Sunday, August 2, 2015

The Contagiousness of Worry

A day of worry is more exhausting than a week of work. - John Lubbock

The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing. - Edmund Burke

The #1206 “fiction” series continues …

Two men sat in a softly lit professional office, one lounging back on a small leather couch while the other sat about five or six feet from him, legs crossed and writing notes.

“And so how long has it been since you slept well?”, the psychiatrist asked.

“Well”, replied the patient, “I’d say it’s been about 20 years give or take.”

“And all because of worry?”, the psychiatrist asked, his eyes not leaving his notebook.

“For good reason”, replied the patient, “My line of work generates a lot of things that are difficult to absorb at the best of times.  Being on the inside of a large number of interesting organizations means that I am often in the know of a lot of things that I would rather not be involved with.”

“I see”, replied the psychiatrist, “And it is this that causes you worry?  What do you worry about?”

“Well”, began the patient, “I worry about a lot of stuff.”

The patient then began to explain his concerns about the world, touching on climate change, poverty, nuclear weapons, cyber security of infrastructure, the realities of the economy, the financial house of cards that the world had created, global ecology, terrorism, various health concerns attributed to technology and a number of other areas.

“That’s a lot of stuff to worry about”, said the psychologist, “Why do you think you worry about them when most people don’t care and live productive lives despite what is going on in the world?”

The patient frowned but ignored the question.

“What finally got to me”, the patient continued, “was when a lion was shot by some stupid American dentist and the whole world exploded in indignation.”

“Well”, observed the psychiatrist, “That was a pretty heinous act.”

“True”, agreed the patient, “But the hunt for lions has been conducted by the wealthy for many years and few have cared before.  Not only that, but similar hunts for other animals are routinely conducted in many countries including in the countries where the greatest outrage has sprung from and despite these realities, few have ever given a shit before.  Sure there have been a few groups that cared but the world has mostly been silent until now.  It’s almost as if the world, in oblivion to what is going on, sits around in numbed out boredom until something mundane but sensational surfaces and then they wake up for just a moment before they go back to sleep again.”

He paused as the psychiatrist listened in silence.

“Someone made an observation on social media the other day”, the patient continued, “that it was odd that people cared more for one lion than for the 24,000 children under the age of five who die daily from tainted water.  He was immediately beset upon by a number of people who pointed out that the lion was more important, the water problem had already been solved or that we can only solve one problem at a time.  The reality is that none of these things are true, all living things are equal in importance and that we can solve more than one issue at once.  However, what struck me was that despite the real and significant threats we face daily, most people don’t awaken until something relatively irrelevant or not new strikes them and only then do they explode with indignation and even then, it’s just for a moment.  Look at Haiti as the perfect example – they are still suffering years later but because the media doesn’t give them any attention, only a few people know about it.”

He paused.

“Just indignation”, he said softly, “Not action ….. just anger-laden indignation.”

The psychiatrist waited to make sure the patient was finished before speaking.  “So what are you saying people should be doing?”, he asked.

The patient’s brow furrowed as he reflected on the question.

“I think it’s important for people to not only get indignant about the lion but also where our political, military, business, financial and religious leaders are leading us.  It’s time for people to be informed about what is going on in the world, what the risks are, how our potential allows us to create a better world if we desire one and what everyone can do now to contribute to creating that better world …….”, the patient said before pausing.

“…… while there is still a world”, he added quietly.

“Have you ever considered finding another outlet for your worry?”, the psychiatrist asked, “Many of my patients find that spending more time on things like Facebook helps them to worry less.”

“In fact”, he continued, “I find that such exercises help many of my patients to stop worrying completely.”

The patient started at him intently. 

“So what you are trying to tell me”, he said, “is that by pretending that there are no problems, that we can make them go away?”

“That’s not what I said at all”, replied the psychiatrist, “What I said is that since each of us are too small to change the world, why waste time in worry when there are things available to help us forget the things we cannot change?  Why be angered or worried about the world and where it may be going?  Such pessimism is not healthy for you as you can attest to.”

“Do you believe that calling reality as it is is the same as being pessimistic?”, asked the patient, feeling anger beginning to grow in him, “A pessimist believes there is no good, an optimist believe there is no bad but a realist recognizes that there is both in the world and that acknowledging our reality is the only way to create more good and less bad.  The good within us and in our results reminds us of the importance of creating more of both but this is only possible when we acknowledge the reality of where we are, where we need to go and what we need to do.  Only the ignorant get angry when presented with reality.”

Feeling his voice starting to shake, the patient looked away in anger.

“I believe the patient should be answering my questions and not asking them if you don’t mind”, the psychiatrist said calmly.  He began writing on a pad and without looking up, said, “I’m going to give you something to help you worry less.  Come back next week and we’ll see how you are doing.”

He tore a sheet off the pad and held it out to the patient but he ignored it.  He took his laptop out of his bag, started it, opened a few things and then laid the laptop on the coffee table between them, turning the screen to face the psychiatrist.

“You asked me earlier why I worried when few others do.  The reality is that a lot of good people worry every day but there aren’t enough of us yet to attain a critical mass of knowledge or resources to change the direction of the world towards one that honors our potential.  The majority of people are numbed out or care too much about Facebook, some game that doesn’t work on their phone, or ….. or … or … a single lion.”

The psychiatrist adjusted his glasses and looked at the laptop screen in front of him.  Arranged on the screen were a number of documents and emails.

“May I?”, asked the psychiatrist.

The patient gestured for him to go ahead and the psychiatrist took the laptop and sat back in his chair.  He skimmed through a number of documents, his eyes jumping from one to another.

His head began to hurt as text and images jumped out and grabbed his attention.

The patient stood up, walked over to the psychiatrist and gently took the laptop from him.

“Now you know”, said the patient, “Keep the prescription, doctor.  I don’t want or need it.  I prefer to be worried than to be numbed out, especially if the definition of being productive is nothing more than to be oblivious to what matters.”

Placing his laptop in his backpack, he walked out the door, closing it softly behind him.

The psychiatrist said nothing, staring at the door in silence as he pursed his lips and furrowed his brow.

The psychiatrist tossed and turned all night, totally unable to sleep.  When the alarm blared out the start of a new day, he stared blearily at it.

“I can’t do this today”, he thought.

Reaching for his phone, he called his personal assistant.  When her voicemail answered, he spoke sleepily into it.  “Hi Mary”, he said, “I’m not feeling well today and need you to clear my calendar of all appointments”.

He paused for a moment and then continued.  “Do me a favor also and get me an appointment with Dr. Andrews as soon as possible, please.  Thanks, Mary.”

He hung up and flopped back into his bed, staring at the motivational poster on his night table:

"If destruction fails to entangle us, distraction will do its best." - Beth Moore

It had been too long since he had spoken to his own psychiatrist and now he knew he needed to.

To be continued.

© 2015 – Harry Tucker – All Rights Reserved


Contrary to my typical backgrounder, if the ideas contained here need to be explained, I would recommend that the reader either get informed and get involved or go back to being numbed out, whichever helps them sleep at night.

Series Origin

This series, a departure from my usual musings, is inspired as a result of conversations with former senior advisors to multiple Presidents of the United States, senior officers in the US Military and other interesting folks as well as my own professional background as a Wall St. / Fortune 25 strategy and large-scale technology architect.

While this musing is just “fiction” and a departure from my musings on technology, strategy, politics and society, as a strategy guy, I do everything for a reason and with a measurable outcome in mind. :-)

This “fictional” musing is a continuation of the #1206 series noted here.

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