The theme for my posts this month is Overcoming Adversity. From even the slightest exposure to the media, old or new, it is obvious that millions of people around the world are facing severe adversity. In my previous blog post, I shared my concern that adversity will affect some of us in the supposedly, safe, stable democracies in the West.
How do we prepare ourselves to face and overcome adversity?
From my experience of overcoming several experiences of severe adversity and observing others who did or did not, I learned some lessons.
Few catastrophes, personal, local, national or global, turn out to be as completely devastating as they are expected to be. Obviously there are exceptions which cause huge destruction and loss of life. Atomic bombs dropped on Japan and huge natural disasters, earthquakes, tsunamis and hurricanes have caused hundreds of thousands of casualties, but in every case there are some survivors.
Lesson number one then is that some will survive whatever adversity they are faced with, we should aim to be among those survivors.
Most gloom and doom stories flourish and are embellished as time goes on without a conclusion or significant evidence of a reversal of the conditions causing the fear.
Case in point right now is the concern over the rapid expansion of territory captured by the ISIS Islamic terrorists in Syria and Iraq. They are a serious threat and we should be concerned. When the West does eventually wake up and take serious action to wipe them out, a few significant reversals and rising ISIS casualties will suddenly make them seem far less dangerous.
If we think back to other predicted global disasters, we see that few played out as catastrophically as expected. The nuclear arms race, overpopulation, AIDS, depletion of the polar ozone layers, global warming and oil shortages are some that were portrayed to threaten the future of mankind. None of those dangers have completely disappeared, but apart from global warming and fracking, both hi-jacked by left wing political movements, none have come close to their forecast deadly potential.
Lesson number two is that bad news sells. Few things turn out to be as bad as predicted.
We need to be discerning in what we focus our attention on. Stop worrying about things beyond our control and make plans to be among the survivors of any storms that may affect us.
The third bit of comfort I can give you is that almost without exception, we tend to undervalue our own resilience and tenacity. We allow the fear of what we are afraid of to prevent us thinking of ways to deal with the actual situation. We only discover that resilience and strengths we did not appreciate, when the worst happens.
Here is an example from my own life:
The farm invasions in our part of Zimbabwe reached their height in late 2002. We had lived with news of farmers and farm workers being murdered, badly beaten up, intimidated and robbed for three year. Farms were being overrun by political thugs and occupied by unsophisticated rural people trucked in from tribal lands. One neighbour and several other farmers in our immediate area had already been forced off their farms by a combination of the police, well connected politicians and gangs of armed thugs.
Almost every night, our security radio was busy with reports of more farmers being attacked, forced to abandon their farms. Farmer’s and worker’s houses set on fire. Equipment and crops stolen. We had been subjected to increasing levels and frequency of intimidation ourselves, government vehicles driving around our farm, pegging plots for future illegal occupiers, coming to our security gate to threaten us with death if we did not leave. A good friend Chris, one farm away was forced to move. His brother had recently finished major improvements to his house on the farm, he was also forced to leave quickly with his wife and two small children.
Chris moved to his parents farm on our Northern boundary, like us under threat but still operating. A few days later, one of Chris’ workers reported that the few thugs guarding the gate to his house had gone away. Chris asked me to drive him back to get some of his personal stuff from his house. We took my truck and loaded as much as we could.
I asked him how he could remain calm, knowing that it was unlikely he would ever be able to come back to his house, or his farm again. I doubted if I would be able to remain calm. He reminded me that when the farm occupations started in other parts of the country three years before, we were unaffected. Life went on fairly normally for us, but we were very concerned about how we would survive what our fellow farmers were experiencing. Gradually the violence got closer to us, we lived with it. We were directly affected by increasing levels and frequency of intimidation, we lived with it.
Then he said that just as he could handle it, so would I when my turn came as it surely would.
He was right. It did, more frighteningly than either he or I could have known, but I did handle it, I survived.
Most others of the thousands of farmers, their families and their workers, many of whom survived far worse experiences also survived, Very few cracked up.
The third lesson then is that we are much more resilient than we think.
Resilience is a strange value. Unlike, honesty, integrity, gratitude, for example which we can (and should) live by every day, resilience is hard to measure when life is normal. We never know how much we have until it is tested.
There is a fourth lesson mixed up in the last two. Fear.
My experience in the farm invasions, other scary periods in my life and observing many other people’s reaction to fear is that fear is always worse in the anticipation of the event or situation than the reality. Most of us are better equipped to handle the perceived danger or threat than we imagine. That is not to suggest we should take stupid risks. But to suggest that we can handle much more of what life offers us – good and bad – opportunities and setbacks, than we think.
photo courtesy of think4photop / freedigitalphotos.net