“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.” — Martin Luther King, Jr
Let’s start with something I’ve learned to accept in my lifetime. People are not always fair or kind; We may not always be fair or kind to ourselves; Circumstances may not start out equally for everyone; Timing of the tests in our lives are not ever convenient. With that in mind, it is hard to contest my following belief: LIFE IS FAIR! It does not seek out anyone individually to punish yet it does allows us the opportunity and freedom to overcome almost anything, even though it may not be exactly as we’d prefer.
Dr. King recognized that when faced with the hardships in our lives that we inevitably will encounter, we unveil the strengths and/or deficits in our character. We begin to understand that although those difficulties feel seemingly insurmountable at the outset, the quality of our response and the determination we exercise to overcome them provides us with a growing belief structure that provides us with the groundwork to confront future challenges. Hopefully we can exit each struggle with the knowledge that we are much more prepared and durable (rather than just surviving), as a result of each encroachment on our collective mental, emotional, and other intangible capabilities.
I do think that there is a sliding scale of the challenges we encounter. The most difficult and defining are those that seem random, unexpected, and seemingly out-of-proportion to the resources we currently have to overcome them. Those are the most tragic because they are the most difficult to process since they appear without rationale or logical origin. At the other end of the spectrum are those challenges that are products of our own creation whether it be through poor choices, a misdirected sense of entitlement, lack of appreciation of the gifts bestowed upon us, or general self-absorption. Those are almost as troublesome since they require a telling reassessment of the shortcomings in our values and priorities. The hope is for a sense of enlightenment so that we are better prepared to avoid similar catastrophes while laying the groundwork for an improved existence for ourselves and others.
On a related note, I read an article the other day in the sports section about a 56 year-old female minister who is an amateur boxer. Besides being amazed at the tenacity of this unassuming and older woman, the quotes in the article reminded me of J’s pre-game ritual of listening to the scene in “Balboa” where Rocky explains to his son what defines a winner versus a loser (“not how hard you get hit but…”). Some of them are as follows and worth serious examination as to how we react to obstacles we may encounter.
– “You learn to take a punch…and that soreness is not pain. The literal informs the metaphorical… Refraining pain is part of spiritual growth.”
– “The biggest thing about taking a punch is your ego reacts, and there’s no better spiritual lesson than not trying to pay attention to your egos reaction.”
– Boxing “reminds me of the difference between feeling neurological pain and real pain. With neurosis, there are lots of things that feel like assaults on the self. With greater degrees of mental, [physical], and emotional health, fewer things feel like assaults on the self.”
I really took a lot from those quotes. When faced with challenges, our first response is usually generated from our egos because we find it difficult to understand the reasoning and source for our misfortune. Remember again – LIFE IS FAIR and it’s unreasonable to believe that we are insulated from the adversities that others encounter. Once we overcome the perceived insults to our egos, we can be more adept at facing our obstacles. Then when that occurs, we need to ignore the psychological and neurotic pain, so that we can address and absorb the “real” pain that we must undergo to surpass that which we would rather, but have no choice to, avoid.
Being removed from our comfort zone is consequently unsettling and it takes a lot of desire, patience, courage, and inner-strength to return to that sense of well-being. The easiest way is to surrender meekly to our tragedies and let them dictate the remainder of our days because unless confronted, we remain slaves to their continued presence. The most difficult is to somehow prevail beyond the “real pain”, doubt, insecurities, and assaults on our psyche so that we do not remain further paralyzed to these continued deficits. I’ve found no comfort in surrender (although I’ve been close to that point), because any constructive independence I can assert is dependent on my ability to neutralize tragedy and their associated demons. More of who I am is based on what I’ve overcome than what I’ve been given and I feel better prepared for the next onslaught, if and when it occurs. I have to remind myself to serve as my own master rather than kneel before one who is my figurative assailant!
I will leave you with one last quotation. Where do you see yourself in the following divisions of people? If in the latter, then I guess find comfort in the idea that “Life is NOT fair”!
“…there are persons who seem to have overcome obstacles and by character and perseverance to have risen to the top. But we have no record of the numbers of able persons who fall by the wayside, persons who, with enough encouragement and opportunity, might make great contributions.”