The defining moment is how we react, not the tragedy
I heard these key words a moment ago on a program about Poland on BBC Radio 4.
The words are true. We know it. We are just not well practiced in dealing with tragedy.
- It feels sick to rehearse dealing with tragedy. It follows that we are not ready when we are called to be.
- When we cope well, we suffer ‘cognitive dissonance’. If we aren’t falling apart, then surely events are not so bad after all?
- Alternatively, if we cope well, maybe that means we don’t understand. Maybe we simply insensitive.
Tragedy messes with our heads because we don’t know how to behave or how to tell our story.
The world doesn’t respond to blackmail
But sulking is a poor story too. It’s silly because the world doesn’t care. And it doesn’t respond to blackmail. The world doesn’t care if we don’t like it.
It’s also self-destructive. We give away initiative to events.
Let me try explaining again.
From loser to hero
Sometimes a tragic story, or potentially tragic story, can be turned into a hero’s story.
A journalist on BBC4 this morning got back from Norway by getting a ride on a container boat and then a train. Another took a taxi. Angela Merkle flew back to Portugal. The Noregian Prime Minister was last seen using his iPad sitting calmly in an American airport. Our story is “what we did when . . .”
People who are enjoying the quiet of English birds singing in the early spring, feel apologetic. I know I shouldn’t be enjoying this but . . . They are feeling guilty because their story defines the cancellation of all flights as an advantage.
We hate it just as much when we miss events. When the great volcano erupted, I was, well, I wasn’t doing anything sufficiently important to be interrupted. I wasn’t important enough to be inconvenienced or be involved. Oh, we don’t like that at all.
We cannot have a hero’s story without a push-off event. We need a conflict or obstacle to have story and our reaction to the event is the story that we choose. And we hate it when life doesn’t give us push-off events. Do you get our screwy psychology?
What do we do our lives are turned upside down?
Let’s play this along a bit more. In the early hours of flights being cancelled, we heard clips of people at airports who were disappointed.
I am sure their heads were reeling. Could they make alternative arrangements? They would have been blaming themselves for not travelling a day earlier. They would be hastily making other arrangements (including getting home again) and calculating the costs. They would be annoyed with their insurers who are very likely trying to get out of paying up.
There is a real story in their confusion, their choices and their actions.
Hassles show we are alive
Sadly, we heard them being angry. With whom exactly? They talked and spoke as if someone had done something to them. One man even cursed the Icelanders? Huh? Badly expressed irony? Professor Brian Cox mildly explained that we need volcanoes. If there were no volcanoes, the planet would be dead and so would we.
OK, volcanos are “natural”. They clearly aren’t people.
But airlines are people. Traffic controllers are people. Aeronautical engineers are people. That we travel by air is a people-thing. It isn’t natural.
We got into our situation by being human. By doing people things. It is part of being alive in 2010. Should we refuse to travel by air? Should we refuse to take part in life?
Of course not.
We don’t measure up when . . .
But shit happens. How we cope with shit is the story. We don’t measure up when
- We refuse to acknowledge the shit. It happens. Call shit, shit.
- We refuse to learn.
- We refuse to work with others.
- We have no interest in what is happening to anyone else.
- We don’t help anyone else.
We don’t measure up when we refuse to respond to life.
That doesn’t mean the story will be the one we prefer
Yup. We might not be able to change a particular story into a hero’s story because no one wins.
To change my metaphor, sometimes life is like a game of rugby when someone breaks his neck. We don’t carry on playing. We might play again tomorrow, but not today.
If the game is so rough that the chance of someone breaking their neck becomes to high, we stop playing. We switch to another sport.
The story of life is not always gratifying. Sometimes we even wonder why we bother.
What do we do when there are no heroes because we are all losers?
We aren’t always heroes because sometimes no one wins. There are only losers.
The only story is damage control, be calm, work with others. That is the only story.
It’s when we still try to be a hero that we lose. Sometimes we have to accept that life is out of our control.
No one promised . . .
No one promised we would be in control. No one promised that we would be heroes.
We were only promised a chance to be alive on a planet with angry volcanoes, people jostling for advantage, hare-brained human ideas like air travel. I like hearing the birds and walking in the fields but I wouldn’t have any of that if the volcanoes died, no one made enough money to ship food across the world, and there weren’t daft engineers making metal birds to fly through the sky.
No one promised that I would always have it good. No one promised that I would always come out ‘looking good’. No one promised I would always feel good about my efforts and reactions.
There is only an open invitation to take part
There is only an open invitation to take part every day in whatever part of the world that I find myself.
An open invitation to take part. That’s all.
I don’t have to feel gratified. But I can be grateful.