Education Opinion

Suffering Interrupts Plans and Carries Us On

By Jill Berkowicz & Ann Myers — April 13, 2014 3 min read
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We are human beings first and we are as leaders. It is the human in us that causes us to hope for happiness. We want it for ourselves and for our children, those that are really our own and those who spend their days with us at school. Yet, all of us, as far as we know, at some point, experience disappointments, unhappiness, unexpected turns in the road that take the controls from our hands and send us spinning off the road we were traveling.

We look for ways to develop perseverance and resilience in our students and ourselves. There will be obstacles, including those that exist within us, that need to be overcome or pushed through in order to accomplish a goal. People will hurt us, disappoint us, and betray us. Losses of all kinds will cross our paths. How can we be brought low by these life encounters and still rise up, wiser, stronger and more open hearted, again?

We tend to wish our challenges and painful experiences away. We find parents and teachers working hard to protect children from difficult experiences. When children are faced with failure, unhappiness, or loss, we hold them, let them cry and wish for it to pass. We do the same with our friends, families, and ourselves. We work at feeling better, feeling different, not to get caught in the mire. Do we know enough about the dynamics of facing adversity and working our way through it?

In his recent Op-Ed piece, David Brooks, of the New York Times said, “When people remember the past, they don’t only talk about happiness. It is often the ordeals that seem most significant. People shoot for happiness but feel formed through suffering.”

We do not look for challenging situations to present themselves. They come into our lives at a distressing rate. We have health issues and relationship challenges, financial challenges, accidents, and disappointments. And, in our professional lives, we are faced with demands and challenges that are burdensome and frustrating. The irony is the very situations we dread and wish away, the very experiences we try to keep from the children, may be the very ones that not only help form us, but give us the opportunities to develop the very perseverance we need to come through them. In regard to children...

Development is not linear, but represents the cumulative effects and correlates of multiple biological, social, and behavioral systems, including the child’s proximal (or immediate) environment and more distal events such as stressors or supports that affect the family and the community at large (Ramey and Ramey. p. 126).

It begins in our earliest of experiences. With guidance and support from others, we each have developed a range of behaviors that accompany us when we meet adversity. With each experience, randomly, we learn something new and become changed because of it. We sometimes find ourselves in stuck places where growth filled lessons have not yet taken hold. Those are the places where we find ourselves caught, or frustrated, or saddened ... again and again. Therein lie possibilities.

David Whyte’s poem, The Journey offers a way:

Hope and knowing, and staying true, calls the attention of our followers and brings them forward with us. In the words of David Brooks, “Even while experiencing the worst and most lacerating consequences, some people double down on vulnerability. They hurl themselves deeper and gratefully into their art, loved ones and commitments. We walk through life as leaders and often carry our feelings and our wounds, inside wrapped and hidden. Nevertheless, they come along. Our leading journey is accompanied by frustration, discomfort, and maybe even pain. These keep us humbly remembering that regardless of the position or the power we have, life is bigger than we are. And so, we celebrate the small victories and keep moving forward in hopeful anticipation of our capacity to take the next small step. We savor moments of inner peace. And, we thoroughly enjoy being in the company of others as we walk on.

Ramey, S. L., & Ramey, C. T. (2000). Early childhood experiences and developmental competence. In S. Danziger, & J. Waldfogel (Eds.), Securing the future: Investing in children from birth to college (pp. 122). New York: Russell Sage Foundation.

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The opinions expressed in Leadership 360 are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.