Steven Pressfield had a fantastic post up the other day on his reflections of an anecdote from journalist Thomas Friedman’s book.
Beirut in the 80s was the Hobbesian Wild West. There was a war going on with Israel; artillery shells were raining down at all hours. At the same time a Lebanese civil war was raging; local militias, criminal gangs, extremist-religious armies and kidnapping rings ran rife. Death came out of nowhere and at all hours. Entire city blocks would be leveled by truck bombs, for which no group even took the trouble to claim credit. At the morgue (when anyone cared enough to transport bodies to the morgue), corpses were not even afforded the dignity of being identified. It was an era of out-and-out anarchy, where death was frequent, random, and meaningless.
And yet people lived their lives. Kids went to school, businesses found ways to stay open, Tom Friedman pursued his journalistic calling.
Tom Friedman writes – “Maybe the most popular Beirut mind game … was learning how to view one’s environment selectively.
I learned to be quite good at this myself. Late one afternoon in the summer of 1982, I was typing a story at the Reuters bureau when the crackle of machine-gun fire erupted in the park across the street. Another American reporter, who had just arrived in Beirut, ran to the window [and] became transfixed at the sight … he rushed over to me and said excitedly, “Did you see that? Did you see that guy? He was holding a gun like this right in his gut and shooting someone. Did you see that?”
I just looked up from my typewriter at this fellow and said, “Was he shooting at you? No. Was he shooting at me? No. So leave me alone, would you?”
Here’s what I find most inspiring – we all live in Beirut in our minds. It is full of distractions with the resistance suggesting this procrastination idea or another. We always have stray thoughts about this worry of the moment or that. It’s easy to be caught up in this or that. What triumphs in the end is an unerring sense of purpose and unwavering commitment to doing the right thing. Or, as Steven Pressfield says, it is about asking 3 important questions…
What is important?
Why are we here, and what do we want?
Welcome to Beirut.