We all have things that we tell ourselves that affect our outlook on life. The way that we talk to ourselves internally is called our internal narrative. One type of narrative involves the story that we tell about ourselves. However, the type of narrative I’m going to discuss today is called the comparative narrative.
A comparative narrative is a story that we tell ourselves about some other person or event that provides inspiration. The stories can be powerful weapons in times of difficulty. One of my favorite stories in this vein is about Viktor Frankl’s experience in a Nazi prison camp as described in his classic,Man’s Search for Meaning. In it, he details how upon entering Auschwitz, he was deprived of his life’s work, a manuscript, and imprisoned. While in Auschwitz, he observed the other prisoners and tried to discern the difference between those who survived with dignity and those who became no better than animals. He makes the powerful observation that the Nazis could not take away “the last of the human freedoms” which is the freedom to choose how one reacts to any given set of circumstances.
I enjoy classical history, and a couple of my other inspirational stories come from The Classical period. For instance, in his final battle against Darius the Third of the Persians, Alexander the Great was outnumbered ten-to-one. He fought the Persians on a battlefield that had been preselected by Darius and specially prepared for battle.
Despite these odds, Alexander decided to attack. The battle raged on seriously and Alexander was about to be outflanked by Darius’ men. In this critical moment, Alexander made the split-second decision to charge Darius himself. Gathering his best men, his companion cavalry, he charged straight at Darius. When he did so, Darius hesitated and then fled. When Darius fled, his armies lost morale and the Greeks slaughtered them. This one action of Alexander’s forever changed history.
One of my other favorite stories of bold action in the face of adversity concerns Julius Caesar. Caesar had borrowed heavily in order to finance the various political campaigns leading up to his consultship, the highest office in republican Rome. At the time, he was unable to repay his debts. In ancient Rome, debtors who were unable to repay their debts could be jailed and even sold into slavery. As a result, Caesar having reached the pinnacle of public life in Rome could have been imprisoned had he been unable to repay his debts. At this time, he was also about to leave to begin his campaign in Gaul. Under Roman law, once he got outside of the city limits of Rome and joined his army, he was untouchable. As a result, Caesar snuck out of room, avoided his debtors, and went on to conquer Gaul. This campaign was extremely successful, made him incredibly rich, and set him on the path to supreme power.
To me, these stories show how human will and determination can overcome incredible odds. When I faced difficulties, I can look back at examples like these and realize that my difficulties aren’t so great and that I have the power to overcome them.