Saturday, May 7, 2011
Artists, hikers, penguins, and resources
What do Mexican Artist Frida Kahlo, American mountaineer Aron Ralston, and penguins have in common?
Frida Kahlo is highly regarded as a female leader in the field of art. She showed a lot of courage throughout her life and in her forceful art with seductive and often brutal self-portraits. With emotional force Kahlo expressed her personal struggles, her private obsessions, and her political concerns. She is known as a vital, brilliant, and agonized person and as the flamboyant wife of the celebrated muralist Diego Rivera. All her life until her death at the age of 47 she fought severe medical problems after a near-fatal accident. Kahlo, however, insisted on being strong and joyful in the face of pain and misery, continuing her painting when confined to her bed and when in great pain and despair.
Hiker Aron Ralston, to many known as the guy who cut off his own arm to survive, is a 27 year old Aspen mountaineer who was trapped for five days in a remote 3-foot wide desert canyon in eastern Utah with a boulder of around 900 pounds weighing on his arm. Ralston eventually realized he had no chances to survive unless he would use his pocketknife to amputate his own arm in order to free himself.
Penguins survive and thrive in harsh climates, communicating by vocalizing and performing physical behaviors called “displays”. They use many vocal and visual displays to communicate nesting territories and mating information. They also use displays in partner and chick recognition, and in defense against intruders.
Apart from the fact that these stories are possibly interesting and inspiring, they teach us a shared lesson: everyone is capable of using available resources creatively and wisely even when facing great difficulties or hardships. No matter in what situation you and I find ourselves, we always have some resource that is still available to us. Whether it be a skill, a tool, a body part, or, most valuable, our inner strength and resilience, as long as we see it, mobilize it, and use it creatively we stand a much better chance to overcome challenges, adversity, and great agony. And it doesn’t necessarily have to concern insurmountable pain or hardship. Just think of a teacher challenged by a group of rambunctious teenagers. Think of a manager facing resistance to the upcoming changes, or think of a visibly physically disabled person applying for a job where looks are traditionally regarded as crucial. But you could also be that IT manager being stretched to the limits because his project is off track in terms of all major deliverables. If you remain to think clearly, face your challenges, and creatively look at what resources you do have available, you are always capable to accomplish more than you thought at first and often even the seemingly impossible.
To round it up with some reflection, I pose four questions for you to ponder:
1. What difficult situations have I faced and did I recognize the resources available to me?
2. In those situations, how did I actually make use my resources?
3. In witnessing others from close by, how do they use their resources creatively?
4. What is it that keeps me from optimally using my resources? Is it insight, courage, or any of the other many possibilities?