By Anne Harbison
“Though no one can go back and make a brand new start, anyone can start from now and make a brand new ending.”
— Carl Bard
In the wake of a great tragedy, crisis, or turmoil, no matter the degree or scope, we have a spectacular tendency to hold onto hope.
So let’s explore what hope actually is, and how it works.
I learned from Dr. Shane Lopez, a leading positive psychologist whose specialty was the study of hope, that hope is both affective and cognitive. That is, it contains elements of both emotion and logic. Both our heads and hearts are involved when we feel hopeful.
In hope, there is a reason to believe. This reason is not proof—we know by now that there are no guarantees when it comes to surviving a crisis—but a set of circumstances, principles, and experiences that provides glimmers (and eventually full rays)...
“Does it ever go away?”
“No, it doesn’t. But it does change.”
— Rabbit Hole (2010)
In the movie Rabbit Hole, Nicole Kidman and Dianne Wiest's characters have both lost children. For Kidman’s character, the tragedy of her four-year old son dying in an automobile accident happened only months before. In contrast, Wiest’s character lost her adult son to a drug overdose fifteen years earlier.
Feeling the suffocating weight of acute grief, Kidman’s character asks Wiest's, “Does it ever go away?”
She compares lingering grief, over a long period of time, to a brick that you now carry in your sweater pocket. Yes, it is heavy. Yes, it continues to make its presence known. But you can still function. Most of the time, people don’t notice the weight you are carrying, and that too is a sort of relief.
In my own life, I’ve found that to be true. One...
“At every point in the human journey, we find that we have to let go in order to move forward; and letting go means dying a little. In the process we are being created anew, awakened afresh to the source of our being.”
— Kathleen Fischer
That ending may be the death of a family member, friend, or pet. It could mean the ending of a friendship, romantic relationship, or job.
We may grieve the loss of something tangible, like a piece of jewelry or a child’s artwork, or from the loss of something abstract, like youth or a certain way of life.
We can even grieve a future that is no longer possible... a lost opportunity or the next chapter of life that will no longer be what we had imagined.
Grief comes in so many shapes and forms, each one with their own layers of loss. The impact of one significant loss almost always ripples into multiple facets of our lives. The change...
After my eldest daughter was born, I consumed every how-to, why-to, and when-to book there was on parenting. And when she was six months, I stumbled upon a book titled Photographing Your Baby.
Now, in what feels like a lifetime later, I don’t remember much of the book, except for one key idea:
The author explained that bright flashes wash out the infinitely complex subject, making the baby seem two-dimensional. Relying instead on the surrounding natural light produces what the author claimed is the essential feature of good photos: shadows.
Without an artificial glare, the many folds and creases of the baby’s skin deepen. The contrast between foreground and shadow conveys a richer portrait of reality: the intricate complexity of a multifaceted life.
And the reason this has stuck with me, while complex in execution, is simple at its core: Embracing shadow is the only way to embrace light.
When emerging from a crucible or crisis experience, as we...
“In the midst of winter, I found there was, within me, an invincible summer.”
— Albert Camus
After spending eight years in Boston, moving to bitter-cold Minnesota was nothing new. I was used to the biting winds, shoveling snow... I was even used to sending the kids out to trick-or-treat in full parkas and snow pants.
But what I wasn’t used to were the fickle springs. I’ve lived here for over twenty years now, and I’m still shocked, every single year, by the promise of spring playing tricks on us.
Every March, snow begins to melt away. Brown earth begins to appear here and there where white used to be. Steve taps syrup from the sugar maple trees in our backyard. The nights are still freezing, but every day gives way to more thawing, more sunshine, more light.
And every year, the fool, I start packing up all our boots and heaviest sweaters. We made it. And then, in late April or early May: a snowstorm.
It’s happened every year...
“The only hope, or else despair,
Lies in the choice of pyre or pyre—
To be redeemed from fire by fire.”
—T. S. Eliot
Fire, “braving the heat,” is the alchemy happening all around us. We see it when we cook food, style our hair, make pottery, sterilize equipment, bend steel, and transform base metals to gold.
There is a reason that the discovery of fire marks the beginning of all civilization. It is the extreme heat of fire that transforms one substance into another, vastly expanding its utility and value.
And we will all walk through the fire at some point in our lives..
For different reasons, for different lengths of time, through different heights of flame. But we all walk through. These are the crises that shake us to our core -- to wake us up from living on autopilot, to teach us something, to make us grateful, and sometimes for no discovered reason at all. But just the same, we all must walk through.
“The greatest illusion about communication is assuming that it has happened.” —George Bernard Shaw
Language is everything. It is how we perceive the world. It’s how we describe our experience in order to relate to others. It’s not only how we can communicate how we feel, it’s often how we know what we feel at all, even if we don’t speak it aloud (why talk therapy can be so transformative).
True, I can think of some exceptions to this, some things that defy language:
“A crisis reveals what is in the heart.” —Pope Francis
Years after working with Naomi -- the corporate superstar who had faced a breast cancer crisis that we introduced in “Why We Can't Seem to Get Out of Our Own Way,” -- I ran into her at a leadership conference.
At an impromptu dinner with her that evening, we celebrated two things:
Namoi caught me up to speed in her life. With a thumbs-up from her oncologist, she returned to work, but in a pivoted career path. She had reconnected with family members and fostered a less stressful lifestyle. Then she told me,
“This seems ridiculous looking back, but when I signed up for your study, I was actually thinking my crisis was my career setback, not the cancer diagnosis. I had recently signed a contract for a big project that would require...
“The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still obtain the ability to function. . . You should be able to see that things are hopeless yet be determined to make them otherwise.” — F. Scott Fitzgerald
In the past few weeks, our Surviving and Thriving Together Community has broken down not only what crisis is, how it happens, and how it tends to make humans feel, but we’ve also dug into the downfalls and mind traps we all can easily succumb to when trying to face the crisis.
It’s difficult to learn when we:
[You can catch...
"Learning is not compulsory. Neither is survival." - Edward Deming
Protecting us from danger is what a security system is all about. For most of human history, evolutionary impulses have served us well. When we see a lion ready to pounce, a journal and discussion group is not the way to go. For physical survival, fight, flight, or freezehave gotten us a long way.
Of course, the modern world presents dangers more psychological in nature. What once could save us from a saber tooth tiger is not helpful in the face of a major slip-up at work, a frightening health diagnosis, or anything that threatens our psychological safety.
In front of a huge crowd, we don't need our heart to beat out of our chest and have the blood rush to our extremities so that we can run away as fast as possible.
When challenged in a meeting (or in a relationship) we don't need to armor up with aggressive counter-attacks (i.e., get them before they get you).
And when crises around...
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