This week I want to talk about a certain kind of friend; an unlikely friend: the opponent. In his biography, Abram Poljak “ wrote, “I realized at a young age that enemies do more good than friends.” About his life’s work, he also comments, “The defeats were often more beneficial than the success!” Of course, we want to succeed, but isn’t success the result of what we learn from a succession of defeats? Isn’t defeat then the tool which helps us succeed, that is, if we do not give up?
The same philosophy can be applied to those things, situations, or people who oppose us. As we naturally aim to organize ourselves to arrive at a place where we can sit and enjoy a little ease, destiny often seem to take us out of our comfort zone. In fact, it often feels that life takes pleasure in bringing us to difficult places. I heard once of an experiment scientists tried with lions. A first pride was set in an area of the reservation where everything was supplied for them. Life was easy. A second pride was set in difficult conditions. They had to hunt for their food and contend with other predators for water and territory. After a while, the scientists noticed that the first pride of lions had gotten lazy and unmotivated. Their fur, overall outlook and demeanor was unhealthy while the second set of lions who had to fight for their survival were very active and looked very healthy.
It seems that opposition, contention and difficulty make us stronger. Isn’t this the whole principle of training and even of playing games? In training, we partner with gravity and speed in order to strengthen our muscles. And if life itself was not enough of a puzzle, we play games in which we create complex situations or scenarios that we have to solve, sometimes even adding self imposed speed. All these things contribute to keep our body strong and wits sharp. I heard of a group of nuns in New England who were all over 100 years old, active and intelligent . They agreed to allow themselves to be studied to see what was the reason of their longevity.. At death, their autopsies showed that many had full blown Alzheimer’s, but the disease had never affected them in their lifetime. What did these nuns have in common? They were all teachers and had spent their days learning, doing crosswords and playing games that required them to process and think, sometimes with speed.
The trials of life can be compared to a friendly enemy. As we learn to wisely deal with difficult relationships at home or at work, we strengthen the social skills that make us a more complete person. Every time we have to contend with the ever speedily changing technology, we learn the skills that help us navigate through our ever changing modern world. Whenever we conquer a bad habit, a vice, or a temptation, we strengthen our resolve to live decent lives. In fact, any time we come out of our comfort zone and enter unfamiliar territory in order to do or learn something new, we not only strengthen our humility muscles, but we add to our knowledge bank. In all those situations, our failures become our special teacher that is, if we do not give up!
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