Danger and Opportunity

Sister Barbara Ann Mayer, OSB

Editor's note: Sisters from Mount St. Scholastica write a weekly column titled "View from the Mount" in our hometown newspaper, the Atchison Globe. this column appeared in the Feb. 5th edition of the Globe.


Making choices is a big dilemma as we grow up. In fact, young people have so many choices they often find it difficult to decide what they want to do.

The choice of colleges, jobs, lifestyles, where to live, places to travel and friends to make seem almost unlimited. It is no wonder that young people have a hard time making decisions and commitments. 

Choices involve risk and the possibility of mistakes. Sometimes young people have not been raised to accept failure and learn from it. The only model they know is success and, if they fail to achieve it, they get depressed and give up. Their expectations are so high that they are almost impossible to reach, and they lack the patience and wisdom that comes with age. 

The Chinese have a unique symbol for the word "crisis" that stands for both "danger" and "opportunity." It is important to remember that choices involve both of these and that we cannot have one without the other. Unless we are people who can take risks, we will miss many opportunities to grow, to change, to learn, to discover our strengths and weaknesses and to know our true selves.

I envy those who view difficulties as "challenges." Their optimism and self-confidence make them look upon obstacles that come into their lives as new frontiers to conquer. I pray for the courage to take more risks, to dream about new possibilities, because those who stop risking and dreaming die before their death. 

People who have an unhealthy fear of failure may live safe and secure lives, but they are usually dull and uninteresting. They lack the passion for creating something different and the satisfaction of making a new discovery. Failure is not the worst thing that can happen to us. Boredom and lack of meaning are far worse. 

Eugenie Wheeler, a clinical social worker, calls adversity "a gentle teacher, guiding you to a greater perspective on life and illuminating lasting values." She believes that it can help us learn what's really essential and make us "more prone to concentrate on the spiritual and intellectual than on the passing and the petty."

In our success-hungry world, parents and teachers would do children a great service by teaching them to cope with failure and misfortune. We need to help the young learn from mistakes instead of being defeated by them. By letting children make mistakes and see them as ways to discover more about themselves and their world, we give them a valuable givt that will last a lifetime. 

History is full of examples of people who makde new discoveries from errors. Christopher Columbus thought he had found a new trade route to the East instead of a new continent. A Swiss chemist, Johan Miescher, was researching the components of white blood cells and instead discovered the molecular basis of all life, DNA. 

Choices and alternatives can broaden our vision and expand our possibilities. They are not meant to paralyze us or plunge us into the mire of doubt and uncertainty. By remembering that danger and opportunity are two sides of the same coin, we will be better able to take risks and forge new paths. By becoming co-creators with God we can make a better world for everyone. 

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