Updated: Apr 27
Author Lutz Otto
Reality is where we find ourselves - Not what we perceive reality should be or where we are most comfortable. Our ability to resiliently deal with unfolding realities varies from human to human, organization to organization. When we are honest in how we respond to a particular context or situation, we create the opportunity to grow [resilience, leadership, health and fitness, self-trust, creativity, etc.], strengthen interpersonal bonds [trust, connection and commonality, collective resolve, etc.] and equally so we become more empathetic to the differing reality of others. When we do not deal with our responses honestly, which could be for vastly varied and unique reasons, we at minimum fuel the negative psychological consequences of denial. Let us change gear, lets allow our minds to go to a magnificent and wild place. A place where the sky, trees and elephants simply inspire.
It was late in the afternoon and the following day we would end our multi-day backpacking wilderness safari in South Africa’s Greater Kruger National Park. We had a couple of good days behind us. We had covered a reasonable distance with full backpacks, navigated the African wilderness, coped with the challenges of finding drinkable water, dealt with some hot days and a wide emotional range. Since the first day, we had shared spectacular sunsets, stood in awe of the animals we encountered [including some of the Big 5] and listened to the distant calls of hyena through the night. As our journey unfolded, step-by-step and day-by-day, we started understanding the process and a pattern - Through this we started building confidence and trust, which resulted in a calmness and clarity across most of the team.
Contrastingly through the experience one of us was struggling. He pulled through an incredible range of emotions largely resultant of his response to the reality which he found himself in. I have no doubt that at stages he hated where he was and I am sure that this was perpetuated in that even though it was difficult for everyone at stages, and for different reasons, the group was enjoying themselves. On this last evening we were settling down around a small fire and, as is normal for these experiences, a number of the diverse group were happily and proudly reflected on their experience. On most of these types of trails, I choose to close the final night with four questions. Each response is a sacred reflection and may not be commented on by any of us with anything but a sincere “Thank You”. The questions are (1) what strongly, and positively, stood out, (2) what went well, (3) what went less well and (4) what newly acquired superpower will you draw on when back at home/ work. Psychologists will immediately observe these seemingly simple questions as intentional and potentially powerful.
A short while after the group had shared their answers to the questions, the client who had found the experience difficult, came to me and said that this was my reality and not his. This “fantasy” [for lack of a better word] which he had been part of, was not true to, nor a reflection, of his behavior in “real life”. Interestingly, and in seemingly paradox, I see this assumption/ response play out with some people very comfortable in the bush but not in the “concrete jungle”. Slightly taken back, I did not respond but pondered on the statement. Although I spend a fair amount of time working in the bush, I run the business as well as have life, household and family commitments. I understand that perception is reality, but the last few days were certainly not an illusion. Perhaps our thoughts were not real, but our sweat was. No matter how tough [or magnificently spectacular] things get in nature, she is neither judging nor picking on us. What is unfolding is not personalized and thus the only thing we can control is how we choose to respond to what nature presents [there is a different learning in this]. Unless we are “dead”, wilderness activities/ exposure reveals our strengths as well as weaknesses, it is also likely to result in our experiencing a wide range of emotions - If we graciously accept this as a gift, these experiences catalyze change and influence growth. Bringing it full circle.
In many ways where we currently find ourselves is an unknown wilderness – It is an uncomfortable place and although calm, I feel a little scared as the extrinsic motivators in our current reality FORCE me to relook at my individual intrinsic motivations. Dominant narratives have changed as the status quo has - Societal messages are many and mixed. What is the new, new? I find my thoughts drift to Victor Frankl’s story of hope, meaning and belief. Through this time of challenge, confusion, fear and intense change, there are though equal opportunities to develop our emotional resilience, review existing models and belief systems, practice deeper empathy, collaborate, re-inspire creative thinking and reconnect [to self and others]. All of the latter will result in personal growth. We can choose to honor the struggle, or we can choose to deny it. After COVID-19, and that time will come, (1) what strongly, and positively, stood out for us, (2) what went well, (3) what went less well and (4) what newly acquired superpower will we/ you/ I draw on.