#1425 The Heroes and the Bums

And How to Sort Them Out

Concluding our brief tour through James Stockdale’s wisdom from our Notes on Thoughts of a Philosophical Fighter Pilot, let’s talk about the heroes and the bums and how to sort them out.

We’ll bring the Vice Admiral back to the party for his final words in this little series of +1s.

As we’ve discussed, Epictetus was Stockdale’s favorite teacher.

He’s also MY favorite teacher. And, he was Marcus Aurelius’s favorite teacher as well.

His fierce, unapologetic intensity and coherent, practical philosophy is deeply inspiring.

Check out our Notes on his Enchiridion and Discourses, along with How to Be Free by A.A. Long, How to Be a Stoic by Massimo Pigliucci, The Stoic Art of Living by Tom Morris, and our entire collection of Stoic wisdom for more.

Before telling us how to separate the bums from the heroes, Stockdale quotes Epictetus who, in his Discourses, tells us: “The true man is revealed in difficult times. So when trouble comes, think of yourself as a wrestler whom God, like a trainer, has paired with a tough young buck. For what purpose? To turn you into Olympic-class material. But this is going to take some sweat to accomplish. From my perspective, no one’s difficulties ever gave him a better test than yours, if you are prepared to make use of them the way a wrestler makes use of an opponent in peak condition.”

Then Stockdale tells us: “But our bottom line was this: The challenge of education is not to prepare people for success but to prepare them for failure. I think it’s in the hardship and failure that the heroes and the bums really get sorted out.”

Me: 😲 🤯 !!

For two reasons.

First, Stockdale’s perspective that “the challenge of education is not to prepare people for SUCCESS but to prepare them for FAILURE.”

In other words: We train for the HARD THINGS in life—not the easy things.

Which is why Epictetus (who loved using sports metaphors!), also compared our philosophical training for life to a boxer’s training to enter a boxing ring.

Ryan Holiday quotes both Epictetus and Seneca in The Daily Stoic where he tells us: “The Stoics loved to use boxing and wrestling metaphors the way we use baseball and football analogies today. This is probably because the sport of pankration—literally, ‘all strength,’ but a purer form of mixed martial arts than one sees today in the UFC—was integral to boyhood and manhood in Greece and Rome. (In fact, recent analysis has found instances of ‘cauliflower ear,’ a common grappling injury, on Greek statues.) The Stoics refer to fighting because it’s what they knew.”

Ryan continues by saying: “Seneca writes that unbruised prosperity is weak and easy to defeat in the ring, but a ‘man who has been at constant feud with misfortunes acquires a skin calloused by suffering.’ This man, he says, fights all the way to the ground and never gives up.”

And, he says: “That’s what Epictetus means too. What kind of boxer are you if you leave because you get hit? That’s the nature of the sport! Is that going to stop you from continuing?”

Then we have the second reason my head exploded. 🤯 !

Want to sort out the heroes and bums?


Stockdale tells us that all we have to do is introduce some FAILURE and HARDSHIP into your life and see how you respond.

Are you a librarian of the mind—merely cataloging these ideas and falling apart the moment things get challenging?


Are you a WARRIOR of the mind—fiercely committed to moving from Theory to PRACTICE to Mastery—using every challenge as an opportunity to PRACTICE YOUR PHILOSOPHY, remembering that THIS (!) IS WHAT WE TRAIN FOR?

Remember: The wind extinguishes the (fragile) candle but it fuels the (antifragile) fire.

Let us remember that the Obstacle Is the Way. Let us see the Upside of Stress. Let us cultivate our Iron Will.


Let us choose to be guided by our highest ideals in our most challenging times as we chisel our integrity as we forge the strength for two as we embrace the hero’s commitment to be our brother’s keeper.

Not someday.

And not when it’s easy or convenient.


Let us go ALL IN all day, every day.

Especially, as always, TODAY.

It’s Day 1.

Let’s get in the arena and practice our philosophy, Hero!

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