I recently heard Caroline Casey (visionary activist and shamanic astrologer) quote a writer who said: “Tragedy is not a credential. it’s an assignment.” That struck me as a wonderfully radical and inspiring call to action, which got me thinking about how we could respond to our current personal and global disasters.
Right now, we’re facing so many tragedies on so many fronts - personal, political, social and ecological - that we could claim, in a broad way, that we’re all survivors. But most of us cannot claim that we are in any way, shape or form in the same category as those who’ve been brutalized, neglected or abandoned by other humans or have lost everything to natural disasters. Still, suffering, when it comes, can make any of us believe that we may never get over it and may always need help.
I see two kinds of survivors. The first kind, when they describe themselves, you realize they mean the kind of survivor who’s still significantly limited in their ability to re-engage with the world. They’re still identifying themselves with a painful past rather than a promising future. So in that sense, surviving tragedy has become a kind of credential - a badge, a special status conferred by limitation. This is not a judgment here, but an understanding that it’s based on the belief that they don’t have the resources within themselves to transcend or transform their pain. And that prevents them from taking action.
The second kind of survivor is able to view tragedy as an assignment. These are the ones who inspire us with stories of impossible difficulties which were faced with enormous courage, faith and resilience. In what’s probably one of the most well known examples, Victor Frankl described his experience in the Nazi death camps of World War Two in his book, Man’s Search for Meaning. Frankl saw, over and over again that, although we cannot avoid suffering, we can choose how to respond to it. And this choice involves embodying those values that make us truly human.
Which brings me to the here and now and how to deal with the many tragedies that are coming fast and furious these days. What are our choices? Do we stay immobilized or do we make the effort to go against the rising tide of fear, anger and helplessness that’s touching so many of us?
Here’s the answer I find most compelling: Take the assignment and Do good. Practice altruism. Even just physically, it feels really good to do, and that can be a valuable incentive. But perhaps more importantly, it helps you move out of helplessness or despair into action that’s likely to be the blessing that someone else desperately needs. Here’s why, based on scientific evidence, psychology and spiritual wisdom, doing good is a good idea.
Caroline Casey describes the circumstances we find ourselves in as our “dangerous, beautiful assignment". We have this amazing opportunity to take an active role in our own healing and that of others. Why would we say no? It's time to find out how, when we do, we'll be helped and inspired by those beings - both seen and unseen - that are dedicated to being a force for good in the world.
This is how I see it. What about you? I’d love to have a dialogue with you about this important topic, so I invite you to share your thoughts with me.
(Photo courtesy of Neil Thomas)