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Never Before Revealed: Resilience Secrets of the Hobbit…

[Spoiler Alert – book and movie!]

“In a hole in the ground, there lived a Hobbit…”

…and you find true resilience in the unlikeliest of places!

J.R.R. Tolkien created the hobbits to represent everything stable and ordinary and decent about rural Britain.  Hobbits tend their farms and eat too much and have fun, but are absolutely harmless and uninterested in adventures or the affairs of the Big People.

And yet, in The Hobbit, the fate of three kingdoms will hang on the actions of Bilbo Baggins, just as the fate of the entire world will hang on his nephew Frodo in Lord of the Rings.  It all comes down to a mysterious decision by Gandalf, the great wizard.  Thirteen dwarves intent on wresting their mountain kingdom from the evil dragon, Smaug, have need of the services of a burglar.  This dragon is a creation of Morgoth, a fallen higher being and the worst threat the world had ever faced; there are suggestions in the Silmarillion that dragons themselves may be spiritual creatures turned to Morgoth’s side.  Gandalf would know- he himself is a higher being, called into the world by Galadriel.  Having taken up human form, his mission is to protect the world from the next foray by the dark powers.  That means Smaug and his kind.  Gandalf’s answer?

 

Gandalf decides to back thirteen vagrant dwarvish warriors and their forlorn quest.  But, he emphasizes, the quest may depend on securing the services of someone even more formidable- a hobbit.  This decision to counter a fire-breathing dragon with a creature whose main concerns to that point had been eating, drinking, pipe-smoking and gardening might seem rather odd.  Even stranger, Bilbo’s role was to be The Burglar.  Not only was he no warrior, he most likely hadn’t stolen anything more than a few peeps at the neighborhood girls.

Bilbo certainly thought little of the idea: “We don’t want any adventures here- nasty, inconvenient uncomfortable things.  Make you late for dinner.”  Gandalf, however, would not take no for an answer and invited thirteen dwarves to dinner at Bilbo’s to make him listen to the whole thing.  You see, Gandalf knew that, once presented with the whole picture, Bilbo wouldn’t be able to bring himself to refuse.

 

But what made this hobbit ideal for his pivotal role?

Bilbo was stalled in his own personal development, so much so that he saw no need to develop.  But although stalled, he was neither corrupt nor cynical.  He had the values of an ordinary, decent person, and this is why he first embarks on and then sticks with the quest.  He doesn’t want to go- but the thought of turning down the opportunity to see the world and be part of something really significant was too much for him.  Although hardship does tempt him to abandon his friends, Bilbo chooses to stick with them when they are confronted with orcs and giant wolves, precisely because they don’t have a home to go back to as he does.  Bilbo was willing to sacrifice for his friends.

Zhuge Liang, Chinese strategist, administrator and polymath, once wrote, “Straight trees are found in remote forests; upright people come from the commons. Therefore when rulers are going to make appointments they need to look in obscure places.”  Gandalf certainly couldn’t have picked a more obscure place than the Shire and Bilbo is more “upright” – meaning he has more character and can be relied on to do the morally right thing where others would cave in to their own short-term convenience – than many of his fellow adventurers.

 

Bilbo’s second asset is his immensely flexible mindset.  Whatever circumstance he is dropped into, he reacts with presence of mind and does whatever needs doing to move forward.  If that means playing a game of riddles with a wizened schizophrenic cannibal in a dark cave, he goes along with it.  If it means charging a wolf to rescue his friend, he’ll do that.  If it means flattering a dragon silly to get it to delay eating him and reveal the chink in its armour he’ll do that.  If it means negotiating the dwarves’ mistrust and doubts with some hard-headed bargaining, he’ll do that.  If it means discussing the culinary vices of roast dwarf with three trolls until the sun rises, he’ll do that.  He keeps putting one foot in front of the other, and when he’s at his wits’ end, he changes the rules.  During the riddle game, Bilbo is one riddle away from being eaten and can’t think of another riddle, so he asks Gollum what he has in his pockets- breaking the rules of the game, but putting off being devoured.

Bilbo’s no great fighter, nor does he have any non-culinary talent worth mentioning other than this ability to be dropped into any situation and come back again better than he arrived.  That last bit is important, because it isn’t just ingenuity that gets Bilbo out of tight squeezes – it’s the universe rooting for him.  He’s open to what comes his way, and while it can get him into trouble, it saves his life several times.  He isn’t relying only on himself, and it is for that exact reason that he always comes out of a situation a little better than he arrived in it.

 

There is a rather weak scene in the film where Gandalf attempts to explain to the beautiful Galadriel exactly why a hobbit is necessary baggage on this mission.  The truth is that Gandalf does not like to, and until his transformation into Gandalf the White generally will not, rely on great power or might to do his work.  Good, as he says, is found in the little people of the world, not in armies or empires, and in order to work for the good, Gandalf will always rely on a small and unlikely band of people armed with courage, faith and sharp wits (your mileage may vary) and bound by integrity over armies or magic.  That his closest friend among his own order is the bird dropping-adorned naturalist Radagast reinforces this bent in Gandalf’s character.

