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Phoenix or Ashes

Finding Strength in Adversity

by Caroline Phipps

During the height of the blitz in World War 11, German planes bombed London for 57 consecutive days and nights. A total of 711 tons of high explosive and incendiaries were dropped in the biggest raid, killing 1,436 civilians and injuring many. The authorities were understandably concerned about the psychological health of their people. Surely they would succumb to misery and despair in the face of such darkness and devastation? Studies showed, however, the exact opposite. Overall, mental health improved and resolve to stay the course, strengthened. An unexpected but welcome circumstance that Prime Minister Winston Churchill harnessed to brilliant advantage for navigating the rest of the war successfully.

What history shows us, again and again, is that when the going gets rough it can bring out the best in the human spirit. Conversely, when things are “coming up roses” and life is good, we have a habit of coasting. We take things for granted, forget to give thanks for our good fortune, show less empathy for those less fortunate and neglect the health of our interior lives. So much so that it often takes a life-altering event to shake us out of our complacency and bring out the best in us.

Today we are experiencing a different, but none-the-less highly disturbing and deeply uncomfortable, period of adversity: Individually, as a country and as a world. Just as we witness courageous people turning adversity into something positive by using it to serve others, we also know how easy it is to attempt to dodge the inevitable pain adversity brings with it.

We are such inventive beings that we have created a myriad of ways to avoid the unpalatable realities of today’s world. We have built entire industries around this concept, from big Pharma, to high tech, to the entertainment industry.

Of course indulging in a glass of wine, and watching the latest Netflix series, is not a bad thing in and of itself. But when denial techniques are taken to the extreme we miss any opportunity for growth and progress. In the end we don’t even know if we have navigated our way successfully through the fire.

By denying ourselves the opportunity to strengthen, grow and make progress through adversity, we compromise ourselves. Weakened, we are at the mercy of events as we metaphorically surrender to the flames. The result? The specter of hard times becomes increasingly hard to face and our avoidance techniques become more practiced.

We must never underestimate the power and resilience of our human spirit to rise up. We can have complete trust that we are so much stronger and more adaptable than we could ever dream possible. But only if we give ourselves the chance. These are difficult days for sure but we do have a choice: We can remain mired and weakened in the ashes, never realizing our full potential, or gain strength from facing the challenges and rise and reinvent ourselves like a resilient phoenix.