Disclaimer: I realize that by any sane judgment, my life is so amazingly free of problems that I might as well be cavorting about in the strawberry patches of Elysium, singing counterpoint with the Butterflies of Jubilation that accompany me always. My own knowledge of real trouble, real suffering is so slight that I ought to remain silent on the subject. Yet I hope I have something to say about the more shallow difficulties that we all face.
As the philosopher said, shit happens. This life inevitably has difficulty, danger, and disaster, and when these things happen, they don't feel like part of the grand tragi-comic symphony of humanity, they just plain suck.
However, if I get to choose how my problems come to me, and I'm choosing
based on my
own selfish comfort, then deal them to me as one crisis after another.
A crisis is obvious, and that's always a good start. We can look at it, and go, "Yep, that's a crisis all right. Better get onto it." The alternative is slow, seeping, dripping problems that we don't notice until it's too late, or worse yet, static ever-present problems that we are only half-conscious of and become a kind of background music of suck, like a television that's on in another room that we can't be bothered to turn off.
An example is being overweight. For most of my life, I've been carrying around an unhealthy amount of body fat, and I've always been unhappy about it. (I told you my problems were shallow). As I mentioned last week, when I moved to the UK I started putting on even more weight. Eventually, I took a couple of weeks off work with the express intent of using the second week to kick off a habit of eating more healthily and doing some exercise. In a sense, I had to force a crisis, and even then it took me years to do so.
On the other hand, if I had at some point in my past been thin and then woken up one day with an extra forty kilos of flab, I'm fairly certain I would have take action that same day.
There's also a buzz that you get from tackling a crisis. The stakes are
high, the clock is running, and every action is weighed with
significance. It's not just that we feel like important people doing
important things – although it is at least that – but also that our
attention is completely engrossed. When a calamity descends upon us
while we are in the middle of another, our first reaction is how unfair
it is. Perhaps that's partly because we resent the
disruption of that perfect, rapt attention? If we handle the crisis well, then there's also a feeling of mastery. We were hit with the worst, but we gave it our best and we came out on top.
Even emotional crises have a perverse buzz: it's not for nothing that we speak of "wallowing" in self pity. And even if we avoid that, there's something welcome about the way such a crisis can simplify things. People often say "it makes you realize what's really important".
And not only does the crisis make us feel significant and competent, but often it makes others (for a happy moment!) look on us the same way. Someone who averts disaster in the nick of time is a hero, someone who takes a broken, ruined situation and turns it around is a saviour. If we handle a crisis well, we are commended by others – often even if it was a result of our negligence!
So for the status, for the mental clarity, for the rush, and because it's much easier than trying to identify and correct any other kind of problem, give me a crisis any day.
But please, one at a time.