“Man must strive, and striving must err” (Johann Wolfgang von Goethe).
MAKING A REAL EFFORT ALMOST ALWAYS MEANS WE WILL MAKE MISTAKES. Yet the possibility (or even the probability) of stumbling is not necessarily an argument for standing still. Errors notwithstanding, it often makes a lot of sense to keep striving.
Athletes know the difference between “playing to win” and “playing to avoid losing.” The former is a positive, give-it-all-we’ve-got force, while the latter is simply a defensive posture, a game plan that has no higher goal than the avoidance of mistakes. Yet in life, as on the athletic field, the conservative attitude that always plays it safe is rarely the one that achieves great results, and most of us realize that there’s more honor in striving and erring than in not striving at all. “Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure, than to take rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy much nor suffer much because they live in the gray twilight that knows not victory nor defeat” (Theodore Roosevelt).
The word “strife,” however, can have a bad connotation, and so we need to consider whether our striving is the good kind. We need to make sure of two things: (1) our tactics are honorable, and (2) our goals are worth fighting to achieve. Bertrand de Jouvenel asked the pertinent question when he said, “Year by year we are becoming better equipped to accomplish the things we are striving for. But what are we actually striving for?” Lest we become so preoccupied with the struggle that we forget what the struggle is about, we need to review our goals frequently and upgrade them if necessary.
Some people seem to think that the less pain and difficulty they experience, the happier they will be, and so they never do anything except take the path of least resistance. For them, the main thing in life is to avoid unpleasantness. Yet there’s an irony to human life, and it consists in the fact that tranquil things like peace and joy come not from rest but from struggle. The happy life is not the life of constant relaxation; it’s the life of conscience-driven labor. What we want is not the life of leisure; it’s the life of “strife” . . . in the good sense!
There’s life alone in duty done,
And rest alone in striving.
(John Greenleaf Whittier)