On Being Grateful for Tragedy


An event causing great suffering, destruction, and distress, such as a serious accident, crime, or natural catastrophe.

It comes in many forms.

On the one hand, you have people losing their homes from hurricanes. On the other hand you have a school girl who’s absolutely devastated after not receiving the pink, 32gb iPhone…she got the 16gb instead.

Most of us would clearly delineate these two scenarios, in a big way.

After all, how can you possibly compare the complete destruction of a family’s entire lifestyle with the petty peevishness of a spoiled brat?

Well, you really can’t.

I mean you can, but that would be foolish.

It’s foolish because suffering is something so deeply personal that you can never know the degree to which an event affects someone. And to attempt to do so would be a statement of judgement that’s based on severely limited perspective.

I have an example that will help illustrate this.

Recently I was invited by a friend to visit one of her own friends. His name was Carlos, and he was a relatively enlightened fellow.

He was also a quadriplegic and was completely paralyzed from the neck down, with the exception of rudimentary movement in his arms.

The three of us got into a deep discussion about suffering.

Carlos told us a story I will never forget.

He said he was at a social event with one of his friends. At one point they overhead a man complaining about his boss and how his job was unfair. After just a few minutes, the man started to become very emotional and deeply distressed about how his entire life was unfair.

Shortly thereafter, Carlos’ friend made the remark, “Man, can you believe that guy, Carlos? I mean, here you are, unable to move most of your body…and then there’s this guy—perfectly healthy and mobile—who’s complaining that life isn’t fair…”

And, at first glance, Carlos’ friend’s sentiment is perfectly reasonable. But here’s what Carlos had to say:

“Now hang on a second here. Regardless of what’s happening in that man’s life, he is clearly suffering. Look at him. He’s really suffering. I’m not. I might need help getting out of bed in the morning, but at least I start the day with a smile. He’s suffering and I’m not. That man clearly has it much worse than I do.”

What an amazing sentiment, right?

When you think about it, judgment is almost always incorrect at first glance. It’s so easy to think you know what someone’s going through, or how you *think* they should respond.

But the truth is, not even you know how you would respond to a certain situation.

Perhaps the most painful event you can go through will end up permanently changing your life—and the lives of countless others—for the better.

Some of the most amazing people who have walked this Earth have undergone immense personal tragedy.

But, really, that’s foolish of me to say.

We’ve all undergone immense tragedy. And it’s how we look at it that makes all the difference.

Here’s another example:

“I love the thing that I most wish had not happened.”–Stephen Colbert

As a professional comedian, you might find it hard to believe that Stephen Colbert actually lost his father and two brothers in a tragic plane crash when he was just 10 years old. It is from this experience, explains Colbert, that the joy he spreads through his comedy was brought out by one of the darkest periods in his life.

His father and two brothers were aboard Eastern Airlines Flight 212 which crashed in a North Carolina corn field due to pilot error. As the youngest of 11, Colbert’s older siblings had already left the house, leaving just him and his mother.

At first, Colbert became a highly rebellious individual in response to the tragedy. But as he grew older, he started to draw inspiration from the event.

“[I trained myself] to steer toward fear rather than away from it. I’m not angry. I’m not. I’m mystified, I’ll tell you that. But I’m not angry.”

When Stephen learned to love his tragedy, he realized that true acceptance doesn’t mean weakness. It means awareness, which is ultimate strength.

This is the moment that he realized that he was actually grateful for the tragedy, and how it shaped him.

This moment didn’t happen until he turned 35. And when it did, he immediately felt guilty for feeling grateful. But he knew in his heart that it was true. And that he could feel grateful for the tragedy without having wanted it to happen.

“What punishments of God are not gifts?” –J.R.R. Tolkien

Being grateful for your tragedies, and the tragedies of others, does not make you a bad person. It makes you a strong person. It makes you a compassionate person. And it makes you an aware person.

Without awareness, you cannot be a complete human being. You’ll always be missing perspective.

It is only through heightening your consciousness that you can learn to fully embrace the tragedies we all must go through in order to live on this planet. This means allowing yourself to feel what you need to feel in order to get to true acceptance.

Big or small, it doesn’t really matter…your conscious awareness and acceptance of tragedy will truly help you to grow as a human being. And by allowing yourself to grow, you will impact the world in ways you never thought you would.

That’s just how it goes.

Perspective is everything. Share it.

So the next time you witness someone experiencing tragedy, don’t just cast judgement…try instead to see things through their eyes.


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