What one man can do, another man can do. — Charles Morse
It's been huge for me, what Anthony Hopkins' character said in The Edge. Not that he said it, but that he also insisted upon it, demonstrated it, depended on it. It played out scene by scene, driving the point home.
It probably seems credulous or extreme to take a line from a movie, a book, a song, or anything else, and predicate a chunk of our lives upon it. Even really good books like Pressfield's book, Do the Work. But remarks like those, played out in the contemporary version of the old heroic/legendary sagas (fornaldarsögur), the historic/kings' sagas (konungasögur), and the Viking “family sagas” (Íslendingasögur), are effective to the degree they summarize and recapitulate our already accumulated sense of what is right and good.
In Henry V, the King is ambitious to enlarge his kingdom by means of France, and he listens to his cabinet tell him "There is no bar to make against your Highness' claim to France". He asks repeatedly, some version of "May I with right and conscience make this claim?" And they all encourage him. "The sin upon my head, dread sovereign (if we are wrong)." and "Your brother kings and monarchs of the earth do all expect that you should rouse yourself as did the former lions of your blood." When the French prince mocks King Harry with a gift of balls (tennis balls), the King's intentions are not invented on the spot, nor his frame of mind, nor his sense of right to the Kingdom. Instead, it prompts all those things to coincide in the mind in such a way that he promises to return cannon balls for tennis balls.
Great films can be like that. I've watched The 13th Warrior so many times, if it were a tape, they'd have to replace it. There are lines that summarize the meaning of many experiences and a sense of what is right. My favorite has a Viking throwing a sword to a diminutive traveler. "You'll need this." He says, "I cannot lift this." The Viking says, "Grow stronger." Exactly. You can whine that conditions were stacked against you, you were ill-equipped, it wasn't a level playing field. You can say, "it's not fair". Or you can live up to the gap. You can grow stronger. It's a choice we all make, every damned day.
The Edge is superb work. I'll confess I'm a fan of both Hopkins and Alec Baldwin. Who doesn't love a New Yorker who throws a guy over a car because of a parking space? Yes, dammit. It's about freaking time! I get it—I know he's sorry. But for just a moment, a lot of us looked over at the guy rattling our windows with his punk subwoofer, at the guy nearly running us down as he blows through the light on a bike, at the guy who parks in the middle of the street and reads his phone while he creates a line two blocks long. And we think, "Once I've put my rackets to these balls..." But manhood is also about self-control. Which brings one around to that quote: "What one man can do, another can do...."
It's incredibly comforting to know that the way has been trodden before. Whatever is hard. Whatever seems like an endless slog. Whatever seems like we'll never get there. And more than the negative... if one man can achieve something, another can. And WE are that other man. Some of that is what I'm talking about in Episode 6 of the podcast (That Thing You Always Meant to Do).