I have discovered that epiphanies can happen anywhere, any time and for – sometimes – the strangest reasons derived from the strangest input. My latest came about from the following three disparate and primary sources: thinking about writing something about how we all need to slow down, watching an episode of Warehouse 13, and reading a post on a blog about the increasing ethnic violence around the world. A strange mix that I’ll walk you through presently.
Here’s the epiphany: the increasing insanity around the world has been brought about by too much stress for far too long.
The hopefully brief rundown on how I came to this conclusion goes something like this. I live in the country where I can take plenty of time to just sit and look at nature and be thankful that I live where I do, and as I’ve been taking it all in I’ve been thinking that if more people could live in a place like mine there would be a lot less stressed out people in the world. Then yesterday my fiance and I were getting caught up on some back episodes of the TV show Warehouse 13 and at the end of one episode two characters in 1890s London were walking along and talking when one of them made the statement that everything was moving too fast; he wished “we could all just slow down and take a deep breath”. And then I read a piece off of the blog The Extinction Protocol – one of my favorites – which was written about the escalating violence around the world and about how most of it was ethnic in nature. Now the way that my brain processes information is that I take things in, put them into a little pot on the back burner of my mental stove, and eventually something bubbles to the surface.
And that’s when I had this latest epiphany.
There’s not much doubt that modern society is one devilishly stressful place to live. I grew up hearing about the “Rat Race”, but the folks who coined that term hadn’t seen anything yet. Over the last fifty years in particular things have gotten more hectic and the demands made upon the average human have gotten more insistent. Work harder and faster. Do more. You’re losing the race if you are not squeezing every last proton of productivity out of your day. We’ve all heard this stuff until it has become so firmly embedded in our subconsciouses that we generally don’t know what to do with ourselves if we are not busily doing something. We are reminded of it all of the time, especially at work and during commercials on TV. During the late 80s and all through the 90s I worked in phone centers doing customer service, and I remember in the early 90s the latest craze coming out of the Human Resources department was “Time Management”: they gave you these nifty little day planners and taught you how to squeeze as much productivity out of your work day as possible. As it turns out, the corporate world had so much success with this that they at some point realized that if they could use their advertising to train people to continue that into their personal lives they could sell more goods and services, and soon the HR seminars were not only preaching this sermon at work but the ads on TV were exhorting us to do more, run harder, reflect less.
The primary problem with this is that human beings are not wired that way. The human brain needs a certain amount of downtime in order to catch up and regroup, and if we don’t do that then the mental stress begins to build in our minds, and once it begins to build then it feeds off of itself and we start getting stressed over the fact that we are stressed, and then we start trying to find ways to accomplish everything in as little time as possible so that we don’t have to be as stressed, but then we start getting stressed about that… You get the picture. Remember the old saying that there are only so many hours in the day? When was the last time that you heard someone say that without expressing at least a tinge of regret?
So the stress keeps building until we are submersed in it to the point where it feels like it’s our natural environment – what next? That depends on the person. Some people seem to handle huge amounts of stress just fine and seem to thrive on it (although I suspect that a lot of these types are the ones having massive heart attacks at young ages). Others get cranky, irritable, angry and difficult to get along with, but at least they are appearing to cope. And then there are those who simply crack, who snap one day and have mental breakdowns that lead to suicide attempts, irrational and self-destructive behavior like running off to Vegas and blowing the family’s savings on blackjack, coke and hookers, and sometimes mass shootings. Different people respond to prolonged stress in different ways depending on their psychological make-up (I was going to add training, but one of training’s functions is to weed out those who lack the psychological balance or whatever that will enable them to handle prolonged stress). This is why men and women in combat have different outcomes: some do just fine and come home with Silver Stars, some become jerks and end up transferred to the rear areas, and some come home with PTSD. The bottom line to this is that it’s not the fault of the person as to how they respond to prolonged stress, it is because of the psychological wiring they were born with. People who don’t do well under tons of pressure shouldn’t go deep sea diving and that’s all that there is to it.
