Showing Courage in the Face of Adversity

Adversity is defined as a state, condition, or instance of serious or continued difficulty or adverse misfortune. That said, adversity can mean a lot of things to a lot of people.

“To be, or not to be, that is the question– / Whether ’tis Nobler in the mind to suffer / The Slings and Arrows of outrageous Fortune, / Or to take Arms against a Sea of troubles, / And by opposing end them?” — Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Act III, Scene I

For Shakespeare, adversity meant nothing more than the world around him, the only obvious end to it being suicide. However, suicide is a very permanent solution to the often temporary troubles of the world, and Shakespeare understood this to be true. In the aforementioned quotation, his character Prince Hamlet broods over that which is unfair and unpleasant, offering his critique of the human experience but eventually coming to the realization that the alternative isn’t much better.

Indeed, as humans, adversity is all we know in the world. The Earth can be cold, if not inhospitable at times, and we are all without fur. We are born among unchanging and inconsiderate elements, so we must live just as such in the face of these challenges, if not welcome them just as our ancestors did.

To quote another great literary work, “Charming! But in civilized countries,’ said the Controller, ‘you can have girls without hoeing for them, and there aren’t any flies or mosquitoes to sting you. We got rid of them all centuries ago.’ The Savage nodded, frowning. ‘You got rid of them. Yes, that’s just like you. Getting rid of everything unpleasant instead of learning to put up with it. Whether ’tis better in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, or to take arms against a sea of troubles and by opposing end them… but you don’t do either. Neither suffer nor oppose. You just abolish the slings and arrows. It’s too easy.” — Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, Ch. 17

To offer context, Brave New World tells the tale of John the Savage among others who live in what could be described as a futuristic utopia in which every sort of unpleasantry is done away with, including things that provoke strong feelings, such as the arts. John isn’t referred to as a savage because he’s fierce or uncontrolled; he’s a savage because he reads Shakespeare and was born outside this post-modern society’s walls. John despises the idea that human suffering is something that we should all run from. He argues that it is this very suffering that makes us human and he welcomes it, as we all should. But why welcome that which pains us, that which tears at our flesh and strips us of our better judgment? Simply put, adversity is the only world mankind has ever known, and that’s something that we should all eventually come to terms with as human beings, because there really isn’t an alternative to the daily trials and tribulations of the human experience.

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