What Do We Make of this Hardship?
Author and speaker Andy Crouch points out that human beings are in the business of ‘making something of the world’ and that we do this in two ways:
We make things from what already exists in the world
We make sense of what we see and experience in the world
We do the latter - make sense of the world - by telling stories. Mr. Crouch says that power is the ability to get the stories you’re telling to stick, i.e., to get them adopted by others.
Recall that, when you’re in a hard place, your ‘remembering self’ has a story or two she could tell you about your involuntary hardship and that you can choose to adopt your remembering self’s perspective.
You can empower your remembering self, and adopt more and more of her stories.
When you choose to shift your perspective on the hardship you’re seeing and experiencing, you reframe the trial. I call the ‘frames’ by which we can see our involuntary struggles in a new light ‘struggle-specs’.
Struggle-specs are not like sunglasses. Sunglasses make use of darkened (and/or polarized) lenses to block specific types of light. Damaging bright light and UV light are real dangers, and thankfully, sunglasses keep us from seeing the world as it really is, harsh light and all. And struggle-specs are not rose-tinted glasses, which block all but the most pleasing pinkish hues.
While there can be value in not dwelling on a difficult situation, or obsessing over it, too much of the advice we receive from others for coping with an involuntary hardship functions like sunglasses or rose-tinted glasses, counseling us to deny that the unwanted ordeal is bad or that it’s even real.
“Joo Janta 200 Super-Chromatic Peril Sensitive Sunglasses have been specially designed to help people develop a relaxed attitude to danger. At the first hint of trouble, they turn totally black and thus prevent you from seeing anything that might alarm you.” - The Restaurant at the End of the Universe
Struggle-specs are more like the corrective eyeglasses that many of us wear. Corrective glasses work by bending light just before it reaches us, enhancing our own eyes’ ability to focus properly, and they allow us to see the world as it really is.
When we’re in a tough spot, the default perspectives with which we interpret the difficulty, our natural lenses, are compromised and lead us to adopt stories that are, at best, incomplete. Struggle-specs correct our vision by shifting our perspective from the stories that are natural to the stories that are true.
Perhaps you and the people in your life already use some or all of them yourselves without realizing it.
Peer through the ‘with’ struggle-specs to shift from "I'm on my own" to "We're in this together"
Many of us enjoy being alone, and sometimes we need to be alone. ‘Solitude’ is the word we use to describe the glory of being alone. We are, however, social creatures, and when our need for membership and relationship goes unmet, we experience exclusion in the form of ’isolation’ or ‘loneliness’. The isolated person is cut off, disconnected. The lonely person feels unknown.
When you’re in the pit, you're inclined to believe you’re on your own, but…are you? Are there ways in which you’re not as alone as it might seem? Struggle-specs nos. 1 or 2 may help you see previously-hidden good news.
Struggle-specs no. 1: the ‘I am included’ frame
Inclusion is the opposite of isolation. When you’re included, you’re in the circle, connected to the source, and a member of a community. Wearers of struggle-specs no. 1 often say stuff like this: “I’m part of something bigger than myself”
Struggle-specs no. 2: the ‘I am befriended’ frame
Friendship is the opposite of loneliness. When you’re befriended, you’re known and accepted. You’re liked. Wearers of struggle-specs no. 2 often say stuff like this: "You'll never let go”
The ‘with’ struggle-specs bring reality into sharper focus: I am loved, so there is significance in this.
Gaze through the ‘be’ struggle-specs to shift from "We're lost" to "This is the way home"
When we’re in the thick of it (whatever it is), we despair. We believe that things have gone disastrously wrong and that our struggle is not normal, not how things are supposed to be. We lament that we’re off-track, off ‘the happy path’, and we see our hardship as a setback. Moreover, we see our bad circumstances as all bad. Terrible, horrible, no good, very bad.
When all is FUBAR, you're tempted to believe you’re lost, but…are you? Are there ways in which this new, unwanted path might be the right one after all? Struggle-specs nos. 3 or 4 may help you detect overlooked-but-uplifting signs.
