Living Well

April 2, 2010

Personal Discipline Can Bring Success

The Macedonian phalanx subdued the ancient Near East by 323 BC under the command of the youthful general, Alexander the Great.  The phalanx was no military or technological marvel, but was in reality a crude war machine compared to the chariots, calvray, and Special Forces of other ancient cultures.

The phalanxes, comprised of heavy infantry or foot soldiers, were armed with no more than a helmet, breastplate, shin guards, shield, a small sword, and an eight foot long pike with bronze tip.  Yet when these soldiers marched in formation and coordinated effort, they conquered the largest land forces of ancient warfare, the Persians, with decisiveness through strategy.  As a side note, I would encourage you to read about Alexander the Great and his victory at Gaugamela in a history book.  That battle portrays an ingenious strategy and confidence rarely witnessed in the ancient world.

What made this rudimentary, foot soldier driven phalanx unstoppable by the great military forces of the ancient world displayed in Persia?  Arthur Ferrell, author of the book Origins of War (1985) writes that this type of fight and formation places a “heavy premium on training, discipline and courage.”  Ferrell notes that ancient fighting is brutal and requires soldiers to supplant the instinct toward self preservation and the fear that goes with it, “even if it is only for a little while” during a battle.  That fear to quit was only overcome by the “rigid discipline” and training of the Greek soldiers, sometimes severe compared to our thought of training today.

Discipline is a necessary personal quality for living well and developing personally.  The Greek word for discipline is sophoronismos, literally meaning, “to save the mind, admonishing or calling to soundness of mind or self control.”  This soundness and self control for our mental, moral and physical powers comes through instruction and exercise.  Without these two ingredients, we will fall in the face of mounting opposition.

Muhammad Ali is considered without much debate the greatest boxer that participated in the sport.  Ali trained hard in his early years realizing that the pain of the present must be overcome for the champion’s life.  A disciplined body and mind permitted him to subdue his opponents with decisiveness, even predicting the round the challenger would be eliminated.  It is as Ali said, “I hated every minute of the training, but I said, don’t quit.  Suffer now and live the rest of your life as a champion.”  That discipline catapulted him to declare often and rightly, “I am the Greatest.”

We may not have enemies as fierce as those of the Greeks nor opponents as physically challenging as Ali’s, but we do have challenges regularly throughout our lives that require a disciplined personality to overcome their advances. If we are to face life’s challenges with resolve, then we must follow the advice of Ali and the practice of the ancient Greeks.  We must put in the time and effort now to develop self control and discipline that can guide us in the tough moments that life routinely provides.  We can live well by living disciplined lives; that practicing discipline will allow us to stand even for a little while longer when the moments of opposition come.  Blesssings to you as you live with discipline that may lead to actions and attitudes of peace and grace.

David Neidert


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