Sweet are the Uses of Adversity
The famous poet-dramatist ‘William Shakespeare’ quotes in his work ‘As you like it’.
“Sweet are the uses of Adversity, which, like the toad, ugly and venomous,
wears yet a precious jewel in his head;
And this our life, exempt from public haunt,
find tongues in trees, books in the running brooks,
Sermons in stones, and good in everything.”
He says through these lines that sweets are the uses of adversity, although adversities are ugly, poisonous or like a snake that can bite you any time but in its head adversity wears a jewel of great value that is in the form of sweets or success.
In these lines from “As You Like It”, Shakespeare tells us of a ruler who has been wrongfully deprived of his duchy and forced to wander in exile in the forest of Arden with few faithful followers. The banished duke is made to remark : “Sweet are the uses of adversity.” He means that his misfortunes have driven him into closer contact with nature in both the stern and gentle moods, that he has achieved that calm and sweet content which comes only from sincere efforts and simplicity, that he has learned to listen to ‘sermons in stones’ and ‘tongues in trees’ the wisdom and vision which the scholars and seers in books has been given to him by the ‘running brooks’. His misfortunes have been great but he has earned a sweet reward by his mature understanding of life and communion with nature, such is the immediate application of the saying, but it is capable of a wider meaning.
Adversity may be defined as affliction, misfortune, or any circumstance that is apparently injurious to us or opposed to our interests and welfare.
It is one of the paradoxes of nature that if one wishes to increase something one must expend. If we wish to increase our muscular strength we must expend our physical energies in exercise, and same is true of our mental and spiritual natures. To improve in any department of life, one must make an effort to overcome difficulties. There can be no standing still. One must progress or retrogress. The greater the difficulty, and the more intense the effort required to overcome it, the greater will be our gain in strength and reward.
Adversity seems to be a source of great trouble. One has to lead a life of privation. At some point in time in life, almost all men have to go through bad patches. Challenges come to men in many forms. Hunger, disease, frustration, unfulfilled dreams and aspirations, ambitions yet to be realized, expectations to be matched up to, poverty, exploitation, loss of hearth and home and many more.
Many people are prone to lose heart at the time of adversity. Such people have to retire in their own shell. They have no individual achievements and the society closes its door on them. The poor fellows may even have to suffer disrepute and ignominy for no fault of theirs most often. They may feel depressed. Some of them may run away from home or commit suicide.
However, those who take heart at the time of adversity are the real gainers. Such people never give up, having a firm faith in God and in the goodness of things. Such people muster up their real merit and mettle to the world. Most of the great people of the world have been great because one or other adversity had hit them. Socrates Christ, Mohammed and Gandhi and many poets, scientists and social reformers had to suffer a lot. But they stuck to their ideology based on truth, equality and reason. They never gave up their efforts and always kept human welfare in mind. Most of the great books of the world were written when the authors were in jail or in adversity.
Furthermore, a student who gives up simple pleasures to focus on his studies comes out in flying colours. The little joys he has sacrificed yield him abundant happiness. In times of adversity, people discover their true friends and as the saying goes, “Prosperity makes friends and adversity tries them.”
Failure is, no doubt, a misfortune. But failure is often a blessing in disguise. We learn from our mistakes and each failure teaches us at least what to avoid in future. It is for this reason that failures have been described as the pillars of success. Our misfortunes are but the signposts pointing the way to the true road to success.
I would like to point out the fact that difficulties vanish when they are faced boldly. They are like thieves that take to their heels at the first encounter. What appears to be insurmountable mountains disappear before a bold attempt, and paths hitherto unseen open out to view. Everest was conquered by those who boldly faced the dangers in their way and did not falter in their attempts, inspite of initial failures. Columbus could discover America only because he faced the unknown wild oceans with confidence and courage and did not care for any difficulties. The entire human civilization is but a record of the exploits of those heroic souls who were undeterred by any difficulties that came in their way. Rather, the difficulties were but spurs that goaded them on to make yet greater efforts.
One has to go through the rigours of life to become a better individual. The struggle against the misfortunes strengthens the character.
If life were a smooth sailing it would become altogether a humdrum and insipid. All the spirit of adventure would go out of it. Patience and perseverance in the face of difficulty and defeat makes the final success all the more covetable. Every difficulty overcome, every victory won, increases our power for the next struggle. No athlete can achieve success without striving against and overcoming seemingly insurmountable difficulties. If we study the lives of great men of thought and action, the truth of their unflagging efforts to achieve the great purposes and ideals that inspired their lives would inspire us.
To my mind, difficulties train and develop people in the long run. Just as herbs give out their sweet fragrance when they are crushed, so a man of real ability or virtue shines all the brighter when pressed with difficulties. So, we should not be afraid of difficulties rather welcome them. They are like bitter pills which the doctor gives his patient to cure him. Adversity is to our own good. It may be bitter at the time, but its uses are really sweet.
Adversity also trains us to appreciate the lessons of life. It brings out the innate qualities of one’s personality, of which one is ignorant. The hardships endured by Harischandra and Lord Rama brought out the noble qualities in them.
The words of Francis Bacon still hold a lot of importance. He expounds the virtue of fortitude and glorifies adversity—“It was the high speech of Seneca that the good things that belong to prosperity are to be wished; and the good things that belong to adversity are to be admired …… certainly if miracles be the command over nature they appear the most in adversity.”
Therefore, It goes without saying that nothing great can be achieved, or has ever been achieved, without grappling with difficulties.
Anger, disappointment and impulsive actions are often the catalysts for disaster.
On the contrary, if virtue of patience is exercised then one can hope to gain much from the hard time that falls in one’s share. One has to only look around and there are numerous individuals who have set precedents by their extraordinary resilience and tenacity in the face of troubles.
