Necessity is the Mother of Invention

“He was more responsible than anyone else for creating the modern world.”

You may be thinking I am quoting someone describing Steve Jobs.  After all, he changed so much about the way we function as a society.  In fact, though, one hundred years before Steve was building his first computer in his garage, Thomas Edison gave us the first system for central lighting and heating using electric power.  However, did you know that Edison was considered technically deaf? It is true.  His hearing loss was attributed to a bout of scarlet fever during his childhood.

Recently, an unexpected snowstorm at the end of October left much of the tri-state area without electricity and heat, something that our post-Edison world takes for granted. There is no question that the ordeal was quite stressful for those impacted.  Schools were canceled for an entire week.  Some hunkered down in their dark, cold houses, despite the frosty temperatures.  Others booked hotel rooms.  Still others stayed with friends and family.  It was a really rough week.

John and I and the kids managed to camp out at my in-laws and felt fortunate to be able to bask in the glow of their uninterrupted power.  Surfing through messages on Facebook, I was able to read how my friends were fairing.  As could be expected, those who got their electricity back within a day or two returned to their daily routine.  However, for those literally stuck in the dark all week, there was something unexpected.  I saw photos and read messages about family sight-seeing trips to museums and to the Statue of Liberty. (For those of you that live outside of the New York area, the locals never visit Lady Liberty unless on a class trip or prompted by an out-of-town visitor).  Also, neighbors and friends skipped the weeks of advance planning usually necessary to schedule meals and social events, and opened their homes to each other.  Those who actually had the foresight to own a generator invited others to eat or even to sleepover—for days.  Churches and synagogues with power opened their doors to anyone needing food and a warm place to stay (or at least a place to charge their iPhones), regardless of faith.  And on a simpler note, our neighbor let my husband run a cable from his generator to power our tank filter and save our fish.  Although there is no question that the power outage was upsetting at times, and certainly the clean-up from the storm costly, countless people still remarked to me afterwards how grateful they were to have the unexpected quality time with their family and friends, and even strangers.

I thought about how the old phrase, “Necessity is the Mother of Invention,” might have applied to Edison.  If, in fact, difficult situations inspire ingenious solutions, perhaps Edison’s hearing loss served to motivate his innovation.  After all, his early motion pictures told stories without sound (just subtitles and a piano accompanist).  His phonograph allowed you to get up close to the horn to hear the prerecorded music or voices.  It’s easy to imagine his hearing loss was the very thing that pushed him to his greatest creative successes.

Edison once said, “Your worth consists in what you are and not in what you have.”  Lots of us living on the East Coast learned that lesson unexpectedly last week, but as a result, embraced the chance to try out new things.  What if we all approached any loss as a gift, rather than a curse?  After all, we all have the power to turn adversity into opportunity.

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2 Responses to “Necessity is the Mother of Invention”

  1. Rachel CohenNovember 14, 2011 at 2:34 am #

    thank you for the insight!!

  2. Rachel CohenNovember 14, 2011 at 2:33 am #

    A lot of people remark that my generation is going downhill. And, having observed my fellow college students and the incoming students, I’d say that I don’t entirely disagree. But I do think that in times of need, and often when I least expect it, I find that there is a warmth and kindness to people that is often buried underneath a poor exam grade or a “case of the mondays”. I like to think that everything happens for a reason; sometimes a bad storm can lead to an act of compassion or long-overdue quality time with family and friends. I don’t think the reason for why things happen to us is always as clear as we would like, but if–like you said–we could approach every loss as a gift, then perhaps we could create our own reason, our own happiness.