In December of 2015 I went to watch the first ISA World Adaptive Surfing Championships held at La Jolla Shores in San Diego. Sixty-nine competitors from nineteen countries competed in four different divisions and the entire field was composed of athletes who endure daunting physical challenges – quadriplegics, paraplegics, blind, and missing limbs. Each surfer has their own story of courage and indomitable optimism, of adapting their attitude to the cards they had been dealt, to the life they had been given.
JP was on a motor bike when a driver jumped a stop sign and smashed into him – he was left for dead and lost his leg. Dries was a powerhouse of muscle, one of South
Africa’s most promising rugby players when a truck driver lost control and pushed his car into a ravine – he broke his spine and is paralyzed from the waist down. Gallo from Spain is totally blind in both eyes, gets called into waves by a friend, and surfs by feeling the energy of the wave he is riding. Chris had his leg torn off by a tiger shark in Hawaii, and Bruno is paralyzed below his waist – he eventually won the unassisted prone surfing division for a Gold Medal at the World Championship . In his previous life he was a boat captain taking surfers on exotic trips around the islands of Sumatra. He lived an idyllic life, based in a tree house on the tranquil island of Bali. He came back to his homeland of South Africa and en route to the airport was attacked by four men in another car, waving guns, shouting at him to pull over. When he wouldn’t stop they filled the car with bullets, and he rolled the car trying to escape. After the crash the gangsters returned and while trying to drag him out of the car to rob him, the car toppled over and broke his back. He was left for dead and discovered a few hours later.
Watching all these men surf was a truly inspiring experience. They had traveled from across the world to challenge themselves, to push against their own limits, riding and being liberated by the ocean’s energy. What impacted me deeply was their optimism, their exuberance, their love for life and the fact that each of them had made the choice to live a positive life by having a positive attitude. They had adapted their attitude to their circumstances.
In his best selling book Man’s Search for Meaning, holocaust survivor and pioneering psychiatrist Viktor Frankl wrote of attitude in relation to his experiences in the Nazi death camp Auschwitz, “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms: to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”
Each and every one of us has lived through times of heartbreak and despair, and I have come to a hard understanding of certain truths:
We all live in a challenging sea, and our attitude towards those challenges defines who we are, and how we live our lives. Our attitude is our fundamental choice in life – positive or negative, hopeful or despairing, positive or optimistic. We have limited control over our circumstances, however we have absolute control over our attitude.
Our attitude about the present defines our future. Our attitude about the future defines the present.
Our attitude defines how we see the world and how the world sees us.
Our attitude is the power that propels us on a journey from where we are, to where we want to be.
Our attitude is the light that can show us the way out of darkness.
It is a fundamental choice for all of us.
Good or bad?
Positive or negative?
Optimistic or pessimistic?
Hopeful or despairing?
It is a simple choice.
It is a fundamental choice to be made by everyone on this planet and this choice can change us and change our lives and change the world all around us.
There is a lot of goodness in this world and we all have this light inside of us.
And this light shines through to the world and people around us, in our attitude.
It is up to each and every one of us whether we wish to shine this light on the road ahead and illuminate the way forward, towards a better future for all.
I would like us all to consider the simple question - What is your attitude?
It is an answer, a choice without any shades of grey, without nuance, without complexity.
Positive or negative, optimistic or pessimistic.
Do I choose to build my attitude and the attitude of those around me with the light of hope or the darkness of despair?