ADVERSITY IS POWER
Is it time to claim yours?
I’ve always wondered why human beings are so good at dominating the earth. I mean it could have been the great apes, or some other adaptable mammal, right? After all, dinosaurs once ruled the earth.
Apart from our agile physiology, and the fact that we killed off the Neanderthals back in the day (a testament to our violent nature), there must be a specific reason why we thrive as we do. I surmise that it must be because of the two greatest assets we all possess: imagination and creativity. It invokes vision and movement and its vital to the progression and survival of our species. Over the past 200,000 years of our existence, we have overcome and triumphed many battles, wars, pestilence, annihilation, floods, fire and so on, and still we survive and progress stronger than before.
‘That which does not kill us, makes us stronger‘, Nietsche
Adversity is a great teacher. According to the Oxford dictionary it means, “A difficult and unpleasant situation”. Adversity teaches us how to survive practically anything that is thrown at us. It forces us to open our eyes to new perspectives, new ways of working and new ways of being. We are taught when to do things and when not to do things. It also teaches us to keep striving, because if we don’t, we get comfortable, then stuck, then…
Here’s an observation; animals that are complacent get eaten. You don’t need to go to the Savannah to observe this. Just switch on your favourite viewing platform and watch a nature show. This truth applies to humans too, of course, figuratively speaking. Those who feel comfortable and safe don’t have the desire to push through a challenge the same way as those who feel unsafe. This inevitably leads to a lull in imagination, a fall in insight and creativity and therefore a lacklustre output of thought, product or indeed a diversity remit or policy!
When one faces a deep psychological or physical challenge that suddenly presents as an inciting incident in their otherwise regular lives, the human resolve jumps into action. The goal? Survival. In the process, our bodies become flooded with hormones and neurotransmitters that literally open our consciousness to receive new and perhaps unfamiliar information. We absorb as much information as possible in order to ascertain the best path to take. Many times, these paths were not considered in a comfortable state but now become hyper obvious in an acute agitated state.
Billions of bits of information
Where does the flood of information suddenly come from? It literally comes from everywhere. The billions of bits of information is embedded in our atmosphere; intangible when at rest, active when in time of need. Ask any neuroscientist and they’ll tell you that your brain has the capacity to detect, absorb and rearrange millions of bits of new information to create meaning and solutions when push comes to shove.
Through adversity we learn how to react emotionally, intellectually, physically and mentally. We all have a personal history of adversity and we take that experience to project how we would like our desired events to play out in the future. Constant adversity pushes the boundaries of powerful self-identification.
Those who experience adversity often, have the opportunity to learn quickly, absorb new information and adapt to new situations. This type of adaptation changes our neurology as it rewrites the brains neural pathways. This is known as neuroplasticity. In an instant one’s perception changes, emotions change, visions of life change and behaviours change.
Learning to couple this change with insight, meaning and optimism is pure unadulterated power. The leader who can transform this personal event into a societal movement, changes the trajectory of events for those who resonate with the same story.
An encounter with a killer
I was ten when I first encountered something terrible. A man threatened my mother, my sisters and myself with a knife . I remember his name distinctly because it was ugly and unmanageable in my mouth. His name was Mongar. He was a tenant in the house my mother owned, here in the UK. My elder sister and I were fresh out of the safety and cushiness of boarding school. In our young lives we had never encounter such violent threats or such ugly words which were delivered with such ferocity and intent. The fact that my mother changed the locks of our front door, effectively locking him out of our home is what triggered his violent outburst. We later discovered that he had refused to pay my mother rent and had constantly disrespected her. So, she changed the lock.
I distinctly remember being woken up late at night from loud banging on the door. It sounded like someone was using a heavy object to bash the lock open. My mother opened the window at the front of the house and looked upon this man who was crazily trying to get in. She simply said, “Stop! You’re not coming in. Never.” That enraged him. He menacingly shouted, with all his strength, “You wait for me, I am coming to kill you and your daughters!” Then he stormed off down the road.
Wait for him to kill us? Oh my! I felt and looked like a giddy, drunken child who’d just expereinced her first electric shock. My youngest sister scooted under the bed and my eldest sister ran to our bedroom door and locked it and then we both ran to the window and screamed at the top of our lungs, ‘Help, help. A man is going to kill us. Call the police.’ In our manic fear, we forgot we could just pick up the phone and call 999!
But that is what fear and adversity does to you. It puts you in a difficult and unpleasant situation. Your mind runs riot. It debilitates and immobilises you and you forget to breathe. Mum looked at us sternly and told us to be quiet and sit down. Steady your breath, she said. Then she said something I will never forget; “You are protected, so relax.” I took her word for word. I steadied my breathing, placed my hands on my lap and was quiet. I heard my mum on the phone. Like magic I heard the police sirens, and then I heard the doorbell ring and my cousin shouting up, “Aunty, we are here”.
Stillness elevates the mind
I know what I went through is nothing compared to others. But as a ten-year-old, it was enough to know the world was unsafe and only I could manage how I dealt with it emotionally. Even though I didn’t manifest the police or my cousins turning up at my door in quick succession, I felt my stillness took me outside of fear and adversity and connected the dots which made me survive that horrific ordeal. It’s a tool I use every single time I feel I am amid danger, adversity or peril. I get calm. I put myself in everyone else’s thought patterns and imagine their next steps whist adjusting myself to an outcome. I even do it in the workplace. That’s my power and it was courtesy of adversity.
Research shows that up to 70 percent of people who overcome trauma, report positive psychological growth, (Linely & Joseph 2004). This shows that many of us are able to adapt to severe change and grow from it. What if we learnt from each other? Oh, the diversity and inclusion of it.
Adversity shows us strength of character and sometimes can reveal our superhuman abilities, that not even ourselves could have imagined. This is exactly why we are hardwired to love good hero stories. The protagonist must endure immense psychological, physical or spiritual pressures in order to defeat the challenges before her. In the process, she changes, becomes more reflective, gains immense insights and feels …. stilled. As does the audience watching. It’s the reason why we root for the underdog who overcomes adversity. After all of the intense intoxication of the excitement, the tears, failures and triumphs, comes the stillness. It’s omnipresent.
When the adrenaline rush of acute or chronic adversity dies down, one has the gift of that new information which is still fresh within our emotions, our psyche and our bodies. This is where the creativity of experience starts to shape our perceptions of self and life. Again, adversity becomes power. But one must recognise it as power, for it is here, where optimists have a field day of rediscovery.
A modern day moral
I reflect on the swathes of people and communities who have suffered under the hands of others. Or the multitudes of people who have endured unrelenting persecution, environmental challenges or psychological oppression but still prevail. Those who emerge battered but complete, hurt but wiser, become stronger and enlightened. These are the heroes and they are in our societies, in our homes and in our workplaces.
There is a moral in every adversity story. My mother always said, “When you go through adversity, understand there is a lesson you must learn.” Maybe we don’t pay attention and that’s why we are doomed to repeat our mistakes. If we can get into the habit of really seeing these stories of adversity as our collective human story, then in another 200,000 years, we can perhaps see each other as miracles.