The Benefit of Problems
Or the Only Means to Success

Recently, I was at a meeting discussing various reasons for doing good in the world. During that meeting, I expressed my personal views. I mentioned two reasons that motivated me: having danced with death twice and having returned from Myanmar a year and a half ago. Those two different experiences changed my life.

While I did not mention Saul Alinsky or John Donne, it seemed to me that both Alinsky and Donne thought the same thing as I did regarding dancing with death and how that affected them.

Alinsky Saul Alinsky
Alinsky, the great community organizer in Chicago and author of Rules for Radicals, viewed dancing with death as a liberating experience for the person. He wrote, "We must believe that it is the darkest before the dawn of a beautiful new world. We will see it when we believe it." He was clear that if we dance with the various forms of darkness related to death, whether physical or emotional, a new day will dawn. However, we need to believe in that new day if we wish to experience it.
Donne John Donne
John Donne wrote a short poem entitled No Man is an Island. Donne saw the effects of the plague. During much of his life, the plague killed many thousands in the British Isles and Europe. So many deaths occurred that he addressed the loss of those lives in relationship to those that remained in his poem. Donne's observation allowed him to connect the dots. Steve Jobs said, "You can't connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards." Donne looked around and saw death but he connected the dots, which link us all to all other human beings.

No man is an island,
Entire of itself.
Each is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thine own
Or of thine friend's were.
Each man's death diminishes me,
For I am involved in mankind.
Therefore, send not to know
For whom the bell tolls,
It tolls for thee.

Both Alinsky and Donne saw why death needed to be addressed if living life would have any meaning. Both writers addressed the interrelatedness of humankind to those less fortunate. While that relational truth was evident to Donne and Alinsky, not all Americans buy into that notion.

There are various reasons why many Americans do not identify with the downtrodden. Nonetheless, both Donne and Alinsky saw the suffering of others. Donne saw the deaths of thousands due to the plague, and Alinsky saw especially racism in America.

At the meeting that I recently attended, I mentioned why I am so vested in teaching. Looking back upon my life, I have been able to connect the dots. I was an above average student in elementary school. However, my family moved from Pennsauken, NJ to Pittsburgh, PA due to a promotion that my dad received. Since he did not go to college because of WWII, he asked a real estate agent what suburb of Pittsburgh had the best school system. The answer was Mt. Lebanon. While it was the best in Pittsburgh, it ranked 19th best in the entire country.

My parents sacrificed a great deal to live in Mt. Lebanon, which was also an extremely wealthy community in Western Pennsylvania. However, they did so to provide their children an excellent education. Unfortunately, coming from a school where I was above average to a gifted school was a major setback for me. I saw myself as both dumb and poor. Nonetheless, I benefitted from that mistake years later, which resulted in my loving teaching. I do not want my students to suffer needlessly. It also explains why I am concerned about the needs of others related to poverty, since I saw myself as poor living in Mt. Lebanon.

Therefore, I have three suggestion that I have to anyone reading this article:

  1. Make a list of major problems in your life.
  2. Then address those problems. Seize the problem, because it will provide a means to be successful in life. While that may seem counterintuitive at first glance, it is the very basis of all accomplishments.
  3. Finally, perceive problems as a means to discover blessings in your life.

If you follow these suggestions, you will benefit. I babysit for Jack and Owen on a weekly basis starting just after Jack was born nearly five-years ago. I have read to them and discussed with them all the stories about Christopher Robin, Winnie-the-Pooh, and all the other characters about which A.A. Milne wrote. While many adults have written off Milne's work as merely material for children, those stories are for each of us. For example, Christopher Robin addressed Winnie's self-doubts. Christopher Robin wants Winnie to come alive and to be all he can be.

Christopher Robin tells Winnie-the-Pooh important information about Pooh.

Christopher Robin tells Winnie-the-Pooh important information about Pooh.

Jack, Owen, and I have discussed Tigger and Eeyore many times. Those two boys, along with the rest of us, have a very clear choice regarding whether Tigger or Eeyore will be our role model. Tigger is excited about life and living; Eeyore is just depressed and not willing to act.

We need to morph our problems into things that will motivate us into becoming all that we can be. Name a successful person, and that person became successful due to him or her addressing one or more major problems facing them in life. As they say in the sports world, no pain, no gain. All truly successful people went through troubling times and converted those difficulties into blessings. They benefit but also society benefits.

Connecting The Dots

Connecting the Dots

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Darkest Before Dawn

Darkest Before Dawn

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The Last Lecture

The Last Lecture

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Dancing with Death

Dancing with Death

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Best of Times

Best and Worst of Times

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