Adversity: Despair or Stimulus for Growth?

It is often believed adversity leads to depression and despair.  But what about stimulating growth? There is a very long tradition of viewing suffering as offering the possibilities for positive change, such as in the work of Maslow (1998). This is not to say, that growth will be an inevitable result, but that personal distress and growth often co-exist. Critical life crises can offer possibilities for change

Barbara Marx Hubbard (2003), adopts an evolutionary perspective to give a deeper meaning to adverse events. Indeed, she argues that large scale disaster and adversity often precedes quantum change. She argues that change does not always occur step by step.  Instead, significant change can occur in leaps.

When this happens, whole new systems emerge. For example, once there was no life, then life appeared.  These leaps are preceded by crises. She calls these crises "evolutionary drivers." They are vital stimulants that trigger astounding "design innovations" that bring forth new capacities.

From an evolutionary perspective, problems and crises are "necessary to overcome the inertia of the status quo and fulfill the primary tendency of evolution to move toward greater complexity, consciousness, and freedom."  She further argues that all leaps move towards greater wholeness.

For example, we no longer can think of Planet Earth just in terms of different countries. The planet now is integrating in to one complete system. The new system that prevails is the one that best allows beneficial cooperation.  It is the system in which the self-interest of the separate parts is served better through cooperation rather than separation. Therefore, approaches that promote conscious choice for the benefit of the whole will bring more positive outcomes, as opposed to approaches that leave things to chance or to self-centered gain.

Barbara Marx Hubbard believes that we are currently undergoing a quantum leap. She says: "The power we have inherited to radically affect the material world will either destroy us or evolve us. We cannot continue even one more generation of over populating, polluting, being at war and using weapons of mass destruction." We are at the threshold of a major step in evolution or devolution." Hubbard, Barbara Marx.  

Writings from Gateway to Conscious Evolution, 2003. Website: Maslow, A.  Toward a Psychology of Being, Third Ed. NY: Wiley, 1998.