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Living Amongst Racists

“Prejudice is a burden that confuses the past, threatens the future, and renders the present inaccessible.”

Maya Angelou (American poet, memoirist, and civil rights activist)

Is this racist or my imagination?

Usually, I don’t write on topics like this, but in light of the recent events and my absolute exhaustion from keeping my mouth shut, I am doing to write about how to deal with racism.

At least, how I deal with racism.

Recently in the United States, there’s been an uptrend in racially motivated hate crimes towards Asian-Americans and I can’t help but see parallels to what’s been happening to African-Americans.

Maybe the attacks are due to resentment built up over the past year from the COVID-19 lockdowns and people are blaming Asians.

Maybe the violence is correlational and it has nothing to do with race at all.

The question of “Is this racist or is it just my imagination?” is always buzzing around when you’re a hated minority.

Unfortunately, the answer doesn’t matter. All that matters is how we act in the face of the unfairness.

Right now, I’m watching my fellow Asian brothers and sisters respond to the violence in a way that I’m compassionate for, but must caution against.

I want people who read this to take a few things from this piece:

If you are lucky enough to not deal with racism frequently, then I would like to invite you to reflect on a time when you felt similar to some of the things I’ll talk about. If you can’t remember a time, then imagine your child dealing with those feelings and be thankful you don’t have to experience them. Find compassion for those living in fear, anger, and injustice. It’s tough to be hated for reasons that you cannot control and when that hatred is carried out by the rest of society it eats at every part of your life.

If you are experiencing anxiety or rage because you are part of a hated group, then I would like to invite you to use some of the methods that I talk about later in the post to cope with it. It’s not glamorous and it doesn’t solve a lot of problems outright, but I believe it’s a good enough way forward.

Right now, there is no perfect solution.

Some of My Racial Experiences

I can speak on this because I’ve grown up around racism. In every facet of my life, there have always been questions raised regarding my race. My dad is from Africa and my Mom is from the Philippines. I grew up in a city that’s mostly white and conservative. I’ve dealt with racism at every age and I’ve seen it more than someone growing up in my time would expect. For context, I was born in 1994.

I’m one of few Black people on my Asian side and I’m the only Asian (other than my sister) on my black side.

I’m no stranger to the awareness of my individuality and the knowledge that I’m different.

I was first called a nigger when I was 4.

I’ve been called a nigger countless times since then. The word is almost meaningless to me now.

Every time I meet someone, I have to prove that I’m not dangerous nor stupid.

I’ve had cuffs slapped on for WWB, walking while black. It’s a thing if you aren’t already aware. According to the cops, I looked “dangerous and suspicious.”

In stores, Loss Prevention follows me around – meanwhile little teenage girls all over the world are stealing millions of dollars of makeup.

I grew up ashamed of my hair, my skin, my “exotic” features. There was no Zendaya and it wasn’t always cool to be Black.

Girls didn’t like me because I couldn’t spike my hair. Girls didn’t date me because they didn’t what to be known that they like Black guys.

Because back then (the early 2010s), dating a nigger was enough to taint your reputation. In some places, it’s still that way.

It’s like I’m living in a monster that’s occasionally trying to eat me. Sometimes it is, sometimes it just seems like it is.

It’s impossible to know the difference with certainty.

Repression

For a long time, I was angry about it. I hated who I was because I wasn’t like everyone else around me. The worst part, was I couldn’t do anything with the anger. I didn’t even let myself feel the anger and pain for longer than a few seconds.

I wasn’t allowed to complain about it. I could talk to my dad about it, but it’s not like he could make the anger go away.

He was dealing with it too.

Every Black person I knew was dealing with it.

There was no clear answer.

The rage grew and grew and I kept it all inside. In time, I learned how to sublimate it into work. My father always told me that I would have to work 7x as hard as a white kid to get the same opportunities. (So far he’s been right.) So I turned my rage into work. I worked as hard as I could to prove that I’m not some useless nigger. I worked hard to prove that this nigger is actually much smarter than anyone around him.

This was easier to do when the racism was latent.

But sometimes the injustice was too much.

