Adaptation is overrated

Yesterday I posted about One Nation Under Stress, and today’s post is sort of leftover thoughts that I wanted to share, about this concept of stress as a release valve, in our society–a substitute for the harder conversations that we really need to be having, about how to fix what’s ailing us, really.

The author asks, in different contexts, what it says about us as a society that we are more concerned about training our bodies not to respond to stressors with the ‘production of stress hormones’ than with the stressors to which we are subjected, in the first place.

Why are mothers encouraged to find hobbies or take ‘time outs’ to rejuvenate, instead of to demand more equitable distribution of household responsibilities? Why are children pushed to resist the stresses that accompany high-stakes testing, instead of to question the fundamental premise of the way that the U.S. education system is ordered, today?

Why are we more interested in emotions generated in our encounters with the environment, rather than the strains present in those interactions themselves?

This matters, because this emphasis on stress–and managing it–not only puts the burden on the individual to cope with strains that can take a toll.

It also diverts our eyes, and our energies.

The attention we direct to how we react to stresses is attention that is not spent addressing the conditions plaguing our lives.

The effort we exert to adapt (to unfair gender expectations, or violence in our neighborhoods, or profit-driven economic structures, or deprivation), is not available to create change.

And it’s not just incidental, this ‘taking our eyes off the ball’.

It’s sort of an epidemic.

The author “coined the phrase stressism to describe the current belief that the tensions of contemporary life are primarily individual lifestyle problems to be solved through managing stress, as opposed to the belief that these tensions are linked to social forces and need to be resolved primarily through social and political means” (p. 18).

Um, yeah.

Why, when faced with horror and sadness and wrong, do we seek ‘balance’, instead of justice?

Why do we find it “easier to talk about the stressed African American single mother, say, than to think about the effects of de facto school segregation in our cities, or the effects of discrimination on employment opportunities, or the shortage of affordable childcare?” (21).

Why are we so often quick to describe the conditions that we know are cruel and dangerous and scary as individual stressors, just so that we can hide our social responsibility to change them?

Why do we push coping as our ‘way out’ when adaptation to injustice, violence, and poverty doesn’t improve the human condition (p 63)?

Here’s to being maladjusted.

Unwilling to adapt to wrong.

Angry, not stressed.

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