It is no measure of health
to be well adjusted
to a profoundly sick society.
The problem is we are well-adjusted. Too well-adjusted. While we need to adapt to our circumstances, we also have to help society adjust!
COVID has pushed all of us to the edge. We all have been literally trying to adjust to a “profoundly sick society.” The problem is we were sick before the virus. Our mental well-being was frazzled before masks, social distancing and vaccines. Before we were afraid to be with people and go outside. Before our expectations and distrust of others skyrocketed and our patience evaporated. Every one of us is fighting demons, and invisible challenges that we have inherited and accumulated. Add a giant scoop of COVID, some boiling racism, to a cauldron of inequity, materialism, debt, and the endless pursuit of more, you get a recipe for layer cake of anxiety. Layers and layers of new and pre-existing anxiety, stress and trauma, like the magma of a volcano or the shifting tectonic plates deep in our cores, they cause visible and invisible friction that erupts and fractures us in frightening ways.
COVID has ripped back the curtain of what we want and don’t want.
We live in a society where our health is an afterthought. We subscribe to a trickle-down theory for our well-being. We are told to fit in, to conform, to assimilate, and to get along. This crazy tension between these pressures and who we are, want to be and are meant to be, undermines our well-being. So much of our society tries to push us into molds behind the façade of independence and individuality. As the old Asian proverb espoused, “The nail that sticks up will be hammered down.” Expectations to go to college, buy a big house, nice car, get promoted, buy more things, the kids go to college and try to outdo their parents and the vicious cycle continues. The stock market soars, GDP rises but we feel like we have more debt than dreams. A recent study of adolescents showed that suppressed “meaning” and “dreams” were the sources of their anxiety. Can you hear the hammers?
So much of our society operates from a trickle-down mentality.
Macro success will bring micro satisfaction. Just achieve, work hard, make money and your life and your happiness will fall in place. And this “happiness” will bring us health and well-being. How’s that working for you? Trickle down happiness and health is a ponzi scheme. Work harder! The solution we have been sold is the root cause of our sickness.
- A colleague of mine recently received a poor performance review that read in part—“your level of work activity after 9:30pm has fallen below the average of your peers….”
I know this is extreme, but this was part of her welcome back to the office review!
We have to push back on the return to “normal” policies that blatantly ignore what we have learned during this time. All this new attention on “mental health” “well-being” and “self-care” is long over-due. But they cannot be addressed by some frills and psychic benefits such as food or some more PTO in the workplace. The 2 million women who have left the workforce since the beginning of COVID are making a statement. The record 11 million job openings that exceeds the number of unemployed is another. What will it take for them to return?
Why aren’t employers competing to recruit and retain employees with things that will generate real well-being and mental health? Why aren’t employees demanding them?
Our health, mental health and well-being will not trickle down and be the prize at the end of a dehumanizing rat race. We must push our employers to do more. All employers need to do more. We have to evaluate and de-construct our toxic work environments. We have to take control of what we want and what we will tolerate. There are structural changes that must be made. We all have to advocate for the basic fundamental human rights of living wages, family leave, child-care, universal health benefits in every venue.
Once you win the rat race you might have become a rat.(Apologies to Lily Tomlin)
Thanks for reading.