This material was first presented as a series of lectures in Estel Sidhevair beginning on Nov. 5, 2008. These lectures weregeared to online community members of the “Fantasy Archipelago” in the Old Virtual grid and in particular to the Elf Circle Guardians who include the ethics of the Nine Virtues in their training to act as mentors and first responders to online trouble for the approximately 1500 members of Elf Circle (EC). Please note that the material is also presented with a distinct mythopoeic approach, basically written by and for creatures of fantasy. The original lecture transcript has been modified for a more general audience.
While the Nine Noble Virtues are drawn from Norse religious perspectives, this introduction and the nine lectures which follow also draw from other ethical and religious constructs from around the world including Celtic, Hellenic, and East Indian perspectives.
The original lectures were presented online on Wednesday nights at 8 PM with some breaks for various holidays. They were facilitated by the direct avatar interactions made possible via digital worlds. The lectures were all presented in the main conference area of the community center (Enedh Gwaith) on the virtual island of Estel Sidhevair.In some cases there were guest speakers, where appropriate their remarks are included with the main lectures. Each lecture was followed by a discussion section. These talks at times lasted far into the night, sometimes growing rather heated.
Elf Circle’s class discussion of the 9 Virtues describes Perseverance as:
“…the willingness to accomplish some goal or endeavor regardless of obstacles or failures.”
In fact, as I dig more deeply into the nature of perseverance I have realized that its primary significance may lie more in an inquiry into *how* we continue in the face of adversity. Learning “how” we achieve what we are willing to accomplish may bring us closer to the core of perseverance. This takes us deeper than the initial take on it as a virtue of inclination to persist that is separate from (or in spite of) obstacles. It feels satisfying to explore Perseverance last in the 9 virtues partly because in addition to its incorporation and interweaving with the other virtues, by placing perseverance last, we see the virtue enacted as the result of our journey through the other eight virtues.
In essence, by taking a journey through the virtues, and learning to apply them in our lives consistently, we practice perseverance.
While all of the virtues can be seen as drawing upon one another—for example, it can require courage to be hospitable, or self-reliance to be truly loyal—the virtue of perseverance is both the product of the other virtues and quite possibly the virtue most required to successfully live the others. We may live in a universe of extraordinary bounty, but we are equally certain to encounter hardships and difficulties in our lives. As I mentioned in my discussion of self-reliance: the significance of “TANSTAAFL”, or “There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch” is a balancing factor in our lives.
As we progress, we frequently encounter obstacles that can lead us to discouragement. Then what?
The development of the virtue of perseverance allows us to accomplish the difficult and worthwhile tasks we encounter even when we would rather give up, retreat, hide, or lick our wounds. As we explored in the virtue of industriousness, many cultures tend to value accomplishment not so much when it is easy or convenient, or fun; but rather, and particularly, when it is achieved through diligence, especially when it is particularly inconvenient, challenging, boring or difficult. It is through perseverance that character develops and honor is earned.
As William Shakespeare said: “Perseverance... keeps honor bright: to have done, is to hang quite out of fashion, like a rusty nail in monumental mockery.”
Perseverance requires the related virtue of vision, or the careful scrutiny of ourselves, our worlds and the universe. Equally, vision requires perseverance in study, practice, inspiration, and work. Inspiration does not just come to us in blasts of pure gifts (although it is welcome when it does) but through practice and dedication.
Among the Celts were those known as the Aes Dana, people respected and revered for their dedication, perseverance and practice of their Crafts, particularly poetry, healing, smithing, and musical and visual arts. The Aes Dana were known and respected for their wisdom which was seen to be gleaned from perseverance in pursuit of insight and creativity. This pursuit of excellence, similar to the Hellenic concept of arête, was seen by the ancient Celts as deeply interwoven with both diligence and perseverance. This can be seen by considering the many extant Irish parables regarding work:
“It’s no delay to stop and sharpen the tool.”
“It destroys the craft not to learn it. Do it as if there were a fire on your skin!”
“Making the beginning is one third of the work.”
To the Celt, perseverance embodies purpose, patience, and perfection.
