Opportunity in Adversity: Hemali Kabthiyal

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Dateline New Delhi: “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.” — Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Every challenge, every adversity, contains within it the seeds of opportunity and growth.

The COVID-19 situation that most of the countries of the world and we as a nation are combating, presents a serious challenge. All of us are going through something we have never experienced before. However, it is important to accept the adverse situation and the challenges it offers, tackling these with utmost resilience. It is true that, it’s not what happens to us but how we respond to what happens that makes all the difference in the end. Therefore, it’s really important to make the most of this time, finding opportunities in this adversity the world faces.

All of you must have heard of the proverb, “time and tide wait for none“. Time is indeed precious and we must use the limited time allotted to us wisely and judiciously, without any procrastination. All great men and women, who shaped the course of history and have inspired generations with their deeds and accomplishments, all realised the value of time.

Mr. Dhiru Bhai Ambani, born in a middle class family and worked as a gas station attendant in Yemen in his early days, returned to India in 1958 with Rs 50,000 and set up a textile trading company, which is now one of the largest business houses in India. The legendary actor Charles Chaplin was born in a poor family and spent most of his childhood in orphanages where he was beaten up and often went hungry without food. He worked really hard despite all the adversities to become an iconic figure. His career spanned more than 75 years from childhood in the Victorian era until a year before his death in 1977.

Some of you may be aware about the deadly pandemic, the ‘Spanish Flu’, which swept the globe in 1918 infecting 500 million people across the globe. The flu took a heavy toll, wiping out entire families and leaving countless widows and orphans in its wake, with over 50 million lives lost.

Akin to the situation today, in 1918 too hospitals were so overloaded with flu patients that schools, private homes and other buildings had to be converted as makeshift hospitals. People were ordered to wear masks, shut down public places, including schools, religious places and theatres. Social norms of not shaking hands and staying indoors, were enforced. While the masses struggled to survive, few great men sought opportunity in adversity and laid strong foundations for future glory.

President Woodrow Wilson contracted the flu in early 1919 while negotiating the treaty of Versailles and survived. Walt Disney contracted the flu as well, endured and then bounced back to give us the famous and timeless cartoon characters like Mickey Mouse. Franklin D. Roosevelt, the then Assistant Secretary of the Navy, was in Europe for two months before contracting the flu on the boat home. Roosevelt convalesced at his mother’s New York home until he was well enough to head back to Washington and rest, as they say is history.

All these men and women and many others in history rebounded from these and other equally challenging times, growing stronger and more resilient, while continuing to progress relentlessly towards their goals. Their mental strength enabled them to effectively deal with challenges, pressure and stressors, prospering in the face of adversity. It is fascinating how mentally strong people set themselves apart from the crowd.

Where others see impenetrable barriers, they see challenges to overcome.

Thomas Edison, whose factory burned to the ground in 1914 causing $23 million damage, responded simply saying, “Thank God all our mistakes were burned up. Now we can start fresh again”. Closer home, Deepa Malik, an Army wife was diagnosed with a spinal tumour and after three gruelling surgeries was paralysed waist below in 1999. Deepa didn’t quit, but embraced life with determination and positivity. Her life is a shining example of achievements in adversity, from opening a restaurant to becoming the first Indian woman to win a silver medal in Shot Put in 2016 Paralympic Games. Honoured with the Arjuna Award in 2012 and conferred the prestigious Padmashri award in 2017. Sheer mental strength, hard work and determination with qualities like patience and self belief, enable people like Deepa, to overcome the adversities and obstacles, achieving great feats in their lives. A lot can be learnt from the lives of men and women mentioned here and how they overcame the challenges in their lives.

However it would be unwise to undermine the importance of patience in dealing with adversities. To be patient means, the capacity to accept or tolerate delays, problems or suffering without becoming annoyed or anxious. We can say that patient people not only enjoy better mental health but are also better friends and neighbours. Patience can be developed by reframing the situation, practising mindfulness and gratitude. Adversities and problems are part and parcel of life. Every challenge and difficulty we confront in life serves to strengthen our will, confidence and ability to conquer future obstacles. Challenges will always be there, but it’s how we overcome these, that makes all the difference.

I would like to end with a quote by Saint Ignatius, which seems very apt in the current times, when the world is battling the challenge of COVID-19 pandemic. “Pray as if God will take care of all, act as if all is up to you.