“To find beauty in ugliness is the province of the poet.”Thomas Hardy
For Christmas my kids gifted me with a set of books on Greek Mythology. Since Christmas day, I happily read a few pages each night as a bedtime story. This is a semi-selfish act as I love mythology and I also get to practice redacting what I read as I read it – not the easiest of tasks. I do this to make the stories easier to understand and to avoid scarring them for life. For example, the story of Aphrodite, the goddess of beauty, whose origins are far from beautiful, depicted below in “The Mutilation of Uranus by Saturn” by Giorgio Vasari.
In an ancient myth recorded by Hesiod’s Theogony (8th – 7th century BC), Cronus envied the power of his father, the ruler of the universe, Ouronus (father sky). Ouronus’ partner Gaia (mother Earth) turned against him after he banished their two sets of triplets to the underground because he found them too hideous to walk the Earth. The triplets included the hundred-handed, fifty-headed Hecatoncheires and the set of one-eyed Cyclopes.
Consumed by rage, Gaia convinced only one of her twelve children, Cronus to dethrone their father. This was done in a heinous way, Gaia created a great stone sickle and conspired with Cronus to castrate Uranus. This he did with pleasure when he took the jagged scythe, castrated his father and cast the “off-cuts” far across the land and into the surging sea. When the remains hit the water, the sea foam acted as fertile soil and from the seeds grew the most beautiful woman of all time. In Greek, Aphrodite translates approximately as “from the foam”.
Here she stood, graceful, beautiful, smiling, surrounded by flowers, wind in her hair and standing on a scallop shell, the symbol of love and beauty. The Greeks called her Aphrodite and the Romans called her Venus. However, I share this story to highlight that even when we bear witness to something so beautiful, it does not reflect how it became so. Often when we look at a fait accompli, whether it be a successful entrepreneur, a Hollywood star or a best-selling author, we forget that there were tough times, there were lows, there were failures that paved the way to success. Every success is built upon multiple setbacks and this was the point I made to my children.
In his book, “From Thus Spake Zarathustra”, Friedrich Nietzsche wrote, “I say unto you: one must still have chaos in oneself to be able to give birth to a dancing star. I say unto you: you still have chaos in yourselves.” For anything to survive in a world of flux, it must continually grow and reinvent itself. We must grow accustomed to a certain amount of chaos that pushes us beyond our comfort zone. All growth happens when we venture beyond the comfort, when we explore chaos. In time, we become used to the chaos and it becomes order once again and then we must add a little more chaos.
I share this in the aftermath of the chaotic year 2020, but with an emphasis that from decay and disorder come birth and reinvention, from chaos comes order. We were all impacted in various ways in 2020, but just as bruises result in scar tissue, which is thicker than normal tissue, setbacks can result in resilience if we change how we perceive them. C.S. Lewis puts it beautifully, “Hardships often prepare ordinary people for an extraordinary destiny.”
2020 gave us chaos with pandemics, job losses, socio-political turmoil, climate crises and more, but it also gave us order when Africa was declared polio free, when Co2 emissions declined, when we reevaluated what is important in life.
THANKS FOR READING
If you are aligned with this thinking and would like to explore a conceptual journey of change, you may like my forthcoming book: “Undisruptable” which promotes a mindset of permanent reinvention coming in March 2021. It is also available in a story-rich, visual and experiential course for organisations big and small.