In a TED talk entitled, “How the worst moments in our lives make us who we are,” Andrew Solomon — the openly gay author, philanthropist and activist best known for his 2002 Pulitzer-prize nominated book The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression — discusses how adversity and injustice can shape and potentially strengthen individuals.
Solomon acknowledges that he has never experienced harm like that which befalls political prisoners and makes sure not to glorify trauma as always having a purpose or reason behind it. Nevertheless, Solomon’s childhood experiences being taunted by bullies on the bus and going through “sexual surrogacy” therapy during his adolescence — along with his personal torments of having a mother who committed suicide and struggling with depression himself — have undoubtedly shaped his character.
In his talk, he says:
I was at war with myself, and I dug terrible wounds into my own psyche. We don’t seek the painful experiences that hew our identities, but we seek our identities in the wake of painful experiences. We cannot bare a pointless torment, but we can endure great pain if we believe it is purposeful. Ease makes less of an impression on us than struggle. We could have been ourselves without the delights, but not without the misfortunes that drive our search for meaning…
Forging meaning is about changing yourself. Building identity is about changing the world. All of us with stigmatized identities face this question daily: How much to accommodate society by constraining ourselves and how much to break the limits of what constitutes a valid life. Forging meaning and building identity doesn’t make what was wrong right — it only makes what was wrong precious.
The entire talk is worth listening to. As are the other TED talks we’ve shared on Towleroad including the one from the founder of AIDS Ride, the talk on inequality that almost never came out and the one during which an international fashion model came out as trans.
See Solomon’s talk AFTER THE JUMP…