THINGS WE LOSE IN THE FIRE
“Every one of us, at some stage in our lives, has imagined, rightly or wrongly, that everybody else is having much more fun. The reality is more than often the opposite.”
“Why is it that one bad thing can destroy the effect of a thousand good ones? And how many good things need to happen before we forget the one bad thing?” This is what a friend asked me the other day…
Why is it that bad odours linger and beautiful scents evaporate so quickly? Why is it that good news has an expiration date yet those troubling thoughts, the painful ones, they linger on the periphery of our minds like heavy rain clouds, ready to unleash their load the second we attempt to smile?
I want to go have some fun… I lost my lover….I want to go out and enjoy life….I lost my job….I want to spend some quality time with my family….but somebody precious to me is no longer here….I want to stop feeling sad….I lost my home….
The things we lose in the fire of life stay with us like smouldering embers, ever ready to burn our conscience as soon as soon we seek change, serenity or happiness, and the only cure appears to be time, time for the burning scent of sadness to fade and make way for rebirth, renewal, serenity.
So, with so much natural heartache in life does it seem at all conceivable that us humans would actually chase conflict, angst and drama as a child would an ice cream van? Well, as incredible as it is may seem, the answer is yes.
There’s no doubt that humans are attracted to danger, we jump out of aeroplanes, off buildings, off cliffs, we plunge down ravines and we swim with sharks. And when we’re not busy doing that, millions of us around the world (including yours truly) flock to theme parks, seeking thrills and chills on the biggest, fastest and scariest rollercoaster rides, and yes, whilst our adrenaline seeking practice tends to wane with age, many of us remain addicted to the ‘drama’, be that in real life or on TV, this is one of the very reasons why soap operas have remained a TV staple throughout the years. You bet your last penny that if all was good and ‘fluffy’ on a regular basis, TV’s best loved soaps would soon see ratings plummet, hence the paradoxical success of ‘trashy’ shows, such as Big Brother, Jeremy Kyle and Jerry Springer. Yes, despite the negative connotations of these voyeuristic, low budget shows, they remain consistently popular. And what does each and everyone have?
What’s up with that?
Well, to give you an example, I’m going to need to call on the help of American writer, Kurt Vonnegut, and entrepreneur, Derek Sivers. Why would I need the help of an entrepreneur? Well, because Derek has very kindly translated Vonnegut’s theory with some useful graphs that I’ve recreated here.
Now, Vonnegut’s theory is that humans need drama in their lives because, from our infancy, we’ve been exposed to a myriad of fables. Many of which we’ve experienced in multiple variations yet we’ll happily revisit these again and again, and its believed that it’s these stories that we’ll often strive to emulate in our own lives.
Here comes the science bit!
Below is an empty grid. In the grid, time moves from left to right and, as you will see, happiness from top to bottom.
Now, let’s add the very well known story of Cinderella to our grid.
From the bottom left, look at where our favourite story starts, steeped in misery. Then we follow our heroine up the misery scale over time towards ecstasy as Cinderella gets invited to the ball but then she has to leave and we plummet back to misery again but not as far this time because she’s just experienced something wonderful. Then she finds her prince again and all is well….they live ecstatically ever after. We’ve loved watching and reliving and re experiencing these types of stories in various guises for years.
Now let’s take a look at a more sociological example based on a small town.
As you can see, ordinary day, ordinary life… oh no, disaster, town rallies together, life as we know it gets back to normal and a bit better because everybody was united in a common cause and bonded together in positive way. These are the real life documentary stories that we love to read about and watch on TV.
Now let’s use our grid to take a look at real life.
Eww, I’m bored just looking at it.
Normal everyday life just drifts along like a faulty heart monitor. There are a few ups and a few downs but nothing really as exciting as the endless extraordinary life stories we’ve been hearing and continue to hear about on a daily basis. This is the very reason why we crave these stories, why we crave drama, and we’ll even pay good money to watch these over and over again, and when they’re no longer tangible enough, we generate our own real life dramas, often to our own detriment.
But why would human beings so self destructive?
Well, as stated above, humans are attracted to danger, real or perceived, and there’s a strong belief among psychologists and writers that man appears to be much happier and fulfilled during war time than in peace and prosperity.
