One of my friends posted something that struck a chord with me, this morning. He said, “There are only so many days of your life you can go into battle. I’m sure I’ve far exceeded my limit.” The reason that resonated with me is because it’s so true.
In a world organised around perpetual, ceaseless, grinding, ubiquitous, inescapable, dog-eat-dog, fight-to-the-death competition, battle fatigue must inevitably set in. No Roman Gladiator was required to fight for survival each and every day of his life. If he was, you could be assured that his life would be short. Even our elite sporting champions compete for maybe a dozen meetings a year. Formula One drivers have to compete for only twenty weekends a year. The rest of the time they’re recreating, or preparing. Optimum performance depends on not competing ferociously all the time.
Yet, for some (perhaps most) people, their working lives are a daily, fearful, merciless, brutal fight for the means to live, with the forces of competition arrayed against them, trying to take away their life and livelihood. The boss, in fear for his own existence, compels them to fight fiercely, for long hours, to protect his company. Even if he is doing well, he feels the need to grind more profit from his brave troops, just in case hard times come. People are driven beyond the limits of their endurance. It never ends. There is no respite.
This constant battle extends into the life of artists, too. Which artist do you know that doesn’t have to battle, daily, for recognition, for sustenance, for public favour and for viability? There is so much excellent competition and the standard required is very high. Failure to thrive guarantees your artistic extinction. The sum total of all the battles is burnout. Nobody can fight to the death, every day of their lives.
What this means is that the majority of people are the walking wounded. They’re doing their best to keep their heads above water, but every fight inflicts one more wound, every battle causes a little more fatigue and the scars never get a chance to heal. In short, they’re dying a slow death, but one that is much faster than it would have been, had they found peace instead of conflict. There is no chance to recover.
I understand why people lack the spare capacity to change their situations. In the heat of battle, who has time or focus to fill out an application form? When dodging bullets, who can simultaneously jump through hoops, to win a reprieve? Who has the energy to do more than simply struggle on valiantly, if half-defeated? When just facing the next contest takes every ounce of mental strength you can summon, who has any reserves remaining with which to change the world? People in that situation are running on empty. Holding it together at all is an admirable and somewhat remarkable achievement, under the circumstances.
If you’re one of the millions of people facing everyday battles, without an end in sight, the only advice I can offer is to choose your battles, if you are able to do so. Take whatever time you can eke out to be kind to yourself. Try not to freak out and try to leave the battlefield behind, from time to time, at least in your mind. Clinging to the hope of a better life has to be a salvation, even if you can’t take active steps to reach it, at the present moment.
Constant, ceaseless battle, every single day of your life, is not sustainable. Your mind and body cannot take it. When you’re fighting and not winning, they tell you that you need to try harder, be braver and redouble your efforts, but that’s not the answer. That advice leads you to become weaker, more jaded, less happy and ever more hollowed out and depleted. The answer is to step away, for a while, to allow your beaten carcass to recover and recuperate. There is a lot to be said for persistence and carrying on doggedly, while others drop out, but only if that does not entail your complete destruction. All wins are temporary anyway. When your world is little more than an endless smorgasbord of unpleasantness, the need to experience some existential pleasure is huge.
Ironically, you might be so battle scarred and in pain that you can’t feel the pleasure, at least not at first.
The battle you withdraw from may yet find you, envelop you and defeat you, but at least you will have lived moments of life that were worth living. If you’re luckier, the recovery period will allow you to return, refreshed and renewed, so that you can defeat whatever enemies and competition you encounter. It should always be remembered that they are battle fatigued too.
Ultimately, we have to find a way of organising human affairs that does not require incessant competition. As organisms, we’re not equipped to endure it. Anybody that says they can is a liar, posing in order to win a tactical battle against those that admit to the wear and tear. Human beings were not designed to be fighting machines. The avoidance of conflict has always been an important survival tactic for the species. To have organised an entire global economic system around the idea of perpetual competition is perhaps one of humanity’s greatest blunders, especially when you consider that losing that competition spells disaster.
If you have to lay waste to all and sundry, in order to win, what good is the prize, when all it consists of is broken debris and waste? Who wants to inherit that world, as the last man standing? What kind of victory is that? Yet, that’s our collective direction of travel and ultimate destination. Why?
The temporary winners perpetuate this competitive system, because they are in positions of power, which they think they cannot lose. They have better weapons and can enlist other people to fight their battles on their behalf. However, every super rich man must fight constantly and vigilantly to keep his position too. The battle fatigue is universal, if more bearable from a position of power. It’s still there, though and still just as pointless. We must do better than this, as a species. Our survival depends on it.
Take care, my friends. Live to fight another day. One day, the fighting must end.
(If it doesn’t, we will).