Renewed Appreciation of a Painful Past

With Thanksgiving edging ever closer, there is much talk about giving thanks and practicing gratitude for all the blessings in our life. But today, instead of focusing on the regular roster of munificence, I direct your attention to those life events that can be seen with a new eye, with renewed appreciation for what they’ve added to your life experience. What has been an occasion or relationship in your life that was painful or troubling at the time, but which, with hindsight, you are deeply grateful for the wisdom it provided? If you’re anything like me, you probably have multiple examples from which to draw.

While on more than one occasion, I have reflected upon some of these difficult experiences with gratitude, one fantasy question I have been unable to answer is, given all that this relationship or experience has taught me, would I subject myself to that difficulty again? For me, as much as I value the insight gained, the cost involved was so high, I don’t know if I’d repeat the experience. How about you? Knowing what you learned from whatever it was, would you willingly pay that price again?

Of course, we can’t relive the past, but we can use it to guide our present and our future. As a result of my former troubles, I now know way more about the significant downside of being naïve, and a whole lot more about human nature, personal and professional politics in the workplace, and how the excesses of ambition and insecurity can blind people in various ways. But, there were also several upsides: I discovered the value of self-discipline, that many people are more than willing to forgive or overlook others’ failings or personal shortcomings—they may not even perceive what happened as a failure (this came as a huge shocker to me), and that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Has someone else’s compassion towards you made you more compassionate towards others? Have you ever wondered just how they came by this compassion? What happened to them so that they developed this quality?

A huge part of being a successful re-booter stems from the fact that we now understand that no single bad choice, personal failure, or unkind action defines us or anyone else. Alas, this isn’t the sort of knowledge that can be acquired in any place other than the School of Hard Knocks. The difference between re-booters and the rest of humanity is that not only do we learn this lesson, but we overcome the bitterness or hurt that accompanied it and, in due time, can find a measure of consoling grace in the experience.

The Latin verb humiliare is the basis for both “to humble” and “to be humble.” And yet, it amazes me what powerful, disparate impacts the verb and the adjective have. The only way to achieve the adjective is to, first, have been on the receiving end of the verb. (If I were a more adept etymologist, I might be able to provide a more academic explanation, but you get what you pay for with this blog.) And the converse is that our tormentors, whoever they may be–those who presented us with our “opportunities for growth” through humiliation–have set themselves up to be on the receiving end of Life’s Spanking Machine. I’m not talking about revenge; I’m referring to the Laws of Universal Justice, Karma, You’ve Got It Coming, etc which is sure to happen, given sufficient time.

So, remind me again, what is the purpose of this particular post? In these weeks before Thanksgiving, I suggest you re-visit some painful episode in your life and see if you might be able to draw from it some valuable, positive life lesson. See if gold lies somewhere amidst the unpleasant dross of your past. Not only might this exercise serve as a vehicle for you making peace with what happened, it may also operate as a comforting reminder during your future struggles. Re-booters understand that there is more to be learned from our past if we take the time to consider it with an appreciative eye.

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2 Responses to “Renewed Appreciation of a Painful Past”

  1. Jim Patterson Says:

    Good one

  2. grasshopper Says:

    well said.

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