Under Pressure

I’ve been away from blogging for a little while as work became quite busy and stressful as I was given a project that normally would take several months to prepare for and was given two and half weeks.  I’m not complaining though, I am still very fortunate to have the job that I do, and in the end it was a very rewarding outcome.  I had to organize a Science Olympiad tournament for 40 regional high schools and middle schools and it ended up going very well.  I didn’t actually have to do this task, but if I didn’t a lot of kids would have been hurt, and a lot of teachers very angry and so it really wasn’t something that I took any time to consider, I just knew it had to be done, and I did it because it was the right thing to do.

It got me thinking a lot about stress on how much it affects our behavior.  It cost me my spring break and I was bitter about that.  In that time I was also certainly less attentive to others in my life.  I was more moody, snapped a little more than I probably should have at people that I care about and had a lot of trouble sleeping.  The guilt of snapping at people at being less attentive to others, and lack of sleep are positive feedbacks which worsen your condition.  I am fortunate that it was only a rough few weeks.  I am fortunate to even have a spring break. I am fortunate that even though the semester still has lots of work left in it, there will be summer holidays starting in early May.  There are people who face what I face, every single day of the year, with additional stresses associated with finances that I do not face.  When I reflect on how irrational I might be in times of stress I think about the cumulative effect such things must have some people.  How hard they might struggle to find a way out, who they might time to blame their stress on, and wonder what things they might rely on to find peace.  It makes a lot of irrationality in the world understandable.

At the same time it makes you really question why it has to be that way.  We have the resources to feed everybody, we have the knowledge and ability to give good health care to everyone.  We know a lot about the universe and how to give people quality education, and we know the things that make people truly fulfilled and happy.  We know a lot about our own imperfections and biases so that we can avoid the pitfalls of our flaws.  We know better ways to correct deviant behavior, we know better ways to reduce the possibility of criminal and violent behavior, and we know better ways to raise.  We may not know everything, but we know better.  “Civilized” society seems so counter to how we operate as humans that somedays I really question whether or not it is all worth it.  Even though we might live longer on average than our hunter gatherer predecessors, and can avoid many of the deaths from natural disasters that our predecessors could not, sometimes I do wonder whether or not it was all worth it, and whether or not we shouldn’t all still be climbing trees to pick fruit.  And yeah maybe it would be sad to lose a few people to drought, or malaria, but so much death nowadays seems to be preventable and avoidable.  The destruction in Belgium and Turkey recently really makes one question whether all this is worth it.  Has any of this civilization experiment increased happiness?  Benefitted the home we call Earth?  Given our evolution as a species perhaps this trajectory was unavoidable, but it feels so much easier to accept deaths caused by the pitfalls of living in the wild over seeing death occur from senseless acts of violence that will never lead to any gain, or seeing children die from hunger while not very far away somebody sits on a fortune of money and resources they do not even need.

Alright, I know this is not very cheery and I am not helping much to increase human happiness either, but I think many people share these thoughts.  I of course do believe that this trajectory of civilization was to avoid human suffering and nobody really imagined the consequences we are facing now.  Maybe these are the growing pains we must go through.  I hope that our intelligence is great enough to get us out in the end.  Perhaps the real shame is that our lifetimes are still too short to be able to see the end result of all this suffering.  I wonder if a 13th century scholar who watched people die from plague after plague, and endless crusades and wars, could visit us now if he would actually be impressed with our moral progress.  Maybe what we have now is further than he or she ever dreamed.  Maybe they would remind me to consider myself lucky that I live in such times and that now that they have seen the change possible over the long march of time that there was every reason to continue to have hope and strive for more.  And if there is one thing that I know for sure is that nothing has ever been made better by despair.  And if I want a world in which people do not live in despair and have reason to be hopeful then I must lead by example, even if I only touch a handful of people in my world.  Who knows how far the ripples of our impact will travel through time.

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10 thoughts on “Under Pressure

  1. I wish life was like it is in Star Trek. I wouldn’t have to worry about money or tax bills or what to wear. I would just put on my jump suit every morning and go to work in the engine room while flying around the galaxy at warp speed.

    That would be awesome.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. As I read your heartfelt post, Swarn, I was reminded of this:

    The negativity bias (also known as the negativity effect) refers to the notion that, even when of equal intensity, things of a more negative nature (e.g. unpleasant thoughts, emotions, or social interactions; harmful/traumatic events) have a greater effect on one’s psychological state and processes than do neutral or positive things. In other words, something very positive will generally have less of an impact on a person’s behavior and cognition than something equally emotional but negative. …

    […people tend to think and reason more about negative events than positive events. Neurological differences also point to greater processing of negative information: participants exhibit greater event-related potentials when reading about, or viewing photographs of, people performing negative acts that were incongruent with their traits than when reading about incongruent positive acts.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Negativity_bias

    We are hardwired to focus on the negative, even though we may have so many positive things going on in our lives. It takes a lot of work to overcome negativity bias, which, ironically, is intended to help our species survive. Researchers analyzed language to study negativity bias and found that there are more negative emotional words (62 percent) than positive words (32 percent) in the English dictionary.

