So, every now and then a thought comes to your mind and it seems like a light comes on – eureka! As it often happens, my work companions and I started discussing something a bit unusual at lunch today. I think this happens largely due to the fact that I’m willing to discuss almost anything and am willing to learn something new from other people’s perspective.
Today’s subject started over politics. I brought up an article I recently read entitled Afflicted By Comfort, written by George Will. As I explained to my friends, Mr. Will summarizes in this article a book by Gregg Easterbrook, “The Progress Paradox: How Life Gets Better While People Feel Worse.” Will writes that the book explains that there is a type of social hypochondria that afflicts our nation even though most indicators show that our lives have improved at a rate that no generation has ever seen. Apparently, the book accounts this social hypochondria to a Darwinian natural selection trait in which pessimism, wariness, suspicion and discontent may be survival traits. In simple terms we are conditioned to be cautious about prosperity. I’m going to go get this book to get the whole thought.
Anyway, as I explained this concept the best I could to the guys, one of them said “then tell me why people stay in an un-happy marriage or an abusive marriage.” And then the light went off — Eureka. Ask an abused woman why she finally leaves an abusive marriage and she’ll say something like “I finally realized that I could make it without him” or “I found the strength to let him go.” Wow, what an emotional revelation — something in the subconscious, or in scientific terms, our genetic makeup conditions us to survive. Part of the survival instinct is to group together to form alliances and once an individual has paired with another, the desire to survive keeps them together even if the relationship is not one hundred percent satisfying.
As I started writing this thought down I started to explain it to my fiancée. Although she is a trained scientist, she thought what I am saying is callous and cold. Her thoughts were that LOVE ties people together. So my question in a scientific manner was “Then tell me what drives you to LOVE someone?” And this sent the analysis into a ongoing discussion of love — where no two people really have the same explanation.
But clearly, if you take yourself out of your human’s skin, you can observe in many situations that the act of survival is at the core of humanity’s emotions. In the case of an abused wife, at some point in time she will realize that she can “make” it without her husband. What she realizes is that she will survive both emotionally, financially and physically. And in most cases I would think the drive to survive is what ultimately drives the woman away from her abusive husband.
I’ve realized that there are two faces of humanity. On one hand humans have a great conciousness and are capable of using this to better themselves. On the other hand, humans are still animals. And this is the dirty little secret — humans ARE animals and are subjected to genetic, natural instincts that allow them to prosper and survive in a very stressful, evolving and competitive environment.
Sometimes the hardest part of life is identifying, understanding and controlling these natural, programmed instincts so they don’t dominate your conciousness and keep you from “happily” surviving.