- The story of the two brothers
- Adversity as the Salt of Life
- Dark and detestable as adversity
- Adversity strengthens and develops our faculties
- Adversity teaches us virtues of courage, fortitude and firmness
- Adversity is our best moral schoolmaster
- Adversity teaches us humility and sympathy
- Adversity is the best discover of virtue in man
- Adversity reveals human nature and tries our friends
- Adversity is not a chastisement, but a purification
- Adversity brings us closer to God
- Adversity is a blessing in disguise for an artist
- Adversity and its evil effects
It is with reference to Shakespeare’s Play “As you like it.” Act II Sc. I.
There are two brothers who hold the destiny of man in the hollow of their hands. Though born of the same parents. They are as different in nature as black is from white, as two poles asunder. The one is lovely, well favored and amiable. He is received everywhere with open arms. The other is ugly, ill favoured and repulsive. He has driven away from every door with a sneer and disdain. The one lifts a man up and up; the other lowers him down, down and down. The one gives the ups; the other gives the downs, and thus the ups and downs in life flow from the hands of the two brothers, as water flow from a fountain. The name of the one is Prosperity: that of the other is Adversity. It is, however, with Adversity that we are concerned in this essay.
Adversity as the salt of life
Dark and detestable as adversity is, it has yet an important end to serve in our life. It sets in relief the bright days of prosperity, making life what it is, a mingled yarn of joy and sorrow, light and shade. Pain is a necessary part of life, as inevitable as the ‘shades of darkness falling softly from the wings of night’ after the day is done. We may desire to be happy always, but dark days will come. Life, as the scheme of things exists, can never be without a cloud and a storm. The sky cannot always remain clean and blue and filled with sunshine. That life is not a real life; a national life in which only sunshine reigns and no bitter blasts range. It is the mixture of both that constitutes human life. Those who seek the one and try to avoid the other cannot be said the understand life, far from enjoying it. They cannot realize the great but simple truth that if pain were impossible, so also would pleasure be impossible; for it is by exactly the same physical machinery that we are able to feel both pain and pleasure. And it is a fact commonly unknown that a great deal of our pleasure is entirely due to its being alternated with pain. The pain of acute desire heightens the pleasure of its gratification. The more we crave something we want the greater is our pleasure in getting it. We never know the sweetness of the food we throw away in today’s abundance until we are destitute and starve as the poor do. We must, therefore, suffer before we enjoy. “He that has no cross will have no crown.”
It strengthens and develops our faculties
Adversity is the anvil on which the character of a person is forged. Our faculties, mental and physical, are strengthened by exercise. Kept unused, they will either become useless or die. As adversity gives more facility for the exercise of our faculties, it is inevitably a better school for man than prosperity. What is learnt in this school of adversity can nowhere else is learnt either from book or from schools and colleges. In prosperity, we degenerate and become idle, ease-loving and indolent; in adversity, we strive and thrive, and learn lessons of industry, courage, patience, perseverance, forbearance and forgiveness. A smooth sea never made a skilful voyager. “The storms of adversity, like those of the ocean rouse the faculties, and excite the invention, prudence, skill and fortitude of the voyager.”
It teaches us virtues of courage, fortitude and firmness
Adversity endows us with courage and resourcefulness, fortitude and firmness. Because we have to battle with adverse circumstances, we put our best foot forward, and inch-by-inch gain back, by hard struggle, the grounds lost. In that struggle, we bring to bear all that we have within us. It is a grim fight and fought with determination. Many unsuspected virtues and qualities of our head and heart lying latent within us come out. The potential in us becomes the actual and after we have won back our position we are altogether changed men, no longer vague about our idea, or weak in our will or listless in our bearing. It is, therefore, through suffering that we are made manly and strong and our higher nature becomes noble and brave. Adversity is the mother of some of our noblest virtues. Without it, there would be no patience, nothing to bear; no courage, nothing to brave. Pressed by adversity we learn to suffer and fight alone and to look the world in the face. And in a world where fickleness is common, where fortune flies and friends feign and where nothing is steady, what can be more precious than self-help and fortitude? “The virtue of poverty is temperance, the virtue of adversity is fortitude, which in mortals is the more heroic virtue”, says Bacon.
