“Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, ambition inspired, and success achieved.” – Helen Keller
I’m actually writing this post while sitting outside a coffee shop shop in Chiang Mai, but by the time I publish it, we’ll be back in Delhi (and probably sitting in another coffee shop!).
We loved the week we spent in Phuket, but after we got back so many of our friends kept recommending we check out Chiang Mai, so we were really excited once we picked out dates and booked our flights to come here.
There are seriously probably a million things to love about Chiang Mai: the people, the blue skies, the mountains to the west of the city, the quiet bungalow resorts along the Ping River, the food – Oh. My. Gosh. The food! The amazing coffee culture, the fruit smoothies, the cost of living, the night markets, the hand-made soaps, the silks, the celadon ceramics, etc…
And it’s safe. I haven’t once felt uncomfortable walking the streets at night or taking the rickshaws up north and out of the city towards our hotel.
I guess that’s why so many foreigners also love Chiang Mai and Thailand – it’s different enough to know you’re in another country, but it’s still comfortable enough that you don’t feel inconvenienced by the culture.
Which is the total opposite from India.
When I think about all the places in the world I could comfortably live, Thailand would be in my top five. But when I think about all the places in the world I could live and grow in maturity and character, it probably wouldn’t even make my top twenty.
That’s because there’s too much inherent in Thai culture that accommodates my insecurities or fears. I can live in a relatively familiar “bubble” most of the time here.
For instance I HATE being in situations that may make people defensive. I try not to make intentionally confrontational statements or do things that I know could potentially make someone else uncomfortable. Oddly enough, I actually read in our Lonely Planet Guide, that as a culture, Thais are the same way. They will do everything possible to avoid confrontation and seek to please, even if it slightly inconveniences them.
When I read that, I almost simultaneously had two thoughts:
1. Wow, that’s why I could live here!
(shortly followed by)
2. Wow, that’s why I could never live here!
As quickly as I realized how easy it would be to live in Thailand, I just as quickly realized how much I’ve grown because of how difficult it is living in India.
In Thailand I don’t have to be concerned about the safety of the food I eat, I don’t have to confront people on a daily basis for crossing boundaries, I don’t have to figure out whether someone is lying to me or not, I can trust the quality of the merchandise I’m purchasing, and I could even eventually learn to drive here without taking rickshaws or depending on a driver.
So I know if we hadn’t moved to India I wouldn’t have learned how to have healthy confrontation or how to set boundaries with strangers. I would still be scared to communicate my needs out of fear of inconveniencing others. I’m not saying I’ve totally corrected that behavior, but the fact India has brought that out of me shows how being in an uncomfortable environment works on your character and grows you as a person.
Character growth seems best nurtured in environments of difficulty and strain. Just like the saying goes: “necessity is the mother of invention” — it’s need that drives creative solutions and forces flexibility in my lifestyle.
It’s almost like the difficulties of living in India have uprooted a bunch of weeds in my life, tilled the soil and replaced them with new seedlings, but it’s not until we pause for a moment in places like Thailand that that work is revealed.
I’m not sure what all these new seedlings will grow up to be just yet, but they’ll bear their fruits in due time I suppose.
What a good and faithful Father we have… It’s out of love that He brings us to places where He can prune and trim us. And He shepherds our hearts so well, and knows when we need a break.
“And I am convinced and sure of this very thing, that He Who began a good work in you will continue until the day of Jesus Christ [right up to the time of His return], developing [that good work] and perfecting and bringing it to full completion in you.” (Phil 1:6)