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Historical Men of Valor | Sir Ernest Shackleton and The Endurance

Historical Men of Valor | Sir Ernest Shackleton and The Endurance

Posted by Warrior Poet Society on Feb 22nd 2024

How often do you suffer, or even seek out, discomfort, even torturous discomfort, in the pursuit of a worthy cause? Let's talk about Sir Ernest Shackleton and the crew of the ship Endurance. I (John Lovell) just finished the book Endurance by Alfred Lansing. It chronicles the long and harrowing exploit of Shackleton and his men who sailed the Endurance from Chile to Antarctica to traverse the frozen continent. Before even stepping foot on the icy expanse, though, the ice flow they had just broken through began closing back in on them. It crushed the ship and led to their journey of survival and rescue in the most dismal conditions imaginable.

Sometimes it seems that they just don't make men like they used to. Maybe that's why there's been this trending question lately: "How often do you think about the Roman Empire?" I think it signifies something about our culture, and how that culture grates against what we instinctively know about being real men.

I think every man, and every woman for that matter, has a sort of longing for times when daily life wasn't so far removed from the dangers of reality. Men were tougher back then. They knew how to face hardship with grit and bravery. Men walked around fully armed and ready to fight, and that wasn't seen as anything out of the ordinary.

But you don't have to go that far back in history to find some of the toughest men you'll ever hear of. Let's talk about Sir Ernest Shackleton, the expedition leader of the ship Endurance. I (John Lovell) just finished the book Endurance by Alfred Lansing, and I can't believe I hadn't read this work before.

It's the brilliantly written account of Shackleton and his crew and their dogged pursuit of the South Pole. It's more than just a good read. It's also piece of action adventure biography that's urging me to do greater things with my time on this planet and to become a better man.

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I think we all need a little bit more of that, and it's absolutely essential as fighters and protectors that we fill our minds with the tales, travails, and triumphs of the men (and women) who went before us. Then we're just one step closer to shaking off the dust and rust collecting on us in the humdrum of our every day lives.

These stories from the past can forge us and our children into the people who build a better future.

Sir Ernest Shackleton

Ernest Shackleton is a new hero of mine. I admit I wasn't really aware of his story until recently, but it was hard for me to put this book down. He led three Antarctic expeditions in the early 1900's, many decades before the invention of nylon ropes and modern subzero clothing and snow machines and all that lightweight freeze dried backcountry food we take for granted.

They were eating hard biscuits, leathery jerky, and, by the end, their leather belts and their sled dogs. Shackleton and his men were as tough as nails. I would take my worst day anytime in place of the weeks of suffering these men faced.

For this third expedition, the plan was to get off the boat, traverse the frozen island, and meet the ship on the other side. Then they'd sail to Australia and on home to fanfare and notoriety in the United Kingdom.

Things obviously didn't go according to plan. They're ship was built for breaking through ice flows, but it wasn't built to withstand the immense pressure if the ice decides to come back on them. And that's exactly what happened as they attempted to move further and further toward the mainland.

The ice crushed their vessel, turning it to splinters in a matter of days. So of course they abandon ship with their supplies and sled dogs.

There was no GPS. No radio. No SAT phones. They had no back up plan for getting back home. No NatGeo cruise ship on the horizon. No one was coming to the rescue.

It was just them, their dogs, the wasteland of Antarctica, and the gale force winds tearing through their clothing. Oh, and a couple of row boats that they'd offloaded with them.

Long story short, they realize either they'll die there or they'll attempt to row and float their way toward the closest habitation, more than a thousand miles away. Even then the chances of survival were very slim. But they went for it, in open boats drifting on the currents and navigating waves as high as 80 feet tall toward South Georgia Island.

Water washed over them and froze in the bottom. So they'd use kerosene stoves to melt the ice and bail water. Ice flows would impede their movement, so they'd use a small hatchet to cut a path through it. When they finally made it to the uninhabitable South Georgia Island, Shackleton realized he would have to go for help.

