Sustaining Shocks

You’ve got friends who won’t talk about money, sex, or religion. That’s me, I have those issues.

When I think about why that is, it mostly comes down to the way I was raised. I’ve taken to calling it an unsustainable method of parenting.

It worked short-term: getting spanked made me behave then, but it certainly had its problems later in life. A shyness bordering on the silly. And I simply will not invite conflict into my life to talk about politics. Instead, I want everyone to have fun.

But even if I cannot escape it, I will be the first to admit that it is a miserable practice. Because conflict is coming.

I’ve been thinking about the precariousness of American living, and the idea that, if one virus can send a country into a tailspin, where the poorer and older of our citizens bear the brunt of this disease for the ensuing 12 to 18 months, what is to happen with other disasters?

Forest fires in California, daytime flooding in Florida, hurricanes in Texas. Disaster capitalism in small, disparate little fights. What happens when the problems intensify and become systemic? Feedback loops of climate change at an unprecedented scale? It’s not hard to believe: most people live alongside water.

Couple that with the way our wages have been stagnant for decades, literal decades. And our consumer debt does not believe in keeping glass ceilings from shattering.

These outward trends have lowered our life expectancy. We cannot keep ourselves afloat.

But even more deeper and terrifying than that is the concept of psychological sustainability. How do we weather the shocks to our own mental system?

For those who have heard of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, it’s a step in the right direction. Long story short, it allows us to see the permanent in our psyches as simply a temporary problem.

You lost your phone in the house again, and you had to call it. The permanent mindset would say that you are a forgetful person. The temporary would say that you had just gotten back from the brewery with your friends, and you weren’t in the best position to know.

There are lots of names for this idea of the temporary. Economists call it “volatility.” Scientists call it “neuroplasticity.” Meteorologists call it, “the weather.”

In any case, how we react to situations that befall us is what the definition of character is. Joan Didion writes about it in her essay “Self Respect.” Whether it’s failing to make it into a sorority, or plunging into the dark depths of 1.5 degrees Celsius temperature rise, the world is never simply okay with status quo. It does not believe in the transactional behavior the way we, as humans, have decided to live.

Choose to see time for what it really is, as a way to mete out choices. And while we don’t necessarily know what the outcomes of our choices are, we do have some choices that are universally accepted: Kindness, patience, and gratitude. Be more willing to talk about the hard topics, unlike me. And then, when the danger comes, be open to the plans we make.

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