I am pleased to share the following interview with Chris Benguhe, author of Overcoming Life’s 7 Common Tragedies: Opportunities for Discovering God .
Q: Please introduce yourself and your family to our readers.
A: I grew up in the cozy confines of Phoenix, Ariz, where I was an alter boy, and I believed in my faith. I went from attending a Jesuit prep school to being up to my scruples in the glamor and greed of Tinseltown, and at the ripe young age of 41, I have been kicked out of more places than most people ever get into – as a reporter for the National Enquirer, and then People Magazine.
It all started when I was a pre-med student in college and a piece of paper literally blew in my face for a writing contest. I entered on a whim, and I won. The next thing I knew I was sitting in an interview with a cagy British editor interviewing for a junior reporter’s position with the scandal sheet – the Enquirer. My first story was to chase Farrah Fawcett around to catch her cheating on her husband. I was one of the first reporters on the scene of the grizzly Nicole Simpson murder, I covered every one of Tom Cruises “perfect” marriages and I knew Brittney Spears was crazy before anyone else.
Q: Please provide a brief overview of your inspiring book, Overcoming Life’s 7 Common Tragedies , for our readers.
A: The worst of times are windows to the best. Tragedies and tough times lead us to others – to love and to be loved – and to a greater understanding of our faith and our beliefs.
Overcoming Life’s 7 Common Tragedies: Opportunities for Discovering God offers a practical everyday faithful philosophy on how to apply the “positive potential” of problems to the seven most common catastrophic life situations through revealing personal reflections plus compelling anecdotes of everyday people who found joy through enduring life’s greatest tragedies.
Most of the people I featured in my first three books went through extremely difficult times in their lives and were made better by their experiences. In fact, those tough times were some of the best things that ever happened to them because the struggles brought them closer to loved ones and made them stronger in their faith and their beliefs. It made them say, no matter what, I’m going to stick up for what I believe. As soon as they realized and accepted those difficulties as opportunities to love and be loved, their whole life changed.
That philosophy inspired me to write this book which shows people prevailing in difficult situations and being better for them, though they may not have realized it at the time.
But I also included plenty of my own personal revelations about my own struggles with gambling, poverty, relationships gone bad and the like. This was the first time I bared my soul like that. It was tough at first, but quite liberating and cathartic once I finished. I think privacy is overrated.
Q: I’m interested in hearing more about your transition from being a secular journalist to a Catholic author and columnist. How has your faith life impacted upon your professional career?
A: I bounced back and forth in the business and wound up finally as a senior editor for the Tabloids. But you feel so isolated in Hollywood – and in the culture of Tinseltown – it is much more desperate and soulless of a town and a lifestyle than you have ever seen in movies or on TV. I really started questioning my identity and wondering if this was what life was all about. It really is all about self-centered self satiation out there.
Then the Columbine shootings happened in the spring of 1999, and it changed my life. I saw journalists from across America converge on this tiny Colorado town of Littleton, trying to out-sensationalize each other, and I was one of them! I really believe that was a turning point in American journalism. Before, he said, there was an unwritten rule that journalists would be more respectful and less harassing of “ordinary people.” Not anymore. You make excuses that the people you’re writing about are celebrities. They got what they bargained for. But we would get right up in the faces of these parents who lost their children at Columbine and try to get them to cry, or hate or blame the shooters’ parents. It was ugly and heartbreaking. And it flew in the face of my faith and my upbringing. Plus the fact that the overtly sensational coverage was what I called “tragicide” and it was terrifying Americans into being afraid to send their kids to school even though the rate of violence of schools has been consistently dropping in the U.S.
I knew I couldn’t go on making money off the misery of others. So I walked into my boss and told him very respectfully that I just couldn’t do this anymore. He said, “You mean the story?” I told him, “No — the job!”
After about a month wandering on the beach and growing out my beard – the money and the margaritas started to run out. I realized I had to get on with my life, doing something that I believed in – something that could make a difference.
I went back over my files of unpublished stories from my reporter days. Many of them were about ordinary people who overcame tough times. They were inspiring, but not sensational enough to make it into the tabloids. So I put them into a book and pitched it to Penguin – they gave me my first book deal. It was called “Triumphs of the Heart,” and President G. W. Bush the introduction for it, which was very appreciated. Then I wrote a sequel to that and a third book about heroes and the principles they live by called “Beyond Courage: The 9 Principles of Heroism”.
Q: Given today’s economic and political climates, your book is extremely timely. What motivated you to write on this topic?
