How We Treat What We Hold Dearest: We Rationalize Our Fear, Cripple the Present, and Destroy Our Future.
In a New York Times article published in late 2014, Marilynne Robinson describes being transfixed on a particular study: humankind’s default state of fear. Pouring over religious texts and volumes of philosophical and anthropological essays, Robinson gathers humans are built to fear. Her study reminded me of a candid article I found on Medium concerning the nearly non-existent birth rate of babies in Tokyo. The author, Yann Rousselot, strongly suggests the human species have a strange way of going about things: destroying what we hold dearest — in order to forego the pain of losing.
“The art of losing isn’t hard to master;
so many things seem filled with the intent
to be lost that their loss is no disaster.”
He ponders this after recounting a personal tale of desiring someone to “snuggle with” in his youth. But when the anticipated opportunity arrives, he explains to the interested woman why he’s the last man on earth she should want to be with.
Confusing? You bet. Fearful? Sounds about right.
We’ve arrived at a place where everyone seems to be“searching for themselves”, as if we’re all Peter Pan hunting for his elusive shadow, divorced from the physicality of our living.
We’d prefer to keep a distance, choosing to be involved with our future goals. In doing so, we give ourselves permission to narrate why “now” is not ideal. It’s understandable why we aspire to constantly think of the future: in what may be the first time in mankind’s short history, the future appears less fearful.
Right now, we focus on building careers in the big city, establishing our prowess on social media (hey Klout!), and preening ourselves for future glory, future recognition, future retirement, or future something.
“Lose something every day. Accept the fluster
of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.”
It’s the vision of the future, like a projected image on a wall, that motivates countries, like Japan, to scale to great odds. The island-nation has introduced gigantic leaps in the development of robotics, literature, and biomedical science. But somehow within the climbing, Japan has arrived at possessing a high suicide rate (it’s been lower in past few years, thankfully), a crushing work life, and low birth rate. As Rousselot points out, Japan is the canary in the coal-mine: for our greatest endeavours, a give-and-take exists.
“Then practice losing farther, losing faster:
places, and names, and where it was you meant
to travel. None of these will bring disaster.”
For example, currently construction for the 2022 FIFA World Cup games in Qatar is underway. In exchange for a global-sized event, the currency is the severe exploitation and fatality of its migrant workers. For the promise of future revenue, the present death toll only increases. This may be an extreme example.
But how is this any different?
What might be more appropriate to demonstrate what society gives in order to receive is the abhorrently, low number days of rest reserved for the average working man or woman in the United States’ “advanced economy”. Despite working hours, nights and weekend than others in developed countries, Americans get a pretty low deal on earning a bit of rest.
“I lost my mother’s watch. And look! my last, or
next-to-last, of three loved houses went.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.”
But these small things add up. What might seem like a bit of complaining about not having enough days to lounge in the sun is actually devaluing the people that need time off to bond with their immediate and distant feeling or ease the stress that impacts their relationships and personal health. Because when there is no release, when there is no time to for intentional relationship building, a cornerstone of society becomes unhinged. This certainly does not alleviate the maelstrom of “big issues” in our human scope: governments criminalising addiction, corporations ignoring demands for long-term testing on the effects of GMO seed consumption, or the inhumane existence of the traditional meat production industry…the list goes on.
“I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster,
some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent.
I miss them, but it wasn’t a disaster.”
In our obsession with constructing the future, we not only sacrifice the “now”, but also we circumvent the question of asking ourselves, will this future be viable for our entire community — not just the folks who can afford organic produce, send their children to great schools, or have access to fresh air?
We generate situations which, amongst the numerable byproducts, include fear. To be seduced by fear disables us from demanding reparation — equality for women and minorities, healthier ways of financing education, and holding our politicians and representatives to the same laws civilians observe.
In a contradictory move, we remain short-sighted in our effort to build the future. We accelerate with the false assumption that one day there will be an escape from the injustice and exhaustion; we comfort ourselves with the narrative of how it will all be “worth it” in the future despite the present transgressions. This dogma permits us to swallow the wrongdoing of today, in hopes of an equitable future.
Like one of Newton’s Laws of Motion, where an object will never change its course until an equal and opposite reaction occurs, how can we expect the future to metamorphose into something honorable, if we do not act in the present to transform its trajectory?
“ — Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture
I love) I shan’t have lied. It’s evident
the art of losing’s not too hard to master
though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster.”
-“One Art” by Elizabeth Bishop
Perhaps Robinson is on to to something in saying fear is our default state.
It is our fear that has made us irrational: we break the present’s legs in hopes of a capacitated future.