There are moments in our lives when we feel under siege. The threat is real and there is mounting pressure on every side. There are no answers and no way of escape.
This is not age specific. Life can feel tenuous and tumultuous at any stage of our existence.
The circumstances may vary – an erosion of independence; diminished mental agility; a loss of face; a sense of entrapment.
It is in the dark and desperate times, we fear for our sanity, we fear for our life. We doubt our ability to endure, to re-group, to fight on. We cower in the corner, anticipating the worst. Our hopes diminished and our future uncertain.
Winston Churchill provides us with a proven formula for surviving our darkest hour.
1. Respect the power of your words.
We all succumb to negativity, particularly when we’re feeling lost or discouraged. We allow our circumstances to dictate our outlook. We accept things are bad and derive ‘comfort’ from berating ourselves.
It takes strength and courage to view our experience in a different light.
Words can be self-fulfilling. If our words target our weakness and ineptitude we lose the desire to fight on. If we adopt a positive outlook we remain emotionally strong. The sun will break through and light up our way.
Churchill knew personal sorrow and tragedy. His brother-in-law, Bill Hozier, a charming but well-known gambler shot and killed himself. Around the same time, his youngest daughter Marigold became gravely ill with septicaemia and died.
Churchill could have retreated from public life, bemoaning the unfairness of it all. Instead, he threw himself into the fight against Nazi Germany, a terror that threatened his family, his beloved Britain, and the democratic nations of Europe and the world.
In the early days of the Second World War when all was dark, Churchill had few weapons to call on. He chose to attack with words. His messages to parliament and the populace were defiant and heroic, simple and eloquent, inspiring courage and commitment and determination.
2. Choose a single word that embodies all you’re striving for.
Much has been written about mission statements. They have become important in the business world. A mission statement describes succinctly an entity’s reason for existence. They are a philosophy that determines how an entity goes about its business.
Churchill recognised that a mission statement could be distilled into a single word. He could countenance no other outcome for Britain than “Victory!”
“You ask, what is our policy?
I will say: It is to wage war, by sea, land and air, with all our might and with all the strength that God can give us: to wage war against a monstrous tyranny, never surpassed in the dark, lamentable catalogue of human crime.
This is our policy.
You ask, what is our aim?
I can answer in one word:
It is victory, victory at all costs, victory in spite of all terror, victory, however long and hard the road may be; for without victory, there is no survival.”
Ali Edwards is a designer, blogger, workshop instructor and author of four books about memory keeping. She created the One Little Word project which I would encourage you to check out on her website at aliedwards.com. She says,
“A single word can be a powerful thing. It can be the ripple in the pond that changes everything… It can help you to breathe deeper, to see clearer, to navigate challenges, and to grow.”
3. Tell it as it is
There is nothing to be gained from modifying the truth, reshaping it to fit how we want to be seen by others. Often, when we’re feeling vulnerable and confused, we present a ‘brave face.’ It’s something we are all adept at – wearing masks, hiding the turmoil within. It’s as though we fear rejection if we are open and honest about our frailty and uncertainty.
In times of crisis, truth is paramount. Truth-telling is being authentic. Truth-telling is showing respect to the people who care about you. It is an invitation for them to get involved and provide the support required.
People who are suicidal are likely to avoid truth-telling. They don’t want to be a burden, particularly to those closest to them. They feel responsible for their perceived failures and believe they alone can sort it out.
Churchill believed the nation deserved to know the truth. How could they process their thoughts and feelings if they were fed rumour and speculation? They needed the facts, however disturbing, however confronting. Truth-telling became a motivation, a catalyst for action.
4. Know your enemy
When we feel beaten or broken we need to take stock. We need to stand back and discern who or what we are fighting against. Is the enemy within or without? What are their tactics? What do they hope to achieve?
If we are physically or mentally unwell we may wrongly assume the enemy is our medical condition. But our circumstances aren’t the culprit. The enemy is more subtle, targeting our attitudes. If we succumb to a spirit our despair and hopelessness we are surrendering our will and resigning ourselves to imminent defeat.
A more positive response is to familiarise yourself with your medical condition, understand it, know how it impacts on your well-being, know what steps you can take to minimise its hold on you. Complete restoration of health and wellness may not be possible but there may be medical treatments and practical applications that will bring improvement.
Some years ago I learnt of SWOT (Strength, Weakness, Opportunity, Threat) Analysis. It is a simple formula that allows businesses to think their way out of a difficult situation and plan for a more productive future. It is a useful tool for individuals facing a major crisis. Churchill applied the principles of SWOT Analysis in rescuing the British Expeditionary Forces from Dunkirk.
THREAT: The BEF is facing annihilation. The Nazi German war machine is proving unstoppable forcing the British troops to retreat to the French seaport of Dunkirk.
OPPORTUNITY: Churchill recognises the need to rescue as many British and Allied troops as possible. Without them, Britain is at the mercy of ‘the terror,’ having no way of defending itself. A flotilla of naval vessels and civilian boats is called for.
WEAKNESS: The larger vessels are vulnerable to air attack and are unable to access the beaches.
STRENGTH: Smaller leisure craft could make the crossing and help with the evacuation of the troops.
It was a triumph. 330,000 troops were miraculously brought to safety.
Breathing is an automatic function of the body. Under normal circumstances, we give it little thought.
Breathing is connected to our nervous system. When we maintain a regular breathing pattern we are able to keep our emotions in check and regulate our stress levels.
Breathing can also be a metaphor for maintaining balance and equilibrium in life.
Churchill retained his quirky habits even during the most stressful times. He had a habit of breakfasting in bed and remaining there – sometimes until as late as 1 pm – with a secretary and typewriter near his bedside.
Churchill was a night owl. He worked into the early hours of the morning, slept a few hours and took a long nap during the day.
Tragically, people who are emotionally drained, sacrifice the things that have the potential to restore and reinvigorate them.
Our son Adam took his life. During his final months, he showed little interest in the things that nourished him and helped him relax – listening to music, playing the guitar, keeping fit, fly fishing and various other sporting activities.
When we are bruised and broken we may find we can’t breathe. When things are desperate we need to fill our lungs and cry out
New Zealand singer and songwriter Brooke Fraser has written a song dedicated to C. S. Lewis. It includes the following lyrics:
For we, we are not long here
Our time is but a breath, so we better breathe it
And I, I was made to live, I was made to love, I was made to know you
Hope is coming for me
Hope, He’s coming