto the individual:

    • Example: I don’t have to wear an eye patch. I get to wear an eye patch.
    • Example: I don’t have to suffer the loss of my mother. I get to live a hard experience and grow from the lessons she taught me.
  • You cannot change the external reality of your life but you can change your perception and the internal reality.
  • To avoid suffering is to avoid growth.
  • “Failure must be handled by taking responsibility…even if it objectively not your fault.”

Chapter 10: The Story of America

  • Crenshaw believes the American story is threatened (this is a cultural, societal, national identity and narrative). Core to this story are values set forth in the Declaration of Independence (“all men are created equal” and liberty).
  • Under outrage culture “the narrative becomes group-on-group oppression as a way to explain any and all misfortune or unhappiness that might occur.”
  • “Groups are promised more power over other groups in the form of wealth redistribution, reparations, or wage regulation.”
  • “Identity groups aren’t enough, so the natural next step on the oppression hierarchy is our institutions, whether they be government or cultural institutions.”
  • Crenshaw sees an existential threat: “If our institutions are always to blame, then the next and ultimate oppressor should be obvious: America itself.
  • “While one could argue there is value in presenting counternarratives to prevailing historical interpretations, the truth is that these counternarratives have taken on an outsize influence in our current understanding of the American story.”
  • Outrage culture classifies people in three groups:

    1. The oppressed.
    2. The oppressor.
    3. The champion of the oppressed.
  • “Our country has not always lived up to its ideals, but that does not make the ideals themselves wrong.”

  • Crenshaw is a self-declared proponent of conservatism and asserts that the following characteristics define American conservatism:

    • Governance that values individual freedom, personal responsibility, and moral virtue.
    • Limited role of government.
    • Fiscal discipline.
    • Government exists to protect our inalienable rights: especially life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
    • Government does not exist to end suffering. The pursuit of happiness is not a guarantee of happiness.
  • “Modern political progressivism has shifted from addressing basic needs to all needs.”

  • “The ideology of well-intoned progressivism is based upon promising more government services to constituents. Eventually you run out of basic promises and must come up with newer and bolder promises.”

  • Crenshaw is critical of populism on the right that promises “If you elect me, I will make you happier.”

  • Crenshaw closes by suggesting an “American Ethos” (inspired, but different from, the SEAL ethos recounted earlier in the book). Some key ideas:

    • Do not quit in the face of danger.
    • Do not justify the easier path.
    • All actions matter, big and small.
    • Small tasks are a part of a higher purpose.
    • Make each day better than the one before.
    • Embrace pain and suffering and grow from them.
    • Face your trials with good humor and a smile.
    • Stay calm in the face of chaos.
    • Be victorious in your story, not the vanquished victim.
    • Be grateful for those who have contributed to what you have today.
    • Do your part to make your family, community, and nation great.
    • Live with Fortitude.