Throughout history, Warriors have been the guardians of their societies. They do not train and fight for the sake of it, or for senseless violence. Historical warriors have learned the arts of war in order to better protect their people and families, or to extend their reach of their chosen sovereign. Tribal warriors were the ones who put their lives on the line to defend their families. Knights and Samurai were the ones willing to die for their lords’ agenda.
Many Warriors did not serve social or political masters, but rather ideological ones. The Knights Templar and the Crusaders, while shown to have been instigated by political goals, were individually motivated by spiritual aspirations. Samurai also served an ideological code called Bushido in addition to their political obligations, and the warrior monks of Shaolin and other martial arts schools were likewise motivated by the need to uphold certain ideals that were being threatened. Non-fighting warriors include spiritual practitioners of many faiths who have been willing to carry the torch, leading the way into hostile territory in order to spread their ideals or speak out against oppression.
What unites all these different kinds of warriors, despite their differing loyalties and methods, is their dedication to a cause. More than anything else, the name Warrior (as opposed to bandit, pirate, fighter, brawler, soldier, etc) evokes images of a person fighting for something or someone. The Warrior, more than other members of the community, places his body, mind, and soul, often his very life, at the service of some cause he believes in.
The Need to Serve
It is important to have something to serve because the demands of the Warrior lifestyle – excellence as discussed in my previous Traits of a Warrior post – require something greater than oneself to justify the sacrifice and extreme dedication. It is just too hard to justify a demand for excellence based on one’s own personal needs. An individual can always compromise his or her needs and ideals, but a social group, a higher authority, or a stated ideology doesn’t have that luxury. Thus, these things demand the highest standards from those who serve them, the Warriors.
By choosing to stand for something with values not dictated by his own whims, the Warrior gives meaning to his life. This doesn’t mean that a Warrior should neglect his own needs. Obviously, if one is to best serve a cause or order, it is important to keep oneself healthy and happy. There is a balance though. As long as your needs can be met while still serving your chosen calling, you are fine, but when the time comes to incur some sort of personal cost, you must be willing to make the necessary sacrifice.
More than Life Itself
One of my least favorite hypotheticals is the standard moral dilemma, “If you had to choose between killing ten/hundred/thousand people or yourself, which would you pick?” The person asking always gets a smug look and proceeds to explain that, no matter what I say now, if I were really in the situation, I would be selfish, because that’s just ‘human nature.’ Never mind the countless examples in history of humans who have sacrificed themselves for the betterment of others. Those are exceptions after all.
But as Warriors, we are trying to be that exception.
Putting aside all economic analysis – my worth to society versus that of the average human being, etc – I would not be able to live with myself if I’d made the wrong choice. My life would no longer be of much worth to me. And that is the point of serving a higher ideal. A Warrior serves some purpose he cares about more than his own life, a purpose that makes his life worth living, and which, if it failed, would make his life unbearable. There will arise debates about whether you might be able to salvage something from the wreckage by sparing yourself to fight another day (maybe I could kill the thousand people and try to make up for their loss, doubtful, but possible) and that will be something that the Warrior must decide on his or her own, in the context of the specific situation. Maybe it will be self-delusion, but sometimes we need delusion in order to aspire to greatness, and much of the Warrior’s battle is fought internally, with himself.
There is also the option of abandoning a cause which calls for your self-sacrifice, perhaps because it no longer holds any appeal for you. This is a delicate subject because it is too easy to rationalize that decision by saying the high authority or purpose has become corrupt or valueless, rather than admitting your own fear or selfishness. It does happen though, but just as often, Warriors have upheld beliefs in the face of betrayal. Socrates stood beside his ideals even when they no longer served his own needs and happiness, knowing that his life would hold no meaning if he gave them up to save himself. My understanding is that Jesus was given the opportunity to renounce his ideals, but he too stood by them until he was crucified. In the movie 300, Leonides and his Spartans stood by their dedication to hold the Hot Gates until killed, refusing to retreat when they had the opportunity. They might have been able to fight another day if they had, but their sacrifice did more to serve their cause, because it inspired the rest of Greece to muster.
Sacrifices don’t have to be life or death, however. The sacrifice you might be called to make could be something much smaller, but no less significant. Giving up the increased salary of a job that doesn’t meet your standards of behavior; turning away from temptation with no consequences simply because you value fidelity; braving the cold to bike to work to live up to your ecological conscientiousness. These are all sacrifices that indicate a dedication to a higher ideal than your own comfort and perceived needs, and they enable you to know that you live for something greater than the moment.
When a Samurai’s master died, he was expected to commit suicide. Those who failed to do so were dishonored Ronin. In reality, many of them turned to banditry, lacking any skills besides those of combat and having no means to support themselves. In popular fiction, however, Ronin, and other causeless Warriors, are often depicted in a more romantic light. A good example is Captain Jack Sparrow of Pirates of the Caribbean. One might think that he had no higher purpose, but upon closer reflection, it becomes clear that he did. Despite his own reservations, he would frequently put himself in harm’s way to rescue his friends. His love of freedom prevented him from collaborating with the East India Company, even when offered treasure and power.
These are admittedly relatively small causes, more personal than divine, but they fit the bill: ideals more important than life. Maybe Jack could have lived as someone else’s slave, but not with any sort of self-respect. Know what values you must uphold to maintain your self-respect, and never compromise on those. In the long run, you will find yourself happier to have lived by those ideals than to have discarded them for convenience or comfort.
Please share your thoughts and comments, even if you think I’m being ridiculous (but please, no hypotheticals. I get enough of those )