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Examining the fundamental problems of human existence — The Origin of Life, Ethics, Health, Governance — and the rational means for their solution. Without an understanding of where we came from, we cannot know where we are going. Without ethics, there is no hope for peace and security. Without health, a full life is not possible. Without liberty, human potential is but a wish.
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blog Dr. Wysong's Blog - 7/6/2011

WHY IS LIFE SO TOUGH (PART I)

Even if one escapes calamity in youth, it doesn’t take but a few years beyond those salad days to see that life can be tough, if not tragic and cruel.

The difficulties in life drive people to many coping strategies. Some seek fame and fortune, others find religion, and many come to believe that the safety and security they felt as children can come from making government a surrogate mommy/daddy.

But such efforts are doomed. Fame would mean the constant stress of close scrutiny and no privacy. Money beyond that necessary for sustenance is a gigantic burden and liability. Religion’s gods do not save us from the natural consequences of our own negligence and stupidity. And government is really no refuge since it is made of people primarily concerned with power and their own self interests.

Problems arise no matter what we do. We become sick, suffer the loss of loved ones, get sued, lose our retirement savings in a collapsing stock market or Ponzi scheme, have a car accident, lose our job, get divorced…the list of terribles is endless.

If we feel the difficulties in life have no meaning and purpose, or that we are mere pawns with no control over our destiny, we can become pathologically cynical.

Admittedly, at first glance an apparently cold, heartless, and chaotic world seems to fit best a heartless and random cause, not any sort of benevolent purpose. But things are never as they seem on the surface. There are actually very good reasons to be thankful that life is as rough as it is. In fact, the problems of this world may be proof of love and purpose, not a denial of it.

Think of it this way. If every day were sunny and the weather perfect, we always won our games, never had an accident, got all the money we wished for, were assured of landing any mate we wanted, had no physical imperfections, were always the smartest person in the room, never said anything stupid, everybody loved and envied us, and we always knew all the answers, what kind of existence would that be? Think about how incredibly boring such a life would become. No risk, no challenge? That means no self satisfaction from learning and no sense of accomplishment…ever. 

Trying to become better beings is actually what life is all about and what makes it interesting. Risks and discomfort are necessary to bring out the best in us. The psychiatrist, M. Scott Peck wrote:

“The truth is that our finest moments are most likely to occur when we are feeling deeply uncomfortable, unhappy, or unfulfilled. For it is only in such moments, propelled by our discomfort, that we are likely to step out of our ruts and start searching for different ways or truer answers.”

Before we throw curses to the heavens because things have not gone our way, we should reflect that, more often than not, we are responsible for our own misery. Our resistance to learning and change creates our nest of woe. The science fiction writer, Robert Heinlein, wrote:

“A fool cannot be protected from his folly. If you attempt to do so, you will not only arouse his animosity but also you will be attempting to deprive him of whatever benefit he is capable of deriving from experience. Never attempt to teach a pig to sing; it wastes your time and annoys the pig.”

Experience, and the perils it faces us with, is the best, if not the only teacher. Being tested, tasting failure, tragedy, pain, joy, conflicts of conscience, frustration, guilt, compassion, injustice, cruelty, missed shots at the buzzer, and all of the other contents in life’s mixed bag create opportunity for learning and growing. Lois Bujold, in Shards of Honor, said, “Tests are a gift. And great tests are a great gift. To fail the test is a misfortune. But to refuse the test is to refuse the gift, and something worse, more irrevocable, than misfortune.” Edward Phelps, in the 1800s, wrote, “The man who makes no mistakes does not usually make anything.”

No person, upon reflection, can say that they have not grown from even the most terrible of experiences. Nietzsche wrote: “What does not kill you, makes you stronger.” An Internet site puts the job of life bluntly; “Figure out what sucks. Don’t do that.” D. H. Lawrence lamented, “If only we could have two lives: the first in which to make one’s mistakes, which seem as if they have to be made; and the second in which to profit by them.”

It appears that the universe has been set in motion and that impersonal laws, chance, and mindless physical forces now hold sway over us. A tornado, a heartless murder, terrible disease, and premature death bring pain and suffering. But they also create opportunity for compassion, love, and gaining perspective on life’s true values.

The world is only chaotic, ruthless, and cruel if we do not intervene. If we do, the world can become loving, tender, compassionate, and quite wonderful. Perhaps, as Augustine reasoned: “Evil would not be permitted to exist if good could not come out of it.”

An abused child creates an opportunity for others to step in and show love. A famine permits others to be kind and share their food. Paraplegia can create the circumstances for a person to learn skills they would have otherwise never known, and an opportunity for caregivers to learn the joy of compassion and selflessness. Out of misery can come happiness; out of ugliness, beauty; and out of unspeakable cruelty, love. It’s up to us.

In Part 2 we’ll discuss how that the difficulties in life are a symptom of the greatest gift we are given as humans.


Word Word: "salad days" - an idiomatic expression, referring to a youthful time, accompanied by the inexperience, enthusiasm, idealism, innocence, or indiscretion that one associates with a young person.



Thought Thought: Adversity introduces you to yourself.



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