Sometimes I cried about it. Sometimes I was bitchy.

Sometimes I would get so angry I’d scream as loud as I could.

Sometimes I wanted to kill myself.

Never did I shoot up a school. Never did I take out my anger on other people. Even if they seemed like they deserved it. If no one has said it now, I’ll be the first to stand by this – dealing with racism will incite enough rage in an individual to shoot up a school. That being said, under no circumstances will that make anything better.

Constraining the evil within is fundamental to maintaining peace and harmony.

Besides, if I didn’t handle my feelings properly, I’m just more of the nigger they think I am.

Racism engulfs your life whether you like it or not. Do this and you’re a nigger. Do that and you’re not a nigger.

No matter what everything is in the context of “more or less nigger.”

It wasn’t all rage though. There was also self-doubt compounded with external verification.

Part of me was worried that the racists were right.

Maybe I really was inferior. It certainly didn’t help Blacks were often portrayed as criminals and low lives. The “maybe they’re right” thought came up often enough to stop me from taking opportunities. Looking back, my life may have been different if I saw myself as someone who belongs to the society they’re living in. But that doesn’t matter now. The older I get, the more I realized that this isn’t the case.

Nothing about my ethnic heritage places me above or below anyone else.

I wish I lived in a world where every human being comes to that conclusion. Perhaps we will build one in time.

I’ll say it again for the people in the back –

Nothing about my ethnic heritage places me above or below anyone else.

How I Cope with Racism

“To bring about change, you must not be afraid to take the first step. We will fail when we fail to try.”

Rosa Parks (American activist)

It wasn’t fair, but I learned a few ways of dealing with it. These are no means a perfect solution, but I’ve fought this uphill battle my whole life.

These methods are what I’ve learned over my experiences. I currently use these practices to deal with the consistent hum of racism that underscores my entire life.

This is how I know how to constructively and effectively cope with racism.

The reason why I’m writing about methods to deal with racism is that if we use the methods that feel natural to us, we end up creating more pain and suffering in the long run.

If we react with our feelings, we will only prove the racists right. They will only see those actions as proof of their ill-informed beliefs.

Focus on Unity Instead of Hate

“An eye for an eye makes the world blind.”

Mahatma Gandhi (Indian lawyer, anti-colonial nationalist, and political ethicist)

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

Martin Luther King Jr (African American Baptist minister and activist)

Even though it’s incredibly tempting to. Focusing on the hate only adds to the problem.

It’s so easy to just say “White people did this” or “white people are trash,” but that type of behavior is the same type of thinking that perpetuates the issue of prejudice in the first place.

Assigning people to groups and using them as representations of the entire group is a horribly destructive way of conceptualizing the world.

If you don’t think so, answer this question:

Would you pay for the crimes of someone else with your same eye color?

The beautiful part about the world we live in today is that most people aren’t racist. Being a beacon of light that illuminates our unity in this dark world will attract a lot of supporters who will join us in building a better tomorrow. It’s going to be a long and tough battle, but I do believe in time racism will disappear.

In my post, The Hero of Heroes: Marduk vs. Tiamat & The Significance of Speech, I talk about how people spend at least half of their existence in the world of conversation. Our lives are shaped by the conversations we participate in just as much (or even more) than our physical environments.

That being said, focusing on the hate will just add more hate to the conversation. Focusing on unity will add unity to the conversation. In my experience, paying attention to the nature of our conversations is crucial for not only living a life by design but also combating racism and ignorance.

Aim to Change Individuals, Not Groups

It’s not likely that one person will single-handedly end racism. It needs to be a group effort. Groups on their own do not respond well to change, but people do. If we are going to exterminate racism, it must be done one person at a time.

Groups are solidified in their stances. The beliefs of individuals, however, are more subject to change, especially when factoring in personal experience.

I met a lot of people with prejudices who’ve changed their opinion after spending some time with me. It’s all about connection and showing them that we’re more alike than different.

This doesn’t work in groups. We need to feel a personal connection to change what we believe and that connection is easier found on the individual level.

Sympathize with their Ignorance

“It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences.”

