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Calm • Perspective
Why Life is Always Difficult
Much of the reason why we give up, fall into despair and abandon our projects is not because things are hard per se but because they are harder – far harder – than we had ever expected them to be. It isn’t necessarily difficulty that sinks us; it’s misconceived notions of what a task should legitimately demand.
We operate with recklessly inadequate views of what it might take to have a moderately good relationship, to run a more or less viable business, to have a circle of friends, to be healthy, to build a home or to achieve balance of mind. We lose our tempers, we bang whatever machine we are fiddling with, we let out screams at broken household items, mislaid keys and incompetent colleagues, because we perceive an injustice where there is in fact only an encounter with what are entirely reasonable and, were we to have investigated further, predictable degrees of pain.
Our panics are born out of a collective squeamishness about cleanly sharing information on the ubiquity of arduousness. A wiser society would include in every school curriculum a weekly class titled ‘Hell, your future,’ which would systematically induct the young into the necessary degrees of suffering required by any worthwhile life. The educational establishment would at last recognise that we make people strong not by enchanting them with descriptions of magical opportunities, but by being aptly honest about how every life goes. It isn’t in any way either cute or kind to educate a young person for a world that doesn’t exist. Thrice married couples would address the young on the complexities of love; cancer survivors would deliver lessons on the preciousness of time; artists and entrepreneurs would testify to the absurd yet vital sacrifices required to produce results that – from the outside – once looked easy. No young person would be left under the slightest illusion that fulfilling moments demanded anything other than torment – and would, as a result, be in a far better place to attain them one day.
The wise keep going not because they are braver, but because they have learnt to be a lot better prepared, by which we mean, a lot sadder. They know that defeats and humiliations are unavoidable events, not anomalous or freakish punishments. They wonder, at the close of every quiet day, why not more has gone wrong. They marvel that their partner has not yet left them, that a key member of their team has not resigned, that an old enemy hasn’t posted something repulsive on social media, that the tax authorities aren’t at the door, that they can still swallow and breathe and that the political system hasn’t to date completely broken down. They endure on the basis of having managed – with appropriate thoroughness – to extinguish all their more tender and delicate hopes.