I often tell my wife that many of our nation’s problems stem from life being too easy for most people. Nearly everyone struggles with something, though, and it may often feel anything but easy in the moment. That’s not what I’m talking about.
Whatever these individual struggles may be, they generally don’t arise to the level of existential. You and I, and our way of life, is not likely to be snuffed out if the struggle doesn’t go our way. The simple truth is that we’ve arrived to a point in modern society where there are so few problems to solve that we actively create more of them just to have something to complain about.
It shouldn’t be a surprise that such an environment is bad for us.
I recently came across this video from the Academy of Ideas channel on YouTube, and I thought it was worth sharing. It’s only about 10 minutes long, and well worth your time.
Living Well Requires Danger
I recall a study done on the mental health of London’s citizens during WWII. Germany’s bombing campaign was expected to cause mass panic. This prediction, arguably, was never borne out.
It seems to me that we are biologically hardwired to respond to times of danger. Some people crumble under that stress, for sure, but many more adapt to it and form tight bonds with our fellow tribe members.
This behavior exists right down into the DNA of the stories we tell and share.
The Hero’s Journey
Have you ever noticed that the most cherished and long-standing stories all have a similar structure to them? George Lucas was obsessed with the historical structure of stories and legends, and he drew on that deep knowledge when he wrote the original Star Wars movies.
So what do you expect in these stories? Typically you’ll have the hero’s everyday life, then an incitement to adventure, a mentor figure, and then a series of tests, allies, and enemies along the way.
Looming in the background is always, the shadow. The shadow ultimately stands between the hero and achievement of their goal. This shadow is always more powerful, more intelligent, and simply better than the hero.
The journey of the hero to reach their quest must always include improving themselves so that they may conquer the shadow. This the climax of the story, where the hero passes the final test and brings back the trinket, knowledge, or whatever.
Sound familiar? Whether it’s Star Wars, Beowulf, King Arthur, Gilgamesh, or Aladdin- the elements are all there.
The Need for Danger
The reason I bring up the Hero’s Journey is that there wouldn’t be such an attachment to these stories throughout history if we didn’t have some deep-seated relationship to them. We need villains, existential struggles, and the threat of death.
Without these items to keep us sharp, we falter into weakness and frailty.
Life isn’t about risk elimination, it’s about risk management. Some rewards are worth the risk, and we instinctually know that.
When as society values safety over everything else, then it inevitably turns towards “strong figures” that promise to provide that safety. This begins a downward cultural spiral of giving up righteous liberties for incrementally more safety. Freedom as a primary value is supplanted by safety.
This environment is ripe for those “strong figures” to become tyrants. The people themselves become ever more fragile and unable to stand in the face of danger or hardship, and therefore become ever less willing or capable of resisting.
Live On Your Edge
Your growth relies on stress. Like muscles that must be challenged through load and speed before they grow and improve, so goes your mind and spirit’s need to be challenged by danger.
Do not seek the easy and safe life. That’s not to say you should be reckless, far from it. Rather, we should all seek to understand our current limits, and endeavor to push beyond them even if only by a little bit.
Fear is not a virtue. It is merely a tool for letting us know we’ve reached our edge. What you do with that fear is the question.