Want to be inspired and read a captivating tale of adventure, service and overcoming hardship? I truly cannot think of a more perfect book then the former Missouri Governor, Rhodes Scholar and Navy seal Eric Greitens’, “The Heart and The Fist.” Unfortunately the former governor and author has made the news in the past year for some unflattering reasons and these reasons prompted him to step down as governor. The scandal forced him admit that he was unfaithful to his wife and revealed he may have partaken in some shady practices (though nothing that I see as career ending).
So despite Greitens’ mishaps and the reality that he may not be the angel that readers probably end up thinking he is after reading his book, I still cannot help but support and endorse “The Heart and The Fist.” The reality is that no human being is perfect no matter how hard they try to live up to noble ideals. Yes, the messenger clearly is not perfect but the message, well, is pretty damn close.
The Heart and The Fist, personifies what it means to be an explorer and exemplifies the most noble pursuit of all; service to others. The book starts out with Greitens’ upbringing and youth, in which he initially believes (not literally) he was born in the wrong century. In Chapter 2, he starts with a quote from an ad that Earnest Shackleton sent out on the prelude to his expedition to Antartica:
“Men wanted: For hazardous journey, Small wages, bitter old, long months of complete darkness. Constant danger, safe return doubtful. Honor and recognition in cases of success”
Apparently, Greitens cites, the ad received 500 responses. “It was to be a grand adventure.”
Inspired by Shackleton, Pericles, the Spartans, George Washington, Abraham Lincoln and others, Greitens writes that he feared he would miss his ticket to meaningful life because as he ferevently devoured history and adventures books, he looked out his window as a young boy and saw a world that was settled, already explored and boring. It dawned upon him that adventure wasn’t going to come to him, he was going to have to choose his own adventure. It is extremely difficult not to be impressed by Greitens’ ambition and pursuit of a meaningful life as he goes on to detail his journey through college and travels around the world that were not only for the selfish pursuit of adventure but in an attempt to do good through humanitarian work. He receives a research grant early on in college to go study the growing of a business sector in a Chinese city. He goes to Bosnia to help the families and child refugees dealing with the horrific reality of the war there in which the atrocities rivaled what happened during WW2. He goes to Rwanda, Bolivia, Cambodia and India all for the desire to help a people who suffered an incredible amount of misfourtune and suffering. Greitens elegantly writes on his experiences with people from different cultures that produced remarkable insights about life, the world and what truly can and should be done to mend the horrific problems that plague human civilization. There were a number of times throughout different chapters where I was deeply moved by Greitens realizations. One passage from the Rwanda chapter, where Greitens’ describes a scene of war-torn refugees boarding a bus to take them to what is left of their homes, especially struck me:
“Men climbed atop the bus. Boys handed up bags and jugs and boxes to be lashed to the roof. Teenage girls with baby brothers and sisters strapped to their backs stopped at the entrance to the bus and shifted the younger children into their arms. I admired these families, if only for their stubborn will to keep going. Back at college I’d been reading about courage in my philosophy classes. There were a number of definitions of courage, but now I was seeing it in its simplest form: you do what has to be done day after day, and you never quit.”
His experiences with starving children and families trying to cope with living in a horrific environment, led him to wonder what good could be accomplished by conducting humanitarian work alone. While In Bosnia, his inability to find an answer to a traumatized serb women who asked him while on a train during his time there, “why isn’t America doing anything?” led him to reflect on the value of the work he was doing. He pondered this encounter for a long time that eventually culminated in an answer he gave in response to a question from a church member during a post trip lecture, asking at the conclusion of the other questions, “What can we do?”
“We can certainly donate money and clothing, and we can volunteer in the refugee camps. But in the end these acts of kindness are done after the fact. They are done after people have been killed, their homes burned, their lives destroyed. Yes, the clothing, the bread, the school; they are all good and they are all much appreciated. But I suppose we have to behave the same way we would if any person–our kids, our sister, brothers, parents–were threatened. If we really care about these people, we have to be willing to protect them from harm.”
It might seem cheesy, it might seem like an unremarkable revelation but what is impressive about Greitens and this book, is his coming to realize these realities first hand by direct experience. Many of us sit back in our comfy chair and watch the news and talk about what needs to be done. Greitens sees from the front lines and is able to give readers and others, an honest and sobering picture.
His adventures continue, eventually taking him to England on the heels of being awarded a Rhodes scholarship. At Oxford University, he comes to know “The Good Life.” He spends his time there getting to know individuals from all over the world, competing on the boxing team and traveling all around Europe, exploring rich historic sites. Class was a breeze and he found himself routinely running and biking around the English countryside, forming a tight camaraderie with his peers that was centered around vibrant discussions and weekend trips, all the while enjoying the staples of European delicacies; French bread, tea, wine, chocolate, more than couple times a day. He continued his humanitarian work by traveling to places like India and the Gaza Strip. His experiences at Oxford, showed him how blissful life could truly be and installed in him the notion that such a life epitomizes the fruits of western civilization. After Oxford, he does what many would say is the unthinkable and turns down a consulting job that would of had him never worrying about money again. He gives up “the good life” to join a much more rigid, strict and physically grueling career. Greitens decided to become a Navy Seal.
Through joining the military and becoming a seal, Greitens learns the value of “the fist.” The training and the deployments he goes on, tests his soul in ways he couldn’t ever imagine and he learns even more about living a meaningful life and being a service of good in this world. His background in humanitarianism and cultural literacy, helps him solve difficult situations in Iraq, Afghanistan and Africa. The experiences conveying his loss of friends, the physical and mental challenges that being a Seal requires him to confront, are written in such an real but epic fashion it is just nearly impossible not to get a tad emotional or to become fervently inspired to go and take on a challenge of your own.
In the end the richness of this story is to much for one not to pick up a copy and read it. That is if you are interested in learning about what it means to live a meaningful life and wanting to become inspired yourself. An important thing to remember as well though is, you dont have to live up to the caliber of Greitens’ life to live a little more adventurously or to be of service to those around you. It is clear that Greitens himself hasn’t lived up to the ideals that he preaches in “The Heart and The Fist,” but its all about striving to become better, getting out of your comfort zone and finding your own way to be of service. The last passage of the book is powerful and ill end this with quoting it:
“I write these lines sitting at peace in a cabin in mid-Missouri, where a single quotation hangs on the wall: “I shall pass through this world but once. Any good, therefore, that I can do, or any kindness that I can show to any human being, let me do it now. Let me not defer or neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again.”
Life is short. Life is uncertain. But we know that we have today. And we have each other. I believe that for each of us, there is a place on the frontlines.”