Perseverance is the most time dependent of the virtues. One can be loyal, courageous, or hospitable in the moment….but the very definition of perseverance involves time and consistency. This consistency in the face of whatever we encounter is also known as steadfastness. In his poem “Ulysses” Tennyson wrote:
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.
The determination that inspires steadfastness involves a certain unyielding nature, but to be steadfast in meeting our obstacles--to persevere--also requires that we develop the ability to yield also. Rather than a frozen or immobile stance, we need to foster a continuing flexibility, an adaptive, accommodating and fluid faithfulness to what we hope to achieve. And, to be steadfast is to be faithful. As I have persevered ...
/me smiles (these character produce an "emote" in virtual settings...in this case of a smile)
...in researching each virtue, I have explored a number of different philosophical and religious takes on these concepts. Of them all, perseverance seemed to lead me the most often to discussions in the various Abrahamic, monotheistic perspectives. Frequently, the thinking I encountered involved the perception of a link between perseverance, steadfastness and faith in one’s religious precepts and in God. Steadfastness is often seen as a comfort to others, as a response to the equally steadfast example given by God, and as a calling to be loyal to one’s religion in the face of persecution. To persevere can mean to have faith in one’s beliefs or to be faithful in adhering to one’s precepts. Faith is seen as a steadfastness both in reasoned belief and when faced with adversity that might lead one to stray from one’s ethical, religious, or moral constructs.
Many of us who are drawn to fantasy are familiar with the “Chronicles of Narnia” by C. S. Lewis. His protestant writings include his experience of faith which he explores in his book “Mere Christianity”. In this work he distinguishes between two meanings of “faith”, writing:
“Faith seems to be used by Christians in two senses or on two levels ... In the first sense it means simply Belief.”
He goes on to note another meaning:
“Faith, in the sense in which I am here using the word, is the art of holding on to things your reason has once accepted, in spite of your changing moods.”
Here he is speaking of perseverance.
Perseverance is also inextricably linked with the virtue of patience. This related virtue is described as the ability to endure difficult situations. This often means persevering through the discomfort of delay or provocation. In Buddhism, the Sanskrit kshanti (patience) is one of the paramitas (perfections) that a bodhisattva practices to attain bodhi (enlightenment). In Hinduism and Buddhism as well, patience is cultivated through meditation and simple contemplation of what is (and what is not). This contemplation over time requires patience, as well as the vision and inspiration mentioned previously.
In Islam, patience is a highly valued virtue associated with growing closer to Allah. This is achieved through patience during suffering and also with a particular take on “righteousness.” The Quran advises Muslims to “Persevere in patience and constancy” (3:200) and “be steadfast in patience” (11:115). It also emphasizes that “No one will be granted such goodness except those who exercise patience and self-restraint, none but persons of the greatest good fortune.” (41:35). Islam encourages Muslims to focus upon the maintenance of goodness through adversity. The basic message is that there is no reward in struggling without a good attitude and that the mark of religious success and the gaining of mercy from Allah is found in patient perseverance through hardship.
Regardless of cultural background and religion, when perseverance is examined the advice as to “the how” is notably similar. The advice includes two primary foci. One involves the virtue of hard work or diligence, and the other involves keeping one’s temper and/or patience. The former involves working harder at what we don’t like to do, completing what we start regardless of obstacles, and continuing in work when it is difficult. The latter involves “counting to ten” or waiting for as long as possible before expressing frustration, keeping our temper when upset, hurt, or insulted, focusing upon what annoys us or tries our patience, and trying to understand this, so that we can succeed rather than lose our temper on our way towards our goals.
I have attempted throughout these lectures to persevere in my examination of the “shadow side” of the virtues. By this I mean the likely places in which a virtue ceases to be of benefit and becomes a fault or a weakness, and a danger to an ethical approach to life. The shadow sides of perseverance include rigidity, obstinacy, self-righteousness, rationalizations, and aggression. It is easy to mistake rigidity and obstinacy for perseverance, faithfulness, and steadfast behavior. Rigid behavior is unbending, inflexible and resistant. Rigidity hardens and resists because the underlying position is brittle. The rigid person is planted in position to avoid breaking.
