It’s Not So Different, Really

As I’ve gotten older, the amount of responsibility I’ve taken on in life has increased.  I assume that’s how it’s supposed to be.  I’m still sometimes unclear on if I’m doing this “adulting” thing correctly, although most signs point towards yes.  At the very least, if my ability to adult is graded pass/fail I’m generally confident these days that I’m passing.

Still, the fact that there was a time, not so long ago, where I didn’t quite have the ability to consistently adult to an acceptable level has been hard to get over.  I haven’t missed a bill payment in several years now, and yet I still get nervous now and then that I’ve done math wrong and missed something important.  I’ve faced consequences of bad mistakes and bad decisions, and I still get that horrible, gnawing feeling of anxiety in my stomach when I think my boss or someone in an authority position might be less than happy with what I’m doing.

It makes me wonder if people who have lived a life with fewer struggles and failures have less anxiety because they don’t remember what it’s like to mess up and fail, or if they have more anxiety because they imagine mistakes and failure to be worse than they really are.  

And that makes me wonder if there really are people who have lived a life with fewer struggles, or if we all feel the same worries and anxieties, but over different kinds of things.

Whatever the answer, I still end up some nights with the nauseous, anxious feeling in my stomach.  It causes me to wonder if I’ve forgotten something important that only my subconscious has remembered, or if I’m having some kind of premonition about an impending crisis, or if I just ate something bad and it’s just an upset stomach.  

The really bad part, though, is that there is this part of my brain that wants to do anything possible to avoid addressing what might be the cause of the anxiety.  It doesn’t want to know if I forgot to do something important or if I made a bad choice or even if there’s just some unavoidable thing that’s happened to make my life more difficult for a bit.  It fears the repercussions and therefore doesn’t want to acknowledge that they exist.  It’s the part of my brain which caused me to not be able to adult very well at some points in my life.  

I know, logically and from experience, that what I should do when I feel like my stomach is twisting itself into knots is to sit down and get as many tasks done as possible.  Plan for contingencies.  Go over my schedule and my budget.  Make to-do lists.  Do things on the to-do lists.  Clean something.  

And yet, real action is hard.  Real action requires that real consequences be faced.  Real action requires honest assessment of the situation with all its potential downsides.  It’s so much easier to retreat into actions that feel good but don’t require that much effort and honesty.  It’s so much more tempting to play distracting games or focus on making myself feel better about more superficial successes so I don’t worry about mistakes I might have made.  

As humanity has grown and advanced, life has become more complex and difficult to understand.  It’s the way it’s always been and always will be.  There’s no real way to know if humanity is headed in a good direction or if we will destroy ourselves, although for all the times we’ve ever predicted our impending demise we’ve yet to be right.  At the very least, we still have the ability to make the right choices for the future of our descendants and the planet.

Still, we’re consumed by concerns over the darker parts of human history.  Though the data tells us that we are becoming more educated, healthier, less violent, more prosperous, we have a hard time seeing past all the horrible things that are still part of human behavior.  We’ve been through wars and catastrophes and plagues and genocide, and we still worry that the next horrible chapter in human history might wipe us off the earth for good if we don’t stop it.

It makes some of us imagine that there is a life beyond this one where there is no reason to worry about the future because there is no disease or death or suffering.  And it makes some of us imagine that, if we only do the right things, we can fix what’s wrong with humanity by ridding the world of whatever causes us to suffer and creating a perfect life here in reality.  

And it makes some of us wonder if there ever can be an existence without suffering, or if we just wish there could be to make us feel better about the suffering we experience now.

Whatever the answer, we are still consumed with the idea that humanity needs to be fixed or saved.  We wonder if humanity was designed to be this way, or if it all went wrong somewhere in the past, or if we’re inherently flawed.  

The really bad part, though, is that there is this part of all of us that wants to do anything possible to avoid facing the ways in which we, personally, might be part of the problem.  We don’t want to think about how we might be causing others to suffer or how we might have made choices in the past which contributed to conflict and destruction and oppression.  We fear the judgment of others and therefore we don’t want to acknowledge that we might sometimes be wrong.  It’s the part of human nature which causes us to perpetuate destructive and harmful ideas and behaviors.  

On a superficial level we all acknowledge that what we should do when we are troubled by the state of the world around us is to do something positive for others.  Give of ourselves.  Help those in need.  Push for positive change.  Fix something broken.  

And yet, real action is hard.  Real action requires that real consequences be faced.  Real action requires honest assessment of the situation with all its potential downsides.  It’s so much easier to retreat into actions that feel good but don’t require that much effort and honesty.  It’s so much more tempting to distract ourselves with our own hobbies and interests or argue over ideas and beliefs and how other people should act so we don’t have to face the ways we might be harming others around us.  

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