A: People are hurting. But could the worst of times be windows to the best? Yes, absolutely. But in order to realize that we need to get out from under the influence of the religion of success in America that tells us that if things don’t go our way, that we are worthless failures who shouldn’t even bother to keep trying.
What if we realized that our happiness is buried deep within the experiences of our ordeals themselves? What if obstacles are actually the intended route to our ultimate happiness? What if God purposely made us fallible and vulnerable?
Actually life’s struggles and failures are what lead us to others, to God and to finding purpose and meaning in our confusing world.
Tragedies will always happen and problems will always be a part of our lives — especially now! More and more people are waking up to find themselves out of work, out of money and out of ideas for how they will stay afloat when everywhere they look ships are sinking.
But maybe in our increasingly demanding, confusing and failing economic environment, where a mainstream culture of success preaches it’s all about the bottom line, the innate value of work, social responsibility and human dignity has become muddled, if not completely lost, and maybe that’s exactly what led to our demise.
In other words, ironically, trying too hard to succeed has led to our failure. And maybe doing the opposite will actually lead to our success?
But what if true happiness is buried deep within the experiences of our ordeals themselves? What if we discovered that the shortest route to success wasn’t really about success at all, but instead about realizing our value and net worth is not only a relative RESULT of economic viability or human marketability but instead is an innate asset that can enable and create ethical and profitable behaviors that will lead to long-term and stable success?
Maybe it’s not about whether the glass is half full or half empty, it’s about the value of the glass- the glass of your life is always valuable.
Q: Please give a brief overview of your “Steps to Serenity”.
STEP 1 – Avoid the TRAGEDY SPIRAL
STEP 2 — REALITY CHECK
STEP 3 — Be LOVED
STEP 4– Be LOVING
STEP 5–LOVE yourself!
STEP 6 – Do the Leg Work
STEP 7 – Keep the Faith
(See Chapter 3 for more info)
Q: What are some of the common themes in the book that can help readers in their quest to overcome some of life’s challenging situations?
A: What’s the point of our lives? It’s not to be perfect or to be a “success” or to “maximize” our potential. All that misses the point of why we were created – to love and be loved!
As I said above I think the real point to take home from the book is that the worst of times are windows to the best because they lead us to realizing that purpose, they lead us to reaching out to others, to God and to finding purpose and meaning in our confusing world. We should love ourselves because we are part of God’s creation – part of his plan.
Q: Can you share a story or two from your own personal experiences or those stories you’ve shared in the book that will provide some inspiration for our readers.
A. There really are so many, but one in particular really stands out to me because it was the original impetus for the book – an equestrian champion named Lance who was left paralyzed and unable to speak after a swimming accident. Well it is an extraordinarily miraculous story that’s too long to tell here, but long story short after almost two decades of amazing love and devotion from his father, father and son developed the most incredible bond. And 17 years after the accident Lance woke up in his hospital bed after a routine surgery, turned his head for the first time in that long and spoke for the first time since the accident. First words out of his mouth were “I love you dad.”
But even more amazing was the father’s response whenever I asked him how he endured such a tragedy and kept the faith through such a long-lasting ordeal. His answer: “The way I saw it was that I got to love my son more than most fathers ever get a chance to.”
It was a totally different perspective on life when things go wrong. And it changed my life.
Q: What do you hope readers will take away from having enjoyed your book? What type of feedback have you received from those who have read it and implemented some of your precepts in their lives?
A: I hope that readers can see the same insights and life changing lessons that I was able to while writing the book – that’s the reason why I wrote it. I gave up a very lucrative career writing material that I thought added very little to the human consciousness for a career that was much harder to make a living at so that I could make a difference. These stories will make a difference in your life for sure. And every time I receive a letter from someone somewhere in the world who tells me that, it tells me that I made the right choice.
Q: Are there any additional thoughts or comments you’d like to share with our readers.
Right now America, and the world, are facing some of the toughest times in a long time. But we are obsessed with a religion of success. Do we realize that within that struggle are some of the greatest opportunities to reach out to others, to respect humanity, to realize what is important, to understand the difference between what we need and what we want, and finally to grow stronger in our faith and relationship with God.
Inspiring people and those who need to be inspired are all around each one of us everyday, in every way and every place we go. Whether I am on a plane or in a pub or a coffee shop – I can’t help reaching out and saying hello, asking how their day went and really wanting to know and to listen to their answer. I have met people who have changed my life, and those whose lives I have changed saved doing just that. I hope this book inspires a whole lot of others to do the same.
Ultimately all of life’s struggles, and all of our imperfections, are a chance for us to reach out to others to love and to be loved. That is where we find our true purpose, our real value, and our greatest joy and triumphs.