Audre Lorde (American writer, feminist, womanist, librarian, and civil rights activist)

I know this is asking for a lot and it’s not something I’d suggest for most people, but if you are capable of doing this it can save you so much wasted energy on hatred and anger.

Turn the hate into pity.

Racists have not known, and will never know if they don’t change, any of the pleasures that your culture has contributed to the human experience.

I love so many things about my heritage that the ignorant have missed out on. Honestly, I feel bad for them.

I have great pity for anyone who hasn’t engaged an educated Black person in meaningful conversation. Black Africans intensely value education and the conversations you can get from them are stimulating to the highest degree.

I have great pity for anyone who hasn’t had Filipino food. Filipinos are amazing cooks and essentially hold food as a virtue. People who close themselves off will never try chicken adobo.

Honestly, racists have a duller experience of life.

Show them what their missing.

Don’t be angry at them. Don’t be afraid of them.

Have pity for them. The poor animals locked themselves in a cage.

Find the Bigot in You

I got this piece of advice from Dr. Edith Eger, a holocaust survivor. She used this method to deal with the Nazis while she was in Auschwitz. If she could practice this while being dehumanized in a concentration camp, while they murdered her family and loved ones, then we can certainly find the strength to practice this in the face of modern racism.

While it’s easy to think that another person holds racist and irrational beliefs, it’s much harder to recognize that that person is just like us or rather that we are like them.

Each of us, no matter how “woke” or “conscious” has a little bigot inside of us.

We’re all a little unreasonable attached to a belief or opinion.

The only difference with racists is that their beliefs are prejudiced against a certain kind of people. To the racist, their beliefs are no different than ours and until we can understand that, we will further perpetuate the outgroup vs. ingroup dynamic.

Change Minds Slowly

Everyone does things at their own pace. There is nothing we can do to force that. At a certain level, how someone changes is entirely up to them and most people won’t change quickly. Most people will only change when it’s convenient for them.

That being said – shoving things down people’s throats only creates a backlash.

This is why I’m not trying to promote any hashtags like #blacklivesmatter or #stopasianhate because they will create more of the exact thing they are trying to destroy.

When Black Lives Matter started getting popular, I was worried that there was going to be a backlash. People hate when they can’t choose and everyone in the country was forced to see Black Lives Matter everywhere.

While I agree with the mission (obviously, I’m Black and hurt by racism just as much as the next guy), but I’m don’t support bombarding ideas in people’s faces. That is not the same as spreading awareness. BLM became the “Pop-Up” Ad version of anti-racist movements and it made people mad.

Suddenly, Blue Lives Matter appears. Because you can’t say White Lives Matter or Black Lives Don’t Matter – that makes the reaction too obvious. Even in some of our most disgusting social games, we have a little class.

Blue Lives Matter was not created to support law enforcement.

It was a reaction to Black Lives Matter, and I was terrified of what a racial backlash would look like.

We’ll we’ve seen some of it, but there are other effects that are less obvious.

Now people can put bumper stickers that proudly display their opposition to anti-racist movements. Which is terrifying to see all around you. Where I’m from, people have that black and blue flag everywhere.

It’s both terrifying and disgusting.

Racists now have a unified symbol for hating black people that’s socially accepted and guised under the support of law enforcement.

Blacklash is almost always a result of “forced feeding,” so to speak.

If we shove ideas in people’s faces when they aren’t open to them, we piss them off and they swing back harder.

Back-lashes are everywhere and the best way to stop them is to change minds slowly.

True social change happens slowly anyway.

So let’s tread a little more intentionally and mitigate the damage.

I say this now because I really don’t want to see an anti-Asian backlash.

Be an Exception to Their Rule

“Excellence is the best deterrent to racism or sexism.”

Oprah Winfrey (American talk show host, television producer, actress, author, and philanthropist)

Focus on being the example of what a “good one” would look like if they existed. People are more likely to change their minds through personal experience. That being said, if someone is to change their mind, they can only change it by their own volition.

I can’t tell you how many conversations I’ve had with racists and they tell me exactly what they think of Black people or “farmer” Asians, but in the same breathe will tell me that I’m the exception to their rule.

