Sunday, April 10, 2016

Lessons We Can Learn From the Spartan 300

So there I was flipping through the TV channels with my remote in hand. As I was going through the channel guide, I scrolled up & down when I came across one of my favorite movies. It’s definitely a guy flick and one that I was fortunate enough to learn some lessons from.

The fantasy war film “300” is one that I could watch over & over again, and I did just that once I saw that it was playing.

There’s something about a guy flick that never gets old! Whether its movies like Fight Club, Snatch, RocknRolla, The Godfather, Scarface, the list goes on, I can sit there and watch them again without ever getting burned out.

Going back to the topic of the movie 300, in case you’ve never seen it, it’s a fictional story about 300 Spartan warriors led by King Leonidas who go to battle against the Persians, about 300,000 warriors led by the “god-King” Xerxes, who is a quest to overtake the entire country of Greece. Although the Spartans were vastly outnumbered at the Battle of Thermopylae, their Code of Honor and sacrifice ultimately inspires all of Greece to unite and go to battle against their common enemy.

As I watched this film for the Nth time (I have no idea how many times I’ve actually seen it), I can say that I did learn quite a few ‘life lessons’ that I wanted to write about and share with you. My hope is that these lessons are applicable to your life, relationships, career/business, spirituality, etc., in some way, shape or form.

Lesson #1 – Protect Your Castle and Your Kingdom

Early on in the movie and without giving away too much info for those who have yet to see the film, a messenger comes to Sparta to ask King Leonidas to yield and surrender to King Xerxes in order to avoid bloodshed and war by simply offering him "earth and water" as a token of his submission.

The Spartans were of the demeanor of respect and honor. If you came into their house and displayed the opposite, chances were that you would exiting the city in a body bag - assuming that you'd be leaving the city if anything! 

In this case, the messenger insults Leonidas’ wife, Queen Gorgo, and threatens him on his home turf, his kingdom, by asking him to choose his words carefully as they could be his last as king. As one would take it, this sets off the king and let’s just say that the messenger was given a full dose of earth and water along with the soldiers who accompanied him into Spartan territory.

I take this lesson as a reminder that I am the king of my home, which is my castle. It’s my sole responsibility to care for my kingdom and to protect it by all means necessary. This includes protecting & caring for those who inhabit my home - my wife (my queen), my dog (my fur child), and any family & guests who come to visit and stay with us. If a threat of any kind comes knocking at my door or if any unwelcome guest so happens to make their way into my domain, I will be happy to provide them a fresh dosage of earth and water as needed!

So, what about you?

How do you protect and care for your castle and your kingdom?

Lesson #2 – Embrace Discomfort

Reading about the Spartan culture, it was evident that they were living a hard life so to say. They didn’t have much in terms of riches and monetary gain. They lived life without asking nor demanding more than what they needed. In other words, they lived a life of simplicity – doing more with less.

I firmly believe that today’s issue is a culture that seeks more in order to live comfortably. The problem with that is that the more we acquire the more complex things can get. We need this, we want that, this isn’t good enough, I want the next best thing, give me the upgrade as the latest model is so yesterday, blah, blah, blah! I know it sounds ridiculous but it’s true. And truth be told, I too am guilty of this! But I'm seriously making a conscious effort to change my surroundings to have less than what I know I truly need.

The lesson here is that the Spartans learned to embrace the life of hardship. It may have been uncomfortable, but what if that was their state of comfort?

There was a story that I read a while back that pertained to the Greco-Persian War and the Battle of Plataea in 479 B.C.; how Spartans embraced their code of honor by seeking to constantly better their actions and not seek more material items.

The story goes that the Spartans and their allies overcame the Persians at Plataea which included the spoils of great pavilion tents that belonged to King Xerxes. The king’s cooks, wine stewards and kitchen servants were also at their disposal which was a result of their victory. As a joke, the Spartan King Pausanias ordered the Persian chefs to prepare a typical dinner that they would make for the Persian King. As this took place, Pausanias had his own cooks whip up a standard Spartan meal.

The Persian chefs whipped up a fancy banquet composed of multiple courses all of which were served on golden plates - cakes, pastries, and other lavish delicacies. The traditional Spartan's grub was nothing to brag about as it was a staple of barley bread and pig's-blood stew. When the Spartans saw both meals side by side, they couldn't help but burst out in laughter. In a sarcastic manner Pausanias proclaimed, "My how far the Persians have come, to travel so far just to rob us of our poverty!"

The greatest part of this story is that the Spartans were so humbled and true to their code that they were self-disciplined enough to reject the elaborate feast before them! They retained their honor by not giving in to fancy rich foods and treats!

Lesson #3 – Don’t Be Cocky Because of What You ‘DID’

Reflecting back to the 3rd lesson above when the Persian Messenger rode into Spartan country, he gave King Leonidas an ultimatum to either surrender or die. The messenger’s attitude was that of arrogance, cockiness, and he was very conceited.  He based his attitude from the past accomplishments of the Persian Empire in hopes to intimidate the king and the people of his kingdom.

