Your palms are sweaty. Your heart is racing. Your stomach is tied in knots.
But why? Is there a lion in the brush ready to pounce and gnaw off your face and rip out your entrails while you breathe your last breath? Or, is a rival tribe ready to rape, murder and cannabalize your tribe?
No. Much worse.
Your boss is sending you a Slack message. Or, you just received a TikTok notification from the popular kid in your class who’s decided to make it their life work to torment you these past few months.
And it. Never. Ends.
As summarized Rilo Kiley’s Better Son/Daughter:
Sometimes in the morning I am petrified and can’t move.
Awake, but cannot open my eyes.
And the weight is crushing down on my lungs, I know I can’t breathe.
And hope someone will save me this time.
It’s easy to say that a snide comment is nothing compared to having your face ripped off. But, try telling that to your brain and body who have been conditioned to avoid said face ripping off and to treat every perceived threat accordingly.
Put simply, human society as it exists should not exist. Minimally, our genetic structure that make us uniquely successful great apes were not built for a world of relentless fear based marketing, divisive social media and constant threats that the world is coming to an end.
Unfortunately, that last part may be true. At least, that’s how it feels. We are living in the fourth year of a pandemic, after all. Meanwhile, the climate is becoming increasingly chaotic, children are dying of preventable diseases and there are still 40 million human slaves on this planet (yea, I’m going to keep bringing this one up).
Shit, now I’m doing it! Sorry!
On the flipside of all of the terribleness is that there are numerous metrics to be optimistic about. Child mortality is at an all time low while literacy is at an all time high. We’ve eradicated a wide variety of horrific diseases and technology is becoming increasingly powerful and accessible.
So, what’s the truth? Should we succumb to our excruciating fear and whither away or should we live in blissful ignorance of the disproportionate luck some of us enjoy?
As usual, the truth is likely somewhere in the middle. While it’s awesome that I can get groceries delivered directly to my door and instantaneously access nearly any piece of human knowledge from my phone for free, I realize that this is primarily due to the lucky lot I was born into rather than anything in my direct control. And I also realize that countless others are not as lucky while many are still suffering (like the aforementioned 40 million human slaves).
But, what can we do about it? Slavery and disease are, after all, tough things to solve. Plus, you still have plenty of things of your own to worry about.
That is absolutely true. I was first inspired to write this last week while my palms were sweaty, my heart was racing and my stomach was tied in knots. Not only was there no lion in the brush, I can’t even recall what it was that caused such debilitating fear. But, given that fear and inspiration are both great motivators, after several days suffering through anxiety-induced doubt, I decided to run with it.
The one major thing I took away from last week is that if we want to help others, we first have to help ourselves. In an attempt to do so, I found this article about the difference between fear and anxiety. The tl;dr is that fear is a direct reaction to something in your environment (e.g., a dog barking) whereas anxiety is a reaction to our emotions (e.g., being reminded of the humiliation you felt as a child). What most resonated with me from the article was this line:
Try never to judge the emotions you discover within. Instead appreciate them for how they inform us of our humanity and remind us we are alive.
My takeaway here is that the human brain is our own personal supercomputer: complicated, amazing and unimaginably complex. And the best way to deal with anxiety is to practice mindfulness – closing your eyes and taking deep breaths until the anxiety dissipates (go ahead, try it right now, it’s like a sleepless nap). I’ve taken this a step further recently by looking forward to anxiety returning, as it provides an opportunity to practice addressing and overcoming my technical debt-based anxiety.
From a personal perspective, anxiety is something I’ve dealt with my entire life, with 2021 being a notably high anxiety-inducing year. I initially thought that this was work related and, while I’m sure that had some major influence, I believe the root issue is that I feel I haven’t been doing anything to make a positive impact on those less lucky than me.
I strongly believe that everybody is fundamentally motivated to contribute to their tribe, with their greatest desire being a sense of belonging, security and achievement. As we move through our lives, our tribes may be our friend groups, our families or our workplaces.
That said, as we’ve become a globally interconnected species with globally interconnected problems, we must work to address problems beyond our immediate tribes, as systemic problems require systemic solutions.
In support of this, we are creating the Human Union and Networked.Community as places where people can free themselves from fear and anxiety while supporting one another to make movements, start businesses and solve problems much larger than ourselves.
By creating an environment predicated upon unification instead of divisiveness and constructive feedback aimed as improvement rather than destructive criticism, we want to provide the space where we can realize the best of ourselves and the human tribe.
As a friend recently told me, “fear is the leading cause of imposter syndrome”. I believe the reality is, we’re all just making this shit up as we go along, so anybody who preaches to know better likely knows less. We’re all ignorant apes here so just, like, don’t be an asshole about it.
Returning to Rilo Kiley to close things down, there’s a positive side to all of this, too:
But you’ll fight and you’ll make it through
You’ll fake it if you have to and
You’ll show up for work with a smile.
You’ll be better and you’ll be smarter and more grown up
And a better daughter or son and a real good friend,
And you’ll be awake,
You’ll be alert, you’ll be positive though it hurts
And you’ll laugh and embrace all your friends
You’ll be a real good listener, you’ll be honest, you’ll be brave
You’ll be handsome and you’ll be beautiful.
You’ll be happy.
If you believe we can do better, that we are greater than the sum of our parts, Join the Union and help us create Society 2.0.