The Radical Response
Life can be frustrating, there's no doubt about it. When we don't get what we want, or when things don't go the way we think they should go, then it's easy to get upset. In fact, that response is usually automatic. It isn't something we decide to do; our body or subconscious mind just goes ahead and does it for us even when we don't want it to.
But why? Everything our subconscious does is a learned or hereditary response. That means it serves a purpose of some kind or it wouldn't still be around. So what purpose does getting upset serve?
Actually, getting upset is just a prelude to taking action of some kind to change the situation. At least that's the intent. When a baby is hungry or uncomfortable it cries to get attention so someone can fix the situation. A young child has more resources. It can speak, scream, punch, bite, or break things to get attention or help for things it can't do for itself (some kids try holding their breath, but they usually give that up quickly because it doesn't work very well).
Adolescents have an even greater range of responses. In addition to the above they can add disobedience, failure, vandalism, violence, law-breaking, and a host of other outrageous behaviors designed to get other people upset enough to take some action. And adults just indulge in more creative and bigger versions of adolescent behavior.
It isn't by accident that so far I have focused on the more aggressive responses that people use when they get upset. That's because they are both the most prevalent and the least effective responses we have. Aggression in the animal realm is the response of last resort, but too many human animals have made it their first response in any situation where they feel helpless and frustrated. I have known very peaceable and "spiritual" people who, when confronted with some national or international scandal or great injustice, immediately start recommending guns and bombs and death. Whence comes such an extreme reaction?
Part of the problem is that, as a society, we are generally untrained in awareness. Before a baby cries, for instance, it has been sending out olfactory, emotional and mental signals to let mommy know that something's not right with the world. But mommy isn't aware of those signals and so she doesn't respond until the crying starts. Children, adolescents and adults send out a host of signals, including behavioral ones, pleading for attention or help long before the aggression starts, but no one is aware until too late.
Another part of the problem is that people are generfally so full of fear and so lacking in self esteem and self confidence that upset turns instantly to anger to give an illusion of power. Upsetness occurs when there is internal or external resistance to one's intent or to one's worldview. This in turn causes stress, which makes the muscles tense up, the heart pump faster, the blood vessels dilate, and the sugar level rise - all in preparation for action of some kind that will change the situation. The more confident a person is, the more positive their natural reaction will be, but the less confident they are the more likely they are to use anger and aggression to get their way.
Closely akin to the above is the fact that most people are untrained in alternative responses. Practically all they've grown up with is how to fight when something doesn't go their way or when something has to be changed. This fighting approach to life is glorified by campaigns for "The War on Poverty, The War on Drugs, The War on Obesity, The War on Cancer" and, in one TV ad, the promotion of mammograms as the best "weapon" a woman can have in "The Fight Against Cancer."
If aggression is the last resort, what is the first? It is to heal. The healing response is one that involves awareness, attention, and action to solve problems before aggression is necessary. It is the use of mediation and negotiation instead of war and battle. It is to increase health, rather than to fight illness. It is to communicate, rather than to confront.
There are individuals and groups in the world right now who are using the healing response instead of the aggression response wherever and however they can, but they are so few in numbers that their approach is still considered a radical response when compared to the norm.
Unfortunately, throughout much of the world, the norm for solving problems is aggression. That makes the possibility of changing the normal problem-solving response from fighting to healing seem overwhelming. But if we want to save the planet, we have to save ourselves first. If we want to save ourselves, then we must practice healthier ways to deal with our own minds and bodies, our neighbors, and our environment. As a species we will have to develop radically differently attitudes and actions based on love and friendship, not hate and fear. And we have to be willing to make that change bit by bit, step by step, day by day.
We can do that by educating ourselves in the skills of personal, social, national, and international healing, by reaching out to teach those skills to everyone, everywhere, in every way, to let them know there's a better way to do things. A radical way.