While success is great and dandy, always look to improve and better ourselves from our past accomplishments. When we do, we can apply them as lessons that we can learn and grow from while also working on what we must do for future progress and achievement.

Lesson #4 – Make Light of the Situation

One of my favorite scenes from the movie is when Stelios (played by actor Michael Faasbender) comes face to face with another Persian messenger during one of the post-battle scenes in which he states that all of the Spartans are doomed – that the Persian Army/Empire was so strong and so abundant in terms of the number of soldiers that if they were to fire their arrows, they will blot out the sun!

Stelios smiles down upon the messenger and simply states, “Then we will fight in the shade!” I can appreciate Stelios’ quip and humor despite the situation they’re in. And by that, I don’t mean to make a joke out of it! Far from it!

His quip and humor doesn’t promise a solution nor a happy ending to their situation. It’s doesn’t magnify a glorious outcome of victory nor that any harm will come to any of them. What Stelios remarks do offer is a ‘reality check’! In hindsight, he implies that heavy shit is about to go down hard and he & his Spartan brothers are going to fight through it and not back down!

How many times have you been in an uncomfortable situation only to start making every excuse in the book to avoid it or find a way out? Rather than confront reality and deal with the situation head on, we’d rather turn a cheek and go the opposite direction.

As a strength coach, I remember telling my training clients that the workouts that I create & provide for them will always offer a challenge both mentally and physically. The lessons learned is to have them embrace any challenge – to accept the fact that no matter what they do, what they think, or what they say, there’s no way around it. You can’t go around, under or over any challenge. The only way to come out stronger and victorious is to go through it!

Lesson #5 – Unselfish Dedication

I respect the process of standing alongside you brothers knowing that they’re willing to sacrifice their life in order to protect your own.

What kind of person does that? To be willing to die for your brother so that he may go on! That’s some pretty deep stuff right there! The Spartans were that kind of people and they were true to their code of honor in watching each other’s backs at all costs.

When I think of this, I look at all of those men and women on the front lines who are willing to pay the ultimate price to protect our country from harm’s way; those who protect our communities from the ones who won’t produce for themselves and would rather take and steal what isn’t theirs; individuals whom wouldn’t hesitate to lay it on the line to preserve the true code of honor, courage, discipline, and integrity.

Lesson #6 – Adapt or Die

In the movie, the conditions of the Spartan’s surroundings were constantly evolving and changing. Each day offered a new challenge of sorts which required that they adapt to the imposition of came before them. They knew that they needed to be proactive rather than reactive in their quest for survival. If not, their fate was imminent. As the situation would change, so would they.

The same goes for us out in the real world. The obstacles and challenges that we face day in and day out, will better equip us to handle the ‘tests of life’. We can’t expect every single day to be all sunshine, rainbows and unicorns. When things go sour, we determine the best course of action in adapting to the circumstances before us so that we may overcome no matter what. Embrace the suck!

We’re always going to have curve balls and breaking balls thrown at us. It’s just a matter of us stepping into the batter’s box, adjusting our hitting stance, and making direct contact. Of course we’ll hit a few foul balls here and there, but what matters most is that we’re always willing to step into the box, and make the necessary adjustments and who knows, possible even hit one out of the park!

Lesson #7 – Even a ‘god-King’ Can Bleed

King Leonidas was so adamant in thinking that the ‘god-King’ Xerxes was virtually untouchable. He had a gut wrenching impulse in knowing that this guy was mortal like the rest of mankind – that he (Xerxes) made himself to be this immortal being that no one could do him any harm. Again not spoiling anything for those who haven’t seen the movie, Leonidas was driven to prove his point which he eventually did!

The lesson here is that we tend to believe that we can’t compete against the ‘heavyweights’ in a specific field or someone whom we see as a pioneer within an industry. Let this be a reminder that everyone has great potential to compete against “the big boys” no matter what business or trade one is in. It all comes down to taking a risk while facing fear in the face including any ‘god-like’ adversary!

Lesson #8 – Change Tactics to Produce Results

As a new wave of attackers came to face to face with the Spartans, they were consistent in changing their tactics which was a direct reflection of the various game plans they had developed/created. They were relentless in their adjustments (see Rule #5 above) and were quick to react given their tactical & strategic planning.

We too must learn to have a plan for battle when seeking a goal and/or result. It’s never an easy feat when we aim to upgrade any quality of our lives as it’s a matter or purpose, consistency, dedication, and intestinal fortitude.

Create a game plan but also be willing to change your tactics as needed as it relates to your desired outcomes.

As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, this film may be a fictional-based movie but there are some great lessons that we can all learn and apply to ourselves and our lives. I’m almost certain that I can go back and watch this movie again and come up with a few more lessons that I didn’t mention, think about, nor discuss above.

However, I’ll let that be the more of a reason for you to check out this film and see if you can identify any lessons that can applied in today’s modern world.

- AR

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