Perhaps one of the most recognizable and most quoted phrases in all of literary drama comes from the Bard himself:
“To be or not to be, that is the question.”
In Shakespeare’s classic, Hamlet is lamenting the inevitable trials of life and questions how we should respond to its’ uncertainties. What he calls “The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune” or “The heartache and the thousand natural shocks…that makes calamity of so long a life” might be a veiled reference to suicide as a way to depart from a hard road ahead. Unlike the Danish Prince, I believe how we respond to the challenges and difficulties of life define who we are and whether our life will stand for something or count for nothing.
Therefore, we must decide if “to benefit or not to benefit” from the experiences of life is truly the question to ask.
It’s Not Elementary, Watson
Granted, one would have to have the emotional constitution of the Vulcan Dr. Spock to not wonder why life throws so many curve balls. But neither the deductive powers of Sherlock Holmes nor the mystical genius of Francis of Assisi can unravel the conundrum of difficulty and pain to render
the intricate as “Elementary.”
Pain is an important part of the life process, and though sometimes it can be avoided, it is never truly inescapable. Again, it’s the way we process the pain – and perceive it – that makes a difference.
I’ve observed a couple of specific responses to people in the throes of darkness. The first is the self-blame response, or “the I deserve this bad thing because I’ve done something wrong/bad/inappropriate. So basically, I’ve got to “Do the time, because I’ve done the crime.”
Now, don’t misunderstand me, there are consequences for our behaviors, regardless of our intentions. And although we can choose our behaviors, we can’t choose our consequences. However, if all negative circumstances are punishment for our wrongs, then is our only choice is to shrug our shoulders and passively accept our fate?
Another typical response to hard times is: “I’m a victim, this shouldn’t be happening to me.” Of course, there are genuine victims of circumstance, people who truly are helpless in the face of adversity, and yes, Virginia, really bad things do happen to really good people. However, there is a marked difference between being a victim and victimization. Haddon Robinson said, “If you want to get rich, invest in victimization. It is America’s fastest growing industry.”
When we have the view that life should be pain free, then we are quick to cast blame when pain arrives, as it always does, and always will. This perception removes my ability (and motivation) to change my attitude by placing the onus for how I feel on others, who really have no control of my feelings.
There is an alternative to these two thoughts, and one best described by Helen Keller, who was born deaf and blind. She said, “Although the world is full of suffering, it is also full of the overcoming of it.” There is hope in this statement, a promise that weathering the storm will bring you to the sunshine. And many times, I’ve found this to be the truth.
Recently, some surprising discoveries about the brain has uncovered that we really can “change our minds.”
Experts are finding that repeated patterns of thought, whether positive or negative, produce neuro pathways that cause us to think in a particular way, like an automatic default. If we work on changing how we think, for example, from thinking pessimistically to optimistically or from a place of resentment to one of gratitude, our brain gradually constructs new pathways that change how we view the world. In the process our emotional response to triggers and circumstances also is changed.
Whether your goal is a thriving business, a successful season, an enriching marriage or a supportive family, at some point all these relationships are defined by our response to adversity, and how we choose to think.
So, the question for each of us becomes, truly, “To benefit or not to benefit?”