It seems illogical to pursue winning at all costs, decimating so many assets that further efforts become unsustainable. That’s what Pyrrhus, King of Epirus, realized after his victories over the Roman armies in the Pyrrhic War (BCE 280-275). Although his casualties were fewer than the Romans, he couldn’t replace his troops as readily. “If we are victorious in one more battle,” he remarked, “we shall be utterly ruined.” And so he was. His lack of foresight is enshrined in the cautionary descriptor, *“Pyrrhic victory.”
This phenomenon plays out in today’s world, too. When we lack judgment about the long-term consequences of our efforts, we risk losses that can ripple into the rest of our lives.
On a larger scale, our wars in Afghanistan and Iraq were probably Pyrrhic. Putin’s aggression against Ukraine—and NATO—will eventually prove to be Pyrrhic. Pyrrhic hate merchants create enemies in numbers larger than their audiences. Hoarders and gougers ruin the supply chains that sustain them. Demagogues’ tyranny collapses when they ruin too many lives. Perpetual liars and conspiracy theorists build fortresses of untruth that crumble when they face the Law.
Closer to home, it’s possible that any of us could “gain the whole world, but lose our souls.” (Matthew 16:26) Because of Pyrrhic-victor mindsets, we could squander our identities, perspectives or virtues. For example, using vitriol to win political arguments, thereby risking lost friendships; showing arrogance towards people on whom our lifestyles depend or depleting our life savings to support hate merchants.
Costly, short-term triumphs can rob us of what we need to sustain our lives. They can destroy more than they build. Perhaps saddest of all, Pyrrhic victories can lure us into thinking that all of life is a battle, that winning at all costs makes sense.
That’s no way to live.
*The term eventually traces back to the Greek pyre (fire), which seems apt: Fire “wins” by destroying its own fuel.
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