About a week or so ago I stumbled upon a video of a discussion of the Biblical battle between David and Goliath. In the video one of my favorite authors, Malcolm Gladwell, discusses how the idea of David being an underdog who was far out skilled and disadvantaged in every way is actually a misconception. For a number of reasons, it can be believed that David was actually the one at an advantage in the conflict. The lesson that can be learned from it all is that sometimes the things that we perceive as disadvantages and setbacks, can in fact be the things that provide us our greatest advantages. Here is a link to the video, which I highly recommend watching if you have 12 spare minutes.
After I watched this video, I began to think of how I have observed this phenomenon. If this idea seems a little too far fetched or fantastical to be true, let me present an example that might make it a little more tangible and realistic. Take the hip-hop artist Eminem for example. I used to be quite an Eminem fan back in my high school days. Eminem is probably one of the most popular and successful hip-hop artists of all time. Regardless of whether you enjoy his music or think it is vile and offensive, it cannot be said that he has not been commercially successful.
If you have ever listened to an Eminem album or know anything about his life, you probably know that he did not grow up with a favorable home life. While, I am not ready to believe everything he says about his young life in the music he sells, I am willing to believe that there is an amount of fact in the songs that is based on real life events. Among the things he talks about struggling with as a kid are: growing up in a single parent home, having a drug addicted mother, being a victim of Münchausen syndrome by proxy, and being poor. With these kinds of issues to overcome it would be hard to succeed in any area of life, especially the entertainment business. Not only did Eminem have to deal with these issues growing up, he also had a passion to succeed in field that was dominated by primarily black artists, when he was white.
The interesting thing about Eminem’s career is that he can attribute much of his success to these very issues. As I mentioned previously it is impossible to listen to any of his albums and not hear a song about dealing with the issues that he had growing up. This might be perfectly explained by a song off of Eminem’s most recent album, Marshall Mathers LP2. In the song “Legacy” Eminem raps about his childhood and how it is the reason for his success. The first two verses of the song are used to talk about the physical and psychological difficulties that Eminem faced growing up. These are lyrics from the third verse his song “Legacy”:
I used to be the type of kid that would always think the sky is falling
Now I think the fact that I’m differently wired’s awesome
‘Cause if I wasn’t I wouldn’t be able to work
Words like this and connect lines like crosswords
And use my enemy’s words as strength
To try and draw from, and get inspired off em
Eminem has realized what Malcolm Gladwell talked about in his video. The things that were seemingly very detrimental in Eminem’s childhood, were the things that were fundamental to his success as a hip-hop artist.
Thinking about Eminem’s career in this light is entertaining for a few minutes, but I think there is an even more applicable action that we can derive from this line of thinking about setbacks and disadvantages. Wanting our disadvantages to become events that provide us the ability succeed in our lives and careers is comforting and ambitious. Achieving this success despite setbacks is something that requires hard work though. That hard work must begin with realization that we face the same fight in much smaller ways almost every day.
Yesterday I was at the airport and things were not going smoothly. There were several inconveniences that would have given me reasons to be angry or at least frustrated. Then it hit me, the very inconveniences that give me the most frustration also provide me with the best opportunity to make someone’s day better. When we were checking in and things were not going as planned with our flight time getting closer and closer it would have been very easy (and probably understandable) to respond to the airline employee with anger and frustration. If things go poorly, you are entitled to react poorly (or so we think). However, when circumstances and events are not favorable, I am in a unique position to bring peace, appreciation, and love into the situation. When I am at the ticket counter and there are frustrating complications, I can do the unexpected and continue to show appreciation and trust in the employee when they are growing more stressed. This type of reaction requires more self control and work, but in the end it is a unique opportunity make God’s love known. This position is more unique than reacting well when things go well the whole time, then your good reaction is only perceived as a matter of being polite instead of loving. As a Christian, when things go poorly I might have a better opportunity to make God’s love known than when all things go well.
Whether David and Goliath, Eminem, or an airport, all of these things reminded me of Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians.
“But He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Therefore, I will most gladly boast all the more about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may reside in me.” – 2 Corinthians 12:9 (emphasis added)
Paul is glad to boast about his weakness because he knows that it will bring an opportunity for God to be praised.
AFTER THOUGHT: Much of this writing has been influenced by my reading of Malcolm Gladwell’s new book, David and Goliath. It appears that I must have been following with Gladwell’s line of thinking more than I thought. Paul’s words from 2 Corinthians were quoted in the book in a chapter that I had not read at the time I wrote this.