    Continue in next comment.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Most definitely. There are fewer happy songs than sad songs too! Academic studies into happiness are relatively recent as compared to studies in depression and in a lot of ways of course it makes sense. When you couple that in age of information where we can hear every bad story around the globe as I’ve said to you before it is a heavy weight to walk around with. I find it easier to vent that kind of stuff away, but it makes me feel a great deal of empathy for those who are living the sad stories I hear about. Even in a just world, our ability to digest global information will always give us plenty of sad stories to hear about as tragedy is a natural part of life and I doubt we will ever get to a point to avoid that completely. It’s the tragedies we should be able to avoid which are the most worrisome.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. From Psychology Today:

    In our brains, there are two different systems for negative and positive stimuli. The amygdala uses approximately two thirds of its neurons to detect negative experiences, and once the brain starts looking for bad news, it is stored into long-term memory quickly. Positive experiences have to be held in our awareness for more than 12 seconds in order for the transfer from short-term to long-term memory. Rick Hanson (link is external) describes it in this way: “The brain is like Velcro for negative experiences but Teflon for positive ones.”

    https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/wired-success/201406/are-we-hardwired-be-positive-or-negative

    The reason I’m sharing this is that I understand how it can be discouraging when people are drawn to negativity. You write an inspiring post, one of hope, or a post about human rights, etc., and you hardly get any hits or comments. It helps me, as an advocate for human rights, to understand why people appear to not appreciate or vaguely remember your good deeds. We do that to ourselves, too. Researchers found that in close relationships, it takes 5 positive experiences overcome 1 negative experience.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Victoria for your words and this information. It’s interesting that the percentage of neurons in the amygdala for bad news is roughly equal to the number of negative words in the English language you posted in your last comment.

      I guess the expression should say once bitten, 5 times shy instead of twice shy. 🙂

      I wonder though if there isn’t also an aspect of our ability to focus on the negative that is not only better for survival, but also to help us survive better. If we were made easily euphorically happy, would we have the desire to change if it was the other way around where it took 5 bad experiences to negate one good one? Clearly there is a balance to be found to not get torn down too far that depression reduces your ability to do anything, but there seems to perhaps be a danger in the other extreme as well. I don’t know…of course if we were easily euphorically happy it would be hard to imagine us wanting to cause harm to others either.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Excellent comment and fuel for thought. I have pondered these questions as well. If we lived in a utopia, would we know it? Would there be empathy?

        There is something about human nature, that when negative things happen, our humanity can come out in us, such as what takes place during and after disasters.

        I wonder though if there isn’t also an aspect of our ability to focus on the negative that is not only better for survival, but also to help us survive better.

        Yes, the research suggest that this is the case. From another Psychology Today article:

        Take, for example, the studies done by John Cacioppo, Ph.D., then at Ohio State University, now at the University of Chicago. He showed people pictures known to arouse positive feelings (say, a Ferrari, or a pizza), those certain to stir up negative feelings (a mutilated face or dead cat) and those known to produce neutral feelings (a plate, a hair dryer). Meanwhile, he recorded electrical activity in the brain’s cerebral cortex that reflects the magnitude of information processing taking place.

        The brain, Cacioppo demonstrated, reacts more strongly to stimuli it deems negative. There is a greater surge in electrical activity. Thus, our attitudes are more heavily influenced by downbeat news than good news.

        Our capacity to weigh negative input so heavily most likely evolved for a good reason—to keep us out of harm’s way. From the dawn of human history, our very survival depended on our skill at dodging danger. The brain developed systems that would make it unavoidable for us not to notice danger and thus, hopefully, respond to it.

        https://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/200306/our-brains-negative-bias

        Like

  4. Now now my Friend, all will be as it must. Take some deep breaths and listen to this repeatedly…

    I of course have much much more to say, but thought something simple as Beethoven might be a good start… or finish. 😉 ❤

    Like

  5. All of that stress you went thru is how I have lived my life in the last few years. Impossible deadlines, no time for much else. Trying to change that a lot and not be a workaholic. more time with friends and family. I had a really shitty week, and yesterday was able to just relax with Adam and a friend. We started to watch some of Terrence McKenna videos on YouTube. I admit I fell asleep, but you mentioning the 13th century , etc reminded me of some interesting things he was saying about way back then, scholars actually could digest a lot of the current knowledge, but now it is just so massive. Adam said, it was harder then to get all of that knowledge, but now we have it at our fingertips. Made me think f your comments here on Star Trek. Anyway, I just wanted to comment actually to say, I have wanted to read your blog, and Im looking forward to getting myself out of this hole of work, so that I can do it more. Much love to you.

    Liked by 1 person

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