“Oh you’re not one of them Chris.”

“You know the other niggers, not you. You actually care and have respect for people.”

“You’re not even Black, you’re white on the inside where it counts.”

I knew their ignorance wasn’t physically dangerous, so it wasn’t worth getting upset over their statements.

Being “the exception” is me showing them proof that people who they hold in contempt aren’t what they think they are.

Once we see one example, others start showing up more and more. I strive to be good enough to open the door so they can have another positive experience with someone else like me.

I try to plant seeds for a garden I’ll never see.

Ask Questions

In the words of the brilliant astrophysicist, Neil DeGrasse Tyson, “It’s not enough to be right, you also have to be effective.”

Telling someone they’re wrong or that they don’t understand something will not bring awareness to their ignorance.

Rather than attack or accuse, ask questions.

Just ask them a question that proves they think the same way as you.

This can be tricky at first, but with some practice, it’s extremely effective.

In conversations, people have two orientations: peace or combat.

When someone is oriented to peace, conversations are easy and smooth. Misunderstandings are no big deal and the stakes are low.

However, when someone is oriented to combat, everything becomes a battle of life and death.

This is when people become defensive or offensive. It’s much harder to change minds or learn something new when people are oriented to combat.

Asking questions pacifies people (orients them to peace) and allows them to come to conclusions on their own. Which is the only way anyone can understand anything. When we hear a question, our brain immediately goes to work on finding an answer.

The magic happens when we don’t have an answer.

Suddenly, we discover that there are things we don’t know and we open up to new information.

This is when people are most likely to change their minds or learn something new.

For example, if someone says they don’t believe in global warming, ask them if they’re still willing to buy a beachfront house even though the water levels are rising due to polar ice caps melting. In the context of race relations, it’s much more difficult to come up with questions but it’s so worth it.

This is one of my favorite techniques and I use it for much more than just dealing with racism. It’s fantastic for dealing with ignorance of all kinds.

Respond, Don’t React

Mindfulness is everything.

Pay attention to how you make others feel and pay attention to how they make you feel.

Monitor your behavior so that others don’t feel threatened. That sounds like a cop-out, but people can only respond well to something that they don’t deem as a threat.

Appear innocuous, change their perspectives. Additionally, mindfulness helps us from reacting in a way that either justifies their (incredibly ignorant) perspective or escalates a situation.

When I hear a racist spout their ignorant beliefs, when I see those Blue Lives Matter flags, I want to beat the hell out of those people. I want to drag them on the ground and curb-stop their faces.

Let me just say that the anger I feel when I’m around those ignorant bigots is intense, but I also know it’s dangerous.

If I act with my reactions, I continue the war, perpetuate hateful ideas, and prove the racists right. However, if I respond in an intentional way I’m much more likely to connect with them and create genuine lasting change.

When I get angry in the face of racism, I use mindfulness practices and ask myself “Is what I want to do a reaction or a response?” If it’s a reaction, I stop myself. Not to be a bigger person (although that’s a good reason), but because it could cost me my life. I’ll say it again because I don’t think people understand how serious that is –

Reacting incorrectly as a hated minority could cost you your life.

That’s the self-preservatory reason to respond rather than react. But there’s another reason too.

People are more likely to positively respond to a response as opposed to a reaction. Most of the time, people will act reasonably with someone who is being reasonable with them. Although, it would require “more reasonableness” to control your reactions in the face of racism. There is a moral and self-preservatory responsibility and in this case, the burden falls on the hated minority. This is why mindfulness is key to fighting racism, we must be aware of what we are even when the world tries to lie.

Pick and Choose Battles

Not every hill is worth dying on. If I stopped to fight every person who’s called me a nigger, I’d never get anything done.

That being said, sometimes it’s worth it to stand up and say something.

Not every hill is worth dying on, but some are.

When choosing to fight, be mindful of the methods I listed off earlier. Respond, don’t react.

Ask questions.

Understand where they’re coming from.

Be an example of excellence.