 

On the other side, of course, there’s Bilbo, middle-aged, comfortable, not accomplishing anything in particular when Gandalf shows up.  Gandalf has faith that given the opportunity, this anonymous little scrap of hobbit will rise to the occasion.  He doesn’t force Bilbo to go, but he has faith that Bilbo will, not for the gold, not to have his name remembered or even because he particularly wants to but because the dwarves have given him something to believe in, a chance to matter, an opportunity to help their whole nation.   Without that chance, and without Gandalf’s belief and persistence, he would have remained just as he was until the end of his days.  With it, his actions lead to the downfall of the enemy of all life.

Throughout Tolkien’s work, Hobbits are the poster children for resilience and the certainty that ordinary, decent people can do surprising, amazing things when given the chance to do something that matters.

 

Dwarvish Brittleness

 

The Dwarves are an effective counterpoint to Bilbo’s form of resilience.  While on the face of it, the dwarves seem in every way tougher and more resilient than the hobbit, the reverse is true.

On the one hand, the dwarves are strong, courageous, extremely determined and have kept their cause alive throughout long years of wandering and exile.  But this limited form of resilience is offset by a rigidity that renders them extremely brittle, particularly where their leader Thorin is concerned.

 

Thorin sets out with twelve loyal companions to recapture his grandfather’s kingdom, showing courage and faith.  But he frequently quarrels with Gandalf, a rather powerful being and his most important ally.  When Gandalf proposes they take Bilbo, Thorin disputes the choice, and will continue to doubt and quarrel with Bilbo throughout the journey, even once Bilbo has repeatedly proven his worth.  Thorin likewise does everything possible to avoid getting any help at all from the elves, near-immortal beings of immense knowledge, at least some of whom might have been willing to assist the dwarves.  Thorin is bitter that the elves who lived near his homeland didn’t charge into certain death in a hopeless attempt to save the dwarves from Smaug, and this feeling extends to all elves, including the ones who weren’t there.  This inflexibility will continue to get Thorin into trouble, to the point where his admitted virtues will not be able to save him (I did remember to put a spoiler alert at the top, didn’t I?  Anyway, read the book.)

 

We hear that Thror, Thorin’s grandfather and king-under-the-mountain, was corrupted by his love of gold and of the Arkenstone, a gem found within the mountain.  Thror was deluded into believing that his kingdom was eternal, and not only ended up with few friends in the outside world, but attracted a creature even more gold-hungry than himself.  After Smaug drove him out of his kingdom, Thror spent the rest of his life fighting hopeless battles until at last, even his armour-plated beard couldn’t save him.  The dwarves united to avenge his death, and though they won in battle against the orcs, the dwarves were severely weakened.  Perhaps it is no accident that when Thorin attacks Azog, the orc who killed Thror, the theme music is the same used for the Ringwraiths in The Lord of the Rings trilogy.  This pattern of rigidity, insularity, greed and general inability to get along with people who are on their side continues for the dwarves until Galadriel finally manages to get through to Gimli in Fellowship of the Ring.

 

Consider the Following

 

We all know a great many “hobbits” and a few “dwarves”.  In this world, the “hobbits” are not only looked down upon, they are taught to look down on themselves.  How many do you know that are ripe for new challenges and a more meaningful life?  What can you do to help?  How many people around you could do something extraordinary if given the chance?  How many are so far gone that they wouldn’t even believe in the possibility?  How can you help to restore their faith in themselves?

On the other hand, how many people do you know who have fallen prey to the tendencies which dog Thorin, and are suffering for it, some without even knowing it?  Chances are, a number of them are in leadership positions, and a number of others are collapsing into a state of bitterness.  What can you do to help them?

 

The Hobbit and the Dwarf, in fact, represent two sides of the resilience coin and both are necessary.  Another way of describing this that we’ve used before is the “Yin” and “Yang” of resilience:

The Dwarves are all too much “Yang” in their approach – they have the determination, ferocity and bravado, as well as the physical skills to match.  Yet they’re not entirely in charge of their own thinking – all too easily they’re carried away by their own prejudices, assumptions and preconceived ideas.  They allow their own eyes to deceive them.  And they don’t always have the character to do the right thing even when that’s damned inconvenient.

The average Hobbit, being much more “Yin” in his approach, does have that character and, when the moment arises, that character is what allows him to rise to the occasion in an astounding way.  He is far less the prisoner of his own limited vision and his temper seldom gets the better of him.  Now, let’s be clear; Bilbo could use a healthy dose of the Dwarves’ warrior skills, no doubt about it!  However, those skills can be taught and learned much easier than character and mastery of one’s emotions.

As we cultivate our own resilience day in and day out, we need to be conscious of precisely this “yin-yang” balance in our approach.  Some of us think resilience will come entirely from working out at the gym.  Others of us expect it to come exclusively from our meditation sessions.  In both cases we’re fooling ourselves – we need to strive for this balance in our training.

~Dr. Symeon Rodger 


The Power of Friendship

“Thus nature has no love for solitude, and always leans, as it were, on some support; and the sweetest support is found in the most intimate friendship.”
– Cicero

Did you know that social isolation can be as damaging to your health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day?

