From Tragedy to Triumph: Resiliency Inspirations for the Journey
From Tragedy to Triumph: 100 Amazing and Inspiring Comebacks is a new book by John F. Groom, of Positive Press renown, and David Noon. The tag line is, “How some of the world’s most successful people came back from disaster…and how you can too.!
I’m not particularly drawn to what I’m going to call here, formulaic writing, though its success in the public marketplace attests to a widespread approval of it; witness the best selling and ever evolving Chicken Soup series. So maybe its just a bit of jealousy from this aspiring writer that initially had me setting the book down after I opened it and discovered the format. Or maybe it was the overwhelm that easily comes to me during the holiday season and the knowledge that I had agreed to review the book and…. You know how excuses come easily.
Perhaps that’s the obvious takeaway from this new book exploring human resilience: excuses come easily. Triumph over tragedy however, comes only through some almost ethereal like persistence and belief in one’s self, from luck and relationships, and it arises out of the requisite tragedy itself in some way. From Tragedy to Triumph does its best to take the ‘ethereal’ out of that often elusive quality of persistence, and it does so without offering a model of resiliency for us to mentally fall back upon.
The book is primarily descriptive, and only secondarily prescriptive; and then so only based upon the testament of 100 biographies. I guess that’s enough, for starters.
That descriptive approach is the book’s strength however. It is essentially composed of two-page biographical reviews of 100 people, ranging from the living to the historical, from Stephen Hawking to the slave freeing Harriet Tubman, from the now famous J. K. Rowling to many people previously unknown to me; all of them, despite fame coming only to some, extraordinary people because they found something inside to live true to. The other inclusive commonality running through their life stories is at least one seriously low point, a life tragedy for some and for others a life of extreme adverse circumstance, when the excuses to give up might have come easy to them; and they chose not to go there.
They persisted. And out of their persistence came a better world for them, and in many cases, Albert Einstein for example, we are the beneficiaries as well. The book, I confess, despite it’s too narrow for me ‘bounce back’ conceptualization of resilience, is growing on me. It is an inspiring read and a good reference for those of us who love history and biography and are curious about the arena of human flourishing.
The Conclusion of the book is an exploration into various dynamics and shared particulars among these 100 who triumphed. It turns out for example, that “physical location matters” (geographical moves were often part of the new story), but that formal educational success was not a commonality.
“The things most commonly cited for success—good health, education, appearance, and timing—don’t seem to be of overwhelming importance in making a great comeback, although they tend to be very important in achieving a high degree of conventional success. What matters is that someone believes, for whatever reason, that change is possible. A belief in change requires, perhaps more than anything else, a sense of imagination: you have to believe that life can be something other than what it appears at the moment.”
“They rarely saw themselves as victims. Instead, they focused on one of two great skills: creativity or the ability to connect to others.” (Now there’s another book for the series!)
It is in numerous nuggets such as this that the book reveals its practical applications, beyond serving as inspiration. We all find ourselves in need of strategy and inspiration at times, and studying the lives of those who have found their way through the extremes of adversity is a worthwhile and enlightening way to rediscover either. The book leaves me feeling, “If they can do it, I can too!”
My congratulations to John Groom and David Noon, for this contribution to human resilience. Now I want to read Groom’s Living Sanely in an Insane World. I’ve been trying to figure this out for more than a few days now.
marc choyt12/31/2010 at 5:06 pm
Larry, thanks for the review– makes me want to read it.
Location does matter. Ralph Elison famously said, “Geography is fate.”
Not just in outer landscape, but in the inner landscape– how you locate your attention, the alters that you worship in, how you locate your sense of evolving self in context to your walk in the world.
But one thing I’ve been thinking about lately in context to life purpose, fate and destiny, is how the wound, the deep personal wound, is intimately linked to one’s gifts. They are wound together like a knot that it can take decades of life to unravel.
Much of one’s destiny is determined by how effective or ineffective one can heal this trauma– how you navigate this landscape– and the healing of trauma is completely essential if one is to live life in a Blessing way.
I wonder if these points find resonance in the book.
Larry Glover01/02/2011 at 4:24 pm
Thanks for your provocative comment, Marc. It’s packed with depth despite the brevity; I’ll do my best to match that… however…!
One of my challenges and frustrations with both this book review and in much of “the resilience and positive psychology” literature is the paradox offered by them as emerging fields: i.e. they are great so far as they go, usually toward supporting the development of ‘healthy functioning egos,’ however there is something lacking here for me, from a wild resiliency perspective.
From this WR view, they can easily serve our ‘domestication’ more than serving any realization of the true depth of our nature and being; they can make us better neighbors and friends and citizens (all good things), while also seducing us further into identifying our selves with our egos, as who we are.
I place From Tragedy to Triumph, in this category. It is excellent and interesting… so far as it goes. It does not however ‘discover’ there are ‘varieties and dimensions of resiliency’, though it does contribute toward a sense of ‘texturing’ in how we think of resiliency. It does so through its exploration of influences and factors such as age, finances, religion and geography…. It’s approach is broader than the depth of reflection you bring with your comment.
This is so due to the intention and nature of the book; it is also so because you are thinking of yourself and humanity within landscape and ecological frames. The book’s authors seem to be writing more from a sense of ‘the self as object.’
They do not directly address the subject of healing, though each of the ‘100’ face exactly what might be experienced as a deep wounding. The sense that the ‘story’ we are living out in our lives has an enormous impact on our resilience and our healing is but perhaps ‘suspected’ in maybe two sentences. That is not their approach.
I find it a shortcoming of the book, personally, and yet it feels unfair to ‘ding’ them for it.
They also do not even mention the emerging field of study, “post traumatic growth.” It’s tempting to ‘ding’ them for that too, however that too seems unfair since they basically do not specifically reference any resiliency research.
This is a what you see is what you get book. It stands alone as worthy. And it leaves me crying for the whole field of human resiliency to make the leap to the recognition that, ‘we are the landscape, the geography, the stories we live out—reciprocally creating the ecology of our own selves, consciously and unconsciously.
And beyond that: we are mystery and wonder, the unnamable itself.