Find the Humor In It

Dave Chappell is the perfect example of this. He’s taken all of the injustice, ignorance, and evil he’s seen and sublimated it into a beautiful art form.

Pain and the fear of not belonging is at the root of all of these racial jokes.

The jokes aren’t just a way to sublimate the pain. They’re also our best bet in protecting our mental health.

Finding the humor in the darkness keeps things bearable. Being able to laugh in the face of racism, not only makes it easier to not react but also keeps our heads above water. It’s so easy to let anger and fear dominate our minds but if we actively find the humor, we don’t let it win.

Laugh about it. As painful as it is, it’s also absurd and ridiculous and sometimes absurd and ridiculous things are funny.

Allow the Challenge to Make You Better

You must work at least 7x as hard as a white kid to get the same respect, the same chance, the same rewards, everything. It’s unfair, but it’s what is. Accept the challenge, step up to the plate, don’t complain. Complaining just makes you look more like a nigger.

My dad told me that when I was 4 years old. I internalized it and it’s been true for most things in my life. It’s the perspective that fuels my seemingly high levels of conscientiousness.

Being exceptional is a necessity, not an option.

Rather than reject the reality we’re given, it’s much more constructive (and healthy) to accept the challenge and allow it to grow us.

Now, it’s important to not have this spiral out of control and get stuck in a cycle of always trying to prove ourselves. I did that for a long time and it’s exhausting and not sustainable.

Human beings can adapt to extremely uncomfortable environments. We can thrive in seemingly impossible situations. For anyone who doubts this, I highly recommend reading writings from Holocaust survivors, specifically Viktor Frankl and Edith Eger. We can adapt to unfair, unjust, and inhumane conditions and, as Nietzsche would say, it makes us stronger, as long as it doesn’t kill us.

Now I don’t want to make this sound like it easy or that it’s what we’re built for. All I know is that we can adapt if we need to. It’s extremely difficult and even harder to do when under the real-time pressures of racism and bigotry.

I’ve recently found great solace in knowing that our ancestors never gave up, despite enduring more suffering than us modern people, and we have their blood coursing through our veins.

It is up to us to create an environment for other people to feel their feelings without being judged.

We can kill with just our eyes, but we can also love too.

Choose love. Choose unity.

Suffocate the hate. Suffocate the ignorance.

“I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality… I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.”

Martin Luther King Jr (African American Baptist minister and activist)
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Education Lifestyle Productivity

Opponent Processing

“That which does not kill us makes us stronger.”

Friedrich Nietzsche (German Philosopher)

This is an idea I’ve had a hard time researching. Despite my best efforts, I can’t find any “official” research on this phenomenon, but I find it to be worth sharing. After all, just because something hasn’t been peer-reviewed and studied by a university doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist, but that also depends on who you ask.

I’m convinced opponent processing is real in a similar way that Jung was convinced that archetypes are real. There is no scientific evidence that says it is so, but there are many correlations. There is some science that points to opponent processing, but the correlation is not causation.

I say all this just to say verification isn’t always needed.

Sometimes things are what we see.

Take this post, as all my others, with a grain of salt. I am just a man bounded by my myopia, limited experience, and perceptions. But I do believe this is something worth paying attention to.

Essentially, opponent processing is the idea that things become more precise when working against an opposing force.

We can see this pattern in many different places; literature, television, drama, economics, business, medicine, sports, and so many other places.

I believe that this is true partly because we are dynamic creatures that exist in relation to everything around us. Being able to relate to something helps us regulate ourselves and keeps us sane. It’s no surprise that struggling up against what we relate to makes us stronger.

Signs & Correlations

I like the idea of opponent processing because it gives inherent low-level meaning to all forms of struggle and struggle is all around us.

Everything is a struggle and everything is struggling.

But why?

That’s a big question and I’ll never know the answer but I can speculate. Perhaps it’s because they’re better for it in the end; it makes them better.

Sometimes I think that’s my naive optimism, and other times I think not.

We can see signs of opponent processing through examining different parts of life and observing what becomes more precise as a result of the opposing forces.

