Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Withstanding the Storms of Life


After I spoke at Harvard at the Conference on Emotional Intelligence, Wendy Wu, Founder of Six Seconds China and CEO and Founder of Wonder Tech, asked if she could interview me about sustainable happiness. At one point in the interview we talked about families, and she asked me what I want for my children. I wonder if she thought it strange when I said I want my children to have enough heartache and troubles to make their lives richer. An easy life doesn’t always make for a happy life, and overcoming struggles builds resilience.​

Today the wind was blowing so hard that when I looked up into the trees, I felt dizzy watching them sway and felt a tinge of fear that one was going to fall on me. We’ve lost a few trees to storms. Each year we bring in Rob the arborist to walk through our yard and figure out which trees are healthy and which ones will likely come down in high winds. It seems every year we lose a couple. Our beautiful oak tree looks quite ill, yet every year it surprises us with a healthy display of new buds and in the summer gently shades the yard with a beautiful green canopy. In its few hundred years on earth, it has weathered its fair share of storms. The root system covers a broad area of the back yard. In contrast, the young and beautiful hemlock tree surprised us by crashing down in a mild storm a couple of weeks ago. We found out later the root system was shallow and part of it was rotting.

Strong winds can’t blow down a healthy tree; only weak trees with diseases or a damaged root system come down in storms. It is nature’s way of clearing the woods of disease and damage. I was curious. What happens if a tree grows where there is no wind or disease? Are they stronger and healthier? It turns out they aren’t! In biospheres, they found that trees grew more rapidly but couldn’t grow beyond a certain height before they toppled. Scientists discovered the lack of wind caused a deficiency of stress or reaction wood, the wood that helps position a tree for the best sun absorption and also helps it to grow solidly. Trees are more fibrous and grow deeper roots when they are buffeted by high winds; the actual wood changes and becomes stronger.

It is part of nature that all things are strengthened by struggle. This is where the wish for my children intersects with the wind blowing through the trees. Instead of wishing them a life of ease and no pain or struggle, I trust they are stronger and more resilient when they have problems and overcome them. How about you?

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