Don’t Take the Easy Way: A Lesson From History

I believe history can teach us a lot. Throughout history, there are those who made good decisions and those who made bad ones. The former reaped the rewards and the latter suffered the consequences. In any case, there are useful lessons that we can learn from their experiences.
This time I’d like to share with you a lesson I learned from the story of Alexander Severus, a Roman emperor from 222 to 235. While reading Roman history on Wikipedia a while ago, I got interested in this particular emperor because his assassination started the Crisis of the Third Century.
As it turned out, he was assassinated by his own troops. But how could that happen? Why did the troops kill their own emperor? Well, the short answer is that the emperor chose the easy way and his troops didn’t like it.
Germanic tribes invaded the Roman Empire during the time Severus was emperor. The emperor marched out his troops to meet the invaders. The troops were ready to fight and defend their land. But what happened? When they were near the enemy, the emperor chose to bribe the enemy instead. He tried to buy them off using the empire’s wealth. Instead of facing the challenge, the emperor chose the easy way.
The troops didn’t like it. In fact, they were angered by it. They looked down on him and eventually decided to kill him.
It’s tragic, but it also contains a profound lesson: don’t take the easy way. Don’t take shortcuts when you face a problem. It may look easy and attractive, but it’s not without its danger. What you should do instead is face the challenge and do the right thing. It might be painful and take a long time, but the reward makes it worth it. Here are two kinds of reward that you will get if you do the right thing:
1. Lasting success
By taking the easy way, you might seem to achieve your goal (peace, in the case of the emperor), but it won’t last for long. Since taking the easy way means you never solve the root of the problem, the problem could resurface at any time. On the other hand, if you take the more difficult route and solve the root of the problem, you will get success that lasts.
2. The respect of others
When those around you see the way you handle your situation, they will respect you. They will look at you as someone to learn from. You might even become an inspiration to them.
Doing the right thing is easier said than done, but it’s something we can all learn to do. Remember the story of the emperor: don’t take the easy way. March into your battles courageously and solve the root of each problem.
Photo by Tony Fischer


  1. like x 100 .)

  2. What happens if you don’t know what the right thing is?

    • I believe you should strive to know what it is. Knowing it is crucial, in my opinion, so it’s worth striving for. For that, clarity is essential. With enough clarity, what the right thing is will be obvious. It’s too big a topic to write here though.

  3. I myself have read many of the wikipedia pages about Roman history, but it’s been too long, so I can’t comment on the specifics. On a general level, I don’t agree with your perspective, and only half-agree with the lesson you draw from it.
    On bribing foreign armies – many successful empires have employed this strategy to great result. The Han empire was able to expand so greatly in part because they divided and conquered – bribing one set of enemies while digesting another. The were also able to consolidate their gains by using their wealth (e.g. bribing the mongolians) to maintain periods of peace. (at least I think so, it’s been too long since I’ve studied chinese history as well)
    On the actual lesson – I believe the spectrum of stupid/correct is just as important as easy/hard. In the case of sports and music, most people follow a sub-standard pedagogy. The hard way is to practice more, but just as important is that, as Charlie says above, most people don’t know what the right way is.

    • To be honest, I don’t know much about history so I simply shared the lesson I learned from this one story. But I do believe that the principle is universal and applicable to any situation.

  4. There are solutions that can be easy to implement and others that require a great deal of due diligence. Ultimately, there’s a problem for which we need a solution. If we take the time to mindfully identify the possible solutions and choose one that will best fix it then that is the ‘right’ thing to do at the given time.

  5. Respectable Donald Latumahina:
    How are you?
    When I read this article, I feel ashamed. Just like a Roman soldier.
    This story reminds me the conflicts between China and Philippines in the South China Sea.
    During the Second World War, China lost a lot of territory. After that war, China still has an area of 9,600,000 square kilometers, and it got international recognition widely include Philippines. Even in last year, on the maps made in Philippines, the HuangYan Island was still a part of China. Not any Filipino implied a territorial claim on this Island.
    But in 2012, the Philippines President claimed that Huangyan Island was belonged to Philippines. Our Chinese government protested this declaration strongly. Only protest.
    During the waning days of Qing Dynasty, China became to a huge poor country. Even though, in the war resistance against Japanese, more than 35,000,000 Chinese people were dead, but the Chinese persevered in fighting.
    In these years, China is in the stage of high speed development. Chinese government can not permit the military clashes to discontinue the development. Not only to Philippines ,but also Vietnam , Japanese and so on.
    As a Chinese people, I fell that we become to a rich man without dignity. We can tolerate poor, but we can accept without dignity.
    Dear Dnoald, how do you think about this?
    Did our Chinese government chose an easy way, but lost the respect form internal person and international people. Did our Chinese government achieved the goals easily but can not last long?
    Hope to receive your reply.
    In addition, I am not a militant. Just feel oppressive like most of the Chinese.
    Thank you .

    • Hi Atayal,
      The theme of this blog is personal growth, and therefore all the articles here are meant for application by individuals (even if the lesson comes from history). I don’t have any background in geopolitics so I’m not in a position to comment on it.

  6. It is a good story and I think you have a good point to demonstrate through the example of the emperor.
    If somebody doesn’t know what is the right thing to do, they need a mentor, a coach, a guru who had walked the walk.
    However, too many times we choose what is ‘comfortable’ over what is the ‘right’ thing to do and that is a problem. The message is clear, do what is right without worrying about the consequences because the consequences of the compromising on the principles could be far worse than that of doing the right thing.

  7. Hi Donald!
    What a great little historical vignette with an easy-to-digest take-away lesson.
    Taking the easy option is usually the most appealing, and often the fastest, cheapest path. This does not mean it is the best. Thanks for the reminder!
    PS – Whenever I see the name ‘Severus’, I fully expect the name ‘Snape’ to follow!

  8. i like this qoutes

  9. I think doing the right thing means to follow your heart. Striving to help and serve, and to make tomorrow better than yesterday, that’s where it’s at.

  10. Excellent post – if you haven’t already read it, you might also want to check out the book entitled The Lessons of History by Will and Ariel Durant. It is a short read, but it has a lot of profound insights gleaned from human history.

  11. Well said. The more difficult route has more challenges in it and takes longer to finish but all the experiences and lessons you gain from taking it is more than what you can get from the easy one.

  12. I tend to agree with an earlier commentator, that in this particular example it perhaps was NOT incorrect for Severus to try to find a peaceful solution. Just unfortunate that his soldiers disagreed with him so violently! In fact, the reality is that choosing to fight and kill those who disagree with you is the EASY way out, and finding the right and peaceful solution is a lot more difficult. In fact, the Severus story probably illustrates this – perhaps he actually needed to think a lot harder about what the correct peaceful solution in this particular situation should have been. But I do agree that often it is the harder route that we need to take.

  13. The irony about taking the easy way is you MIGHT reach your goal but where is the self growth? You obtain the self growth through the long, hard, and insightful, path. Personally, life is all about self growth. I can’t even explain how much more I understand everything when I take on a task or lesson and try to grow as a person. Do this over time and you learn a lot of stuff that can help you and others in the future. Good post!!

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