Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Choose to live



Recently, I was invited to the town of Santa Maria, in southern Brazil, by a group of concerned citizens and public officials to talk to them about the time we are living in. It was the place where 250 young people lost their lives in a fire at a nightclub in January, 2013.
It's very hard to forget the scenes of horror that were all over the press at the time, especially for families who lost loved ones. We know that life is hard, that tragedies happen - some preventable and others not. Buildings fall, ships sink, earthquakes and tsunamis destroy. In this case, it was a series of human errors, both before the event, as well as on the day of the disaster. The list of errors that contributed is long:
  • There was overcrowding that night.
  • The singer held up a flare on the stage.
  • The sparks hit the foam roof and started the fire.
  • The fire extinguisher at the side of the stage didn’t work.
  • The exits were too small to let so many people out.
  • Etc. etc.
As always, when such human disasters happen, we are left holding the pieces of a sad reality and the memories of what could have been. Despite the suffering, life goes on. Nevertheless, we owe it to those who perished – to extract the right lessons, both technical and human. We punish those who need to be punished. We mourn the lives lost. However, the greatest tribute to the beings who left their bodies in the fire is to learn all the lessons we can, to prevent similar disasters in the future. Unfortunately, there is no guarantee it will be so.
As always in such situations, we fall over ourselves looking for solutions. We follow Emerson’s phrase above to the letter. In this case, across the country, local governments mobilized to review permits for nightclubs and other indoor environments and to increase security. But hindsight and its lessons only serve us if they form the basis of a new and more comprehensive foresight, based on more solid choices. No point in getting into unreal verb tense - "if we only had or had not done something, we could have done such-and-such." It happened. Let’s move forward, but with more awareness.
In the lecture, I remembered the beginning of the classic by Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities, about the time of the French Revolution in which London and Paris were contrasted:
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us…"
This phrase shows the choices we have in all ages, and more especially this present one.
It is crucial to learn to identify the lifestyle choices that we have between the best and worst and to develop the power to discern which is the basis of making the right choices. Inner power comes from the practice of meditation and personal reflection, which help us to have less and better thoughts.
Someone who tries to see the world only through the eye of their own selfish interests, ends up seeing the world not as it is, but as the ego says it is. If we open our perspective , we naturally see more. If we see more, we understand more and choose better.
In a year like the one we have had until now, I can’t think of a greater gift for anyone of any age than to have the power of discernment. We are bombarded 24 hours a day with verbal, visual and written information. A human being who lives in a big city today learns more in one day than someone at the time of the French Revolution learned in his whole life. There is a continuous buffet of offerings for our senses. With so many varieties of products, services, courses and forms of entertainment it is hard to know what we want and to navigate well in a changing sea of ​​truths and falsehoods.
The power to discern is the ability to see the difference between two or more objects or situations. It is an important compass in these troubled times. It becomes one of the most powerful weapons for success, not only in our personal lives, but also in our professional ones.
Finally, if we have the power to discern, we can choose how, where and with whom we celebrate life.
Sydney Carton, the hero of 'A Tale of Two Cities', having traded places with a friend to die at the guillotine, says just before the axe falls: “It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known.” 
Until the last minute, we choose our way.