The Stoic Nature of the Wright Brothers
I finished reading David McCullough’s The Wright Brothers. I got it by chance from the library, and it’s been absolutely a pleasant surprise. What I liked when reading the book was learning about the stoic nature of the brothers. They go through so much hardship to make their machine fly and not once I see them complain. Once they have done it all and made it, they don’t let the fame get into their head.
Earlier I have mentioned how I am trying to avoid complaining (see no-complaint challenge). And so it was timely to read about these brothers who went through so much hardship and were absolutely uncomplaining.
Let me elaborate on two incidents from the book.
The elder brother, Wilbur Wright has to go from their hometown Dayton, Ohio to Kittyhawk, North Carolina, where they want to test their plane. The distance between these is about 750 miles in today’s highways and should take around 12 hours to drive on a nice modern car.
But when Wilbur Wright starts out, it takes him almost five days to get there. One of the reasons is that he reaches a city (I think Norfolk) and nobody knows where Kittyhawk is. So he is stuck for two days waiting for anyone who knows about this place. And then he finds someone who says he can take him in his boat. They depart, but due to the wind conditions, they cannot dock and they are stuck in the boat for two days. And here I am, huffing and puffing, when my flight is delayed by two hours.
Kitty Hawk is a small town, and seems to have been left behind in civilization. There is just one post office, one store and people are quite poor (but helpful and happy enough). So, yeah, no Airbnb or the Marriott’s. The brothers pretty much live in a tent for many months.
The other incident described in the book is rather strange. One fine day, a swarm of mosquitoes come by. It is no ordinary swam, because the day literally becomes night and the mosquitoes just end up everywhere. There is no escaping (it doesn’t help that they are living out in a tent). The mosquitoes go inside their clothes, into their mouths, and it just doesn’t matter what they do. They are bitten quite badly.
Again, in their letters, they describe things for what they are, instead of complaining about things, or questioning what they are doing with their lives.
See also: No-complaint challenge
The following are the virtues of Soticism:
Wisdom: The brothers while not having an advanced degree to their name, are meticulous in how they approach engineering and research.
Courage: They possessed extraordinary levels of conviction and did not let suffering distract them from their dogged pursuit of becoming airborne. And the fear of losing limb or life did not slow them down.
Justice: It can be said that they pursued truth with their research on flights. They were fair to people and believed in being righteous.
Temperance: The brothers did not let money and fame get into their heads. They worked hard as ever.
Obviously Stoicism is more than adhering to these four virtues, and the brothers were unique in their own ways of thinking. But overall, while learning about the journey the brothers took to get flying was quite interesting, I was deeply moved by the way the brothers lived their lives.
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