The Hard Winter Training
The Russian troops are exhausted. Their supply lines are stretched, their uniforms are in tatters, their bellies are empty, their awful pursuit of the retreating French army is never-ending. The Russian generals, jealous of glory and resolute of purpose, push them forward anyway even to the brink of collapse. Only Kutuzov, naturally, is aware of the absurdity of pursuing the French in such a manner. The French are retreating. Let them retreat, he says. “But to the generals,” writes Tolstoy, “especially the foreign ones in the Russian army, who wished to distinguish themselves, to astonish somebody, and for some reason to capture a king or a duke, it seemed that now — when any battle must be horrible and senseless — was the very time to fight and conquer somebody.”
This longing to distinguish oneself is a near universal trait. Very often the desire to differentiate ourselves leads to exhaustion. We push ourselves too hard, much like the Russian generals push their troops too hard today. Once again, perhaps Kutuzov’s approach of reasonable, long-term thinking is in order. We don’t want to go too soft on ourselves but we do want to build strongly and, if required, slowly. That is the path towards robust resilience.
But neither a bull nor a noble-spirited man comes to be what he is all at once; he must undertake hard winter training, and prepare himself, and not propel himself rashly into what is not appropriate to him.
Epictetus, The Discourses