Reaction to Adversities
Boxers are essentially taught two different approaches to exhaust their opponents while summoning up the energy before launching a new attack. Some, including Mike Tyson, take the full force of their opponents’ punches head-on by holding their guards closed, while others, such as the late Muhammad Ali, dodge punches by quickly slanting to the sides. Similar to boxers, when faced with hardships and adversities, some people become confrontational, while others prefer to stay away from the problem. But, when and how is such a tendency developed? Is it something hardwired in people’s brains, or is it a skill that people learn through their interactions with their surroundings? And if it is, at least, partially formed by external influences, to what extent can literature – as a common medium that influences people in several ways – act as one of the external factors in forming an individual’s reaction to personal adversity? Even though literature is widely believed to be a medium affecting people in many ways, I am not quite convinced how it might have an impact on the approach I tend to take when faced with personal adversities.
To explore the issue, I watched the TED Talk “The Danger of Silence” by Clint Smith, which helped me recognise the consequences of failing to take the necessary actions to overcome adversities in due time. The TED Talk allowed me to explore and understand the results of steering away from problems. In the video, Smith comments on the large scale consequences of avoiding hardships head on that can “manifest themselves in the forms of discrimination, violence, genocide, and war.” He states that these consequences are formed because people do not try to overcome adversities. In addition, Smith speaks of a time when he avoided a confrontation by keeping silent. “When Christian was beat up for being gay, [Smith] put [his] hands in [his] pocket and walked with [his] head down as if [he] didn’t even notice.” The tone that Smith uses allows the audience to feel his sense of remorse and regret for his decision, enabling them to understand the consequences of avoiding adversities. Understanding these results could inspire me to become more confrontational when faced with personal hardships. The TED Talk is an example of how literature is able to affect the way people may decide to face hardships by providing insight into the consequences of avoiding them through narrating a relatable personal experience in a regretful tone.
The second TED Talk “Why We all need to Practice Emotional First Aid” by Guy Winch reinforced the same approach. The talk discusses achieving emotional hygiene and overcoming negative thoughts, reinforcing the idea that avoiding problems can cause long term consequences. In his talk, Winch focuses on the negative impact that avoiding personal mental adversities may have on mental health. He states that people “sustain psychological injuries even more often than …physical ones… and they can also get worse if [they] ignore them, and they can impact [their] lives in dramatic ways.” By ignoring personal adversities, especially those involving mental health, people could amplify the consequences of hardships as health concerns can cause them to feel even more demoralized and helpless. Confronting the challenges would resolve the problem more quickly with less harm to one’s mental health. Winch uses a personal example of his brother, who was diagnosed with cancer, to explain that avoiding personal adversities can result in a harmful mental state. By reflecting on his speech, I was able to realize the importance of knowing my own reaction to adversities. This speech showed me that avoiding adversities may not always be the correct choice as it can cause harm not only to myself but also to others around me. Having reflected on this Ted talk and the influence that it had on me, I began to understand how literature may be able to change my reaction to personal adversities, especially now that my reaction to adversities has been slightly shifted from avoidance to a more confrontational stance. This is in large due to literature’s insight into avoidance, suggesting that fleeing from problems cannot help to solve them.
When I was eleven, I faced my first serious adversity, which helped me make a great discovery about my tendency to avoid problems instead of facing them. It was then that I also realized that avoidance could not be the solution at all times. In 2010, my three-year-old sister had fallen ill, and I did not know how to cope with her ailment. Although my parents remained strong through the entire ordeal, I felt depressed and guilty. I blamed myself for her illness as I felt I was responsible for her as an elder sister. I was so depressed and moody that my parents noticed the change in my behaviour and decided to talk to me. They told me that her disease was not my fault and that I did not need to blame myself for it. After talking with my parents, I tried to cheer myself up and overcome my sense of guilt and fear by complimenting myself, looking at inspirational quotes, and having small pep talks in the mirror. I was an avid reader when I was younger as well, so the characters with similar experiences who overcame their hardships in the novels served as a motivation for me to get over my sadness as well. These works of literature helped me come to terms with my sister’s’ illness, finally accepting the fact that I was not the cause of her disease and that she would recover. Although I may at times try to avoid difficulties and confrontations, literature has opened my eyes and enabled me to confront some problems as I learned from the experiences of characters in literature. Watching and reading various pieces of literature has allowed me to understand that I cannot continue to avoid all personal adversities, for avoidance usually has its own consequences, too.
Reading my ISU novel, though, I realized that the reaction towards adversities is also dependent on the person’s experiences and motivations throughout their lives. My ISU novel Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel showcases many characters facing adversities in a straightforward manner. The theme of survival in the book emphasizes the adversities that the characters face and the confrontational attitude, which they assume in order to survive. However, while Kirsten, the female protagonist, is motivated by her own survival, she greatly values the friendships she has formed. When confronting the prophet in the forest, instead of running, Kirsten stays there fighting to ensure the survival of her friends despite her possible death because “[Kirsten] [understands] the calculations August [is] making at that moment…If August reveal[s] his position by taking out one of the men, the others would be upon him” (Mandel 301). Kirsten’s approach to facing adversities is affected by the experiences she has with her friends; therefore, even though survival is a motivation for her, her experiences make her choose to sacrifice herself. The other characters in the book are also influenced by survival, which directly influences their reaction to adversities, making them more confrontational. Through this text, I understood that my experiences and motivations have also led me to react in a certain way when faced with certain adversities. Although literature only mimics reality, it still provides the reader with relatable values, enabling them to become more aware of the possible consequences of and solutions to adversities.
One recent example of people confronting adversity head-on is the native people resisting the Dakota pipeline. The Dakota pipeline was scheduled to be built a half-mile away from the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s reservations and run through their ancestral lands. The tribe sued the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers that granted permits for the pipeline construction and peacefully protested the planned construction of the pipeline. This action caused the Corps to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement for alternative routes for the pipeline to go through. The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s choice to value their ancestral lands over their own comfort is similar to Kirsten’s choices to fight against and not to flee from adversities to ensure the survival of her friends in Station Eleven. Both examples show the influence of values on reaction to adversities because depending on the values a person or group holds, they might prefer to fight or flight in face of adversities. Through this connection, I realized that my values affect my reaction to adversities as well. I value friends and family, so I confront adversities that revolve around these values, but I avoid the adversities that do not affect my values.
Through the experiences of characters and their values, literature has helped me realize that avoiding adversities can cause serious consequences not only for myself but also for others around me. While literature advocates action and confrontation, it also inspires reflection. I have realized that both confronting and avoiding a problem can be a viable solution. I believe both Tyson and Muhammad Ali considered the consequences and rewards of each reaction according to their capabilities and opted for one of the two. But the beauty of fight and flight approaches lies in the fact that regardless of the approach they took, they both became world champions a number of times, proving that it is not the method that is right or wrong, but rather the compatibility of the method with its user which leads to the successful resolution of an adversity.