Humanities

Drama. Literature. Myths. Religious stories. Built into all of them is opponent processing. A struggle, tension, is born and we have to see it through. We see the hero become a better version of themselves after triumphing over their antagonist. This is almost always because they learned some kind of lesson about how to be or act in the face of danger or temptation.


“Life is, in fact, a battle. Evil is insolent and strong; beauty enchanting, but rare; goodness very apt to be weak; folly very apt to be defiant; wickedness to carry the day; imbeciles to be in great places, people of sense in small, and mankind generally unhappy. But the world as it stands is no narrow illusion, no phantasm, no evil dream of the night; we wake up to it, forever and ever; and we can neither forget it nor deny it nor dispense with it.”

Henry James (Theory of Fiction: Hendry James)

We see it in every story we hear. Stories grip us because there’s tension and we have to stick around until we get a release. That’s drama, a series of tension and release. And after those exchanges, the characters learn and grow.

I’ve been taking some screenwriting classes and I was so shocked to discover that characters are simply just their methods of dealing with the obstacles to their intentions. Characters are developed from how they deal with their obstacles.

Character is developed from how we deal with opposition.

We can see the same kind of drama played out in less dramatic ways too. In normal everyday life, people are working up against opposing forces. Sometimes we admire these people, and sometimes we don’t. I assert that the people we admire earn our admiration through becoming better as a result of opponent processing. In other words, we admire people who struggled up against something and came out the other side better and stronger.

Yerkes-Dodson Law

I talk about this idea in my post How to Conquer Test and Performance Anxiety. The Yerkes-Dodson law of arousal points to the idea of opponent processing but doesn’t explicitly prove it’s existence.

Yerkes–Dodson, in a nutshell, asserts that we need a certain amount of stress to work at our best. Too little and we aren’t aroused enough. Too much and we breakdown. But if we get just the right amount, then we’re off to the races.

This fits well with opponent processing, if more precise is considered favorable then a little bit of stress will make things better.

Economically

We can even see opponent processing play out economically. In a free market, competition between businesses keeps prices regulated and enhances quality. Each business forces the other to become better and more refined for the consumer and the community.

One could argue that the competition is doing harm to the businesses, but I would say that they’re just put in a position to grow in a way that they didn’t expect. The business, when dealing with competitors, has to create and innovate ways to deal with the opposing force.

Romantically

We can see this play out in romantic relationships too. In a romantic relationship, each person makes the other better through a struggle of wills. If the relationship is healthy, it resembles a wrestling match where one is constantly contending with the other.

But why would we want to be dealing with our partner like this?

The same reason for everything else, it makes us better people. Providing small amounts of adversarial energy in a relationship helps both people grow.

Let me put it like this, the average person has a fair amount of flaws. Their ways of looking at the world and their methods of decision making can only take them so far and will reach eventual limits. But let’s say this person pairs up with someone else who is also flawed, but they are flawed in different areas. Let’s say they’re even flawed in complementary areas! The man is impatient and the woman is too agreeable. The woman teaches the man to be patient and the man teaches the woman to be assertive.

A healthy romantic relationship is two imperfect people coming together to make each other a little more functional so when they have to raise a child, the child doesn’t have to deal with just the flaws of one parent. The parents act as a proxy for the child to interact with the world and when two people come together the child gets access to a more refined, more precise, version of that proxy.

This is all because of opponent processing. Our relationships need to be a struggle, but like all other forms of opponent processing, too much struggle will break. I think I heard somewhere that the optimal number of positive experiences to have in a relationship is 7/10, where the other 3/10 are negative experiences. That 30% of the time our partner is not going to let us get away with our nonsense and it is up to us to grow.

People love to think the perfect relationship is all rainbows and candy, but the best ones have a little bit of conflict.

Personal Experience

Personally, I find this to be true in my own life. I perform better, my nervous system feels more activated, when I’m working up against something. The most frequent observation I made that supports the idea of opponent processing, is when I’m exercising. I literally feel weaker before I start a workout, but once I introduce a little struggle, I immediately get stronger. It’s like part of me activates once the stress some on.