I can appreciate this concept may connect with those of us lucky enough not to have lived through wartime since we have no perspective against which to bounce our fortuitous existence. Although, you don’t have to look far in the world to appreciate the fact that, quite frankly, some countries just seem to be much happier when they’re killing each other.
Ever since humans walked the earth, we’ve been exposed to persistent danger, forced to endure against incredible odds in order to survive. This natural primeval instinct has been handed down for generations and remains with us even today. Although the odds of survival have changed for some of us, the instinct remains ingrained in our genes and is very closely related to the fight or flight theory or Kill or be killed.
In his book, the Psychology of War, Lawrence LeShan, states that the more we accumulate wealth, eliminate dangers, industrialise our world, the more ‘miserable’ humans tend to be. He goes on to say that humans and ants are the only species that ‘do’ organised violence (although chimpanzees have also been known to organize attacks on rival clans). But does living in peace for too long really trigger an urge for decadence and self – destructiveness both on an individual and societal level? By self-destruct, I’m not talking specifically about self-harm but more of the need to generate drama, a sense of purpose, the need to be challenged to overcome and to succeed.
Others, the so called anarchists, go one step further. You only have to look to the London riots to get what I mean; violence and destruction but for what purpose? Delve a little deeper and you’ll find one very interesting demographic observation. According to the BBC, of those arrested for the London riots, in terms of ethnicity, 42% of those charged were white, 46% black, 7% Asian and 5% were classified as “other”.
- Some 90% of those brought before the courts were male and about half were aged under 21.
- Only 5% were over the age of 40. Some 35% of adults were claiming out-of-work benefits, which compares to a national average of 12%
Of the young people involved, 42% were in receipt of free school meals compared to an average of 16%.
So, how much drama is in your life?
Too much, more than enough, a little, none? Well, drama is this year’s (well last year’s and the one before and the one before that) new adrenaline. It’s the new must have thing, the new boredom chaser, or so, Psychologists would have us believe.
Yep, I pulled the same face you most likely are right now but this theory does appear to have some legs, and if the above demographics are anything to go by; they’re pretty muscly. We’ve spawned one of the worse generations of teenagers ever to have roamed the earth. Born into a world where school boards have moved to limit law suit liabilities and imposed strict guidelines for teachers whom are barely allowed to look at a pupil in the wrong way, let alone dispense discipline. The result is a bunch of narcissistic zombies for whom adults are a necessity to be born rather than an example to which they should aspire. Add to this an endless sociological diet of modern day propaganda that tirelessly pontificates about how the transition from childhood through puberty and to adulthood is fraught with ‘trauma’, ‘difficulty’ and ‘enormous pressure’ (to get out of bed mainly) and we’re left with an ever growing crop of egocentric angst ridden and very bored little monsters with a lot of time for drama, experimentation (in relationships and sex) and maybe a bit of studying. Now, some experts will refute this observation as ‘ill informed’ and perhaps even ‘reckless’ but the reality remains that teens have oodles of time to dramatise everything about their lives and if we throw in the fact that they live below the ‘poverty line’, well then we’re expected to accept that this somehow completely ‘justifies’ their shocking behaviour and the lack of respect for themselves, their own families and society.
Well, it doesn’t.
“Sweetheart, could you pass me the cornflakes?”
“Why are you always on my back. Why can’t you leave me alone?”
Don’t worry, it’s just the hormones.
I do have to stress that there are most certainly exceptions to the rule. For every group of angst ridden, maladjusted teens who are often ‘misunderstood’ and who enjoy nothing more than to bath in drama, wallow in their own misery and discontent there are at least a couple, especially those with parents who refuse to entertain let alone capitulate to their rebellious offspring, who put their nose down, study hard and live their life the best way they can as they attempt to carve themselves the best possible future. You know who you are and you make us proud. If only your peers were mature enough to allow you to lead by example. My point being here is that ‘acting up’ is a choice. Most of us have endured hardship as teenagers and have managed to make a decent life for ourselves. Our history is littered with shining examples of the many who have overcome adversity and what appeared to be impossible odds to make their life and that of their children and grandchildren the best that it can be.
