Adversity – Forging Steel Under Great Heat

All of us at some time in our lives experience trauma or tragedy. I was listening to an interview on National Radio where a self help guru was talking about a book he had written about dealing with tragedy after his young son was diagnosed with autism. He had developed a phrase called the “reality gap” to describe the adjustment people in tragic situations have to make between their expectations and their new reality.

I don’t like this phrase. Everything about it seems negative. “Reality” smacks of “get real” and gap emphasises what you’ve lost.

I compare this to the strategies that are implemented in the spinal unit to help paraplaegics and tetraplaegics get back on their feet, figuratively speaking … Hit the deck running, so to speak. (Humour is a great tool.) Patients are encouraged to grieve, for loss of mobility, loss of bodily function … and to understand the stages of grief they will experience. Then there is a plaque on the wall “Think about what you can do, not what you cannot.” This is hammered in. Staff demand the maximum independence possible.

In these circumstance the human spirit is at its finest. People discover personal qualities of resilience, problem solving, empathy, co-operation, determination, optimism, hope. I met a gang member who extended his hand in friendship by showing me, a middle aged, middle class woman, how to use my wheelchair as a weapon. There is also depression, frustration, anger, denial, but nearly always people find the strength and the tools to move forward. The only thing that can stop someone growing and adapting is bitterness. Bitterness is the great enemy.

I don’t believe a catch phrase like “reality gap” is particularly helpful. Focussing on what you can do, not what you cannot is a powerful force.

I do believe that having a mantra can be a useful way of empowering yourself. My favourite is ” Steel is forged in great heat” another is “the best roses grow in real shit” and “diamonds are just bits of coal that did well under pressure”

It’s a bummer, but we don’t grow in peace and contentment, we grow in adversity. Some of my best thinking and inspiration has happened under pressure, not moments of quiet reflection.

As Winston Churchill said, “We shall draw from the heart of suffering itself the means of inspiration and survival.”

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