Henry Ward Beecher, the Congregationalist clergyman, social reformer, and abolitionist, said that:
“The difference between perseverance and obstinacy is that one comes from a strong will and the other from a strong won’t.”
The rigid person refuses to entertain other ways of looking at things, rejects criticism, and deflects anything that might threaten their position. This unwillingness will demonize new insights (think Galileo) and will find ways not only to silence alternate perspectives but will weave ever more complicated webs of rationalizations, however absurd, to avoid flexibility and change. In the course of perseverance turned to obstinacy, the goal of legitimizing the status quo replaces growth and accomplishments. I thank my Druid friend Julius, the Faery Crossing Ambassador for giving me the “seed thought”:
“Hold on Tightly. Let go Lightly.”
We need to know when it is wise to not persevere also. Gentle withdrawal is as valuable as standing by what we know is honorable. Sometimes in fact perseverance requires letting go. While persistence is admirable there is also the need to be alert, flexible and sensitive to the environment or context in which perseverance is called upon to achieve the goal. Practicing perseverance has been contextualized into the precept that when things don’t work at first we get up and try again until we succeed. On the other hand, if what is being attempted is not reasonable, worth accomplishing and worth the effort and time expended, there is no merit in persistent stupidity. In fact, successful examples of perseverance can be characterized as those emerging from smart choices.
There is some significant background for this link to intelligence in classical literature. One of the most significant classical examples of a hero who exemplifies perseverance is in fact also characterized as highly intelligent. I am referring to the character of Odysseus or Ulysses (Greek ?d?sse??, Odusseus; Latin: Ulixes, Ulysses). This legendary Greek king of Ithaca is the hero of Homer's epic poem, the Odyssey (dating to around 800 B.C.E.). While renowned for his shrewdness and ingenuity ( he is known by the epithet Odysseus the Cunning) Odysseus is most famous for the long and eventful ten years it took him to return home after the Trojan War. These adventures of Odysseus as recorded in Homer’s poem are archetypal examples of determination and persistence. Both Odysseus and his wife are characterized by their amazing perseverance. It is Odysseus' intelligence that enables him to triumph over adversity. His ability to deduce the correct method in which to advance is ubiquitous in the poem. Odysseus does not enter into actions impulsively.
He considers his course deliberately and through the use of his intelligence, courage, strength, and determination, Odysseus survives monsters, Gods, and the underworld. He does this to get home to his wife, Penelope. Interestingly, Penelope perseveres against a barrage of suitors, and even from the weakened traditional position of her gender she utilizes similar gifts of intelligence and cunning. Penelope’s famous trick with the tapestry that she weaves and unweaves for Laertes is as legendary as is Odysseus’ perseverance through his long journey. Often what distinguishes heroes is their persistent use of their qualities to help them conquer their obstacles. Odysseus personifies this, representing the heroic virtues and ideals of Classical Hellenic culture. His virtues include being clever to the point of tricky: he conceived of the Trojan Horse, he fooled the Cyclops in his cave, and the Cyclops’ family by naming himself “Nobody”.
There is also a distinct connection between perseverance and fidelity, which is also an important theme in the Odyssey. Penelope’s perseverance is motivated by her spousal loyalty. While her beauty, virtue, talent and intelligence are important, it is her faithfulness that interweaves strongly with her persistence. Here is where the virtue of Fidelity and that of Perseverance entwine. We see that the fidelity between Odysseus and Penelope emerges from a love that perseveres. While Penelope's perseverance is colored by gender roles requiring a passive resistance, Odysseus actively perseveres in his love and loyalty. When the Goddess Calypso offers him immortality and endless pleasure at his side, he responds simply:
“Goddess, do not be angry with me about this. I am quite aware that my wife Penelope is nothing like so tall or so beautiful as yourself. She is only a woman, whereas you are an immortal. Nevertheless, I want to get home, and can think of nothing else. If some god wrecks me when I am on the sea, I will bear it and make the best of it. I have had infinite trouble both by land and sea already, so let this go with the rest.”