Okay, something or someone is telling me that it’s time for a brief bit of personal revelation just to support my argument thus far. I was never wired to handle a great deal of prolonged stress and that’s all there is to it. It really started when I joined the Navy in 1975 (I know, I’m dating myself but I’m sure that you all can tell by my photo that I’m no spring chicken!) which is when I first started trying to fit this square peg into a round hole, but that wasn’t too bad because on board ship there is always someplace where you can hole up and decompress for a bit. Then college, when I was struggling to balance studies with an overactive social life. Then I got into restaurant cooking, which is pretty stressful. After 8 years of that I went into customer service, where I spent thirteen years in the constant stress of call after call. Then came the anxiety attacks and a couple of “breaks”. Then into motel security in a rough part of town; that ended in a mild stroke. Then I went to work for a state park, which wasn’t supposed to be stressful, but we were understaffed in the maintenance department, I lived there which made me too available even during my time off, and dealing with a demanding public is always stressful. BAM! A big break that I’m still recovering from. My point to all this semi-relevant digression is that I wasn’t wired to handle lots of stress. I should have been a librarian or a lighthouse keeper or an astronomer instead.
Now, back to my main point. I have had for years a theory that nations had psyches just like people: I call it Dave’s Theory of National Psyches. (I have lots of theories about lots of things, in case you hadn’t noticed.) In this theory I propose that nations – or ethnic groups if you prefer – each have their own mindset, their own strengths and weaknesses as a people. Some of it probably sounds like ethnic profiling, which I am against; this is all just based on observation. For instance, Germans (I’m part) are known as rule followers, the Italians are known as emotional artists and lovers, and the Japanese are known as stoic tech-savvy innovators. And so forth. Are these statements true of everyone in these groups? No, but then even a creative type like me has some technical tendencies. But overall, I think that my idea holds water. It’s just a matter of identifying the particular strengths and weaknesses of the group – or person – in question. But just like each person and nation has a particular personality, I believe that they all have their own memory and subconscious. (This sounds like the idea of the Group Consciousness/Collective Subconscious, which is usually more of a New Age thing and therefore something that my jury is still out on.) And what we have been seeing a lot of with the sect on sect violence globally – I feel – has a lot to do with group memory. Hence the Muslims Semites hate the Jewish Semites, the various groups in Africa that are constantly fighting all hate each other, and the Irish still have a profound dislike of the English for subjugating their culture. To paraphrase a linie from a Marillion song, somewhere in time they were wronged and they still want revenge.
Now to (I hope) tie it all together. You have the better part of a century of societal stress, of constantly trying to keep up with or ahead of someone else, combined with a mix of ethnic personalities and grievances, and the result is the upsurge in violence that we see today. Some groups are still able to keep their acts together like the Aussies and the Canadians, some are getting angry like the Greeks and the Syrians, and some are cracking under the strain like much of Latin America and Asia and even America. The violence at the personal, ethnic and national levels is escalating and it is doing so at an increasing pace. No sooner is one outbreak sort of settled in one area than another breaks out somewhere else or an old conflict is renewed as we saw in Northern Ireland (still Ulster to me) recently.
So how do we break the spiralling cycle of violence? It can be broken in two ways, but I’m afraid that neither with be utilized at more than the personal level. First, people as individuals and groups need to learn to forgive or they will always want to avenge themselves on those who wronged them in the past. When I still harbored hate and a desire to avenge myself I was angry and self-destructive, but since I’ve learned to forgive things are much better. Yes, Abraham may have sent Ishmael away in favor of Isaac, but that was nearly five thousand years ago – let it go. Yes, China may have claimed islands in the South China Sea four and five hundred years ago but she lost them, and now other nations have claims on them that are just as valid – don’t go to war over it. Yes, England may have conquered and brutalized Scotland and Ireland centuries ago, but I don’t hate the English (it helps that most of Ireland is independent and Scotland is working on it). Without forgiveness there is no peace. And second, people need to get off the treadmill and take a moment to think and reflect. When was the last time that you heard the saying “stop and smell the roses” as a real desire and not just another quaint saying on a kitchen magnet? Even the Bible says to do so: “Be still that you may hear the Lord.” If you are too busy running yourself into the ground chasing after the latest fashions and gadgets you will never be able to sort out your own problems, you will never be able to put things in their proper perspectives, and you will definitely never be able to hear that “still, small voice” inside of you that can help you get a grip on things.
There are foxgloves in bloom by my driveway, and every day when I walk out to the mailbox I stop and admire them. When I step outside at night I always look up and admire the stars. It’s little things like that can make the biggest difference.
Now if the rest of the world could just do the same…