Coping Skills For a World Spinning Out of Control
We live in an age of high drama, insatiable media appetites, and incredible pharmacological advances.
What do you get when you put all these together in a 24-hour global society?
A world that appears to be spinning out of control. A world in which oddballs become famous, kids get medicated if they’re too rowdy, and at every turn someone is harping. You can’t say that! You can’t do that! Why did you say that? What were you thinking? A world in which people learn in little bits over long periods of time that they are fragile, helpless, inappropriate, or out of control.
The truth of the matter is that human beings are incredibly resilient and far stronger than they often realize. But if we prevent the kinds of distresses that test our strength and illuminate our resilience, there’s no chance to learn them.
It’s amazing the number of ways we teach people they can’t cope. Instead of listening to boisterous kids, we give them Ritalin. Instead of talking with adolescents about the very real and completely normal discomfort of raging hormones, we give them antidepressants. Instead of examining our own thinking to find solutions to what troubles us, we pour a drink, pop a pill, or develop some other avoidance strategy.
I wonder what would happen if we learned how to cope rather than avoid? What if we could learn to embrace challenge with an attitude of curiosity, learning, and a determination to prevail? I remember as a kid hearing a goofy song about a rubber tree plant. It was a Frank Sinatra song called “High Hopes.”
“Anyone knows an ant can’t move a rubber tree plant,” it said. “But he’s got high hopes…” and pretty soon, “Oops there goes another rubber tree plant.”
The song made us laugh, but it also instilled in us the notion of hope and effort and doing things that nobody thought could be done. How in the world did we get from there to the pervasive attitude of pessimism and defeatism that curdles so many unspoken dreams today?
While rose-colored glasses and rose garden thinking are rightfully scorned, I think we’ve tipped too far to the can’t-do side of things. I also think that a lot of bad and destructive behavior is born of this deep-seated pessimism. I know more than a few people who are bitter because they never had someone to validate them by listening, supporting, and reality-checking their ideas. If no one is around to listen, people talk louder or stop talking altogether. Either way, the outcome tends to be unhealthy.
So what do I mean by coping skills? Taking a calm and objective look at circumstances to understand what’s really going on. Trying things. Helping others brainstorm alternatives. Singing songs like “High Hopes” and being okay with feeling silly. Giving yourself and others permission and support to take constructive action instead of freaking out. Granted these take more time and effort and I’ll guarantee that you won’t make headlines. But you’ll begin to see and appreciate your strength and resilience and who knows? Maybe someday you’ll move your own rubber tree plant.