Odysseus persists steadfastly in the pursuit of his journey despite difficulties, obstacles, distraction and discouragement. This steadfast nature is at the heart of perseverance and is centrally important in religion, myth and folklore as well as in fantasy. Each of these sources of wisdom emphasize perseverance specifically because this virtue is so important in a successful life.
Developing and strengthening the virtue of perseverance is a critical aspect of learning to live with the painful challenges we encounter. Anguish, fear, difficulties, suffering, confusion and distress are an integral part of a full life. A critical key to surviving times of hardship involves the steadfast, patient, persistence that is at the heart of perseverance. Another factor in perseverance involves consistently avoiding what the Abrahamic traditions consider to be “sin” or “temptation”, or what I prefer to think of as self-indulgent actions against what we know to be better, wiser, healthier, and more ethical choices in our lives. When we remain steadfast in our seeking to consider and walk the path we know is more appropriate for us we strengthen our resilience. By doing this we exercise our Wills in ways that increase our future ability to think, consider, and act well. When we act against our will, ignore our internal voice, do what we know is wrong and give way to self-indulgence or destructive impulses, we usually get caught up in rationalization. This can erode our resilience and our relationship to the virtue of perseverance.
Yet another way in which we might consider the virtue of perseverance involves its relationship both to aspects of what is called the “100th Monkey” phenomena and also to chaos theory.
When we persevere in kindness…speak gently to a tired clerk in a grocery store, help a stranger who’s trash can was turned over, smile at a crying child who’s mother is trying to rein in a protesting sibling, give up our seat to another on public transportation; when we persist in generosity, we don’t know what we might set in motion that ultimately could save lives, transform cultures, or simply increase good will.
Yet another aspect of this is the value to be found simply in the consoling example to others that we offer when we are living the virtue of perseverance. When we remain steadfast in the face of adversity, we reassure others that they, too can survive loss and perplexing pain. Our successes become a comfort to others. Recently, we have seen another example of what persistence in a dream can bring about. I have given a great deal of thought of late to the civil rights movement’s work for change and against prejudice. President Obama’s election in a country so recently engaging in slavery or struggling against Jim Crow laws is an example of how perseverance can inspire others to greatness. Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. as well as Susan B. Anthony and Alice Paul are examples of the enduring application of this virtue.
As I mentioned earlier, consistency and time are factors in this virtue. To persevere requires that we repeatedly face and accept and work with what we encounter in life, that we persist in caring for ourselves and others as we need to, that we attempt to improve what we can, and that we learn from persevering through both failure and success.
At times, perseverance requires us to continue to speak when we would rather be silent, or know when it is wise to say no more. To be steadfast we resist being fickle, wavering and changeable. We need to develop this resistance not only to be successful in our employment and other aspects of our outward lives, but also in our interior pursuits. Many of us lack the quality of perseverance. We come up with a strategy, try it for awhile and drop it for another. This cycle of partial invention and abandonment is usually not particularly successful.
Albert Einstein said:
“It’s not that I'm so smart, it's just that I stay with problems longer.”
Both the internal and external aspects of our lives benefit from our persistence in sticking to what we initiate. A common reason why we fail to persevere is that we tend to indulge ourselves with decisions made upon emotional whims rather than well-considered actions.
Turning to Hinduism for a relevant perspective, Gurudeva wrote that:
“Siva's devotees approach each enterprise with deliberate thoughtfulness, and act only after careful consideration. They succeed in every undertaking by having a clear purpose, a wise plan, persistence and push.”
When we don’t have a clear purpose in mind, it is easy to get lost along the way. We need grounded reasons for taking up an endeavor. We also need to be realistic with our goals. Expecting to complete a complicated task without consideration of the time and effort involved is frustrating, so we tend to give up. Yet another reason we have trouble persevering emerges when we do not work with our wills.
To persevere, we need to work to train and strengthen our willpower by practicing completion in the tasks we take up. Where needed we should start small and work up.
We also fail to persevere through our own fickleness. We become indecisive and unsure of ourselves, and aside from whether others perceive us to be reliable, we erode our own self-confidence. To be steadfast, we need to balance consideration of new information and the accompanying need for flexibility with decisiveness, discrimination, and commitment. We need to be open to change our minds when circumstances call for that, but we also need to be determined to see our decisions through despite obstacles we encounter.
