Harry Lime from The Third Man: Like the fella says, in Italy for 30 years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder, and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love – they had 500 years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock.
I have not seen the movie The Third Man so I don’t know the full context of the quote above, but I caught a snippet of Orson Welles delivering this line and was really struck by it. Not of course the condoning of warfare, terror, murder, and bloodshed, but by the concept that adversity generates beauty, invention, and revitalization. How often in our lives are we overwhelmed by challenges and downright tragic events? When we are in the midst of it, we may long for peace. However, if we really look back at our troubled times how often were they followed by grand creation and advancement?
Recently I had a major challenge. It pushed me back to old habits and a victim mentality. My first response to the obstacle was to give up my power, to give my strength to something I thought was greater than I was. However, once I hit the lowest point, I started to be revitalized. I found my strength, I found my voice, and I emerged more powerful than I had been before confronting the obstacle. I have seen this phenomenon again and again with myself and my clients. One of my dear clients was being hit by all sides: family members in crisis, loved ones in danger, friends with their lives being cut short, and financial concerns. We would just have worked through one situation when a more tragic event burst onto the scene. Although I was sympathetic and nurturing toward my client, I also used these situations to push him out of his comfort zone. The work we were able to do not only helped him deal with critical issues in his life, but it helped him to gain the strength and self-assuredness he was never able to accept before.
I never liked the phrase “what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger” because it feels like the world is set to constantly attack us. Instead I like the story of the pinecone. Major forest fires are devastating. They can spread and spread and spread killing everything in its path. But all this destruction serves a purpose. If the decaying, dead vegetation was never cleared out, there would be no sunshine and rain to nurture new saplings. What I find most amazing about these fires is that jack pinecones need the intense heat of the fire to break open releasing their seeds. If there was no fire, there would be no new growth.
Next time you have a major challenge staring at you, look at it differently. What is this challenging forcing you to address? What could you gain by hitting it straight on? How can you grow personally or professionally by addressing the situation in a new way? What strength, power, or self-esteem can you gain by coming out the other side of adversity? What gems might arise in your life? What will emerge from your pinecone?