Additionally, I think opponent processing can go deeper than just physically moving with more precision. It can provide access to more precise ways of acting and thinking. The struggles in my life have made me better. Everything I encounter shapes and molds me in a small way that’s up to my discretion. My studies, work, relationships, responsibilities, duties, hobbies, and passions have all imposed a sort of force that I’ve had to struggle with. And in the struggle, I came out better.

My struggle as a Black man in America has shaped me in a similar way. It’s a significant reason why I was such a high performer in school and why I work so well as a tutor now. The added struggle of having to work harder to get the same reward made things more challenging, but that made me a stronger person. Today, I’m a better problem solver, thinker, and learner than I would be if I wasn’t Black.

We are Anti-Fragile

If I was in charge of the fortunes and misfortunes of my life, I would not have given me what I’ve been through. I would have thought it was too big of a burden and it would break me. The stress would be too much, the unfairness would weigh me down, and I would crumble underneath it all.

But I didn’t. And many other people overcome much more than they believe every day. What people are able to accomplish and endure never ceases to amaze me. Actually, I believe it’s part of the human condition to rise above seemingly impossible conditions.

Why didn’t I break? Why haven’t I broke? How are people overcoming the impossible every day?

American social psychologist and professor, Dr. Jonathan Haidt, talks a bit about this in his book, The Coddling of the American Mind. He points out that American’s are seeing record levels of hospitalizations due to poor mental health and that is, in part, due to the idea that we treat children like they’re made of glass and the world will break them.

He suggests that if we want to build stronger children, then we need to approach child-rearing from the position that they are anti-fragile.

Dr. Nassim Nicholas Taleb wrote an entire book on anti-fragility and defines it as “Things That Gain from Disorder.” We can think of stress as a representation of disorder in our lives. In fact, we get stressed because we find ourselves in the presence of disorder, what is unknown. Haidt asserts that children are antifragile up to a point.

Things that are fragile get weaker when they’re exposed to stress.

Things that are anti-fragile get stronger when they’re exposed to stress.

This falls in line with what Yerkes and Dodson were saying too. When we’re stressed, we can lean into it.

When we want to improve, we just need an opponent.

Words of Warning

We get better through struggle, but the struggle has to match our abilities or we shut down. There was a study done that proved our brains have a limited capacity to deal with opponents and if we push them too far, then the nervous system will shut down and may experience damage.

I’ve said this a few times, but it’s worth emphasizing. Putting on too much stress will not make us better. We aren’t completely invincible. There is a difference between stress that helps us grow and stress that hurts us and it can be tough to tell the difference, especially at first. When I’m dealing with this, I try to ask myself:

“What can I actually do to make this better?”

“What is in my control?”

If I come up with an answer, I focus on that. If I can’t, then the stress is too much and I’ll try to get rid of it ASAP.

A Sweeter Victory

There is something to struggling that reaps a greater reward. Earning something is so much better than just getting it.

Someone told me once that working for something is so much better than buying it. I didn’t understand that for a long time, but I get it now, and as backward as that sounds, it’s true.

Our beds feel so much better when we go out and have a long day. Also, staying in bed all day actually feels pretty shitty. It’s much better to strain ourselves, then allow time for recovery.

When we do difficult things and overcome them, we see ourselves as stronger than we thought and that is a great feeling. Those are some of the feelings we live for.

“The harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly; it is dearness only that gives everything its value. I love the man that can smile in trouble, that can gather strength from distress and grow.”

Thomas Paine (1737 – 1809)

There are many ways we can use this knowledge to make ourselves better. We can lean into the stress a little because it will make us stronger. We can use this knowledge to elevate our positions in society, make us more effective and a positive influence. Providing a healthy amount of oppositional force will grow every one.

It could be as a tutor! The tutor plays the role of the opponent during the tutoring session in order to create more precision with their student, but responsibly. That’s what I do with my students constantly. I like to just ask questions that force them to think a little deeper, especially when they come to overly simplistic conclusions.

We can also do it as a boyfriend, or husband, or friend, or business partner, whoever. We can make ourselves, our loved ones, and our associates better by allowing each other to make each other better, by playing the role of the adversary, the opponent.