An interesting Christian televangelist, Robert Schuller, said that:
“Problems are not stop signs, they are guidelines.”
When we encounter these guidelines, if we are inspired, if we want to achieve our goals so much that we light up with hope and desire—when we fan that “fire in our bellies”—then we find ourselves unstoppable and we can persevere with ease.
The word persevere comes from the Middle English word perseveren, which came from the French verb perseverer, which in turn emerged from the Latin perseverare or “very strict”. What is common to all the various aspects of perseverance, steadfastness, and persistence, etc. is the concept of “not laying aside”. To “not lay aside” is to be reliable and it is in this way that integrity is so interwoven with the virtue of perseverance. Integrity comes from the Latin adjective “integer” which means complete or whole.
This “wholeness” as it relates to perseverance arises from a consistency of character, a reliability, a constancy. One is a person of integrity to the extent to which their actions over time derive from core values in a whole and consistent manner. This consistency requires perseverance.
Ralph Waldo Emerson said that:
“All great masters are chiefly distinguished by the power of adding a second, a third, and perhaps a fourth step in a continuous line. Many a man has taken the first step. With every additional step you enhance immensely the value of your first.”
Often, when we lack persistence and fail to take those additional steps, this really boils down to failing to find goals that ignite our passion. To strengthen perseverance we can identify the following “how to”:
Set out upon paths towards goals that are clearly defined, inspire, and ignite desire and passion.
Ensure that the path has been mapped at least in the initial stages so that we have a plan of action we can follow right away.
Banish obstacles we can anticipate and protect our chosen paths by avoiding those who would undermine our choices.
Call upon and invoke those energies and supportive folks who will encourage and assist us along the way.
To persevere then, also requires the fellowship we discussed in the virtue of fidelity. Throughout these lectures I have been drawing upon fantasy and myth to shed light upon the virtues.
The tale of Odysseus mentioned earlier; or Virgil’s Aeneid, where the Trojan Aeneas perseveres through hardship; or Alfred Lord Tennyson’s “Idylls of the King” which recounts Sir Geraint’s valor and heroism through adversity; or J. R. R. Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings” in which Frodo continues through tremendous odds;
…each shares a common thread.
In each story the hero embodies the virtue of perseverance, persisting not only on their difficult individual quests but also overcoming internal flaws through their steadfast dedication. Heroes of epics and fantasy are models of integrity and perseverance who continue particularly on their quests by contending with and overcoming not just the obstacles of their external paths, but addressing themes in their internal landscapes that are universally shared by us all.
Frequently in these lectures I have turned to Tolkien’s work, and I do so again here. In an interview once where he was asked about how his characters persevere through such appalling dangers, he mentioned that he had:
“…always been impressed that we're here surviving because of the indomitable courage of quite small people against impossible odds: jungles, volcanoes, wild beasts... they struggle on, almost blindly in a way.”
In the film version of “The Two Towers” Samwise Gamgee says:
“It’s all wrong. By rights we shouldn’t even be here. But we are. It’s like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo—the ones that really mattered… full of darkness and danger they were. And sometimes you didn’t want to know the end, because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened? But in the end, it’s only a passing thing. Even darkness will pass—a new day will come. And when the sun shines, it will shine all the clearer. Those were the stories that stayed with you and meant something, even if you were too small to understand why. But I think I do understand—I know now. The folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back. Only they didn’t—they kept going, because they were holding onto something.”
Frodo asks, “What are we holding onto, Sam?”
And Sam replies: “That there’s some good in this world, Mr. Frodo. And it’s worth fighting for.”
This dialog goes to the heart of perseverance, a theme that runs strongly through all of Tolkien’s work. This work is filled with purpose and characters who struggle with ethical choices and strive to maintain authenticity and integrity. They do so with strong companions who help one another in their quest. The quest is central to both encouraging perseverance in our daily lives and to the heart of fantasy.
