There was a movie a while back entitled “Falling Down”. In it a man is overwhelmed by losing his job and believes there is just too much that is wrong in the world. His mind is pushed back to the flight or fight level. In his case he chooses “fight” and takes it all too literally. He picks up a gun and expresses his dissatisfaction with life. Ultimately nobody’s life was improved nor were any of the problems in the world corrected.
When we find life’s happenings pushing us hard, or when we have been overwhelmed, maybe withdrawing more than usual, we can find ourselves in a position of diminishing returns. In other words, we aren’t getting what we need to maintain health, much less happiness. Of course the best defense is taking corrective action before we reach that point (see prior article). However, when that hasn’t happened and we find ourselves overwhelmed with no relief in sight…what then?
Do we flee or do we fight?
If we choose to flee we might do that by running away from an area of a specific threat. But when the threat is more generalized, due to a constellation of conditions and/or events and we’re just overwhelmed by it all, then fleeing might mean trying to retreat inside ourselves, withdrawing from engagement with our external environment. This can offer some immediate relief, it may offer an opportunity to do some healing. But in the long run, unlike fleeing from a specific, localized, immediate threat; trying to deal with a world which just seems too difficult by retreating into ourselves isn’t going to prove a satisfactory response. Ultimately it doesn’t even matter how much money we have to escape with, Howard Hughes is a case in point. Sooner or later, in order to get what we need to be healthy, whole human beings we have to engage with the world-at-large. (See Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.)
That brings us to the “fight” aspect of our two choices.
First let’s look at what is meant by “fight”. To “fight” can mean many things. In some situations it can mean actual combat with other human beings. However the reality for most of us is that we’re feeling overwhelmed by life in general. We’re facing a constellation of conditions that evoke in us feelings of helplessness. As conditions push harder we may well find ourselves feeling isolated. We may feel a horrible stuck feeling and that we can’t get traction to lift ourselves out of the slough of despond that we’ve found ourselves in. Reacting to our dilemma by literally “coming out shooting”, as did the character played by Michael Douglas in “Falling Down”, is not going to end well, and, most importantly, it isn’t going to get us what we really need to get our life back on track.
In such cases of being overwhelmed by life in general we need a better, more productive strategy. The “fight” most of us are engaged in is not with other human beings, it’s with the conditions (external and internal) we’ve find around and within ourselves. We have to overcome our depression, our fear, our feelings of incompetency. We need a strategy and a commitment to ourselves, to see ourselves through. The fight we need to engage in may well involve addressing fatigue (physical malnutrition?), discouragement, ignorance (mental malnutrition?) and/or apathy.
A mentor and a friend once told me that life isn’t easy, the only thing that’s easy is death…a person doesn’t have to do anything, just lie down, quit doing things, and it will happen. Life takes work. If we want a whole, predominantly enjoyable life, we need to work to make it so. One major boost we have going for us it that we are making our effort, individually and collectively, on this beautiful planet of plenty…as long as we don’t spoil it. (And human beings, through short-sightedness, greed, and ignorance certainly can and do demonstrate that we’re capable of doing that.)
The question of fight or flight ultimately comes down to the matter which Hamlet expressed to eloquently; “To be or not to be…”. But we need to keep in mind the reality that as thinking human beings we have a great deal of influence over how difficult our lives, collectively, are. Are we working wisely, working together to make life in this world the productive, enjoyable experience for all of us that it is capable of being? Or are we working at odds with each other? Creating additional obstacles to well-being and friction which ultimately impede all of us?