Circumstances do not make the man, but reveal him. James Allen.
Truer words have never been spoken. Throughout the ages seemingly great men and great women have been exposed as less than noble, less than genuine and even less than human when faced with challenging circumstances. The reverse is also true – Men and woman who seemed ordinary and average when thrust into the most difficult situations have risen to extraordinary heights of character, leadership and excellence.
Watching this great “revealing” is the stuff history and legends are made of. Observing a person in a challenging situation or circumstance will manifest much about who they are deep, deep inside and what they will likely do in the future. What you are at your core is your center of strength and that ability to do what is right, under pressure or even when no one is looking, is the core of your personal integrity.
Anything that lacks integrity is unstable, as any engineer will tell you. A bridge or skyscraper that has structural integrity simply does what it was built to do. It isn’t necessarily perfect. It could have flaws. But, under stress, pressure and repeated use, it does what it was built to do. Even in extreme circumstances it will do what it was designed to do. If, on the other hand, a structure does not have structural integrity, it will at some point fail, as was the case with the world’s first jet airliner, the British-made de Havilland Comet.
When the Comet was introduced in 1949, the future seemed bright for jet travel and the Comet was the undisputed, front-and-center leader – until three Comets unexpectedly disintegrated in flight, killing all aboard. The planes were grounded as puzzled engineers worked feverishly to understand why they had operated flawlessly at first, only to break apart later in midair. The engineers set up a fuselage in a large pool and pumped water in and out, simulating the effects of repeated cabin pressurization. At first, the experiment revealed nothing, nothing at all. But over time the pressurized circumstances yielded a startling discovery. The repeated stress caused small, microscopic cracks to form around the rectangular windows, cracks that would eventually widened into gaping holes. The planes could not withstand repeated pressure. They lacked structural integrity and the pressurized circumstances revealed what the Comet was at it’s core – a bright shiny pretender that was not secure or safe.
You and I live in a world filled with pressure and pressure filled circumstances – pressure to accomplish, pressure to get ahead, pressure to be smarter than we are, pressure to conform, pressure to be popular, pressure to appear successful, pressure to earn large incomes. None of us are perfect. We all have flaws for sure. How, then, under repeated pressure, can we avoid allowing small cracks in our integrity to form? How can we be sure that our character is structurally sound? How can we stay true to our core regardless of setting or circumstance?
Ultimately this is an exercise of not only looking in the mirror, but looking deep into our hearts and souls and asking uncomfortable questions of ourselves. When you find yourself in challenging circumstances what are you learning about yourself? Do you like what is being revealed? If not, why not? And while we cannot control those around us during difficult time, and it can be devastatingly disappointing to watch false friends or self-serving leaders crumble and reveal their true stripes and identity at such times, ultimately it comes down to ensuring that your own structural integrity reveals your greatness to the world.
© 2010 E.D.G.E.