Dr. Val Farmer
Rural Mental Health & Family Relationships

Riding A Dangerous Wind

January 17, 2005

Newspapers are filled with accounts of tragedy due to war and natural disasters. There is certainly more than enough alcoholism, drug abuse, divorce, betrayal, domestic violence, child abuse, sexual perversions, and other forms of behavioral problems besetting personal and family life. Out of the blue can come a health crisis or a financial setback. There is work overload and juggling of time and family priorities. Have I packed enough troubles into one paragraph?

We all have our challenges big or small. If we haven’t experienced them yet, we will sooner or later. Job was advised, "Yet man is born unto trouble, as the sparks fly upward."

How do we deal with the stressors in our lives? One notion of stress is that it is the perception that an event or circumstances challenge our personal resources and understanding. It carries the threat to our well-being if we do not respond appropriately.

The Chinese have captured the concept of stress in a word comparable to our word "crisis". The word is formed by combining two characters, one meaning "a dangerous time" and the second meaning "an opportunity." Translated literally , it reads, "Crisis is an opportunity riding on a dangerous wind."

That is a powerful insight. Difficult and trying problems are opportunities in disguise. It is through struggle, trial and suffering that some of our greatest growth occurs.

Stress spurs development. It jars us into action. We begin to search for information and understanding about the problem. If the stressor is extraordinary and outside our normal framework of responding, the new response has to be different and original.

Instead of viewing stress as an unpleasant source of tension to reduce or avoid, we can redefine these experiences as "challenging opportunities for growth."

There is a story, possibly apocryphal, of an American general who, when informed that his army was surrounded during the Battle of the Bulge responded, "Good. We’ve got them where we want them. We can attack in any direction."

Likewise, many of our growth opportunities come from uninvited and unanticipated obstacles and problems placed in our path that demand our attention and concern. Our newspapers, movies and literature are filled with accounts of the triumph of the human spirit when confronted by adversity and tragedy.

Even in the ashes of defeat and failure, we learn valuable lessons. If responded to properly, these experiences can serve as a stepping stone to future success. To a degree, our lives are shaped by the press of life’s circumstances that we did not choose or want in our lives.

Inviting stress into our lives. There is another side to the stress story. At each step of our development, we are attracted to experiences that are interesting and challenging to us. We place ourselves in situations where we have to extend and stretch ourselves. We do not select experiences that we think are too boring, too difficult or too easy.

Worthwhile goals, complete with problems and obstacles, also spur our development. To achieve a goal, not only do we need to deal with current challenges, but we must successfully anticipate future ones as well.

In speaking about threatening world situations, former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger said, "It is a paradox of the contemporary world that if we wait until the dangers become realities, we will lose the chance to do anything about them."

The same reasoning can be applied to opportunities. By waiting until opportunities become obvious, we will have lost our chance to capitalize on them. In the world of creativity, we need to buy ideas "low" and sell "high."

We have to imagine what it is we want to become and then, step by step, expose ourselves to stressful situations that will push us there.

Preparation precedes power. Preparation means acting with faith, working hard, and sacrificing the comfort of the present for the chance to experience future rewards. The miracle of growth is that as we approach our goals, they become transformed into new ones as new visions and possibilities unfold. The journey’s end will be loftier and greater than our preconceived destination.

Coping with stress. To successfully deal with both uninvited and invited stress, we need to accurately understand our strengths and limitations. Hans Selye, the pioneer psychologist who developed the knowledge of the impact of stress on our health, offered a one sentence summary of his work. "Fight for your highest attainable aim, but never offer resistence in vain."

The same advice can be found in the serenity prayer, "God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference."

Life can be daunting, challenging, threatening, and demanding. Riding a dangerous wind is preferable to the stillness of boredom and stagnation.