(Published in Luxury Insider of Baccarat Magazine June 2011)
The catastrophic waves of the Japanese tsunami annihilated tens of thousands of homes and lives. A whole family (a church friend with small children) was killed instantaneously in a recent fatal car accident. My friend, a young vibrant female in her 20s (who does not smoke or drink) was diagnosed with late-stage cancer. And when I was in Borneo last month running in a marathon to raise money for an orphanage, I became acquainted with the evils of child trafficking – girls as young as eight were sold into prostitution by their fathers!
Whenever tragedies happen, we grieve. We burst into tears. We cry with disbelief, stupefaction and even anger. We may rationalise the unfathomable ‘why?’ “Why, God?” “Is it retribution?” “Did I do anything wrong?” Or, depending on our beliefs, we wonder if it is punishment by the gods for the sins of our forefathers. Or perhaps bad karma caused by misdeeds committed during our previous life?! Whatever our reasoning, bad things happen to good people all the time and there is nothing we can do about it except count our own blessings, mourn and move on. Or is there?
Who is good?
Before addressing this, I should first note there are no “good” people in the strictest sense, as we are all imperfect sinners, including Mother Teresa. So allow me to qualify: bad things happen to nice people, people who do not deserve these misfortunes. Why? We cannot say. Fate? Destiny? The will of God? In reality, we don’t set the rules of existence. We must simply accept that life has its ups and downs.
Life’s not fair!
Most of us start off life as bright-eyed optimists, assuming that if we do good we will be showered with rewards. But then over time we learn that the path of life is peppered with hills and valleys. Our career paths don’t turn out to be as promising as we aim. Friends die of sudden sickness. Our children disappoint.
I have seen people who were once kind, cheerful individuals transformed into cynical, cold pessimists by the hardness of life. Still, I believe in the inherent goodness of humans. Sometimes, though, it’s difficult to keep that joy in us when things get rough.
Our Attitude towards Pain
To be certain, there will be pain and suffering in life, with some instances avoidable and many others uncontrollable. Regardless, we can control how we respond to pain. Some people deal with tragedies with so much revolt and hurt that they never get beyond that particular incident, which then becomes the defining moment of their lives. In a certain sense, life died prematurely for them at that trigger.
On the other hand, I have seen people who have gone through the most horrendous things, but their attitude is sanguine acceptance, followed by belief that there is an ultimate reason behind it, despite their inability to comprehend it. Refusing to cry over spilt milk, they focus on the lessons to be learnt from the adversity and how they can grow from it. It’s incredible to see their sense of dignity, and the inspiration they give to others; how they moved on with their lives. The contrast between these two attitudes is unbelievable.
Turn the Bad into Good
On a higher level, there are people who not only recover from their personal tragedies but also use the experience to help others. They become more compassionate and are able to identify with the sufferers. These people get involved in volunteer activities, and establish some sort of means or organisation to help people, usually in memory of the departed one, or for a cause close to their hearts. This enables them to find solace and channel the intense emotion into something positive.
For example, Eric L, a dear American friend of mine, grew up in a sexually and physically abusive environment. He drowned his shame and frustration in alcoholism. Six years ago, he was on holiday in Thailand when the tsunami struck the region. He was so perturbed by others’ sufferings that he finally came to terms with his own childhood pain. He then set up a non-profit organisation that helps sexually abused children and combats child trafficking in Sri Lanka, Cambodia and Thailand.
Whatever the tragedy du jour – another devastating earthquake, a destructive tornado or typhoon, or something more personal and intimate – we should follow Eric’s lead: rise above it and change the negative into positive. When bad things happen to good (nice) people, don’t sit on the sidelines. Lend a hand as best you can.
About the author:
Harvard- and Cambridge-educated financier Celene P. Loo has a penchant for speed, including fast cars and marathon running. She is also a keen artist, the author of two books. She is the founder of local charity Giving Bread(www.givingbread.org)