Tag Archive for 'Adversity'

The opportunities in adversity

As the bubonic plague hung over Europe in the mid-14th Century, it must have been difficult to imagine any associated blessings. But that’s just what the late Norman F. Cantor proposed in his book, In The Wake Of the Plague: The Black Death and The World It Made.

Cantor wrote that the devastation caused the demise of the Dark Ages, and made way for a new, enlightened order. Cantor argues that, “the Black Death heralded an intellectual revolution.” He is talking about The Reformation, The Renaissance, and The Age of Enlightenment.

Consider a few developments that occurred not long after The Plague:

Information
Gutenberg (1400-68) used his movable type to make mass printing possible. Books and bibles finally could be available to the masses. Now for the first time in human history, there was a reason for ordinary people to learn to read.

Religion
Martin Luther (1483-1546) began the Protestant Reformation, which helped loosen the grip of the old church dogma on the state and the people, and just in time for the new Gutenberg bibles.

Art
Michelangelo (1475-1564) created Renaissance art that is still valid, imitated, and valued 500 years later. Enlightened minds are inspired by beautiful things.

Science and Engineering
Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) actually made significant contributions to art, thought, AND science and engineering. He was perhaps the Renaissance man. Civilization still benefits from the leveraging of his work and his thoughts.

History tells us that, just as controlled burning of brush can leave a healthier forest, adversity can spawn opportunity. But to appreciate history, one has to take the long view.

Let’s all work on our long views.


One person can make a difference

As the 17th century dawned, cause-and-effect was merging parallel universes.

In the Old World, a decision by a group of Leiden Separatists put them on a circuitous journey. Meanwhile, in the New World, a manchild named Tisquantum was born to the Wampanoag Indians.

Both the Separatists and Tisquantum became very important to our future, but not before their lives would change and intertwine in ways not to be imagined by either.

Seeking religious freedom, the Separatists crossed Europe and then the Atlantic. On their odyssey they would steel their convictions, which proved handy in the New World.

Incredibly, first as a hostage and later as an interpreter, Tisquantum crossed the Atlantic six times. On his odyssey, Tisquantum learned Old World languages that, combined with his New World survival skills, would contribute to his rendezvous with destiny.

During their journeys, both experienced a name change: The Separatists became Pilgrims and Tisquantum became Squanto. And as the Pilgrims prepared for their first Atlantic crossing, Squanto made his last.

Arriving at his birthplace in 1619, Squanto found that his entire village and family had been wiped out by an epidemic.

On the day after Christmas, 1620, with the Mayflower Compact in hand, the Pilgrims came ashore at what is now Massachusetts, on a place they named Plymouth, after the city where their voyage began.

The Pilgrims’ first winter in the New World was brutal; less than half of the 102 colonists survived to spring. Then on March 16th, 1621, an Indian named Samoset walked up to the Pilgrims and said, “Hello, English.” Very soon he recognized that these sad-looking folks needed help from someone who spoke better English.

The two universes finally converged and cause-and-effect met humanity as Samoset brought Squanto to the Pilgrims. In one of the great moments of serendipity, it turns out “Plymouth” was the very spot of Squanto’s ill-fated village.

Squanto spent the rest of 1621 befriending the Pilgrims and teaching them how to survive in the New World. It’s clear that his contribution was critical to the survival of these important American forebears.

When the courage and convictions of one group of individuals converged with the humanity of two others, something special happened: Part of the foundation of the most benevolent nation in history was born.

This week we give thanks for these individuals and the blessings that have accrued to us 390 years later.

One person can make a difference. Happy Thanksgiving.

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