Are you in the middle of a difficult time? Does life feel so dark that you wonder if you will ever see the light at the end of the tunnel? If you are in that situation right now, let me encourage you to look for the collateral beauty.
So, what is collateral beauty after all? It’s not a term that is commonly used. The phrase became popular by a recent movie starring Will Smith. Although the movie didn’t receive great reviews, it has some deep themes that deserve to be discussed. Without spoiling the movie, the general theme is that Will Smith’s character is a dad whose daughter died a short time earlier from a rare disease. He is struggling to cope and is completely retreating from life. Throughout the movie, he has encounters with death, time and love that ultimately help him start dealing with the tragic situation. What he begins to see is that every situation, no matter how ugly, has some collateral beauty.
Collateral is defined as “additional but subordinate; secondary.” We know it from the phrase “collateral damage.” Collateral damage is used in a military sense to describe unintended consequences from a military action – a bomb is dropped on the enemy’s headquarters but 2 civilians die in the explosion. The demolition of the headquarters was the plan; the death of the civilians was collateral damage (additional, unplanned consequences). Just as collateral damage describes the negative that can result from a good event; collateral beauty is the good that can result from a bad event.
So, if bad events have some good consequences, why are they so hard to see? By definition, collateral means secondary and not the main focus. It’s like they are in the peripheral vision. The objects in our peripheral vision are fuzzy and out of focus. In order to see them, we need to literally turn our heads and change our main focus. The same is true of collateral beauty. They are out there, but they are fuzzy and hard to recognize until we choose to focus on them … and that means changing our focus off of the main event, which is very, very hard.
When bad events happen – and they do for all of us at some time or another, we tend to want to focus on them relentlessly. People ask the unanswerable question of “why?” over and over again hoping for a logical answer but knowing there isn’t one. Some people can get stuck in the pain so long that pain is normal and they don’t know how or even want to move forward. That’s why it can be so hard to see the collateral beauty – we don’t really want to. For some strange reason, a lot of people act like the longer they suffer, the more it memorializes the event. To move on and see beauty would somehow make the event seem trivial and that would be wrong. Internal suffering doesn't erase pain or change the past, it just prevents us from fully living. Click To Tweet
I remember September 11, 2001 like it was yesterday. I was glued to the television. Even though there was nothing new to report after the first few hours, I just couldn’t leave. I remember feeling like it would be wrong to stop watching. I think that is how initial shock is. When tragedy strikes in our personal lives, we need to take the time to stare at it just to process what actually happened. But, after a reasonable time, we need to give ourselves permission to look away.
Only by choosing to change our focus can we ever hope to clearly see the collateral beauty in tragedy.