The Good Stress


bodybuilder-646482_1920Mental 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.

Maybe not.

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.




Trump, Free Speech and a Conversation


Bigot! Nazi! White supremacist!

… Really?

They are becoming baseless (and now, unfortunately, trivialized) terms thrown around in recent times in wake of the election of Donald Trump and his latest actions in office (mind you they’re often not about him, and even were said about Canadian PM Justin Trudeau by Black Lives Matter Canada’s founder). No conversation – not even general niceness included. And, seemingly more and more often, violent protests come with them! Is there any room for real conversation with how things are going? Is there a way to move forward?

Opportunities in the Wake

Perhaps contrary to the opinions of some, I think there is great opportunity in these times. The controversial election win is surprising, and many think that it is going to hurt diversity and freedom in America. I think the worries aren’t unreasonable – but don’t think it has to end up that way. I think there is opportunity for conversation with the Republican win – a conversation that has not been happening much in our far Western culture. The liberal/Leftwing extremism and intolerance that has become even more obvious in recent times (as well and humbly confessed to by liberal Nicholas Kristof in the NY Times) has gone too far, in my opinion, and a Trump victory might mean that such extremism is not allowed to gain too strong a foothold. Or at the least, we will all be forced to have the conversations we have been avoiding. Let me explain.

First, what is this liberal extremism and intolerance? Kristof gives us examples when he explains several Facebook comments that illustrate a liberal arrogance that discriminates against conservative perspectives, writing them off without discussion. He states that while many people who follow him on Facebook care about social issues from human trafficking to abused chickens they don’t seem to care that academia is discriminating against conservatives in general and Christians in particular. To such liberals, there is nothing conservatives can add to the conversation.

Extremism might still sound like a strong word, but let me continue. Often with these liberal perspectives’ strong (and often admirable) push for social justice, they preach the idea of “tolerance”. Tolerance sounds nice, but the kind of tolerance we see from many of these folks is not tolerance at all. Instead of agreeing to disagree and pursuing dialogue and truth, this new tolerance says that if you don’t agree with my ideas or convictions, you must be a bigot and a hater. Even if your views are based in what you believe to be fact, and even if they are based on evidence. Lately, there have even been violent riots to protest speeches of conservative speakers.

The Jordan Peterson Example

Take for example the recent news coverage and debates with Dr. Jordan Peterson at the University of Toronto. Dr. Peterson, though appealing to things like biology, political sciences and history, and even recent social patterns in other countries, is dismissed as a bigot and someone who should essentially be ridiculed and punished by the University of Toronto because of his views on Bill-16 and the gender pronoun legislation. There is no attempt to truly understand him, no desire to hear out his heart (which, by the way, is to keep us from actually becoming a Marxist nation, something many of us would believe to be evil), and, well… definitely no attempt at tolerance. This is a ruining of free speech, and it comes in the guise of the new tolerance. A perspective that is based on science and thoughtful examination of the facts is suddenly now hate speech, and many a far leftist is crying for supposed justice.

Now I don’t necessarily agree with Peterson and all of his views or how he is expressing them. It’s not wrong to disagree with the guy, or even call into question his tact in discussing such issues (though I’ve never heard the man talk in person). But to not even discuss with him? To not care enough about the truth to reason with him, logically and coherently? To throw accusatory words around blindly? Are we mere children? If this weren’t enough, some have even insisted on legal action against the man! Do we not see the ridiculousness?

We only need to browse YouTube and even mainstream news in general these days to see yet more of the same liberal extremism happening. They throw around baseless terms, protest anything pro-conservative (even violently) and forget the tolerance that they all preach. It is more and more a very real problem, and it betrays deep cultural issues.

Honest Conversation, Honest Criticism

Let’s be straight here. If your worldview or perspective on any given issue is not logically arguable (or you yourself are incapable of making a good case) and you lower yourself to ad hominem (personal) attacks, then you are acting like a child and should instead be rethinking your perspective. You need to be open to the idea that you might be wrong, as any honest person (especially an academic!) should be. We as a society need to grow up, try to be nuanced in our thinking and argumentation, and always be open to correction if we hope to truly make progress.

And this brings me full circle. Donald Trump won the 2016 Presidential election in the United States of America. He’s doing a lot of the things many didn’t agree with but that he promised – and that got him voted in in part. Instead of throwing words like “racism”, “misogyny” or “xenophobia” around and condemning those who disagree with us, let’s consider that there are some real issues that need to be talked about, people that need to be understood (before you make yourself so), and ways that you are wrong and need to be corrected (whatever your views are).

And while we’re at it, let’s try to practice some optimism.

Keep thinking, even with all this stuff appealing to your emotions going around!