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August 26th, 2019
Occasionally you will come across a discussion between wealthy people who came from humble beginnings concerning how to raise children. Such successful people almost always point out how the hardship of poverty or lack of opportunity was a valuable aspect of their growth. But what to do about the children? Create artificial hardship?
Most of these discussions default to the conclusion that creating an artificial hardship is unrealistic and would somehow not work.
Strangely, such discussions fail to see how much artificial hardship already exists on a broad scale.
With all due respect to those who are struggling in a legitimately impoverished situation, the modern world affords many of us a degree of abundance that is staggering when paired with the standards of our ancestors. The further back in time we go, the harder things get. Simple as that. The ‘good ol’ days’ are simply an illusion and a fantasy to escape the pressures and stresses that we might have now.
The double-sided case and point for this would be our immensely complicated medical procedures, -such as bypass surgery- that are implemented to deal with the impacts of abundant food. Here we have two radically new advances that would astonish our ancestors.
Like so much food that they eventually have to cut you open and unclog all the food because it’s stopping your heart?
The first artificial hardship in relation to this problem is obvious.
People want to look good naked.
So they go to the gym.
This is another condition that would boggle many of our ancestors.
Wait, you’re saying you go to a special place to do hard manual labour? And you pay for this? What in the hell is wrong with you, go home…relax…. enjoy life for once. Like, what in God’s name did all of us ancestors work so hard for?
We can highlight another artificial hardship that applies to the same issue of weight and health as impacted by abundant food.
The practice of fasting.
This is a growing trend and the research to support the health benefits has been well established for decades and only continues to grow in robustness.
Now think of all those ancestors we’ve had that suffered through long famines.
So you’re telling me you have all this food available… that you can eat virtually any cuisine you want by just going to ‘restaurants’, and you purposely starve yourself? Frankly, on behalf of every human that suffered and died just so you could exist right now: you’re an asshole.
The modern world is ultimately a collection of evolving solutions that were implemented to address these age-old concerns. We are making things easier for ourselves.
But for what purpose, and what’s the real effect?
Clearly we go a little overboard with our solutions, and we’ve failed to anticipate that too much of a solution actually becomes a new problem. Too much food, too much inactivity, and boom, you have an unhealthy and uncomfortable life.
As with many things, the middle path balanced between the extremes of solution and problem is optimal.
But back to those rich kids for a moment.
A lack of hardship certainly has the potential to create a fairly useless human that creates unproductive problems for themselves.
On the other end of the spectrum we have those who are stuck in a downward spiral of debt and stress who –for the most part- can’t think clear enough to find a way out. Chronic stress is potentially another new and unexpected problem created by the modern world. This seems clear from the fact that we are not built to handle chronic stress. Short and even intense intervals of stress are actually quite good for our brain, but keep that engine in a high gear and the effects quickly flip to the exact reverse.
(As a quick side note, the neuroendocrinologist Robert Sapolsky is an excellent resource for exploring the intricacies and implications of chronic stress.)
Clearly, a human is likely to do best somewhere in the middle of these extremes. Some resources, and the opportunity to take a few risks can go a long way in this modern world.
But unlike previous times, that opportunity to take a few risks ultimately involves manufacturing some artificial hardship for one’s self.
Just as going to the gym and fasting to feel good and look good is an artificial hardship..
A university course is artificial hardship.
A side hustle outside of a 9-5 job is artificial hardship.
Getting up on stage for amateur night at a comedy club is artificial hardship.
Writing a blog or a book or a podcast that no one may ever read or listen to is artificial hardship.
Natural hardship in the modern world is a matter of constructing and tailoring a set of artificial hardships.
Well, stay tuned for tomorrow’s episode.
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