My school’s middle school has a Word of the Week, which is posted on bulletin boards all around campus, and is up on our website and in various other places. In World Languages classes, we’re supposed to teach the word, and translate it, so that kids can add it to their larger vocabulary.
Our first week, the word is “Adversary”, which defined as “opponent or enemy in a conflict, contest, or dispute.” And that’s fine, as far as it goes.
This year, I’ll be teaching Latin, and that means I looked up the word “Adversarius” in the dictionary. Much to my surprise, I found the parallel word Adversāria. The meaning was quite surprising, but makes perfect sense when you consider how the ancient Romans thought about work, virtue, and will.
It turns out that the original adversary isn’t some devil or demon.
An Adversāria is a day-planner or a journal. A to-do list.
This makes perfect sense, really. The Romans thought that a human being’s natural tendency was toward laziness. They didn’t believe we were somehow naturally gifted. We were naturally indolent, and it took virtue and virility — manliness, even in a woman — to make sure you got yourself moving and got things done. The modern management gurus like Stephen Covey and David Allen and Merlin Mann had nothing on Cicero, who ran an empire, squashed rivals, murdered his political enemies, and still had time to write political speeches, carry on a successful law career and manage an elaborate and complex estate including several farms. All that energy and forward momentum took a lot of work.
So I say to you, in Latin, “Scribite in Adversāriam tuam!” Write in your day-book. Plan your days — you won’t get nearly as many of them as you’d like. Recognize that your Roman-alleged “natural indolence” is holding you back from the things you want to accomplish. The real adversary isn’t some red-skinned monster — it’s you. Set yourself against the “to-do” list, and get it done.