After picking up the newspaper, turning on the radio, or watching TV, it is easy to become depressed. After all, our ears and eyes are assaulted with news of political, religious, racial, and ethnic strife. Add to this, global warming, blizzards, hurricanes, floods, landslides, forest fires, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, drought, plagues of locusts, and famine. As if that were not enough, we still have to contend with violent crime, terrorist threats, nuclear accidents, oil spills, as well as train and plane crashes. And how can we ignore the pandemics of AIDS, SARS, and Bird Flu?
For each catastrophe I’ve mentioned, you can easily think of two more. This being so, how can we remain positive in what is seemingly such a negative world? Well, we can take four steps. First, we can understand that every catastrophe is a source of good. Second, after coming to that realization, we can actively look for the good that flows from every disaster. Third, after discovering it, we can be grateful for it and apply whatever lessons it brings to our lives. Fourth, we can then move on and continue with life.
Now, let’s use as an example the horrific tsunami that swept across Southeast Asia and beyond on December 26, 2004. With a death toll of about 300,000, countless villages devastated, and millions displaced, what good can we find? Amazingly, once we start looking for it, it quickly appears. In fact, the good things that are a direct result of the tsunami are too many to list here, but the following short list will be enough to prove the point.
1. Catastrophes unite all to overcome a common threat. Former enemies, competing religious groups, and disputing neighbors worked side by side and came to the aid of one another. Disasters help us to see the bigger picture, mainly, that we are all one family. The tsunami of despair was followed by a tsunami of hope as scores of countries, hundreds of relief agencies, and millions of citizens opened their hearts to the victims. Just to give one example, a paramedic in Toronto took a one-month leave of absence from work without pay, paid for his own round-trip airline tickets, and flew to Indonesia to help.
2. Calamities bring out the best in people. They provide a breeding ground for heroic and compassionate behaviour. A world without crippling challenges is a world without heroes. A world without poverty, sickness, and hopelessness, is a world without the likeness of Mother Teresa. The hellish tragedies that strike the world act as a fire in which humanity’s character is forged. It is in the heat of battle that we discover the power of faith, hope, and trust. It is on the battlefield that we develop resove, resilience, and commitment.
3. Although it may seem ironic, great tragedies often awaken one’s spirituality. But if you think about it, it is not strange because when one is in the midst of universal misfortune, one is forced to be compassionate, concerned, and caring. Here is how the Hallocaust survivor Viktor E. Frankl
(1905 ~ 1997) describes this phenomenon, “Just as a small fire is extinguished by the storm whereas a large fire is enhanced by it – likewise a weak faith is weakened by predicament and catastrophes whereas a strong faith is strengthened by them.”
4. Devastating adversity puts matters into perspective. Our problems pale into insignificance when compared to those of others. For instance, the Afghans, as difficult as life is for them, have set aside their own concerns for the moment and contributed blankets for the tsunami relief effort. The following story will reinforce this point.
Gladys Abbot had lots to cope with. At times, her burdens appeared overwhelming. One day, in a moment of dispair she cried out, “Oh, Heavenly Father, I can’t take it anymore. Please lighten my load.”
Clouds parted and a heavenly figure appeared and said to her, “Everyone must carry a cross, but your prayer was heard, so I will remove your’s now and allow you to decide which one to carry. Just enter that stadium and pick your own cross.”
Gladys opened the door and entered the huge stadium. Crosses were everywhere. They appeared in all sizes. One was so large its top was hiden by bright, summer clouds. Gladys carefully surveyed the stadium, searching for one that she could comfortably bear.
At last she found what she was looking for. It was so tiny she almost overlooked it, but fortunately it was glittering in the sun and caught her attention. “This is it! This is the one I want to carry,” she said. And just at that moment, the heavenly spirit reappeared and said, “But Gladys, that is the same cross you were carrying before!”
5. Adversity provides the opportunity for us to discover our power. Most of us don’t realize the strength of our inner resources. We don’t know how capable we are. It is only by struggling againt overwhelming odds that we can release our true power and learn how great we are. It would be wise for us to heed the words of Deng Ming-Dao, “Although it is tempting to resent disaster, there is not much use in doing so… Whether we remain ash or become the phoenix is up to us.”
6. After rebuilding, some areas will be better off than they were before the tsunami. For example, Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra of Thailand said the tsunami swept away unplanned and possible illegal buildings, creating an opportunity to regulate growth and preserve the natural beauty.
7. The tsunami brought attention to the need for preparations to reduce the damage caused by future natural disasters. Already steps are being taken to lessen the death toll in future disasters.
8. The tidal wave raised our awareness to that part of the world. Many people, for example, are discovering for the first time how kind and generous the Thai people are. As are the other people of the region.
9. The disaster also reminded us of other parts of the world that are in need and have yet to be helped.
Here is a summary of the points and the reasons for writing this piece.
1. Be aware that good comes out of ‘evil.’
2. Get into the habit of consciously looking for the good in everything, no matter how distressing things may first appear. It is only when we look for good that we can find it. And once we realize how good life is, we can settle down and enjoy it.
3. Understand your own problems pale in comparison to those of others.
4. Use this moment to reflect on your own life. What personal tsunamis are wreaking havoc on your life? What is the good that they bear? Have you taken the plunge and discovered your own strength? Are you using your personal tsunamis to forge your character and become the person you were meant to be?
5. Act on what you learn, overcome your difficulties, and relish your victories.