IN PRAISE OF DIFFICULTY AND
STRUGGLE—————-John M. Reardon
It all starts in struggle.
Pushed and taken out,
Of that place of dark peace,
With easy given nurture,
Of free given growthful life stuff.
Otto Rank said it best, each of us “is a hero in our birth”. It is
the heroic overcoming of the terror of suffering loss of our known world. Us
reacting to a loss inflicted by an “outside force” moving us in
In our bodies and our primitive forming brain this struggle is etched. Perhaps
a life long resistance to being “pushed” is
ingrained. And, our tendency to dislike being “rushed”, and wishing
to slow things down is forged.
In this nascent state, our primitive feelings of smallness, weakness, loss, and
panic are being imprinted. A primal and sentient feeling of
“inferiority” is growing. At some point, our “steam valve of
spirit” bursts, and we take a first action. We cry!
Our survival protest explodes,
Against, our, dangling in air.
Cut off, disconnected, lost,
We squirm, shake and thrust about.
They come. Soothingly they hold us.
Birth is our initiation into our social nature and life. The struggle of birth
creates our first “minus” experience. We exercise our first social
action—we cry. They respond to us. We have just resolved our first big
struggle. Crying has brought us a “felt plus”; the “minus”
Alfred Adler told us, “Each is the artist of their own personality.”
With birth we have begun our life long artistry. We are now “wired”
to want to move the “minus to a plus”. “Minus to plus” is
one of the major canvases we will paint on. Each new struggle affords the
opportunity to grow and develop. Each struggle affords us a new moment ripe
Struggle also provides us with a new image. Struggle makes each of us “a
life athlete”. In its Greek roots, athlete, carries a deep human meaning.
Athlete is—“the one who enters the arena and struggles for the
prize.” The Greeks also had another word that may well describe “the
prize”. Arête. Arête, calls us “to be the best possible self”.
These are coupled tightly with Adler’s “primal” understanding of
human as having an urge to grow and develop, and to do so within a
“community feeling” marked by Social Interest and contribution.
Within our “struggle for the prize”, we have what Adler called “innates”:
—we will strive “to overcome the minus”.
—we will strive to move from “inferiority” to
—“superiority” is our Goal—thus—we are goal oriented,
overcoming, and movement oriented.
—Adler identified the “primal” Goals as:
—–to adapt in a given environment
—–to be victorious in that adapting in that environment.
—we have a “creative force” inside us that is “identical with
the Life Force” that will help us.
—our striving, overcoming, adapting, and surviving will be done with Social
Interest and Self Interest.
—in Social Interest we will strive “with” the others in cooperation
and in contribution.
—in Self Interest we will strive to overcome “inferiority” by
moving “against” the others in competition and self
Adler was quick to understand and let us know that the “innates” could be used in a manner that would be
“useful” or in a manner that would be “useless”. Striving
“with” was seen as “useful”. The hopeful and encouraging
message of Adler is—our “innates” will
help us in all the struggles and difficulties Life confronts us with. Perhaps
one of the biggest mistakes in the psychological Life Style of being
“against”, is to fear and to reject “the reality” that Life
is made up of struggles and difficulties.
Within the desire to deny that Life will challenge us with struggles and
difficulties there lurks a more formidable reality. Change is a given in our
lives. Struggle and difficulty are the children of Change. Adler was pretty
clear that “Normal” people adapt and swim successfully in a sea of
Life and Change. Swimming and helping others swim brings belonging and
significance, as well as security. By trying to escape, fight, and exclude
struggle, those with “neurotic” patterns live with anxiety and the
fear of the undertow of discovery of their own inferiority. Fighting the
struggles and difficulties usually creates a sinking feeling. And, denial is a
tool that one can practice to stay out of the water of Life. The consequence is
clear—anxiety driven isolation.
Within Change, there is another dynamic that helps us use our “innates”. In the face of struggle and difficulty
we can make any struggle more difficult, by using “dualism”, and an
“either-or” view of Life’s movement. It is interesting that this view
of Life’s movement came out of many stories of the Creation. Note:
We now know that the true dynamic of Life is CHAOS. Note: CHAOS is the movement
between states of:
We do well to read struggle and difficulty as a state of Order and a state of
Disorder. Adler would guide us to understand that the Goal, and chosen
direction and movement create Order and disorder. And, along with the
“either-or” story from Creation there was an assumed judgment—Order
was “good” and Disorder was considered “bad”. Adler was
able to show the following:
—order can create difficulty and struggle.
—disorder can also do that.
—order as a way to handle difficulty and struggle may be “useful”
and also be “useless”.
—the same is true of how disorder is done.
—both order and disorder activate minus feelings, inferiority, striving to
overcome, the goal of superiority, and movement that may be “useful”
and “useless” based on Social Interest and Self Interest as goals and
—movement “against” will create difficulty and struggle, and probable
—movement “with” may settle difficulty and struggle, and bring
—our “innate” “creative force” can generate
“order” and “disorder”, the “useful” and
“useless” behavior and results.
What forces can pull us away
From our deep embedded self?
Who can conjure our clear soul,
Seducing us toward “easy”?
Who makes any struggle a dis-ease?
Given the description of our
foundational experience with struggle and difficulty, and a solid grasp of our
innate capabilities to handle both struggle and difficulty, what is mitigating
against the handling of struggle and difficulty from being a primary life norm?
From this observer’s point of view, there are 2 forces that are promoting
“the easy” and “stress less life”:
—trend in parenting
—device centered life
What is the impact of a parenting
style that emphasizes both protection and validation? With no struggle, how
would a child get to use and strengthen their “spirit to overcome”?
How would they develop a sense of self, an esteem for self, by not having to
confront “minuses” and learn to turn them to a self
generated “plus”? In a “praise” oriented validation
culture, how would a child ever learn to be “self-encouraging”?
Why do some parents think their
children are “incapable” of handling the stress and strain of
challenge? What will it take to help parents shift from “protection
from” to “protection for”? In the “old neighborhood”
culture, protection was a neighborhood, therefore community action. Does parent
protection from having their children experience defeat, failure, and loss help
the children be more human?
“selfies” are used to fulfill a personal “significance”
—the logic—if I show you and
tell you who I am, you will treat me as significant.
—how does one achieve
significance without acting with others, and demonstrating character?
—why would someone think that
if they say they are “important” without any human contact and action
with others, anyone would believe them?
—is there any “real”
and authentic belonging and significance without “real” tangible
—how does the isolation
inherent in the use of the device, to gain belonging and significance,
inoculate the user from the stress, strain, disagreement, conflict, and
disappointment innate in “real” person-to-person human
Finally, Adler told us what
—when we adapt to real life
—our adapting inadvertently
benefits others. And,
—we use our energy and courage
to overcome life’s difficulties we are Normal.
What are some of the actions we
—share widely, how
“innately” we are equipped to handle struggle and difficulty.
—train people working with
others in this human understanding.
—offer through schools and
churches to support parents who will use the “innates”
with their children.
—train young people and those
entering human development professions on “engagement” using the
—support people in using their
“innates” and the importance of persistent
—learn to appeal to
“innate” qualities in people experiencing struggles and difficult
among those trained in this grounded and engaged process.
—continue to write and speak
about the “human capability based in human innates”.
And so, our work begins. John M.