We all face challenges, times when we feel like the bottom has fallen out and nothing makes sense.
While it may be tempting to give in to vengeful thoughts and actions, teachings developed in every culture point to the same principles. As we live by these ideals, life finds a way of sorting itself out.
British author James Allen knew a life of hardship. His father lost his factory job, so he left his wife and children behind to go to America and find work. He died shortly after his arrival in New York and James had to find work as a teen.
Life gradually improved as he established himself as a writer and it was by expressing his core philosophies that he gained his greatest fame.
Allen became known for his book As a Man Thinketh, which is now in the public domain and still widely read. His lesser known 1910 work, Above Life’s Turmoil, beautifully summarizes how we need to live when our worlds are turned upside down. The ideals Allen tells us to embrace are purity, patience, humility, self-sacrifice, self-reliance, fearlessness, knowledge, wisdom, compassion and love.
To be pure means to have utmost respect of ourselves and others. In essence, it means to actually live by principles, to do what we know is right.
Humility, self-sacrifice and self-reliance can be looked at together. Embracing self-reliance, we recognize that we have within us what’s needed to overcome any challenge. Self-sacrifice recognizes that it won’t be easy and we will have to work hard. Humility balances out the other two principles. We don’t know everything and it’s good to ask for help. We learn from others as we progress and we gratefully accept their support.
To live with fearlessness is simply to move forward in the confidence that all will be well. Fear is perhaps the most destructive emotion. It tells us we have to get the other before they get us, and that what we have can be taken away and never replaced. To live in fearlessness reminds us of the folly of this thinking. Regardless of what happens around us, we always maintain the freedom to choose how we respond. That’s our greatest human power.
Knowledge is valuable because there’s always more to learn. We gain greater understanding of the world and can thus respond to life more effectively. Wisdom takes this concept even further. We comprehend how to use knowledge to bring about the greatest good, thus bringing joy and meaning into our lives.
Love is greatly misunderstood but it’s perhaps best defined by St. Paul. It’s patient and kind. It always rejoices in truth and always hopes. It doesn’t judge and isn’t self-seeking. Love always perseveres. When we look on ourselves and others in this light, we can’t fail. Our impact will be enduring.
Love also allows us to see with compassion. We make mistakes and so do others. Embracing this concept leads to profound forgiveness, which is perhaps the highest ideal a human can obtain.
These principles presented by Allen may seem unrealistic. But as I study people who triumphed over insurmountable difficulties, I see how central they were to their thoughts. It doesn’t take much effort to find them in the writings of Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl, Rwandan genocide survivor Immaculee Ilibagiza, Nelson Mandela or any other person who has tapped into the greatness that lies in all of us.
Yes, we will face challenges in life and there’s little we can do about what happens around us. What we do control is the way we respond and that more than anything will determine our success.
The path is clear. We need only take it.
Gerry Chidiac is an award-winning high school teacher specializing in languages, genocide studies and work with at-risk students.