Across time and cultures, it has long been acknowledged that our lives exist on a pendulum of hardship and prosperity, swinging from one end to the other throughout our journey on Earth. As many schools of thought have put it: there cannot be light without dark, good without evil, or joy without suffering. For some people, the scales seem arbitrarily unbalanced, weighing heavily in favour of prosperity with very little hardship. I used to find these anomalies a target of my envy, but currently find them to be the most pitiable of all because I now know that someone cannot appreciate the true heights of euphoria without first experiencing the depths of despair.
Veronica Roth said it best when she said, “If there’s no conflict, there are no stories worth telling – or reading.” We seek out and voraciously consume stories that pit relatable heroes against unfavourable odds, knowing that the conflict the hero experiences will only make the conclusion that much more satisfying. In their stories, we see the hero’s journey that resides in ourselves reflected, giving us the opportunity to live vicariously through them. Meanwhile, in our everyday lives, we can resist adversity and settle into our roles, passionlessly complacent.
That is why we need these stories so badly. For those that have accepted the comforts of mediocrity, they serve as an anaesthetic, numbing us of the inanity of our lives. On the other hand, for those who are struggling, they show us what we are capable of, how we can become vessels of greatness through overcoming the hardship and adversity that life throws at us. Sure, we can accept the small satisfaction of everyday heroism by following familiar yet safe paths, but without conflict, we can never be truly remarkable.
Conflict brings our strongest, most adaptable qualities into the light. It shows us what is for us, and what isn’t. Without conflict, we are never given the opportunity to rise to our true potential – the potential that we shy away from when we choose to toe the line of what is socially acceptable. It is the catalyst that allows us to grow as people and the challenges we face are the building blocks that fortify our character. It is almost as if, as Roth aptly put it, without conflict, there would be no story to tell at all.
In fiction as in life, we love an underdog story. Not only of Harry Potter meeting his destiny by rising up and defeating Voldemort, but of J.K. Rowling rising up against her depression and making something of herself. We empathize with the underdog’s setbacks, celebrate their triumphs, and trust that in the end, everything will be wrapped up in a pretty package tied with a happily ever after bow. Even if it doesn’t, we would rather follow them through it than hear about someone born into prosperity who never experiences any difficulty, because we subconsciously understand that it is the journey that makes the destination meaningful.
Success is best when it’s savoured, and it is disappointment that sweetens the flavour. It’s hard to recognize it while we are in the process of overcoming our hardships, but if success is all that you have ever known, you can never truly appreciate it the way that you can when it is earned through perseverance, constitution of character, and discipline. So, we should try to savour our individual journeys, even if they seem more challenging than those of our more privileged peers, because one day, it will all be worth it. One day you will wake up right where you are supposed to be and at that moment it will be clear that all those instances of suffering served to intensify a single moment of bliss. Our lives are preparing us for a greatness we cannot even imagine.