Wow – where do I start? I just finished Patricia Williams book “Rabbit,” and to say it was a compelling read might be a bit of an understatement. But I guess my real question here is simply this: Why are some people able to not only survive hardship, they actually seem to thrive, using it as fuel to propel themselves to a better life?
In her case, how did a young black woman grow up in an environment where virtually everything, and I mean EVERYTHING, was stacked against her, yet she never succumbed to hopelessness. I would like to say she became successful, but the reality is she was always successful – in her own mind, she was going to find a way.
What about someone who was left abandoned as an infant in an unheated building in the middle of a cold Boston winter, found by the police and who subsequently grew up in an orphanage called “The New England Home for Little Wanderers” (I’m not making this shit up). After experiencing a few horrendous “adoptions,” he decided it was better to stay in the orphanage until he aged out at 14, at which time he was sent into the night with all his belongings in a paper sack with a stranger – no social services involved.
Neither of these people became substance abusers or sociopaths. What would have killed, or at least permanently crippled most other people, didn’t break them. They were able to form lasting, long term relationships with others, fully capable of empathy and compassion. They contributed something meaningful to the world – a world that certainly seemed to give them no incentive to do so. Or did it?
There’s a question in the study of psychology as to the relationship of stressors on human development. One line of thought is that stress, sometimes even duress, can act as a catalyst for growth – it can actually be a positive force for change rather than a negative. The idea is that humans are actually built to overcome adversity, it’s literally wired into our DNA. This is a provocative theory that resonates with me – there is, however, a breaking point – and it’s different for everyone.
But I also think a crucial element for all of us, particularly those disadvantaged by the circumstances of their upbringing, is this: At various points in their lives, someone was there to offer encouragement and some small measure of help – and they took that ember of hope and nourished it into a raging fire. It doesn’t take much, some act of help and encouragement that may seem inconsequential to you may have life changing consequences for the one receiving it.
So why not take a minute and help someone today?