I am reading a fascinating book called ‘The Book of Joy’. It is a record of a series of conversations between the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu. Both men are in their 80’s, are highly respected political and spiritual leaders, have been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize and have experienced great hardship in their lives. It is a fascinating read and a welcome antidote to the ‘don’t worry, be happy’ cheery bumper-sticker approach of many of today’s motivational gurus.
The chapter that I have just read deals with the role of suffering in life and whether suffering is an obstacle to joy. Desmond Tutu makes the point that before he went to prison Nelson Mandela led the military wing of the ANC: he was a firebrand, committed to the idea that victory could only be achieved my armed conflict. His 27 years in prison were very tough, but they gave him the time to compassionately see his enemies’ perspective. The suffering in prison helped him to become more magnanimous, willing to listen to the other side. To discover that the people he regarded as his enemy, they too were human beings who had fears and expectations. Without that time in prison it is doubtful that he would have emerged as a leader committed to reconciliation and nation-building.
“There are going to be frustrations in life. The question is not: How do I escape? It is: How can I use this as something positive?”
As parents our first inclination is to shield our children from difficulties: we are naturally protective. But if we want make our children self-sufficient and resilient we need to seize the opportunities to teach them to deal with life’s challenges. Saying goodbye to mum at the start of the day in kindergarten, managing the disappointment of not being selected for the sports team or school play, taking responsibility when you have forgotten to submit an essay on time. Each is a potential learning moment. Guiding them through these experiences takes time and wisdom on our part. We don’t teach our children anything when we treat them like little princes.
The first chapter in ‘Joy’ ends thus: ‘The three factors that are the greatest influence on increasing our happiness are our ability to reframe our situation more positively, our ability to experience gratitude, and our choice to be kind and generous.’