Struggle-specs no. 3: the ‘this is expected’ frame
‘Expected’ is the opposite of ‘wrong’. A development may be expected because it's normal or because it was foretold. Wearers of struggle-specs no. 3 often say stuff like this:
“We were due”
“It was only a matter of time”
“C’est la vie”
Struggle-specs no. 4: the ‘this is okay’ frame
‘Okay’ doesn’t mean ‘fine’. Your involuntary hardship is not fine. It could potentially be worse, though, right? Or maybe the struggle isn't all bad, in that it contains some good or will produce good. Wearers of struggle-specs no. 4 often say stuff like this:
“Look on the bright side”
“Every cloud has a silver lining”
“The glass is half full”
“I get to” vs “I have to” (think Tom Sawyer and fence-painting)
“No pain no gain”
“What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”
“When the going gets tough, the tough get going”
The ‘be’ struggle-specs show us a new reality, and we have faith that, despite appearances, this is a more satisfying way.
Look through the ‘do’ struggle-specs to shift from "We're doomed" to "We're going to make it"
When there’s a barrier in our way, the crisis feels as though it’s unending. We see no light, so we believe the tunnel has no end. Our new, shit circumstances are our new normal, all there is and all there ever will be. To make matters worse, we believe we are not up to the task and that, should we even attempt to overcome the obstacle, we’ll fail.
When there's a hitch in your plans, you believe you’re doomed to failure, but…are you? Are there also signposts indicating you’re closer to home than you’d thought? Struggle-specs nos. 5 or 6 may help you see them through the fog.
Struggle-specs no. 5: the ‘this is temporary’ frame
‘Temporary’ is the opposite of unending. If your struggle is temporary, you can look forward to being on the other side of it. “There’ll be bluebirds over the white cliffs of Dover…” Wearers of struggle-specs no. 5 often say stuff like this:
“This too shall pass”
“Reversion to the mean”
“The sun will come out tomorrow”
Struggle-specs no. 6: the ‘this is surmountable’ frame
‘Surmountable’ is the opposite of impossible. Wearers of struggle-specs no. 3 often say stuff like this: “We shall overcome”
The ‘do’ struggle-specs reveal hope, and we grow stronger in and through the test.
Struggle-specs are seeing aids, new frames through which we might ‘make something of the world’ by making sense of what we’re seeing and experiencing in the world - in this case, our unwanted struggle.
When we doff our natural frames and don a pair of struggle-specs, we tell ourselves a new, truer story about our hardship. We put on a better perspective, which changes how we feel about the fiery furnace and injects meaning into what had been merely an absurdity.
But the magic goes deeper.
Remember that there are two ways of ‘making something of the world’: making sense of the world, which has been our focus thus far, and making new things using what’s already in the world. Mr. Crouch proposes that these two ways of ‘making something of the world’ are closely connected. “Meaning and making go together,” he says, in that we make sense of the world by making new things.
The reverse is also true: new things - new concrete realities - tend to emerge from new ways of seeing the world.
For instance, over the years Elon Musk has been spinning a fantastic tale about humans building a self-sustaining city on Mars.
“You want to wake up in the morning and think the future is going to be great - and that’s what being a spacefaring civilization is all about. It’s about believing in the future and thinking that the future will be better than the past. And I can’t think of anything more exciting than going out there and being among the stars.” - Elon Musk
He’s reframing the human race itself, shifting how we think about ourselves. He founded SpaceX to make the vision a reality, and while it’s too early to know whether SpaceX and Mr. Musk will succeed, the compelling new story of his we find ourselves in may just result in an actual human city on Mars in the next decade or so. Because more and more people are adopting Mr. Musk’s vision, you and I may become Martians someday.
If a new perspective on the world can lead to a new, tangible reality in the solar system, then a new perspective on your worldly struggle has the potential to change what Mr. Crouch refers to as ‘the horizons of the possible’ in your material world.
…even if, paradoxically (and frustratingly), your circumstances are, for a time, unchanged.
Struggle is complicated. What have I overlooked?
: Crouch, Andy. Culture Making. InterVarsity Press. 2008.
: Adams, Douglas. The Restaurant at the End of the Universe. Del Rey. 1980.
: Sink, Judi & Green, Brigette. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l2ze1613dR4