In many “modern” contexts we have an erosion of purpose, a loss of a shared consensus defining meaning, the world, and our roles in it. As we lose purpose, as we no longer enter into Quests in our lives, we lose sight of who we are, what and why we are doing what we do, and even what we think and believe. Fantasy breathes new strength and life into that lost foundation and provides us with heroes who model ethical struggles and purpose for us all. In the Lord of the Rings we see repeated examples of perseverance in a Quest that requires clarity, individual ethical struggles to be true and good, and efforts to oppose lies and evil. I think of Eomer of the Rohirrim, the Marshal of the Riddermark in Rohan (and later the King) who, in the grasslands of Rohan, upon encountering Legolas, Gimli and Aragorn pursuing the orcs who have taken their friends asks:
“How shall a man judge what to do in such times?”
And Aragorn replies, “As he ever has judged. Good and ill have not changed since yesteryear; nor are they one thing among Elves and Dwarves and another among Men. It is a man’s part to discern them.”
Central to the ethical struggles of all the characters is an insight into discerning this and a concomitant perseverance in the resistance against weakness of will, self-deception and giving way to discouragement. When Pippin gives way to his curiosity despite warnings, and steals the palantir he tries to rationalize his actions by complaining:
“I wish I had known all this before. I had no notion of what I was doing.”
Gandalf does not tolerate Pippin’s rationalizing attempts at self-deception:
“Oh yes, you had. You knew you were behaving wrongly and foolishly; and you told yourself so, though you did not listen.”
Earlier, in the first part of the tale, upon discovering the nature of the One Ring, Gandalf places it in what appears to be the rather unlikely Frodo’s keeping. Dismayed, Frodo asks why he was chosen and Gandalf replies:
“You may be sure that it was not for any merit that others do not possess: not for power or wisdom, at any rate. But you have been chosen, and you must therefore use such strength and heart and wits as you have.”
Frodo then, is basically an ordinary person. But he proceeds on a path that requires him to persevere through repeated agony and loss. He faces multiple injuries, betrayal by one of his own companions in the Fellowship, hunger, terror, and seemingly impossible challenges on his quest to destroy the Ring. But he continues.
“Frodo rose to his feet. A great weariness was on him, but his will was firm and his heart lighter. He spoke aloud to himself. ‘I will do now what I must.’…”
Perseverance is critical to the success of the 9 companions of the fellowship. They persevere through magical wounds, the loss of Gandalf in Moria, the death of Boromir after his failure and subsequent redemption, and in particular Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli persevere in their mad dash to rescue Pippin and Merry. Throughout this Quest is the perseverance of our heroes in their ethical growth, along with cautionary examples of ethical failure through the seduction of power and glory (Boromir and Saruman), and corruption (Sauron, Gollum). In these tales, all the characters are confronted with their weaknesses, mistakes and ethical failures. Pippin develops honesty, Aragorn perseveres despite the fear that he has failed Frodo, and Frodo gets back on his furry feet over and over again. While the tales of The Lord of the Rings offer us examples of characters who make familiar ethical choices and face real consequences of their successes and failures, often they do so with powerful tools involved.
But what do we do without Rings of Power to toss into the Fires of Mount Doom to right the wrongs we struggle against? We hold, as Sam reminds us, to hope, to courage, to trust, to seeing good beyond evil. We embrace the 9 Noble virtues.
As in the treasure of geek movies, Galaxy Quest, we “Never Give Up. Never Surrender!”
Please read the about the virtue of Perseverance below and then follow the links in this section to read about the other virtues that comprise the Nine Noble Virtues.
The Nine Noble Virtues are Courage, Truth, Honor, Fidelity, Discipline, Hospitality, Industriousness, Self-Reliance, and Perseverance.
The 9 Virtues lecture series was presented originally by the Faelf who comprise the members and avatars of Westernesste and the Sidhevairs. The Sidhevairs are a non-profit arts and educational association which share a group tax exemption under 501(c)3 of the Internal Revenue Code as a chartered coordinating subordinate organization of Westernesste. Donations to us are tax deductible. You can learn learn more about our parent organization by visiting the Westernesste site. You can learn more about the organization of The Sidhevairs, see our EIN letter, our DUNS information, our charter, and our articles of association by clicking here.
About the Original Lecture Series
The 9 Virtues
The ninth virtue