Writing on Air

Writing on Air by Jim Paredes


Archive for July 27th, 2008


A crisis is a call to greatness 12

Posted on July 27, 2008 by jimparedes

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE
Sunday, July 27, 2008

Due to recent budget cuts and the spiraling cost of energy, THE LIGHT AT THE END OF THE TUNNEL has been turned off! We apologize for the inconvenience.  — Forwarded text message

We are all witnessing it, and many are experiencing it firsthand — businesses closing, layoffs, downsizing, being declared redundant, restructuring, rising prices of everything and other doomsday scenarios unfolding all over. Everywhere I look, I wonder at how people are managing or will manage their lives during this bleak season. According to the economic analysts on CNN, BBC, and other cable TV channels, it doesn’t look like we have hit rock bottom and no one knows how long it will take for this current crisis to unravel. In short, there can only be more bad news ahead.

And while all this can scare anyone out of his or her wits, the whole scene has a familiar ring to it. Remember the ‘70s when we woke up to a gas shortage so severe that each car owner could buy only up to 10 liters a day and only if they had government-issued coupons? Remember the long lines at the pump, with restless and nervous drivers cooling their heels in their cars? Remember how bleak everything seemed? Remember gasoline rising 30 cents and the rallies and deaths that followed? Yet, somehow, things found their way back to normalcy.

Every time we look at the horizon and see a gathering storm, we seem to forget how we coped in earlier perilous times. At every occurrence of crisis, we act like innocents being slaughtered for the first time. It is totally understandable to see panic in our present situation, with the price of gas price rising not just by a measly 30 centavos, but by one peso every week! Admittedly, we live in different times and there is probably very little solace we can take in comparing today’s reality with earlier crises. Yes, the world has changed a lot since the late ‘70s.

And yet, I dare say, perhaps more as an act of faith, that there is something, some built-in strength in us, that will make us overcome these daunting obstacles just as we did before.

I remember, when I was a young boy, being mesmerized every time my mother and her siblings would talk about the war years. World War II brought really hard times when, as a people, our parents had to reinvent their lives under a hostile occupational force. The threat to everyday living must have been far greater and more immediately direct then than what we are experiencing now, since not only did they have to worry about where to get the next gas tank fill-up or meal, they also had to avoid being arrested, incarcerated, tortured or killed whenever they had a simple run-in with the brutal and mercurial Japanese forces. 

Those times demanded a lot, and many times, it meant great sacrifice through pain and suffering. When you read about accounts of survivors of great upheavals, you wonder what it took to survive and pick up the pieces to eventually rebuild their lives and thrive. One thing I am sure of is that giving up and lying dead by the wayside was not an option for those who eventually reached the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel. They had some things going for them which, at the time, they didn’t know they possessed, and one of them was character. In a major way, the horrific situation was the defining moment that made them the people they eventually turned out to be. No wonder historians proclaimed our parents’ generation as the greatest generation that ever lived.

There was a special toughness about them. In a way, they were a “no excuse” generation. They felt responsible and were answerable for their own survival and that of their loved ones. They were self-reliant. They did whatever it took to live through hell, dust off the ashes and build a new, more prosperous future. They had no moral ambiguity, and were decisive because they had to be.

Similarly, although more extremely, in his 1946 book Man’s Search for Meaning, Viktor Frankl wrote about living as a concentration camp inmate under the Germans and shared his insights on the human condition under great duress.

He described how they lived and the commonality of their experience. But more than the reactions of his fellow inmates, he wanted to find out if there was a way he could predict who would survive the camp and who would not. In his findings, he came upon the astounding conclusion that the survivors consisted of people who felt invested in something that would still occur in some future. There were those who wanted to see their newborn sons, or who wanted to publish their life’s work, for example. More importantly, he noticed that those who had plans for some future outside the camp chose to entertain them and were motivated by them. 

