Where is the end of the tunnel?
At odd times in our lives, someone wise captures our dilemma in a single sentence. I hope he won’t mind, but almost a decade ago in Zimbabwe, at a time when other people were saying, “It is darkest before the dawn”, the UN Representative said to me, “You feel right now that you are in dark tunnel and you cannot see the light at the end. But you will see it eventually.”
I think many people in western countries feel this way. Yet they won’t vocalize their thoughts. I think keeping nervous thoughts looked away is a mistake. Our stress levels and we come no closer to a solution.
Getting our thoughts in order
Speaking up, though, often feels negative. Worse, in competitive masculine societies, which describes most English-speaking societies, when you describe what is not working for you, you look like a loser. And losers definitely come last. People don’t want to hang out with you in case losing rubs off.
Psychologically, though, it is important to express your fears. If we don’t, they will build up until they govern our lives. Then we start to make very unwise decisions. We will find yourself bandying together with people whose only goal is to complain. Losing does become a way of life.
When we express our fears, we also have an opportunity to list what goes well. Our objective is not to ignore what goes badly It is to take stock of what tools we have in our tool kit so we get some leverage on the problem.
My bad day
Let me give you an example. Yesterday, I got pins and needles working at my desk. To get some circulation going, I went downstairs. Despite moving very carefully, I put my numb foot down carelessly, fortunately on the last stair, and twisted it badly. I put out my other arm spontaneously to steady myself and resprained an already sprained-shoulder. The combined pain made my head spin. I thought I might faint.
Effectively, my day was finished. I got back to my desk and with visions of a black-and-blue ankle, looked up how to treat a sprain: RICE. Rest, ice, compression, elevation. And do it straight away.
Fortunately I had a pack of frozen peas in the freezer. My day then became a day of trying to keep ice on my foot (I never did figure out how to combine ice, pressure and height), canceling appointments, and trying to work on my lap.
To make matters worse, my project for the day was design. If there was ever a task that I find fiddly and annoying, its graphics. It beats tax returns and hoovering by a long margin. There, even writing that makes me feel better.
I persevered, despite my aches and pains, until close to midnight with triumph, I produced something that was not disgusting but that needs redoing because the proportions are long.
See how long this story of woe is? I really ended my Wednesday feeling life was dull and unpleasant. I made myself exercise while I ran a clean up on my computer. Then at midnight, I made myself fill out a gratitude diary. What was good to say? Yup, I had stopped my ankle swelling. It ached and it was slightly swollen but it was not a black-and-blue mess. I had made progress on a task I find very hard. I had stopped at home and had salads for lunch and supper.
I surprised myself reevaluating my relatively ’empty’ day as better than I thought. But I resisted calling it positive. That is the point, isn’t it? I resisted noticing the positive because I was so shocked by the negative. Sometimes we want to sulk.
Learning from countries in trouble
Getting a grip, I used some magic Anti-Flamme, available only in New Zealand, on both my ankle and shoulder, curled up in a ball which I hoped would tax neither foot nor shoulder. Then I put on BBC World Service to listen to The Last Resort, a novel about happenings in my birth country, and surprisingly good, though close to the bone.
The author of The Last Resort, is taking the view that it is darkest before the dawn, and for once, a book about Africa is not whincingly sanctimonious.
Listening to the lives of people who are in a very dark place but who go on anyway, reaching out, and trying to be decent in ways they understand, we should know that sometimes we will not be able to see the light at the end of the tunnel. But we are still better calling out to others who are there with us, and taking an inventory of what we have for our emotional and physical sustenance. We don’t know there is a way out. But if we worry about that instead of coping with the present, we will not get out. Our salvation is what is around us.
As for Westerners who are burying their fears. Don’t. I know a fair bit about national economics. I make it my business to follow the pundits. We are up shit-creek. No doubt about it. But we also have
- The buffer of a lot of fat
- Deep confidence
- High aspirations
The nuclear deal crafted by Obama is important. We are working together to make the world safer. Scientists are making fundamental discoveries almost daily. We have a new generation coming through. The internet works so well that it is unremarkable now to interact with people world wide on a daily basis.
In our unspoken discomfort with a financial crisis of our own making, we fall into three traps
- We leave our own heads in a mess
- We “diss” the people who are taking the brunt of the crisis – the unemployed, the poor and the dispossessed
- We miss the opportunities we should be working on
How to survive the dark tunnel of the financial crisis
If you are surrounded by people talking nonsense about darkness and tunnels, then I say accept the reality. We are in a dark place and we cannot see the end.
And keep a daily gratitude diary to keep your emotional state in balance with reality, to honor who and what bring value to your life, and to remind yourself of what does work.
I can walk on my foot today. Blast, though, another day of graphics.