Thursday, August 13, 2009

A Stress-free World

Wouldn't it be nice? What if we could eliminate all disease causing microbes from the planet, along with all war, accidents and other causes of illness, injury, and premature death? What if we could even provide good living conditions, food and clothing for everyone without the need for work? Would you like to live in such a world? Not for long I'm betting.

The fact is that our make-up requires a challenge. Without that we tend to wither away, physically, emotionally and intellectually. We may gripe and complain about the obstacles in our lives, but they are good for us. Just as our muscles atrophy without exercise, so do the other parts of our being. We need opposition. That is why some people not only climb mountains but seek difficult routes on those mountains. Once life gets too easy we tend to seek out our favorite form of excitement to spice it up.

Nor is this limited to humans. Years ago New Mexico did an experiment in which they put a herd of deer in a fully protected environment. All predators were carefully excluded and no hunting was allowed. They had plenty to eat. In short it was a deer paradise. The result? The deer slowly died off without reproducing. Without the danger to keep them alert and alive they just withered away.

Even those nasty germs that cause disease seem to be important to us. It now appears that children insufficiently exposed to pathogens tend to be more susceptible to allergies. An allergy is nothing more than the body's immune system overreacting. It starts cranking up its defenses against harmless things like pollen instead of just against pathogenic microbes. Without real enemies the immune system apparently goes looking for trouble, and finds it in innocuous stuff. The result can be respiratory congestion similar to that of a bad cold.

And what about risk? What would happen if we could eliminate risk from the world? Some experiments give hints and have given rise to the concept of “risk homeostasis.” That is the controversial theory that each person has some preferred risk level. If risk is reduced the person will increase his risky behavior and bring the total risk back to what he perceives as a comfortable level. For example some taxi drivers in Munich had their cabs equipped with anti-lock brakes. Their accident rate was the same as that for drivers with regular brakes. They seem to have increased the risks they took, bringing their total risk back to what it was before. It would appear that we need risk as much as we need microbes and exercise.

This is something to think about next time some politician promises to remove all the difficulties from our lives. In the first place, this world is so constructed that he can't do it. If he removes one problem another will crop up in its place, maybe more than one. In the second place, we need those difficulties. That doesn't mean we shouldn't try, such trying is a way to exercise our abilities. However we should be wise in how we try to eliminate problems. Remember, those problems are ours, for our benefit. If we hand them off to someone else we will lose the advantages they can bring us.

“God...gave each of [his children] a very carefully selected package of problems. These, He promised, are yours alone. No one else may have the blessings these problems will bring you... These problems that I give you are a symbol of [my love for you].” (From “The Monument,” the introductory poem to the novel Charlie’s Monument by Blaine M. Yorgason. The complete poem can be found at

Most of us want someone else to take care of our problems, that is a natural human tendency. However that can be dangerous. Such benefactors tend to want to take control of our lives and are likely to create new problems for us. In addition, we will miss the growth and self-satisfaction of overcoming them ourselves.

Of course the biggest temptation is to hand off our problems to government. Too many today expect government (read taxpayers) to bail them out of any trouble, pay for their medical treatment and otherwise take over their problems. That is a temptation we must fight. When government assumes our risk or the cost of our decisions, it removes from our lives some of the very things that make it worth living. Not only that, it replaces those problems with a one-size-fits-all rule from on high, something incompatible with our happiness and growth.

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OregonGuy said...

Thanks for this post.

I've added you to my list, and asked others to do so, too.

I appreciate your voice.

Bob said...

Me too!

God asked Adam and Eve what he might do to make the world nicer.

Eve thought it could only be nicer if she knew it was going to end one day.

Hal Lillywhite said...

Thanks guys. I appreciate you telling others about my blog.