So there I was yesterday, cycling into the wind, the hail in my face making it very hard to see where I was going. My waterproof coat wasn’t equal to the amount of time I’d spent in the downpour, I’m not convinced most coats would have been. Life throws physical challenges my way on a regular basis. Living in a rural area most of the time means nothing is conveniently to hand, many things require significant journeys. I’ve learned how to jump safely from a moving boat to the bank, how to tie decent knots, and lots of other things. These kinds of challenges are good for me. I’m stretched by them, I grow because of them.
I’m conscious that without challenges, it would be easy to stagnate. There are days when I think it might be nice to seek out my own challenges for a change, and maybe have a few days off from the process of being stretched though. When times are hard I try very hard to convince myself that this is another opportunity to grow, and to do better.
I’m a firm believer in having a positive attitude. I know how to make the best of things. At the same time I’m aware that this is a double edged blade. Knowing how to make the best of things can mean accepting a diet of crumbs while those around you feast. Embracing the challenges can mean not tackling the unfairness underpinning them. A stoical mindset can get you through hard times, but it can also encourage us to tolerate the intolerable.
Which leads to interesting questions about how to decide which is which. Some of those challenges are good, they make me stronger and more capable. Some of them are a bit much, and historically, there have been challenges in my life that I look back at and consider hideously unfair. There are times when a challenge is the consequence of someone else taking the piss. I know that I’m not good at telling when to tough it out, and when to challenge the source of the latest trial. No point arguing with the weather, but when the sources are human, there is scope to question what’s happening.
Fairness matters to me, and I recognise that fair to me needs to be part of that. Compassion to others can require a stepping up, a shouldering of burdens. Trying to act fairly in an unfair world, to deal honourably with people who have no honour, is an ongoing challenge for me. How much compassion should I show? How many challenges should I take on with calm equanimity, and when is it time to say ‘enough’? My best yardstick is whether my own behaviour remains honourable. That’s not an easy one to apply either, but more manageable than anything else I can think of.
Meeting the challenge of a wintery day is all about my own courage, strength and determination. Meeting the challenge of a selfish and unco-operative fellow human being requires similar things of me, but is a very different experience. I’m determined not to have anyone else’s lack of integrity provoke me into responding in kind. More subtle and harder to guard against are those things I am engineered into doing to myself, and when the act of challenging is not about the normal trials of being human, but instead about someone else trying to exert power or manipulate me. Of all the challenges I’m up against, the hardest by far is working out how and when to say ‘you are taking the piss’ and what on earth to do after that point.
Give me a hailstorm any day.