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  • Stephen Scott Johnson

When we fight with life, we stop living

Updated: Feb 2

In 2009 when I worked in global advertising, I attended an Auckland agency briefing about the April 2007 earthquake tsunami in the Solomon Islands, one of the worst natural disasters of our decade. Seated opposite me was the country director of UNICEF New Zealand, describing in vivid detail the event that displaced thousands of people in the South Pacific, plunging hundreds of islands into chaos.


The events that followed remain somewhat surreal. My life must have been lacking adventure, because in true ‘Walter Mitty’ style I had just agreed to travel with a photojournalist team under military escort to a country ravaged by civil war and public executions. What would my family say? Did my life insurance cover death in terrorist circumstances? My freshly penned signature on an official waiver stating if I were killed my family wouldn’t sue the government had just been signed.


The remit was straightforward. Get the plight of The Solomon Islands into the media – schools and teacher housing destroyed, a generation of children with no access to education, and remote communities in the throes of endemic malaria. Working alongside disaster relief organisations such as Doctors Without Borders and Emergency Architects, the weeks that followed changed my life and became the catalyst to my passion for conscious leadership.


One of my most vivid memories is of a four-hour journey by longboat to the island of Ranongga, situated in the Solomon’s Western Province. With a population of 3000, Ranongga was closest to the epicentre of the 8.1 magnitude earthquake that decimated villages and exposed the coral shelf surrounding the island two metres above the water. Relying on the sea for survival, the situation profoundly impacted their simple way of life. Yet, despite the devastation they had encountered, I will never forget their smiles. They had lost loved ones; literally everything they possessed had washed out to sea; and they were getting on with life, joyful and resilient. It took me a few years to fully understand how this was even possible.


When life goes awry (like 2020) our tendency is to become reactive and burn vast amounts of energy trying to control life. Hardwired for survival, we orchestrate our environment to the nth degree – people, places, projects – to avoid disruption. If we are honest, we can often see that much of our striving and achievement is unconsciously fuelled by fear – thinly veiled self-protection designed to reduce risk or increase comfort, which actually creates more problems.


The alternative is to surrender.


Whatever cards life deals, there is a profound peace that comes from learning to love what is. The people of Ranongga know and embrace this truth. Life is in a constant state of creation and change (and will keep on changing) beyond our control. Ultimately, we must choose how we play the game. Will you do your best to create opportunity, adapting as life unfolds, or burnout trying to fight it? Consider that if you are trying to control life, you’re not fully living it. What would happen if you chose to surrender instead?


Until next time...


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