This week, we’re going to talk friendship and the vital role it plays in anchoring your personal resilience!  Social connection is hugely important to your resilience – friends help you over the toughest hurdles of your life, and instill in you a sense of belonging. We all have a cast of characters in our lives: from acquaintances and running partners to best friends, and you may even take these people for granted. But the presence of others in our lives help us to feel that we are part of a community. We humans are social creatures, and introverts and extroverts alike need to bond with others simply to feel grounded.

It has been said that introverts will typically seek fewer and deeper friendships, while extroverts take refuge in a crowd, but that’s an oversimplification.  Whether you’re an introvert of an extrovert, your attitudes and approaches to friendship will go through many stages throughout your life.

“Each friend represents a world in us,  a world possibly not born until they arrive, and it is only by this meeting that a new world is born.”

-Anais Nin

When people are asked what pleasures contribute most to happiness, the overwhelming majority rate love, intimacy and social affiliation above wealth or fame, even above physical health. The importance of this particular pleasure becomes clear when you look at what loneliness can do to you. Social disconnect has the same negative health effects as high blood pressure, lack of exercise and obesity.

It is one of the blessings of old friends that you can afford to be stupid with them.
– Ralph Waldo Emerson

As we’ll be discussing in the article next week, stress and other negative emotions may in fact be the root of nearly all illness. Bottling negativity inside can have disastrous health effects, and it’s communication with friends that really helps get these emotions out. Even if you’re not discussing your problems, friendship helps you. You’re much more likely to laugh with your friends, and laughter is one of the best stress-busters there is. It’s impossible to feel down when you’re laughing!

A single rose can be my garden… a single friend, my world.
– Leo Buscaglia

Exclusion bites – in a study published in Science magazine, scientists had subjects play a simple ball game with peers, in which one was ultimately left out of the game. An analysis of the victim’s brain activity proved that social exclusion literally hurts! It stimulated the same parts of the brain as physical pain. When we look at this in its evolutionary context, it makes sense – humans in a tribe would need to get along with others for the protection it brings, and to ensure the cooperation so necessary for survival. In order to carry on, it is better to stand together than to stand alone.

Friendship is a single soul dwelling in two bodies.
– Aristotle

Teenagers feel the need for social connectedness much more strongly. In their developing brains, social integration is richly rewarded. An article in National Geographic on the teenage brain had the following points on reasons why people skills are so important:  “Socially savvy rats or monkeys … generally get the best nesting areas or territories, the most food and water, more allies, and more sex with better and fitter mates. And no species is more intricately and deeply social than humans are.

“This supremely human characteristic makes peer relations not a sideshow but the main show. Some brain-scan studies, in fact, suggest that our brains react to peer exclusion much as they respond to threats to physical health or food supply. At a neural level, in other words, we perceive social rejection as a threat to existence.”

In everyone’s life, at some time, our inner fire goes out. It is then burst into flame by an encounter with another human being. We should all be thankful for those people who rekindle the inner spirit.

– Albert Schweitzer

Something that rings true across popular culture is the need to find that we are not alone – whether it’s in singing in the shower or turning your pillow over to the cold side, it gives people a sense of satisfaction to know that there are others out there like them. There’s a plethora of modern websites devoted to “things we all do” – and this has been a factor driving comedy since it began. Anyone recall the first thirty seconds or so of Seinfeld shows, in which Jerry Seinfeld would perform stand – up, often along the lines of, “You know this thing we all do? What is it with that?” or “This thing we all wonder … why is this like that?” It is these connections between people that create bonds. Whether it’s humourous, or a more serious connection, the world seems much more friendly when we realize we have things in common with others.

In the end, friendship is hard to define. Men, even married ones, desperately need to “get out with the guys” (even if that’s with just one other guy at a time).  Women need time with “the girls” too. While we all need friendships, the kind of friendships we need varies from person to person.  Some people feel a great need to be close to children.  Some people couldn’t imagine life without an animal “friend”.

It takes a long time to grow an old friend.
– John Leonard

I’m sure you still have some questions – what kind of social connection do I need to be healthy? How do I get it?

I’ll let journalist Valerie Frankel answer the first. In Self magazine, she identifies the four types of friends that you need to be happy: “Psychologists have long described four major types of friendship 1) The acquaintance, someone you’d chat with on the street of at a local cafe, who gives you a  sense of belonging; 2) The casual friend, a ‘grab lunch’ pal who often serves a specific purpose, such as a tennis or running partner; 3) the close buddy, an intimate, trustworthy comrade you can say anything to; and 4) the lifer, who’s as deep and forever as family.”

Nothing but heaven itself is better than a friend who is really a friend.
-Plautus

How to make these kinds of connections? First of all, it’s important to take the time to develop the friendships you already have. Try asking someone you know out to lunch, or calling up an old friend. Take the time to maintain the bonds that you already have. If you’re looking to make new connections, join a club or take a class  according to your interests. Try online social networks, and make sure to attend after-work functions. Participate in your child’s school. Most of all: don’t be afraid to make the first move! Everyone could use another friend.

Now, take action, cement your best relationships and build some new ones!

~ Dr. Symeon Rodger




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