Mental health issues have been on the rise for some time. And isn’t it strange that they come even as “stress” in our over-civilized lives has supposedly decreased? I’ve also noticed as an outspoken Christian and politics-observer that there’s an interesting insecurity not just in individuals but in entire cultural ways of thinking (notice all the protests and lack of reasonable conversations which I talked about in my last post). Coincidences? Maybe.
The Art of Manliness has recently been discussing something they are calling “the strenuous life”. They note the steady decline of stress in day to day life with culture’s over-civilisation, both stress of the physical nature as well as of the mental. Life is, with technology and industry and the like, becoming easier and easier. And yet, we see on the rise an increasing count of apparent “stress” in the form of anxiety, depression, and other mental disorders. Also on the rise is unexplainable and undiagnosable pain in the body. Paradoxically, even with less stress, our bodies and minds seem bent on stressing themselves out.
Brett Mckay and his wife (who author most of The Art of Manliness’ stuff) make a call for “a New Strenuous Age”. And I think they’re on to something.
The Strengthening of Good Stress
Recently, I had a fascinating conversation with someone. Among many topics, the importance of good stress kept coming up.
My friend is learning Muay Thai, and recalled his need to learn how to take a good punch so that when he got hit in the future he could take it in stride. As we talked about politics and how hyper-sensitive so many people in our culture are today (in particular those who are on the Left side of things politically and socially) we related that sensitivity to the same principle as the bodily (and mental) stress that my friend needed to undergo for growth and development.
We both seemed to reach the same idea together as we talked: what if our lack of willingness to have the hard conversations and disagree with each other was leading (at least in part) to all this hyper-sensitivity? What if our lack of conversation was actually making it harder and harder to have a conversation at all, and thus leading to the difficulty of even living with and tolerating one another? Like a marriage that never quite fixes itself after a bad problem: somebody avoids conflict for the sake of so-called “peace” only to leave an issue to fester and rot the relationship from the inside out with bitterness and problems unsolved.
That is where we are. We have defeated ourselves by seeking comfort. We have become too soft to even function properly as a society.
I remember a friend’s story of conflict. While on assignment in Asia, he was working closely with a team of about 6 people (seeing/working with each other every day, living with one of them as a roommate… in general, very close proximity). When a regional leader came to the team a few months in, he was shocked to find each team member reporting no conflict. The leader called an emergency meeting. To him, this lack of conflict was actually a bad thing. Why? Because friction between people is inevitable. And when we learn to work with and deal with that friction, we actually get closer to each other through that difficulty. But if we don’t deal, we run the risk of bitterness festering and becoming something nearly impossible to work through.
It’s Easy to Be Soft Behind Screens
Consider also the internet and social media in particular. With being able to so easily take things out of context and with being limited to a certain amount of characters or words in any piece that I tweet or post, how can I really express myself in satisfactory nuance and be more understood? How can I have real relationships and a good support system (something key for emotional security) if I’m not having these kinds of conversations with real people and am content with discussions online? Perhaps social media is indeed largely responsible for a lot of the propagating of this bad disease of insecurity as relationships are electronic now more than they are real.
I heard Connor McGregor (a UFC fighter) say something like this regarding his training: the more uncomfortable you are willing to make yourself, the more comfortable you’ll actually become.
How paradoxically true! Not only for the body, but also for the mind.
We are so soft that we can’t tolerate even small stresses in our lives. Mere words trigger us, and we overreact. When we are hurt, we aren’t willing to have the conversation where we explain ourselves or just “agree to disagree”. Why? We’re soft. Insecure. Too proud to experience conflict and take the risk that should be part of any true and meaningful relationship and which is actually necessary for true intimacy leading to true security. All for selfish, supposed “comfort”.
We need to stop this. We need to harden. We need a new, strenuous age where we challenge ourselves in body, mind and spirit. We need to experience working with our hands and having rigorous dialogue with our neighbours, family and friends. We need to spend less time in our virtual, simulated world online and more time in the real world with real people looking at and touching real things. We need to challenge ourselves in our work, take on new tasks that scare us, and be willing to “fail forward”.
Only when we make ourselves uncomfortable can we find an increasing, true and malleable comfort.
Think for yourself about new ways you can do just that.