Many people are suffering today – financial hardship, poor health, relationship breakdowns, bereavements and uncertain futures. At times it all looks like a rather grim start to the year but that does not mean that one should give into negativity.
In many ways what happens to us is governed by our attitude to life as it is by anything else. I believe that if two people were to receive exactly the same set of misfortunes over time, how they react to them is the defining factor in their ability to rise above or outlast the situation.
Much of humanity’s ability to cope with disaster comes from a hopeful attitude, a belief that things can get better, and a certain amount of denial. Denial can be extremely destructive and leads people to inaction when their situation desperately requires them to do the opposite. However, a soupçon of denial added to an otherwise pragmatic approach can be the vital element that gives a person the ability to carry on going through a near impossible situation.
Some might say that if you ignore a problem long enough it might just go away, but I would say that if you can survive a problem long enough you might just outlast it. Obviously where it is possible to take action to remedy a bad situation, that would make sense, but sometimes we do find ourselves in situations that are beyond our control and we are at the mercy of fate. In such cases it is best to conserve one’s energy, accept the situation and try and hang on until something changes for the better.
A perfect example of this attitude working is former US naval officer James Stockdale, who was imprisoned in Vietnam from 1965 to 1973, four years of which were spent chained up in solitary confinement. Against all odds, he survived, crediting his mental resilience to the work of Stoic Greek philosopher Epictetus. Stockdale knew he could do nothing for himself but refused to accept the extremely high likelihood that he would not survive.
Although he was clearly not an unrealistic optimist, Stockdale maintained a belief that he could eventually prevail. Speaking of his experience, he had this to say:
‘This is a very important lesson. You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end—which you can never afford to lose—with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.’
At this point in time, humanity is faced with a very uncertain future – the possibilities of a new global economic crisis, environmental degradation and climate change, an ever growing demand of an increasing population and growing inequality between the rich and the poor as governments steer us gradually towards neo-feudalism.
For many of us, who knows what the next years to follow will hold. There are many things that we have no control over, but in most situations there is something that we can do to improve our lot. In the face of terrible odds the sure-fire way to ensure disaster is just to give up. Once we lose the incentive to keep going and are no longer prepared to strive or at least wait for opportunities then we have guaranteed the worst of outcomes.
Human history is littered with examples of dogged heroism and resilience of the human spirit against a backdrop of unimaginable hardships and horrors. Most of these people were not exceptional or in any way superhuman. However, what they did possess, that distinguished them from other mere mortals, was perseverance and the right attitude.
Circumstances generally are likely to worsen as we progress towards the middle of this century, there will be more losers than winners – but that is no excuse for giving up. Until you’re actually dead or totally incapacitated, there is always something you can do to improve your situation. Stay as positive as you can, even if you don’t feel like it. If you see an opportunity, even if it’s just a straw, grasp it, you’ve nothing to lose by trying.
Luke Eastwood was born in Aberdeen, Scotland but has also lived in England, USA and Ireland (currently living in Co. Wexford). He is a member of OBOD and of Druid Clan of Dana and is a founding member of The Irish Druid Network. He has published many books including the The Druid’s Primer and The Journey.