It is our best moral schoolmaster
The presence of adversity amongst us, whether it be our own adversity or that of others, is not an enemy but a friend, a benefactor, a great moral schoolmaster, bidding us learn our lessons of duty and bidding us carry them out in our daily lives. It necessitates labour, invention, commerce and all the arts of knowledge. It makes us restless and enquiring. Wisdom, it is rightly said, is born of sorrow. Had there been no sorrow, there would have been no thought of God, no sense of the Eternal, no feeling for Heaven. Our inevitable sufferings have been a perpetual stimulus of our minds to knowledge, of our hands to skill and of our social instincts to civilization.
It teaches us humility and sympathy
And above all, where would sympathy have been in a world in which there was neither pain nor grief? Sympathy is the blessing of God, brought here by pain to remind us of our celestial birth, of the high destiny to which we shall attain, and no human being would hesitate to say that suffering is a cheap price to pay for such an honour, such a glory, as the power of sympathy. In the days of prosperity, we are apt to forget this honour and glory, and grow indifferent towards the sufferings or others. We think that all is well with the world so long all is well with us. It is only when we are bent down with the burden of adversity that we learn to the humble and considerate of others in life. It is through suffering that we become humbler, more sympathetic, and more responsive to the cries and groans of the afflicted. “Those who have suffered much are like those who know many languages, they have learnt to understand and be understood by all.”
It is the best discoverer of virtue in man
Adversity is the test of one’s characterIt reveals whether a man is a coward or a hero, honest or dishonest, selfless or selfish; in short, virtuous or wicked. The life history of Holy Prophet (PUBH) illustrates how he suffered the problems, which were created by Quresh of Makkah, fearless devotee of truth cheerfully underwent every sorrow and suffering, hardship and privation for the sake of his ideals i.e. the propagation of Islam. If Muhammad bin Qasim was great in the battle of Daibal in challenging the might of Raja Dahir, his greatness multiplied manifold during the hardships he bore during that war. Later on, when the atrocities and persecution of the Britishers came to ahead, there appeared on the scene the great leader of the Muslims, Quaid-e-Azam who sent a clarion call to his people to rise in defence of their religion, culture and country. Under the banner of this able and fearless leader, the people faced every hardship and eventually succeeded in putting an end to the tyranny of Britishers in a large part of subcontinent. Abraham Lincoln was born in a poor family and his circumstances of life, in the beginning, were far from favourable, yet this man rose from the long cabin to the Presidency of the United States.
It reveals human nature and tries our friends
Another great advantage of adversity is that it reveals the real character of man and separates sheep from goats, true friend from mere flatterer. In ordinary times, every man is a mystery to every other man. But in moments of danger and crisis, when he is engaged in a life and death struggle, his real nature stands naked and revealed. Moreover, if adversity discovers virtues in good men, it exposes the inherent vices of evil souls. The essential baseness of human nature cannot be tested if it is not tried in the fire of misfortune. It is, therefore, rightly said, “Prosperity gains friends; adversity tries them”. When we have health, wealth and honour, we have plenty of friends who profess love and proffer every kind of help, although we do not need it. The sincerity and genuineness of these professions and of this offer is put to the proof when we are overtaken by adversity, making us bare and bold as a tree smitten by a lightning. “Corn is cleaned with the wind, and the soul with adversity.” Thus will our friends be tried by it?
It is not a chastisement, but purification
Adversity comes to those whom God loves, whom he wishes to chastise. The Bible says “Whom the Lord loveth, He chasteneth, the scourgeth every son whom he receiveth. If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons but if you ye be without chastisement then are ye bastards and not sons.” Again, we are told, “I will bring them through the fire and will refine them as silver is refined, and will try them as gold is tried.” Adversity is, therefore, not a chastisement but purification in another form. Wise men tell us that our permanent home is heaven. There is a rich inheritance, which never perishes like earthly things. Here we are doing only a pilgrimage. We are to prepare for that home and for that inheritance. What can best give us that preparation? It is adversity; it whips; it corrects it; yes, in it lays the best equipment of soul for a prosperous journey to its destination by having coins of virtue and piety, and love and charity put in its purse.
