"In a way, you’ve already won in this world because you’re the only one who can be you." -Mr. Rogers
"If you're going through hell, keep going." -Winston Churchill
Biologically speaking Homo sapien is a weak creature. Human beings lack thick fur, sharp claws, and long canines. We can't jump particularly high nor run very fast. Other great apes are pound-for-pound stronger by several degrees of magnitude. Our children are born defenseless and remain immature for nearly two decades. Yet, each and every one of us are the descendants of survivors. Our ancestors did more than just survive--they thrived. They were cooperative, resourceful, adaptable, and tough. That legacy also belongs to us.
There is a real danger to making life more comfortable. Right now I'm writing this from the comfort of my soft couch in my air-conditioned living room on my computer that is connected to all human knowledge via the Internet and supplied seamlessly with cheap and abundant electrical energy. The amount of hardship that went into making this blog possible is beyond quantifying, yet we take gifts like this for granted each and every day. Our modern frustrations are nothing more than minor inconveniences that occur in our otherwise perfectly curated lives. Our biggest crisis now is an existential one. We are at risk of forgetting our own resilient nature.
As a culture, we have mostly lost touch with physical hardship. We don't have to build our own houses, kill our own meat, or pound our own manioc root. This is one reason why exercise, fasting, and other related hormetic exposures are so important for keeping us grounded in our bodies. Our bodies need consistent challenge to stay healthy. In place of external conflicts we have created internal ones. Mental health problems, suicide, homicide, political polarization, and a myriad of other modern epidemics all reflect this trend. We are swept up by popular social media wars about class, gender, and race because we lack concrete struggles in our own lives. We also lack an ethic of serving others. Like rebellious children, we shun the gifts of our inheritance yet still cash in on its affordances.
A theme of anti-Westernism has come to dominate the modern zeitgeist. We are reminded on a daily basis of how destructive our culture is for the environment--how our luxury comes at the cost of the lives of poor people and endangered species. The metaphor of destruction is extended to the subjugation of minorities and women by the patriarchy. This narrative has become so dominant that to question it is now unsafe. What is not being emphasized are the countless lives that Western culture is responsible for saving, the number of people it has lifted from poverty, and the freedom it has afforded to minorities and majorities alike. And also how resiliently it has stood in face of challenge time and time again.
Believing that we are somehow unwanted on this earth is the first step to disempowerment. Once we have lost our power we are easier to control. Instead, we can weave a different story. We are all gifted and deserving of this planet. We should do everything in our power to leave it better than how we found it. We need not feel guilty for the inequality that exists, but we shouldn't be complacent either. Our ancestors created us through a combination of their own privilege and hard work. We should do the same. We should have gratitude for our gifts while simultaneously living a life that empowers others. We should take only what we need to add more value to the world and leave the rest for our children.
Self-flagellation, self-hatred, homicide, and body and gender dysmorphia are all symptoms of the same disease: Apathy--seeking an easy way out. Our particular trauma may not be of our own making, but healing from it begins with us. In a world where satisfaction is a finger's reach away, we have shrunken from the hardship that has helped define our species. Chasing comfort is a hopeless cause, as is seeking the approval of others. Discomfort and rejection will always find us. When they do, we should turn into the fray rather than away from it. Struggle is trying to teach us something. We are stronger than we think.