Recently, I was struck by the inherent connection between adversity and community.
One of the etymological roots for the word adversity is a Latin word that means “turn toward.” Roots of words beg questions. The question here obviously is, "in the context of adversity, 'turn toward' what or whom?”.
The difficulties and misfortunes that arise during times of adversity often cause us to “turn away” from others, from God, and sometimes even from our authentic selves. This seems to be a response to an implicit bias in our culture toward people who overcome adversity on their own, as though adversity must be borne and weathered INDIVIDUALLY.
As Americans we definitely admire individual tenacity and resilience—evidenced by the myth of the individual who “pulls themselves up by their own bootstraps,” “the self-made man,” etc. Since I teach in a Western “great books” program, I can also say that the tendency to laud the resilient individual is not uniquely American, but a deeply Western cultural value.
Homer, for example, wrote of heroes, who in their own courage and strength overcame great odds, fought mighty battles even against the gods, and were VICTORIOUS. In fact, a person’s glory and honor was diminished if they didn’t achieve victory in their own strength.
Even the way we speak of the development of resilience shows a tendency towards the individual. We encourage the individual development of confidence, positive self-image, and cultivating problem solving skills, but only speak of the value of family, seeking help from others, and helping others as ancillary components to this individual character development.
Yet there it is, bound up in the word "adversity" itself—turn toward. To turn toward a thing is to admit that there is another, an “other” outside of the self that one positionally realigns oneself to.
If I pause to think historically about the ways in which adversity was experienced, especially prior to major industrial or technological advancements, I can see how adversity might have necessitated turning toward others or even the divine for relief. Even now, major catastrophes like earthquakes or tsunamis remind us of the communal reality of adversity.
Perhaps it is only in the small adversities that we make a habit of forgetting the need to turn toward…