Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Changing Focus- Part Two

Now, some of you may have read my last post and thought, "Wow. That Arduous. She's nice and all, but she's kinda unrealistic. Here we are facing some of the biggest crises of the century, and she's out there doing jumping jacks and pyramid formations for a brighter future. I mean REALLY. Do we even LIVE on the same planet? How the hell does she expect me to believe that not only are we going to deal with major problems like global warming, but that somehow we're going to come out the other end BETTER. Does she really believe that global warming can bring about a more positive future? Is she nuts?"

And, again, I get it. On the surface, it does seem nuts. But I believe firmly that crises can be catalysts for positive change. 

Let me provide you with an example from my life. Four years ago, my father passed away very suddenly of a massive heart attack. Less than a week after he died, my mother was diagnosed with cancer. My life, which had been fairly happy-go-lucky up until then, all of a sudden seemed ripped from a Lifetime movie of the week. 

Losing my dad sucked. Watching my mom go through chemo sucked. For a while, I lived in a constant state of grief. I couldn't understand how the world kept turning. How the newspapers kept reporting about the presidential election. Why did other people get to live their lives so peacefully when my life had effectively ended?

But slowly, I began to come out of my fog. And I learned a few things about myself. One, that my life, inexplicably, hadn't ended. Two, that my capacity to feel, whether it be grief, love, or happiness, was much greater than I had ever imagined. Three, that even when I felt weak, I was much stronger and more resilient than I had ever imagined possible. Four, that there were so many, many people out there who loved me, and cared about me, that I had so much to be thankful for, even in the face of tragedy.

I don't wish this kind of personal crisis on anyone. Hell, I don't wish it on myself. But ... it happened. And because of it, I am a better person. I am a stronger person. And I am a more confident person. Because once you go through shit like that, you know, deep in your heart, that if you can handle that? You can handle whatever else life wants to throw at you.

Difficult times test us like no others. And sometimes, we succumb to defeat. Sometimes, difficult times can bring out the worst in people. But difficult times can also often bring out the best in humanity. 

On a national scale, take a look at some of our greatest presidents like Abraham Lincoln and FDR. These are presidents that were made stronger and greater because of the crises they faced. Our nation itself is better for the difficulties it has gone through. The Civil War resulted in the loss of hundreds of thousands of lives, but it also brought an end to slavery. The Great Depression brought us unemployment, bank runs, and the loss of fortunes. But it also brought us a more secure banking system, Social Security, and other much needed social safety nets. In other words, our country is better and stronger for having gone through and withstood these crises.

Now some of you might be thinking again, "Oh, great, Arduous. So you're saying that global warming could result in war, unemployment and unstable financial markets, but then that EVENTUALLY we'd be better off. Wow, yeah "civil war" scenarios are really hopeful."

And you would have a point. Both the end of slavery and the advent of Social Security were bought at a very steep cost. So here's where we have to apply some of the lessons of history. The Civil War came at such a steep cost because for years and years, we dithered around the subject, operating out of fear of change. We were so afraid of what would happen if slavery ended, that we waited and waited until there was no choice but to bring about the end of slavery in an extremely painful way. Similarly, while the stock market crash was certainly a terrible crisis, the fear that came out of it was worse. In fact, the subsequent run on the banks had a far worse effect on the economy than the stock market crash itself.

So, first, we have to remember that crises aren't necessarily bad. That they can bring with them opportunities and positive change. Next we have to remember that progress is natural. That life keeps moving forward, that there is no societal turning back to the "old days" no matter how wonderful those days seem. And then, we need to approach said crises with hope, with full hearts, and with faith that we can take on these crises and come out better. If we approach crises from a position of hope and strength, then I believe we can mitigate the worst effects of said crises. The sooner we stop fearing climate change the better. Because as soon as we stop acting afraid, we can begin to positively deal with the problem at hand. We can take this crisis we've been given, and turn the crisis into a positive BEFORE the costs start to grow any further.

Tomorrow (assuming I'm not brain dead)- Part Three: One lay blogger's prescription for a brighter future.

P.S. For the record, my mother's cancer-free now. Yay, my mom!


hgg said...

Of course we need to look forwards to a brighter future, there are way too few of us who do. There's too much short-time-frame-thinking in politics and not much serious discussion about long-term goals. Too much fire-extinguishing instead of looking ahead.

Burbanmom said...

Arduous, I totally agree with you that bad times can be a great catalyst for change. However, I think it may be the result of ingenuity and basic human greed, rather than the power of positive vibes.