Don’t get me wrong, we all experience and maybe even need a bit of drama in our lives but it isn’t a badge of honour, it’s a lesson on how easy it is to be consumed, tarnished by the negative things that happen to us and use them as an excuse to wallow in self pity rather than make a change.
So, does the devil really make work for idle hands? Could it really be that some of us solicit, actively seek out drama in order to complete a self-fulfilling prophecy even beyond our teenager years?
Here’s the story of JANE (name has been changed to protect the innocent). Jane had spent most of her adolescent (and angst filled) years not as a rebel but as a dreamer who would one day marry the proverbial prince at the proverbial ‘fairy tale’ wedding whilst envying the lives of and the popularity of her classmates. Yet, it was only at the mature age of 23, when she was starting to wonder if she’d be left on ‘that’ shelf, that Jane met the man of her dream, John (yep, name changed again).
John was everything Jane had dreamed of: handsome, charming, relatively successful (in that he had a job and worked regularly), committed to Jane, kind to her and her family. He was the perfect catch. In fact, in Jane’s opinion, John was way too perfect and possibly untrue (yes, the self-esteem eroded during her teenage years had left an impression). She’d concluded and steeled herself to the fact that it would never last. That was until John asked her to marry him. They married. Jane fell pregnant and took early maternity leave. John, on the other hand took on extra hours at work because he was all too aware that soon he’d have 3 mouths to feed and bills to pay with just one income. Jane, on the other hand was ‘stuck’ at home all day. The few friends she did have were at work too. John became her closest friend but he spent more and more time at work…or was he?
Jane started to wonder.
She was always at home, getting fatter by the day with nothing to do but think. And think she did, about how she was starting to resemble the Michelin man both metaphorically and physically (since the pregnancy often caused swelling in inconvenient places). She felt very low and very lonely and very bored. So she started to ring John and send him text messages at work but John was very busy and often unable to take the call or reply to the text messages promptly which in turn sparked suspicion and arguments between them. John, eager to keep the peace and not stress his pregnant wife, would always back down and promise to try harder. Yet, day after day, Jane (and her hormones) generated discontent and more drama for a weary John, especially when she began accusing him of having an affair, disbelieving that he was indeed at work and instead believing that he was shacked up in a hotel room with some girl. Things didn’t improve after the birth of their baby daughter. In fact they got worse. Jane was convinced John was going to abandon her and their daughter and a day seldom passed when the topic was not raised to the point where John dreaded going home.
Now, you will have heard this kind of story before and you all know where this is going. The sad reality of this story is that it appears that Jane had decided many years before that her relationship with John was not going to last (spawned from her low self-esteem), add to this a lot of bored time and Jane sought to fill her days with drama. She became hooked on living the drama, enjoying John’s surrender and then going through making up. And this continued even beyond the birth of their daughter. What should have been a very special time for all three of them became a living nightmare. Without even knowing it, Jane worked tirelessly to destroy her own dream to have a home, a loving man and a family to realise her self-destructive prophecy. She is now alone, wallowing in the misery that she has sculpted for herself. She remains addicted to drama; both the act of and that sadness that this yields and she wears this like a shroud on a daily basis to solicit the attention of family and friends in order to feed her perpetual hunger for attention, and thus she remains unfulfilled.
Now, there is much more to this story but the basic element remains; if it isn’t broken don’t try to fix it. If you feel there’s something missing from your life then seek to fill it with something constructive, a hobby, a project, a selfless act of kindness but don’t focus on the few positives in your life and then seek to destroy them with a consuming fire of negativity.
Every one of us has at some stage or other of our lives imagined, rightly or wrongly, that everybody else is having much more fun. The reality is more than often the opposite. Our life is what WE make of it. The grass may well be greener on the other side but it’s the grass that is already beneath our feet that we should preoccupy ourselves with. It may be a bit dry, flaky and maybe even bald in patches but it only takes a bit of nurturing, care, thought and imagination to restore it back to its lush verdant glory.
The things we lose in the fire of life are often irretrievable, irreplaceable, they become the pain that strengthens us and the scars that define us, the end to one chapter and the start of another of a life that may be imperfect but it remains nonetheless a blessing.
“Fate loves the fearless.” – James Russell Lowell
Have a blessed Sunday. 🙂