Overcoming Affluence

The perverse effect of success is the elimination of the NEED to succeed. When survival is guaranteed, the lessons obtained from failure are just stories, opinions, old theories that no longer apply. In times of increasing convenience, safety and standards of living, it is far too easy for an older generation to label a younger generation a “pussy generation” … playing that game is not exactly a new thing, even if it’s an idiotic game, it’s an old game (In my memory, the WWII “greatest generation” was just devastating at playing that game on my generation … maybe because they had earned the rights to ‘all the cards.’)… obviously, the latter generation has not had to endure certain facets of growing up that shaped the former generation, eg child labor in unsafe conditions, lack of indoor plumbing or utilities or other conveniences, fabricating steel parts without anything resembling OSHA guards … but the latter generation faces different challenges, different fears, different doubts … the common thing is that at a certain point, we all have those moments where we really do not know how we are ever going to be able to make it … we just have to know that we are going to make it or die trying.

That is why no generation of humans has ever had to overcome more of the obstacle of affluence than the current generation. Of course, having enough residual affluence in the system means that people don’t HAVE immediate pressure to make it … they can sort of coast, escape, even become heroin addicts as they circle the drain in kind of a holding pattern … and THAT is a very severe obstacle but it also a very good thing — one should hope that this problem will persist … but this kind of growth or general elevation in living standards will not persist unless we learn something about the essential nature of post traumatic growth and antifragility. The worst thing that we can do for the next generations of our fellow humans is to create safe spaces for entitled screaming monsters. It might seem compassionate on the surface, but it’s actually the opposite. Enabling the screaming and taking away the stoicism actually robs them of the human experience with death, suffering or even inconvenience. Coddling severely curtails and shrinks what life can mean for them. Of course, we don’t want to kill or torture people, but we should not protect them from having a bigger life by removing their opportunities to experience little miseries, especially when those miseries are self-inflicted.

People who face significant crises which push them past what they perceived to be their limits develop a sense that new opportunities, not just opening up possibilities that were not present before but possibilities that once seemed beyond their capabilities are now feasible. This is NOT about a false sense of indestructibility or euphoric rush, eg “Whew! If I survived THAT, I can face anything.” This is not almost being flattened by a truck or being shot at … this is about suffering and being in intense, worsening pain, knowing death is likely, being traumatized by death, then being resigned to or accepting or hoping for death and then somehow surviving. It must be understood as an intensely sober and stoic sense that similarly impossible, or even more unendurable challenges WILL lie ahead and there is a correct way to face death and unspeakable levels of suffering. A second area is a change in relationships, with the very few people who have really stuck with them through the crisis, as well as a more appropriate sense of compassion for and a more accurate connection to others who suffer and a greater appreciation for all aspects of life on Earth. Finally, most individuals experience a sense of transcendence [from having walked through a “hell” that others who haven’t been through it cannot begin to understand] or a perhaps deepening of their spiritual lives or a significant change in one’s belief system or philosophy of life.

Overcoming affluence is principally a matter of overcoming arrogance, learning to be more genuinely gentle. For a true gentleman, gentleness is NOT the same thing as politeness. Politeness is often ONLY superficial, maybe it is a meaningless defense mechanism but sometimes politeness is weaponized as a form of passive-aggressive manipulation. Gentleness is about deep, far-sighted principled consideration: showing true concern for others, ALL THE TIME … sometimes that gentleness is actually a matter of being impolite, because it is about HELPING people avoid creating more suffering or death in the most considerate, most expeditious manner possible … not in the manner that makes them like you. When you see a crime and don’t step up to do something to stop the crime, you are a POLITE accomplice in crime … politeness is NOT the goal. Overcoming arrogance or learning to be appropriately gentle is a developed, practiced habit … it has to be ordinary and routine, it cannot be something you do for applause or recognition.

Surviving [or dying from] a painful, life-threatening illness is very ordinary — doing so will purge an enormous amount of arrogance in most people, but you cannot simply acquire a nice little life-threatening condition to practice with in the way that you might sign up for a gym membership, start taking classes in a dojo or order a set of weights … but suffering and death are all around you … somebody is probably dying within a mile of where you are right now … maybe it’s someone who you know. Maybe a mother or uncle or cousin of a friend is dying. The point is that death and suffering are ROUTINE, everywhere and you should not arrogantly look away or imagine death and suffering will not happen to you. It’s not appropriate to just run over and insert yourself into the situations of others, but there are times when it is appropriate for you to be there for others … you will know when that is if you open your eyes, listen and pay attention. Overcoming arrogance is a matter of learning to be appropriately gentle with people — it is NOT a matter of learning to be polite with affluent, entitled, shielded people who should be offended by their arrogance.

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