It brings us closer to god
Not only does adversity help us in our worldly life by teaching us patience, perseverance, fortitude, self-help and sympathy and by enabling us to test men, it also brings us nearer to God. When we have no one to call our own, our Maker alone remains with us. It is pain; suffering and despair that make us fold our hands in prayer and invoke the grace of God. In the gift of prosperity, the glamour of riches and rank, “the narrowing lust of gold, blinds and seals our vision, we are then so absorbed in the enjoyment of the gifts of life, that we do not desire to see the giver behind those gifts. “According to their pasture so were they filled: and their heart was exalted. Therefore, have, they forgotten me”. But adversity brings godliness back to man. “It is good for me that I have been afflicted, that I might learn thy statutes”. Rightly has a wise man said, “The chamber of sorrow is the house of God”?
It is a blessing in disguise for an artist
Among other things, adversity acts as a stimulus to artistic genius. It is the basis and cause of genuine poetic inspiration. The artistic products of prosperity are generally superficial, comic and fantastic. On the other hand, “Our sweetest songs are those that tell of saddest thought.” Shakespeare is immortal because of his tragedies like Hamlet; Macbeth, King Lear and Othello and not his comedies as such. The whole range of English Romantic poetry of the nineteenth century is highly indebted to adversity, which characterized the personal life of the poets. It is through the fire of adversity that imagination becomes more sensitive and glowing. It gathers poignancy, softness and appeal. Shelley was one of the most imaginative and lyrical poets because he fell upon the thorns of life and bled.
Its evil effects
Nevertheless, unmitigated and unrelieved adversity has a degrading influence on man’s character. Instead of making him brave and gentle, and elevating his higher nature, it is apt to make him sour, exacting and malicious, paralyze his faculties and ultimately crush him completely. If a person, who has been the victim of grinding poverty, has been faced with hunger and disease for years, he cannot be expected to find sermons in stones and cherish honesty as the best policy. It will be a small surprise if he casts greedy eyes on the belongings of those who have never felt the true pangs of hunger. Principles of honesty and justice, even blood ties and parental relations are given a go-bye when the sufferings become intolerable. During the Bengal famine of 1943, it is reported that mothers sold their young girls for a crumb of bread. The starving destitutes would pick up the garbage lying in the road dustbins, lick up the remains off a plate or a leaf to quench the inner man. Sermons about fortitude and respect for civilized conduct would not cut much ice for such people and to them adversity would appear nothing but the ugly and venomous toad without the precious jewel in its head. In fact, the uses of adversity are to be judged in relation to the personal character of the man on whom it exercises its effects. It is not everybody who, in times of trouble, girds up his loins, and turns adversity to a good account. There is no dearth of cowards and weaklings in the world. In such people, adversity develops only weakness and cowardice. Circumstances affect us only according to our character. They increase the goodness of the good and the wickedness of the vicious.
Yet for all this, the sweet uses of adversity cannot be lost sight of. The really great men of the world are those who have risen from the ranks, and the world has been benefited more by those struggling souls than by men nursed in prosperity. Weighed in an impartial balance, adversity brings us more good than evil and helps more than come out of a hard rocky soil are generally tall, tough and straight, but those which grow on a soft ground, though full of luxuriant growth, do not always attain that straightness and toughness. What is true of the tree is perhaps also true of man. Those men who rise from the ranks, pressed by poverty and hampered by untoward circumstances, are invariably better specimens of humanity than those who are nurtured in the lap of luxury. Besides, man’s natural tendency is towards vice. This tendency is fanned into flame by the good qualities, leads him hell-ward. It is adversity, the cold blast of which freezes that tendency into death, that sets the feet of man in the right path and conducts him heaven-ward. Adversity is therefore, a boon from God, seeming ugly and dark, but actually the messenger of sweetness and light. Sorrows come, storms blow and lightning threatens us; yet out of darkness, comes lights, out of death, comes life, and out of sorrow, joy. “If Winter comes, can spring be far behind.” A wise man should, therefore, patiently bear the ordeal and
“Know how sublime a thing it is
To suffer and be strong.”
Moreover, there is no escape from the miseries of the world. They are a part and parcel of this ‘sorry scheme of things’, which no power under the sun can alter or re-fashion to our heart’s desire. All that we can do is to face adversity boldly and carefully:
“Therefore, since the world has still,
Some good, but muchless good than ill,
And while the sun and moon endure,
Luck is a chance, but trouble is sure,
I’d face it as a wise man should
And train for ill and not for all”