We are reaching a new "tipping point", the tipping point of environmentalist thinking. Green living is starting to slowly become a major faction (at least here in the US).

Entrepreneurial spirits will see an opportunity to make money with new solar technology or electric car conversion kits or locally grown organic vegetables and the economy will begin to shift.

Our job? To see through all the greenwashing and help support those innovations which are truly environmentally friendly. A not-so-simple task at times.

Our other job, of course, is to do jumping jacks. But I have a bad back, and saggy pom poms, so maybe you could do mine for me.

ruchi said...

HGG, EXACTLY. We are too focused on short-time-frame thinking. And often our thinking in the short term comes from fear.

Burbs, I didn't mean to make it sound as hokey like I'm peddling some kind of environmental version of "The Secret." Obviously I believe that human ingenuity and even greed are huge factors. My point was that bad times can be a great catalyst for positive change because humans ARE resilient, they are adaptable, they are ingenious. So if we have faith in human ingenuity, if we trust in our strength and resilience, we can approach problems in a better way. For example, remember that in the Great Depression, most of the worst effects of the crisis came out of fear. Fear and lack of trust in they systems. That's why FDR had to work so hard to bring hope and trust back to the American people. Remember his famous line, "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself?" That's a very potent line, and I think we can apply it to the current global warming crisis. Once FDR had restored Americans' faith in the banking system, people started putting money back in the banks, and the economy slowly started to recover. But he had to make Americans believe in positive change FIRST before the crisis could be solved.

Natalie said...

So funny. I was going to comment yesterday that I found moments of personal crises and self-doubt (like you saying "Fine. Then what's the point?") to ultimately be very restorative, reformative. And that there was no reason a collective, global crisis should be any different. But, uh, I guess that was your point! :-)

I've been reading Eckhart Tolle's "A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life's Purpose". Not really a book I would wholeheartedly endorse, but interesting enough. Anyhoo, I read this last night, "When you become comfortable with uncertainty, infinite possibilities open up in your life. It means fear is no longer a dominant factor in what you do and no longer prevents you from taking action to initiate change...If uncertainty is unacceptable to you, it turns into fear. If it is perfectly acceptable, it turns into increased aliveness, alertness, and creativity." (pg 274)

I have two young kids. My husband and I have, as of late, been talking seriously about planning for our family's future in a time of uncertainty. Some of our thoughts are focused on building a better tomorrow. Some, however, are clearly fear-driven. We're not hoarding food or guns. But we do discuss various plans to ensure the safety and longevity of our children. I think fear is the unconscious default mode for most of us. And, as much as we'd like to put our trust in humanity, we don't feel like it's totally rational to rely solely on that as 'plan A'.

That being said, I think I will invest more time actually *doing* things that will affect positive change. That fear-based reaction will always be there for me. So I should spend time working on the alternatives - reaching for those infinite possiblities. Those are not second nature for me, as much, and need more dedicated thought.

Anonymous said...

It is so true that we do not fully realize our strength until a crisis drags it out. It applies to individuals, communities and nations.

You know that climate change is coming strong into the lime light when it was mentioned as the third item on the list of things to change on the dem nominee's speech.

I will do jumping jacks or cart wheels for that.

Cath@VWXYNot? said...

Yay for your mom!

I do hope you're right about the coming change...

Anonymous said...

Arduous, I agree, out of hard times/crises comes much growth, growth we wouldn't have had in all probability had a certain event not occured.

I see many positives from the return to a more simple life, be it out of necessity or not


ruchi said...

Natalie, great quote. Obviously we all have to be realistic about risk. But I think you have the right idea, we can be realistic about risk, but also strive to do things that can bring about positive change. I'll try and get into that in part three next week.

Cindy, sheesh, it's about TIME that came up during the presidential race! Let's hope that's not the last time.

CAE, I hope so too.

Molly, thanks! I too see so many positives in the simpler life I'm now leading.

Green Bean said...

Absolutely, "personal crises" show us our strength, what we can accomplish, that, in some ways, we are invincible. I too underwent a major personal crisis a few years ago. My world was turned upside down and I never thought it would be right again. What I beat, where I found strength, those things absolutely give me faith that the collective we are stronger than we may appear, that we can find ways to adapt to climate change, to live a good and meaningful life. Another great post! I need to go to bed but I have to read #3 first!

ruchi said...

Heh, I was too wiped with our project and everything to do numero tres. Next week. I promise.