On adversity, loss, and the process of excellence

As first stated in the Eddic poem Lokasenna and later reflected in Snorri Sturlusson’s Prose Edda, “Tyr is no peace-maker”.

Some take this as a negative assertion within the context of Tiw’s (ON. Tyr’s) association with the Thing (legal assembly). And yet, as with war (Tiw’s other popular association), law is fundamentally dualistic and adversarial, with an offender and an offended, each arguing their own case against the other, and ultimately with a winner and a loser.

And true enough, nobody likes losing. Nor should they.

Nevertheless, up until the advent of Christianity in the North, the Thing proved that, whatever lingering resentment might have existed in the hearts of the losers of court-cases, it certainly served the collective peace of the community; even if accuser and/or accused still harboured resentments on an individual level. Moreover, Tiw’s specific role within the context of the Thing was as “divine judge” invoked exclusively in regards to punishments carried out by the state (ie. flogging, imprisonment, execution). And while I’m sure this left the accused quite unhappy, it again served the common weal of the community.

Finally, in the greater scheme of Germanic law, society and divinity, there certainly were deities who were able to weave peace between men, such as Fosite (Forseti) from who’s court all disputing parties came away reconciled, while in the Lokasenna Tiw Himself praises Ingui-Frea, the god of frith (peace), as the BEST among the gathered host of gods.

I suppose some people simply can not see the forest through the trees, the whole for the many parts that comprise it. But forsooth, who can deny the adversarial nature of law? The spirit of mediation in law? The spirit of judgement in law? These things are not exclusive to each other, and all exist side-by-side even within the context of modern law.

It might also be noted that not everyone came away from a dispute settled at Thing with a grudge; as the historical success of the Thing again testifies to. It could have no general success over time without specific successes that both parties involved came to terms with and so left the matter settled. As Tacitus remarked,

“It is a duty among them to adopt the feuds as well as the friendships of a father or a kinsman. These feuds are not implacable; even homicide is expiated by the payment of a certain number of cattle and of sheep, and the satisfaction is accepted by the entire family, greatly to the advantage of the state, since feuds are dangerous in proportion to the people’s freedom.”

But no, it is a truth … Tiw is no peace-maker. Tiw is an glory-maker. An excellence-maker. And adversity is a prime ingredient in the cultivation of excellence. And so is loss … showing us where our weakness lay and so where we need to make improvements if we are to better ourselves, ie. continue to strive for excellence.

This quest for excellence applies universally to all endeavors. As much, as Sturlusson asserts in his Edda, to the hero as to the sage, and far beyond, ie. to the craftsman, to the herdsman, etc. to encompass the great diversity of glory that is the essence of the Heavenly realm.

And so, while no one likes losing, a competitors culture reacts very differently to a loss. For starters, it acknowledges loss, owns the loss, and has come to terms with the loss. And after a certain point in one’s upbringing, if one has lived any sort of competitive lifestyle, indeed if one has lived any sort of life (eg. break-ups, death of family/friends, etc.), the last thing that loss should be is crushing.

If one is striving, if one is reaching, if one isn’t afraid to play the role of “small fish in big pond” and challenge one’s self, to realize in the true Olympian spirit that the only possibility for glory is to be found in the strength of your adversity, then sooner or later, you shall have your ticket punched. And that is not a crushing experience, but rather something to be taken in stride as par for the course and as testament to one’s sense of competition and desire for self-betterment. 

Do not cringe at the prospect of a loss. Rather, accept no competition that does not offer that prospect (unless they insist of  course). And do not dwell on a single loss as definitive, much less blame the winner, as all losers do. Rather, take control of the only thing you can control, the only thing that will actually better your situation — yourself. Embrace the suck, let the loss drive you forward, learn from it, and improve your game, as all champions have done.

“All the Einheriar fight in Odin’s courts every day; they choose the slain and ride from battle; then they sit more at peace together.” — Vafthrudhnismal, Poetic Edda

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