Friday, April 1, 2011
Dealing with Adversity– CREDO CXXXVIII
As so many people in the world are having extremely difficult times, any advice worth listening to seems welcome. Two voices from the past offer this on both a collective and an individual level. The renowned British historian Arnold Toynbee observed that it was not what happens to a civilization [country] but how it reacts that determines the outcome. A case in point, of course, was the decline and fall of the Roman Empire, which resulted from laxity and frivolity, political squabbling, contrasts between wealth and poverty, and many of the other symptoms facing our own country today. Those who are aware of history can think of many other examples, including some positive ones. Yet, many countries started out reacting positively only to fall into the power trap, such as Germany after WWI, resulting in the Nazi regime of corrupt socialism and the Soviet version which degenerated into tyrannical communism. Both countries began with meaningful ideology, and both ended with defeat from inner and outer forces. Then a new development cast off these by people coming out in thousands peacefully demonstrating and protesting tyranny. Today, indeed, we have progressed to the United Nations, the EU and NATO, and yet, the struggle continues, resulting in more violence.
Historically, in our own country in the late 1700s, a strange global sequence took place. Hindu philosophy had come to Europe for the first time and was translated into German coincidentally with the American Revolution, and, as a result, some New Englanders chose to go to German universities rather than England’s Oxford or Cambridge. There, they learned of ahimsa, non-violence. These Transcendentalists in Concord, Massachusetts inspired Thoreau’s On Civil Disobedience, which was read by the young Indian Gandhi in South Africa, who went on to liberate India without firing a shot, which influenced Martin Luther King, and led eventually to the inauguration of our first biracial president, Barack Obama. Phew! Such is the power of ideas! Currently, we are now on edge observing a new rise of the Common Man in North Africa and the Middle East: the power of a united people spontaneously seeking freedom and democracy against a single tyrannical ruler. The concept already has inflamed at least eight different countries.
On the individual level, the Swiss psychologist Carl Gustav Jung put forward the same idea, saying it’s not what happens to us in life but how we react to it that determines our fate. Take note, we have a choice! We even say, “When life hands you lemons, make lemonade!” An extreme example would be blind and deaf Helen Keller, but so many outstanding Americans have demonstrated this way of reacting, coming out of difficult circumstances in youth – one could almost name it a national trait.
Contrast this today, alas, with an increasing segment of our contemporary population that is succumbing to escapism in distorted pleasure-seeking drugs, porn, and crime. Also, the hours spent on TV and video games, to say nothing of the Internet, imply living an ersatz life. In the meantime, we are risking losing our planet through ignorant abuse, our own physical well-being, and our ability to relate to each other in a genuine way. Now, present economic adversity offers us “the kitchen table,” the rediscovering of families around it, and the challenge of reacting in a real and not synthetic way. Our frenetic national extraversion hopefully may adjust to rediscovering some of the rewards of looking inwards and a search for simple rather than "virtual" reality. This implies the need for a profound shift in our values, taking time “to smell the roses,” noticing the suffering and needs of others, of nature itself, animals, and the environment, and offering compassionate service to them insofar as we are able. As Mother Teresa remarked, we also need to remember that God is in everyone, and the importance of person to person. Such a reaction to adversity might indeed save our world.
Posted by IonaDove