Suffering becomes beautiful when anyone bears great calamities with cheerfulness, not through insensibility but through greatness of mind. – Aristotle
What does that mean?
Once again, we have a translation from Ancient Greek. Just what are the flavors of calamity and which forms of suffering does he mean? I choose to take the words at face value in English, and will take any serious or significant disadvantageous outcome to count as a calamity, and the results thereof to be suffering.
To me, this speaks of the people who, instead of hiding from the world when adversity strikes, stand firm and bear the brunt of the calamity without whining or moaning about how unfair it is. There is a greatness in accepting an unfair, and often impossible, burden. Taking it in stride and continuing as best one can, neither hiding from it nor hiding it from others. To me, that is summed up in one word, dignity.
At thefreedictionary.com, dignity is defined as “The quality or state of being worthy of esteem or respect” and “Poise and self-respect.” Does that sound appropriate to you? It did to me.
Why is dignity important?
Consider the end of Pope John Paul II’s life. He was suffering, but he bore it with dignity, and in public. Not so that people would pity him, but so that people could learn from his example, that the ill can still function in society, and shouldn’t be locked away and out of sight.
But a poor turn of the state of your health isn’t the only form of calamity. The failure of a business, being laid off, bankruptcy and having a car or house repossessed would all be financial calamities. How you progress from there will determine if you possess dignity or not.
What about the death of a loved one? Surely that counts as a calamity. When JFK was assassinated, his widow showed great dignity. OJ Simpson did not when his former wife was found, brutally murdered.
It appears to me that the amount of dignity one can muster in a trying time speaks to the core of the person. Weak people cannot pull it off. The strong (not physically, but spiritually) can do so, with effort.
Calamities occur constantly. Recently, the South East was ravaged by a series of very strong spring storms, including hundreds of twisters and many deaths. The earthquake and tsunami (and subsequent disaster with the nuclear plant) in Japan certainly rates as a calamity. But smaller ones occur all the time, and often to you personally.
Where can I apply this in my life?
What are the little calamities of life? For me, they have included bankruptcy, having a car repossessed, being laid off, being very sick myself, having kids that were fairly sick at one point or another, having to live and work in another town to make ends meet, having my car break down (more than once) and have to rely on others to get where I needed to go, the list goes on and on. Some of the really small ones are often HUGE at the time but funny afterwards. Not being able to find the proper comfort food for a cranky pregnant lady can be a calamity. Same with not being able to find the correct version of strained vegetables for a cranky baby at 3am while the wife tries to console the poor little thing.
What are some of the calamities in your life, big and small, past and present? You know the drill, grab some paper and write a few of them down, trying to get one from each of the four combinations. Look at them and contemplate on your reaction to them. For the ones in the past, write down how you responded and how that attitude changed over time. For the present ones, write down how you responded at first, and how you are feeling now. Also consider how, for your present calamities, you will respond as you move into the future. Hopefully that took more than a few moments. If it went too quickly, have you really examined what you felt, and how you reacted. Take a little time and put forth an effort, as you will only get out of this what you put into it.
Have you noticed a pattern in your responses? How often were you cheerful? Most people are not particularly good at that. The greater the calamity, the tougher it is to bear it cheerfully. However, we can look for patterns of behavior that are far removed from cheerfulness, from dignity, and try to find a more constructive way to deal with your calamities.
As with anything, starting small is probably the best bet. And our vision is best in hindsight, so let’s start by examining a small calamity in the past. Perhaps the death of a pet in your childhood, the rejection by your first crush, the breakup of your first romance. What was your reaction? Now, with the benefit of many more years of experience and maturity, what would you advise your younger self to do? Do this for several other past calamities, and work up to some of the larger ones. Determine what you would have to believe to behave the way you did, and what you would have to believe to be cheerful and dignified in the same situation. Come up with some ideas on how to change your attitude and beliefs (see my previous post) and write them down.
Now that you have some ideas on how better to react to a calamity in the past, it’s time to set the time machine back to the present. Again, let’s start with one of the smaller calamities you are presently dealing with. Consider what you just did for the calamities of the past. How well will they apply to the present? Are there any where they would not apply? Is that because of the intensity of dealing with it in the present, or because it is fundamentally different? If it is the former, try to calm yourself, and look at it as dispassionately as possible, hopefully that will help. If not, or if it is the latter, consider it a new case and go through the same steps you did in the prior paragraph. Imagine, if you can, that it’s 20 years in the future, what would you say to the you of today?
Did that help you any? I hope it did. You may want to revisit this in a month or two and see if anything has changed. Attitudes are habits, and will take some repeated tries to break the old and install new. Keep after it, and try to remember to ask yourself before reacting if the action you are contemplating will show cheerfulness and dignity, or will it show something else? Work on more cheerful and dignified, and less of the other stuff. It won’t always be easy, and, especially in the initial shock of calamity, may fail badly. That’s OK, you’re only human. But as time passes, try to bring your focus back to cheerful and dignified.
From: Twitter, undocumented feed (my bad)
Confirmed at : http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/a/aristotle148497.html
Aristotle : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aristotle