Times are tough for a lot of people. COVID did not cause the cracks in our social edifice of care but has exposed and widened them to make them more cruelly visible. Never before has everyone had to battle the same enemy, or faced the same threat of falling ill or dying. Mind you, if you have health care, if you are wealthy enough and living in middle class suburbia, you have services enough and resources enough to access them. But even then, COVID has not been a respecter of persons. Even the President got it.
For all that, the human race is normally hail and hardy, capable of overcoming or enduring flood and drought, fire and storm, and these times will be no exception. It is bad but it is not yet the worst of times. We are not in the middle of a Civil or nuclear War. This is not the Black Death.
But that is not how we sound right now.
One could be forgiven to think that the way we are talking about things, that these are the end times, Armageddon will hit tomorrow because the world is on its last legs. There is no future to promise, only a past to lament. Our kids are mental wrecks and our leaders are corrupt and our economy is tanking and Wall Street is collapsing, and the nuclear cloud is growing darker by the minute and democracy is failing and human rights are being rolled back….and…..and. Like the Witches in MacBeth,
Fire burn and caldron bubble.
We seem to have talked ourselves into our own demise, and made depression and struggle so normative that for someone to thrive seems like an insult. How dare you be happy or optimistic? What with Ukraine and Climate Change and Roe v Wade and January 6th and the rest. We feel so entitled to our misery, so let’s cry into our pretzels and enjoy it while we can.
Life, Liberty and the pursuit of unhappiness has become the new code. Throw in the ever expanding expertise of emotional intelligence and empathy, trauma and triggers and you have a potent brew of roiling discontent that we can elaborate till the cows come home. What, you mean the cows are still missing? See- another reason to be sad. Pain and suffering, anxiety and stress are dominating the headlines. But let’s not fool ourselves. Pity is not our only aim. We are democratizing the n0-show, the go-slow, the don’t know, because now, everyone has an excuse. There are advantages to feeling/seeing the world this way. Malaise has a thriving market.
We can beg off the meetings and the appointments we don’t particularly care for, by just being exposed to COVID or having a sore throat. Could be Delta or Omicron, couldn’t it? Or we can pretend to attend in that faceless ZOOM way to at least pay lip service to our duty. If our workers tell us they need a week off for self-care, what are we to say? Show us a doctor’s certificate? Give us the stress test results or your blood pressure chart? We have had to be accountable to ourselves in a way we have never had the freedom to be before. How is that working? I am not sure we are not getting into the habit of taking the easy way out.
If we don’t have to prove medical reasons for not showing up, we don’t have to push through the headache anymore. We don’t have to dig deeper and find a resolve that resists the temptation to expect less of ourselves. We amass a lengthy litany of deficits and obstacles that make us seem like some patriot or martyr for whom the labor of breathing deserves a purple heart. Showing up is something our bosses should be grateful for. We become such powerful witnesses to our weakness that we make ourselves more fragile by the minute, and any pressure, any strain we think will break us. It won’t, we know, but this is strategic vulnerability. We conspire with those who expect less, and we deliver on our own diminishment.
When the world needs to recover and renew, when the world needs to get back on track, we need to claim the resources that remind us of our strengths. One resource that no one is mentioning is memory, and the fact that we as a race have always remembered our way back to resilience. That is why we wrote the book “Our Stories Rise Up.”
The hardships we endure are not meant to be wasted. They are meant to build memory muscle for the next challenge, and re-enforce a species confidence that no matter what befalls our tribe, we will prevail. It is the least we owe our ancestors who went through so much more terror than we can ever complain about. They must laugh at us for becoming so pathetic and flabby, so whiney and plaintive, so unbelieving in our own abilities to stand up straight, and measure up right. We are standing down and measuring down and feeling down because its expanding our territory of excuse. We are fast turning failure into an achievement. Unless you are struggling, they insist, you are not living. If we are not happy, no one else better be. Democratize depression. Down with contentment. Down with joy. Down with Resilience. Well, Storywise says Ba Humbug to all that.
If you are under 30, and you have already dedicated your life to misery, then what kind of despair will you serve when you are 40, and what kind of catastrophe will you eagerly await when you are 50? No matter what decade we live, there is always enough life experience available for us to mold into an alibi for our disappointment. And there is always enough evidence for the opposite, that will give us cause for rejoicing.
Tragic, Comic, Romantic or Ironic? We get to decide the genre, even if the content remains the same. They tell the story of famous actor, Richard Burton playing Hamlet night after night and deciding, to stop getting bored that one night he would be the camp Hamlet and the next night, the fascist, and the next night the noir Hamlet. We can do the same with our life script.
At a young age, we are invited to commit ourselves to life, to make the decision to thrive, to pursue not the ‘happiness’ of feeling good, but the happiness the Founders meant quoting Plato and Aristotle, eudaimonia, the Demon of wellness, the quest for human thriving.
Live the best possible human life, they said, and to do that, one must pursue it, not presume it. Life and Liberty is our birthright under God, but happiness in the Greek sense is doing justice to our human potential. That can never be pain free, and suffering part and parcel of the striving. It is more times than not the spur, not the threat.
Struggle is the catalyst for growing bigger than the obstacles we face, thinking larger than the timid souls around us who give up too easy, and growing a trusting heart to leap into life, not expecting it to be an endless joy ride that we resent because it is rudely interrupted by the bumps. After all, the bumps are the ride.