Santiago, the fisherman in Ernest Hemingway’s Old Man and the Sea is a matchless source of inspiration for those who find their hands full and feel that any more would break them. Even though the future may appear dark and failures are repeated, the will to take on life as it comes should not die out.
A determination to crush the reasons for one’s trouble can lead to some astounding results. How else could India have won its freedom from over two centuries of oppressive rule ?
In the Indian context as well, there is much to be learnt. Constantly under the shadow of a third world country tag, it has to fight its numerous battles, yet the nation is going strong. There are individuals who have braved tough conditions to emerge winners. These men have not only won for themselves, but have left a legacy for the nation, which it is proud of.
One such person whose life has been a lesson in persistent effort to conquer all is Dhirubhai Ambani, who rose from being a petrol pump attendant in Middle East to India’s biggest tycoon and power broker. Reliance Industries is one of the most powerful and successful ventures today, an entity that is contributing tremendously to India’s economic growth.
This attribute of bouncing back is not only restricted to individuals, but to entire communities and cities who are to be admired for the mettle they display in hard times. Gujarat is one such state, which has been struck by one disaster after another every subsequent year; floods, drought, communal clashes, earthquake, but it has resurged with full force to fuel the economy with an enviable growth rate. Then, there are cities like Mumbai that refuse to slacken their pace despite incidents like bomb blasts claiming several lives every now and then.
“Persistent efforts despite all odds eventually change failure into success, and there is dawn : the smiling sun appears and there is light everywhere.”
There are several individuals who are severely physically challenged, yet they have made a mark through their steely resolve to overcome their handicap. One look through the life of people like Helen Keller and Stephen Hawking should make the ‘normal’ people count in their blessing and stop wallowing in their miscries. If there is a desire to do something; a fire burning within, then nothing can be a constraint.
Rather, the hurdles and hindrances become the driving force. It takes away the smugness of individuals and communities, a feeling that is a characteristic of good times. But not all men are strong willed. It is very easy to get bogged down by the troubles that lie ahead and finish off before even getting started. It is said that a battle lost in the mind is completely lost in reality. Hopelessness and anguish can cause nothing but damage. Endurance and fortitude can make this test of destiny easier to cope with.
To sum up, the fruit of adversity is sweet and though it might take a long time to ripen, it will surely come, provided we prove ourselves fit to partake it.
Let me leave you with a final thought by saying a few lines from ‘Bhagwad Gita’ which states :
“When the embodied living being controls his nature and mentally renounces all actions, he resides happily in the city of nine gates (the human body).”
‘Sweet are the uses of adversity’ —Our elders and well-wishers often utter this whenever they find us, collapsed in any difficult situation to pull us out of that debris, with a new lease of hope. But how far does this optimistic Shakespearean maxim go relevant to today’s pragmatic world, ridden by violence and tensions ? Is there any opposite side of the coin, full of gay & glee ? Some people will definitely twitch their eyebrows against my apprehension, but it has been rightly said, “Sweet are the uses of adversity to the party it doesn’t happen to.” —Anonymous Author
Before we come to any conclusion, think of those people who are fighting every hour against some odds only to survive. Some may have lost their permanent abode or all other resources due to some climatic disaster; some may have lost their friends and families in some political riots or terrorist attacks; some may have lost themselves in this puzzle of ‘corrupt society’. They all are the victim of some adversities, which came in their way of living, but they will not definitely get any better reward out of their miseries.
They might use all their efforts to begin anew keeping away the past, but what have been lost once, can never be recuperated. Because, to survive is much different from to live.
The daily newspaper flooded with such incidents like farmers suicide, acid attack, soldiers’ death– how can one say that pain is gain ? This is indeed flattering. No doubt the Government will provide them with some compensation but does compensation ever compensate the mental scar ?
There are many points which have been made in favour of the topic, over the years. I want to argue against them to testify the truth.
It is often said that adversity increases the level of our patience and endurance, so that we can hold all the broken pieces of our mind to start afresh. But, we forget that the marks of a broken heart can never be hidden. The fear will never fade away.
Some say that adversity or difficulty brings the best in man as he learns to cope with his trials. It develops fortitude and courage in him. Now, go to a survivor of a plane crash or natural calamities or any other debacles and ask him how much this paradoxical statement is valid to him does the worst he suffered wash away his worst fear ? Doesn’t it come to his nightmare to haunt him again ?
It is also argued that giving up simple pleasures during the time of difficulty brings abundant happiness later. Then, what about those soldiers, standing day and night in LoC, defeating all the extremities ? Instead of this sacrifice what result are they getting ? Lying in a pool of blood or being entitled a martyr. Is it the only reward best suited to them ? Definitely not.
Now there is another point relevant here. Throughout the history, we see that a group of powerful persons have created their life better at the stake of other’s existence. The first group contained upper-class aristocrats while the proletariat or working class people belonged to the other. They are always misused as slaves by masters, as warriors by warmongers or as vulnerable masses by the powerful authorities. While, at the end of the day, there is only dis-appointment and delusion reserved for them. Patrick Henry, an American politician once said, “Is life so dear, or peace so sweet as to be purchased at the price of chains or slavery ?”
The truth is our life on this planet is an uncertain one, always at a risk against the difficult – disastrous – deadly conditions which can fall upon us anytime. It can make our life bullish. Surely, nobody wants their destiny be faced with any kind of adversity. There is hardly any person who takes delight in gloom and doom. Whenever we get entrapped in some adversities, we search the way to escape it anyway. We hardly think that if we use our adversity in our favour, this will bear sweet results in future. Of course, it is a matter of chance if mirage is turned to be an oasis. But a matter of chance should not be taken as a matter of fact.