The Benefits of Adversity

John Dockendorf09 Jan, 2020
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“It is an illusion to think that more comfort means more happiness. Happiness comes of the capacity to feel deeply, to enjoy simply, to think freely, to risk and to be needed.” – Storm Jameson

The Revenge of Geography by Robert Kaplan, a fascinating book, posits that though technology is making the world “flatter”, much of geopolitics and macro human behavior is still defined by geography. One of his points, one also made more subtly by Jared Diamond in Guns Germs and Steel, is that few historically significant cultures have ever developed between the equator and latitudes 22 North or South. He asserts that life in the tropics is simply too easy to create the need for people to band together for mutual survival. And this coming together to face mutual challenges is what is needed to develop complex civilizations. He also notes that wealthy civilizations don’t develop above 50 degrees N or below 50 degrees south because conditions are simply too harsh to do more than merely survive.

Without taking a position on geographical determinism, I want to build on his theories. Civilization flourishes in temperate zones. The hypothesis is that where weather is more seasonal, one has to intentionally plant crops rather than harvest fruit. One has to figure out ways to stay warm in winter and find light for long winter evenings. People have to work together to survive and this focus on collaboration fosters the sharing of ideas that moves civilization forward.

Like life in the tropics, in the book, How Children Succeed, Paul Tough argues that as parents, we have made our upper middle-class children so comfortable that we are actually inhibiting their success. If civilizations need stressors to develop more fully, perhaps giving our children lives filled with too much comfort is actually doing them a disservice. If we do too much for them, we may actually be crippling them, though it’s the last thing we intend. Resilience; picking one’s self up from failure, is one of the characteristics of successful people. If our kids don’t experience failure or even adversity, we actually decrease their chances of becoming successful.

Kaplan says a trained geographer can look at the natural attributes of the United States compared to the rest of the planet and instantly understand why it’s a dominant global player. The US has more and better navigable rivers and natural harbors than other countries. With small, easily traversed East Coast mountains, two oceans and fertile plains accessed by the Mississippi River, we have won the geography bee! He goes even further to say that because we are protected by two oceans and naturally more secure, the Unites States was more receptive to the concept of democracy than say a country like Russia which was more inclined towards the protective rule of a despot due to the constant threat of invasion across the steppes. 

I would like to make the jump that like the United States, Bold Earth is endowed with a unique advantage in the world of summer youth enrichment. We can take advantage of all that nature and cultural immersion offers to create an optimal environment to help teenagers become more resilient and enjoy a strong community experience. Like the temperate zone, Bold Earth is neither too comfortable nor too challenging. When one first comes to Bold Earth, if they don’t have previous outdoor travel experience, things are naturally a little uncomfortable. However, students quickly learn ways to make outdoor living comfortable and eventually, even comfortable. Students are constantly challenged, and they learn to overcome these challenges. By working together, encouraging each other and sharing ideas, the group succeeds and great friendships are fostered. The shared cultural immersion, the overwhelming natural beauty, and the shared adversity tend to bring people closer together in more powerful ways than if they were in a more comfortable environment (school, sports, a summer camp with cabins.)

Though Bold Earth students are being constantly challenged and aren’t always comfortable, they are actually having the time of their lives and sharing huge amounts of fun with new friends. Learning that challenge and adversity can be your friend is another life lesson that lasts long beyond the summer. 

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