A brush with death will sometimes have a dramatic effect upon a person. It can (and has) caused people to re-evaluate their priorities and reset their life on a completely different course. This phenomena has been the basis for several Hollywood blockbusters including, Big Fish (starring Albert Finney, Ewan McGregor, Danny DeVito), and Meet Joe Black (starring Anthony Hopkins, Brad Pitt) are two great examples. But it’s not just the stuff of movies. Throughout history there have people who have had a brush with death which has shaped them to live a life without fear and accomplish extraordinary things. Examples include Martin Luther, who nearly died in a storm and cried out to God to save him (he is now the second most written about person of all time), and Winston Churchill who nearly drowned as a child. How differently would you live if you knew when you were going to die?
If COVID has taught us anything, its taught us just how much we need each other and probably (for many of us) how much we didn’t know it! When we’re born we are utterly dependent. As we grow up we increasingly become independent. When we become an adult we learn to get along with others and become interdependent. But adults also experience seasons where it is necessary to be temporarily dependent upon others. These are times when we need the help and care of others. Ironically though, its often the people who are called upon to help and care for others that are the least likely to accept help and care themselves…
If he isn’t already, Peter FitzSimmons is fast becoming Australia’s Story-Teller. In 2007 he published a well written account of one of Australia’s greatest sons, entitled, “The Ballad of Les Darcy” (2007). FitzSimmons carefully chose the term ‘ballad’ in the sense that it is “a story of one generation passed onto the next” (although usually told in poetry) to describe this remarkable young man. Les Darcy was born in 1895 near Maitland, NSW. By 1915 he was a world champion boxer. In fact, even though he was a middle-weight boxer, he defeated Australia’s heavy-weight champion at that time to also become Australia’s heavy-weight boxing champion. But all this happened just as the first world war had broken out. He wanted to put his boxing career on hold and enlist, but being under 21 his mother wouldn’t sign the papers. This led to a vicious rumour among his opponents that he had refused to enlist. Around the time of this controversy he had a bout where one of his teeth was knocked out. After winning the bout, his saved tooth was reinserted back into his mouth by a dentist. This short and rather innocuous moment was to irreversibly change his life.
There are many things in life that are completely counter-intuitive. That is, the most natural and obvious thing to do is sometimes exactly what you shouldn’t do. I saw a dramatic example of this on Air Crash Investigations where a plane inexplicably nose-dived and crash landed killing all on board. After examining the flight recorder, the investigators found that the pilots had reacted to the plane’s slight drop in altitude by pulling the plane’s nose up to correct the drop in altitude. But due to an anomaly in weather conditions, the plane didn’t respond as expected and continued to lose altitude. So the pilots pulled back on their control columns even harder to quickly correct the drop in altitude. This action, however, caused the even greater loss of altitude which resulted in the tragedy. Investigators concluded that in such conditions, the pilots should have responded counter-intuitively by pointing the nose down to regain control of the aircraft before attempting to increase its altitude. Another counter-intuitive example came from Dr. Fazale Rana, a biochemist, who presented at Legana several years ago and shared how a dam had been formed in South America which in several islands being formed. The native wildlife managed to take refuge on these islands but conservationists were concerned that on one of the islands predators also took refuge and would soon wipe out the other animals on the island. Counter-intuitively though, the island with no predators soon saw its wildlife die out, whereas the island with predators saw its wildlife flourish! Adversity may well be one of the most counter-intuitive factors operating in our world for our good!
If you want to be truly successful it won’t be because of your income or bank balance. Neither will it be because of your social media popularity. Success is measured by who we are — which determines how we relate to others, especially those closest to us. This is why we are so surprised when we learn that many rich and famous celebrities are so desperately lonely and depressed and unable to succeed in love. I have met many high flyers who are publicly admired yet, secretly, feel they are failures because their marriages and parental relationships are dysfunctional. This is why I’ve come to see “success” as being measured by a person’s ability to know how to be a good person who engages with people appropriately.