Thursday, March 7, 2013

Breaking the Camel's Back

Are people these days under more stress than in previous decades, or is that just one of our current myths? Stress has become one of those “cover all” terms that describes anything from a state of minor irritation to a major psychological disorder, such as PTSD, or Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. The fact that people now talk more about stress, or describe more states and more circumstances as stressful, does not necessarily mean that people in today’s society experience any higher level of stress than in previous decades or generations.

It is difficult to imagine that people living through the Great Depression, or through either of the World Wars, actually experience less stress than we do. Or, at least, that they were exposed to less significant stressors. Were they less sensitive to those stressors than we would be?

It is an impression, and an impression only, that it requires a lower level of stimulus to provoke in us a stressful reaction than it did in earlier eras. Rather than our lives being more stressful, is it possible that our stress threshold is significantly lower? We are easily pushed over the edge.

“Over the edge”, “edginess” – these terms seem to apply to modern society. People appear to be living perpetually on the edge. The camel’s back is permanently only one straw short of a full load. How else can we account for road rage, supermarket rage and every other kind of rage? We are, surely, the first generation to have terms for these phenomena. We are probably the first generation for whom these are actually recognizable phenomena. Even when not quite tumbling over the edge into rage, people still seem to live in a state of constant irritability. This is often accompanied by a state of “righteous indignation”. “That person actually jumped the queue!” This is clearly a fundamental violation of my human rights!

Perhaps this concept of “rights” has something to do with it. Human rights, children’s rights, women’s rights, workers’ rights, animal rights. MY rights! It seems that we have lost our way, lost our sense of proportion. Because everything matters, nothing really matters. We tend to experience the same level of righteous indignation when someone steals our parking spot as when our country invades another. Perhaps more.

Because small irritations propel us immediately into a high state of stress, we have no mechanisms for dealing with real stressors. We spend so much time defending our right to this and our right to that… Everything is so important that we don’t recognise something of real importance when it stares us in the face. We are in such a permanent state of righteous indignation that we have forgotten concepts such as patience, tolerance and understanding. To err, once, was human. Now, to err is to be attacked with a baseball bat on the highway.

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