The key point was that everyone had a choice at all times on how to cope, although not everyone was aware of it. And the ones who were aware of their choices and acted on these lived to experience a future. The capacity to see beyond the present darkness, Frankl noted, is a winning trait that all true survivors possess.

Many times, we define life by the outer conditions and situations which we have no control over, and we end up feeling helpless and victimized. We forget that while the objective condition is a given, our take on it is not. It is something left for us to create. We can give it any value we want — positive, negative, exciting, scary, challenging, inspiring — it’s up to us! Our biggest problem might be our lack of awareness. We are simply not aware of the autonomy we possess to define what we wish to experience.

I was talking to my son about taking on a certain job and I could feel his hesitation. He finally expressed his fear that he may get bored or may not get over his negative feelings about certain people he has to deal with. Feeling his fears, I pointed out to him that boredom and negative feelings are not conditions dictated to him by the world. These are purely internal matters over which he has 100-percent control. He could allow himself to succumb to these transient negative moods or he could decide to summon a different, more positive experience.

Every time I feel “cornered” by so-called negative situations, or when I feel the world ganging up on me, I try to remind myself that no one can give me a bad time without my permission. They can only do so if I allow them to, and I will only say “yes” to them if I am not conscious that I have a choice about how to feel. This knowledge empowers me to be creative and find new ways to experience the world.

I like to ask my creativity classes to find the difference between two activities — say, climbing Mt. Everest, and changing the oil in one’s car. They automatically assume that climbing Mt. Everest is the superior, more desirable experience. Then I ask, “What if you are the type who has a fear of heights and dislikes snow, and who happens to love auto mechanics — wouldn’t changing the oil of your car then be a more desirable experience?”

The difference lies really in the one who is experiencing the activities.

So I ask, what are the more positive responses we can have to the high prices and the instability around us? One, we can read about it and understand all the issues to be better anchored in this choppy sea of storms we find ourselves in. We can also remind ourselves that we have been through something like this before and we survived. In fact, we are probably in a better position, character-wise, than citizens of richer countries who have lived in a prosperous and stable environment for so long. We could teach them a thing or two about rolling with the punches.

To the description “the greatest generation to have ever lived” which has been used to describe the people who lived though WWII, I wish to add, “so far.” We are in a new time now, and who knows what kind of men and women will rise to the occasion and define the spirit of greatness that can stand up to its new challenges and thrive?

If the older generation outlived and defeated the Great Depression, the War, fascism and occupation, and even managed to create prosperity for the world, today’s generation is faced with the greater challenges of saving the environment, inventing a more sustainable future and creating a new, more equitable economic system. Al Gore has posed the challenge to the US to be oil-free in 10 years. The Green New Deal group, an organization of environmentalists, scientists and economists, has warned that we have only 100 months to fix the world. This time frame is roughly equal to the duration of World War II.

Let us not stop dreaming, then, of life beyond all these storms. As Frankl wrote, we have a lot of choices even in the tightest and direst of situations. Every crisis is a call to greatness. If we surmount this, we may just steal the well-deserved thunder from our elders and claim the title of”the greatest generation” that has ever lived.

* * *

Do you want to be free of blocks and creative inertia? Would you want to meet and bring to life aspects of yourself that know what greatness, happiness, endless creativity and joy are all about? Here’s an experience of a lifetime:

The 42nd run of “Tapping the Creative Universe (TCU),” a workshop of “creative awakening,” is on once again. If you are in search of a more empowered, creative and joyful life, this is for you. Get rid of your blocks and start living. NOW is the time to do it.

The next session runs Aug. 4-8 and concludes Aug. 11. It will be held from 7 to 9 p.m. at 113 B. Gonzales, Loyola Heights, Quezon City. Workshop cost is still P5,000. Please contact emailjimp@gmail.com or call Ollie at 0916-8554303 or 426-5375 for any queries or for reservations. Visit http://tappingthecreativeuniverse.com for the syllabus, FAQ, testimonials and other details.


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