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Hard-wired to suffer?


My 10th-grade English teacher, Bessie Meeks, introduced me to what became my favorite book, Sir William Golding’s Lord of the Flies. As we read the book and discussed it in class, one theme kept coming up: are we, as humans, aggressive by nature?

The basis for the discussion was the fact that the book portrays a group of English schoolboys who were stranded on a desert island. Minus the influence of organized society, most of the boys turn into savages. I can remember at the time thinking the answer was ‘yes’ – that we are aggressive by nature, and if the structure of our civilization were removed, as a society, we would regress.

Twenty years later, I’m not sure the issue is quite so clear cut. But I have been thinking about it recently, and putting the issue of aggressiveness aside, it does seem to me that mankind suffers (and, perhaps, will always suffer) because of our innate tendencies.

Ponder this: why is it so easy to be/focus on/talk about/feel negative? I guess the answer is that being positive doesn’t generate adrenalin. People don’t get excited (not in the “happiness” sense, but in the emotional sense) about press releases touting lower crime rates, but they do get worked up about dysfunctional government or wars in foreign lands. Hearing about a Hollywood celebrity dropping the “n-word” bomb will give people a much stronger emotional buzz (if I can borrow that word) than a cease fire in the Middle East.

I realize we live in a culture where the media – which feeds on the negative news – is omnipresent and nearly inescapable, but on an individual level, we seem to respond with more energy to negative things than we do to positive. Maybe our brains and body crave that energy?

Balance and training are the key, I think. Balance, or equanimity, in our emotional and physical responses to things both positive and negative, plus the constant training of the Monkey Mind to enforce that balance until it becomes second nature.

What would happen if people responded to good news with just as much energy as they did with bad? What if those lower crime statistics led people to write their local lawmakers and get involved in community-building activities in order to continue improving things? What if people reacted to the recent cease-fire agreement in Nepal by getting “fired up” in a good way, perhaps by working with NGOs and other non-profits to find things that will help end conflicts in Israel, Somalia and The Sudan?

It’s something to think about.

Author: Sean

I am Sean, a writer/PR guy originally from the Rural South who grew up and settled down in Washington, D.C. My interests include local politics, Eastern philosophy, languages and reality television.


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