“People will do anything, no matter how absurd, to avoid facing their own souls.”
~ Carl Gustav Jung
A dear friend answers the phone, obviously distraught. She explains to me, through huffs and tears, that she just found out an old friend of hers attempted suicide. I console her the best I can in the brief time she has free. Before rushing off to the next appointment in her busy life, she offers a simple and profound question: “Why does it have to be so hard to be human sometimes?”
Good question sweetie. Why, indeed?
Swathed here in the bosom of a bourgeoning western society, no one in the history of humanity has had it better. At least according to the history postulated and regulated by the egos of academia, which may or may not be an accurate representation of intelligent life on this planet. But I digress…Given our evolutionary and geographic fortuity, I’ll alter the question just a bit: Why is it so hard to be human sometimes, even when we have it so good?
Well, let’s take a look at the words composing that question. How do we define good? What does it mean to be human? How good is it really? And good for whom?
I’ll be the first to admit that I’m spoiled. Just being born a white male in the United States affords me a whole litany of privileges that I’ll never truly comprehend. Add to that my still married, loving, creative, well-educated and supportive parents, a suburban middle class upbringing, graduate level education, a quick smile, some cleverness and a bit of charm? Hell, I hit the human jackpot. Are all the holes I’ve punched in my face and the tattoos I’ve covered my exposed extremities with my straight white-guy, sub-conscious plea to find myself on the receiving end of some type of societal prejudice? Is it some sad attempt at solidarity with those not part of the lucky sperm club? Perhaps. Maybe I just like painful art? What I do know is that, likely, my version of “good” is incomprehensible to most of the humans alive right now. I mean, c’mon. I’m sitting outside at a just opened, swank little cafe, sipping an iced matcha latte, overlooking Sonoma Creek, typing away on my sleek laptop, and contemplating how hard life is for most people.
I think I just threw up in my mouth a little bit.
Is this what being human has become? Is all of our progress toward comfort really just ceaselessly masturbatory decadence? Ugh. And again I’m faced with the fact that even having the space in life to contemplate such ideas is a byproduct of privilege. Who sets the standard for “good?” When does one’s recognition of privilege begin to push the fulcrum from heavy gratitude to gravid guilt?
Some days I feel guilty for my circumstances. Some days I feel like I have no right to be sad or angry…ever. In some of my worst moments I find myself being angry for being angry. How’s that for a destructive existential mind-fuck? All personal pathology aside, the stark reality remains that life is a harsh struggle for countless millions of people. No, not the folks who live under the rule of tyrants or have fled for their lives from their bombed out cities. Not those who have no access to clean drinking water, nutritious food, education or medicine. You know, people who are really struggling. I’m talking about the people that have it “good.” The ones who wake up in a bed, in a house where clean water flows from multiple faucets. Those who have decent jobs that pay them more in a year than most of humanity will earn in a lifetime. You know, people in your neighborhood.
Does it strike any one else as odd that anxiety and depression seem to plague the most fortunate? Does the fulfillment of physical needs presuppose psychological angst? Gosh, I hope not, but evidence appears to suggest otherwise. A little poking around on the interwebs reveals that the countries with the highest population percentage of depression are almost all, so called, 1st World nations. Census reports show that the U.S., Canada, Western Europe (France being tops there), and Australia each have 20-35% of their inhabitants wallowing in despair. The only 3rd World outlier is India. Perplexingly, India has the highest rate of depression, worldwide, at over 36%. Why would a place that has so widely captured Westerners’ imagination as a kind of spiritual hub and devotional destination be the most depressed nation in the world? Any ideas? This one has me stumped. I also found that women are twice as likely as men to have depression. Thanks patriarchy! Really doing a bang-up job on the modern psyche.
So, how do we deal with this conundrum of modernity without burning the whole thing to the ground?
I suggest we flip this entire situation around. We have to stop feeding the inverse relationship between material wealth and mental health and reinforce the direct relationship between our mental wealth and material health. There is more knowledge and understanding of our minds, bodies, consciousness and environment right now than at any time of which we are aware. And the best part is that this robust mental wealth is merely clicks away on a device most of carry in our pockets. With a bit of web research, some kindle reading and a whole heap of discipline we can achieve levels of material health beyond anything thought possible even a decade ago. This extends well beyond our own bodily well-being. It’s about how we relate to our surroundings and the things of this world; all the gadgets and gizmos that we think we can’t live without. We keep taking more and more for granted when, really, we need more and more gratitude.
We have to let go of the shame and guilt around who we are, what we have and where we were born. We can no longer be burdened by our privilege. We have to abandon the discontent and the disease, recognize the miracle of our existence and give, give, GIVE! There is nothing reckless about this abandon, it is done with full awareness and reverence. If we are to uncover the attainable solutions to the many ills that ail this beautiful planet and its residents, we must be strong, we must be prepared, we must be gracious and giving. We must live every moment with Reverent Abandon.