He and a few other men loaded into the worthiest of the small row boats and made their way to a wailing encampment 800 miles north. Even their navigation had been off, even by one degree, they would have never been heard from again and this would have been a much different story.

But they made it and brought back help.. They did not lose a single man. Though they did eat a few seals, penguins, and, sadly, their own dogs along the way. But everyone got home alive. You need to read this book. It is well worth your time. And your kids' time, too.

Why Shackleton Matters in 2024

We need this story in these times because when the world seems to be breaking apart at the seams and the hull is splintering in our own nation, it's difficult to remember who we are and what we are capable of.

We tend to be a culture of complainers. Victims. We are becoming and producing entitled generations in Western culture, and this is the small tear where the dam will burst.

In all the copious notes and journals kept by Shackleton and the crew, not once did they express complaints about their situation.

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Imagine if Shackleton had given into self pity and lost sight of what he had to do. Self pity is contagious, especially in extreme adversity. If they'd given into despair, they would probably all be frozen in time on South Georgia Island. But he didn't, so they didn't.

He remembered. And we need to remember. Feeling weak and actually being weak are very different. I can assure you that you are not the weak men that this culture might want you to be.

But the only way to understand your strength is to test it, and grow it, by daring to be strong, long suffering, and willing to bear up society and those around us with grit and boldness. This is what God has made us for and it's what He's called us to do.

Lessons from Shackleton's Leadership

Built Teams Based on Character. While I'm not suggesting that everyone should make decisions about people based on snap judgement, which can end in disaster, Shackleton often followed his gut instincts about who would join the crew. And he often based this on what he sensed in a man's character. Did it seem like this man would go all the way, or was this short-term enthusiasm that might flare out when times got terrible.

It was the attitude he was looking for. The skills could be taught. And Shackleton had the genius capacity for sizing this up rather successfully. The rest of us would do well to take a little more time. Always Lead Out Front. Shackleton was the first into danger, the first to do the hard and dirty jobs, and always willing and eager to do whatever he required of his crew. If we're not willing to lead like this, we might be in it for the wrong reasons.

Shackleton's men knew he loved them, not because he was all mushy about it but because he was willing to risk his life for them.

Strong Vision and Character. He believed in the mission that he spent his life pursuing, and this lit a fire in those around him. If you don't believe wholeheartedly in what you're pursuing and your vision lacks the necessary fuel of purpose to make it happen, no matter what, then at the first signs of a cracking hull, you all may crack under pressure.

If you become someone worth following, people will follow you.

Be Great in a Way that Shackleton Was Not

But here's the twist in this saga. Shackleton made it back home, but it seems that home life didn't suit him. And while his legacy includes three heroic but journeys, the last of which claimed his life, it doesn't seem to include a thriving family.

He left behind a wife and children who didn't seem to factor into his formula for greatness. He died deeply in debt. Millions of dollars in today's economy. So, in the end, his search for glory and a great name deprived his wife, children, and descendants of his strength and boldness in building a family with the love, wisdom, and protection a father provides.

So while Shackleton is deeply inspiring to me in some very noteworthy ways, there are tragic shortcomings that should give us pause before we set out on a singular life's mission. What might that mission be neglecting, or even destroying, as we build toward a grand dream and notoriety?

And I do kind of wonder why he couldn't manage to take at least one entire Bible with him on the expedition. The only portion he took was the book of Job–a book about the silent, seemingly senseless suffering of a righteous man. So yay for that.

Learning from History's Greatest Men and Minds

It's a bit unreasonable to look back on men in a different era and to judge them based on our current time and understanding, but it's also unwise to look at a man like Shackleton, ignore his deficiencies, and emulate our lives after him.

So I look at him with awe, admiration, and appreciation of what his story tells us about human achievement, but I want to pursue a more balanced life even while pursuing what I think should be my contribution to culture and the world.

It's not easy, and that's what I talk about in my book The Warrior Poet Way, which has been a labor of love over many years of thinking, teaching, and trying to live life in an honorable way.

Train Hard. Train Smart. Read to Remember. Live Free.


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