We live in a world where unpleasant things happen.
That is simply a fact. People unexpectedly lose their jobs. Couples who love each other unconditionally find that they just can’t make their relationships work. And every single life, no matter how young or unfinished, ends in death.
And I’m not going to sugarcoat it—these things suck. They really, really do. And when they creep up on you, they are incredibly difficult to deal with. They require incredible mental strength to get through, and I am not trying to undermine that fact in the slightest.
What I am trying to do is argue that these things are not necessarily “bad.”
Before I begin, let me explain what I mean by “bad.” In our society, we tend to think of everything as binary—two entirely separate camps with absolutely no middle ground. Things are either black or white, right or wrong, good or bad. But life isn’t as simple as all that. Nothing in life is entirely good or entirely bad; it is what it is and it is what you make of it.
Let’s start on a smallish scale: you unexpectedly lose your job.
It would be very easy to say that that is a bad experience. I mean, maybe you enjoyed that job. Maybe you depended on that job for financial stability. Maybe you have a whole family to feed, and you don’t really know how you’re going to make ends meet now.
Bad, right? Well, not necessarily. After all, now that you’ve lost your job, you have the opportunity to find a new job. Maybe a job you’ll like better. Maybe a job where you’ll meet someone important, or experience something important. Or maybe, now that you’ve lost the thing that you’ve dedicated 40 hours a week to for the past while, you have the opportunity to reevaluate yourself and your position in life.
Maybe you’ll decide to go in a new direction. Maybe you’ll discover something new about yourself. There are all sorts of opportunities for change and betterment in this example, and they all stem from one unfortunate, stressful event. So does that mean that the event is bad? Is it good? It’s hard to say for sure, but maybe the event is neither. Maybe it isn’t as simple as all that. Maybe it is what it is, and you take from it what you will.
And, as much as it is on a very different scale, I also believe that this philosophy can be applied to much larger tragedies as well. I’m talking about huge, life-changing events now—the kind that we hope to never get caught up in and the kind wherein lives are actually lost. Maybe one life, maybe more. We’ve all seen them when we turn on the news or when we tune into social media, and, for the majority of us, they are a source of empathy. We feel terrible for the victims. We wish that there was something that we could do to help, but we just feel so helpless. And, in many cases, we start to think about how truly terrible the world can be.
I’m not trying to undermine the fact that lives are lost in these scenarios. I am not trying to ignore the suffering of the survivors who are dealing with trauma or PTSD after, and I am not trying to belittle the mourning that loved ones are going through. All of this is very unfortunate, and I will not deny that—but it is part of life, and none of it makes the world an entirely terrible place.
Because when traumatic events like this occur, there are always people who are doing everything they can to help. Good-hearted, kind people who just want to lessen the suffering of others, even if these others are complete strangers.
And while the survivors will most certainly have their lives changed by an event like this, there have been many cases in the past of survivors who went on to use their stories to help others. In fact, in many cases, survivors are our greatest weapons in making sure that events like these do not happen again.
I firmly believe that, in this world, nothing is entirely good and nothing is entirely bad. Both exist within everything. In every tragedy, there is the chance for growth, just like in every success, there is the risk of becoming stagnant. And the same can be said the other way around too.
If you focus solely on the bad, if you wallow in it and ignore the rest, you run the risk of becoming stagnant, of never moving beyond what you see. You run the risk of accepting that the world is bad and coming to wonder, “Well, if that’s the case, what’s the point?”
And the thing is, the good is the point. The moments of growing above and beyond the unfortunate is the point.
All you have to do is look for them, and you will find them.
Author: Ciara Hall
Editor: Leah Sugerman