What can we learn from tragedy?

Like so many around the world, the unspeakable events in Newtown, CT literally brought tears to my eyes. Even as I write this, my gut is in a knot and my head is pounding like a snare drum. How could something so unimaginable occur? What kind of monster could commit such a heinous act? And the biggest question on everyone’s mind….Why?

Senseless tragedies are, unfortunately, part of life. The same questions were asked after Nazi Germany fell in the 1940’s. After Manson terrified a nation in the late 60’s. After 9/11.

As painful as it is to think (and write) about, I felt compelled to reflect on this horrific situation. Many lives were lost, and thousands more will never be the same. Are there lessons that we can extract from such heartbreak? Can we find some insight to help us cope with the pain, and ultimately help us live with more purpose?

After some raw introspection, five concepts came to mind. May these help us learn from tragedy:

1) Perspective – On Dec. 13, many of us thought we had a bad day. The traffic was slow, the coffee was cold, and our outfits were wrinkled. On Dec. 14, none of that remotely mattered.

2) Gratitude – So often, we overlook life’s most important things until they are lost. Only then do we realize we’d give everything to get them back. Instead of being wrapped up in what you don’t have, take time to appreciate the things you do. Health, people, ideas, safety, purpose. These all matter a million times more than that fancy car you’ve been saving up to buy.

3) Action – Nearly all of us have an important step to take in our lives, yet we let circumstance and pettiness hold us back. Life can change in a New York minute, so stop procrastinating and get on with crafting your destiny.

4) Courage – 27-year-old Victoria Soto, a dedicated teacher, lost her life protecting her students. She was prepared to do the right thing on a moment’s notice. Are you?

5) The Hidden Lesson – There’s a personal lesson that’s different for each of us. Maybe yours is about living in the moment. Or showing more love to your kids. Whatever it is, never miss an opportunity to learn and grow, even in the midst of chaos.

One key thing separates us from the villains who commit such atrocious acts is our ability to learn from life’s setbacks. In a somber way, let’s use this week’s pain as a springboard for growth. Let us celebrate the memory of the fallen by living stronger and with more purpose. Let us stand up to the forces of evil and prevail instead of succumb. And let us hold those we love a little closer as we all grieve – and ultimately recover – together.

Josh Linkner is a Detroit-based entrepreneur, author, consultant and investor who was the keynote speaker at the BizExpo in Milwaukee 2010. His blog is republished by BizTimes with permission by the author.

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