The grander quest for human beings has remained steady since the dawn of civilization. No, it is not to be attractive, wealthy, wiser, find meaning, escalate consciousness, and other hedonic pursuits piling up in every waking hour. It is survival—the foundation of evolution, genetic propagation and variation.
“A healthy man has 1,000 wishes,” says Naval Ravikant, “but the sick person has only one.” Guess what? A wish to survive. If we declutter our heap of wishes and all the ‘wants’ that lure us, we will return to the fundamental truth: the unceasing endeavor to ensure our survival. Everything else is subordinate to our will to survive.
My fellow human being, so exasperated scrambling around to find a purpose of his existence, might stumble across my text. His condition will be exacerbated. He wandered with his utmost diligence to find the purpose more elegant, not as trite as survival. He clenches his fists, grits his teeth, and utters, “How can it be? Such a moron.” (Maybe I am foolhardy about our life, yet the answer is ‘survival’, no retreat.)
The ways he nonverbally exhibits defensive response to a possible idea contrary to his own is nothing but a tactic to safeguard himself. My idea is a possible threat to his, and his brain, hard-wired to respond to threat—be it real or imaginative—jumps to actions. Boom! It makes me wonder how we strive to make not only our life but also our beliefs and notions endure.
For our and our species’ survival, we are acquiring and honing survival instincts for ages. Something unknown approaches swiftly towards your face. You bow, clasp your hands around chest, and close your eyes—you freeze. Or, when a lion is chasing you and you’re a brave, armed man, you launch an attack.
You fight to the death, hopefully, of the lion. Or, when you sense the village is going to be ravaged within next ten minutes by a hostile flood, and there remains no resort to patrol your property, you flee to a safe location.
Freeze, fight, and flight are the ages-old survival instincts we inherited from our ancestors and constantly use while facing possible threats. No doubt, we want to survive, unscathed by deathtraps, and we will leave no chances to put our instincts on play instantly. If we were engineered products, our finest mechanical utility would be to survive—and it surely is—whatsoever.
It must not startle us that threats evolve as we bounce forward in civilization. We have, for instance, transitioned into an era where online interactions dominate in-persons. We have social media, so the power to reach and connect with people is enormous than ever. We are exposed—not only to opportunities but also to threats. Since my priority here is survival beforehand prosperity, I will toss perks away and delve into perils alone.
A stranger, out of nowhere, appears in your message box and frequently harasses you. Someone misuses your name and pictures to create pseudo profiles on Facebook. We are exposed to spams, propaganda, racism, fraudsters, con men, and a thousand more threats. Now, we share our work environment with strangers, not to our immediate relatives. Of course, the human spirit has been lifted from barricades of designated forest lands and become more free, explorative, connected to fellow human beings, and seeks more than basic needs.
On the flip-side, we are also prone to dangers like sexual assault and identity theft. Likewise, in the sheer uncertain time amid COVID-19 while education, employment, and most human aspirations are on hold, anxiety and mental illness burden us more than ever. Do we lack skills to navigate through such threats and their consequences? Are our fundamental survival instincts—freeze, fight, and flight—obsolete or inadequate to emerging threats? Maybe, maybe not.
One thing that is sure is that we won’t trump these problems alone. In this mess, we optimally ensure our survival if we turn ourselves to others for the communal effort to eradicate—or at least diminish— the dire consequences of newer threats.
‘Unity’, as our old companion, serves still the best for our survival. We compete, cooperate, celebrate, and mourn in group. So to curb the mental health issues that emerging threats like COVID-19 and social media pose on us we must ask for help from others. Asking, well, is not only for curiosity but also for connection—the sense of belonging.
‘Asking for help’ brings victims in the eyes of experts and concerned authorities. It also disseminates information about newer threats, alerts probable targets, and initiates frameworks to address and avoid such dangers in the future. There have been enormous, though not adequate, contributions from the victims to ignite steps to address such hazards. In several universities, there are psychological counseling departments.
Employers enforce the concept of professional health for their employees. Online and offline help for people with suicidal thoughts have profusely increased. All these wonderful steps began because victims have come forward to report their issues. Concealing mental illness and their possible causes, for instance, will considerably minimize the research, legislation, and preventive measures. The problem becomes more intense and irresistible.
Why has asking for help, however, been such a hassle in the case of mental health issues?
Of course, we are not new in this arena. As social animals, we have preached and practiced the power of unity. No man has left his bruised partner to death on purpose. Neither we are going to do that indecency to our tribe now. The bad news is victims might not always be evident; they might not have a fractured leg or a bleeding nose. This might discourage victim to share their problems with others in the first place.
Sometimes victims themselves might fail to acknowledge their condition. Such facets of mental illness can delay help much needed. But not asking for help is against our survival instinct, and we must not be ignorant, dumb enough to postpone this impulsive action long enough to render our physiology dysfunctional.
Welcoming discourses on mental health issues must not only be prioritized but also mandated in our family and society. In regards to the social fabric of developing nations like Nepal, immediate family members might be illiterate and be ignorant, or indifferent to our concerns of mental health. Retreating is, however, out of choice here. It affects you and also the forthcoming generation. Help is available in some form—though it’s rare. Don’t be silenced by the stigmas.
Mental Illnesses are real. Seek professional help. Reach out to teachers, psychiatrists, seniors, or whoever you feel comfortable to reach and share your concerns. There are people who care because we want to survive and our survival depends in a way or another on the weakest, vulnerable people of our society.
In addition, humans care their weaker members genuinely and selfishly, though it may sound counterintuitive. We build health or justice models based on the vulnerable parts of our society. I read Sapolsky’s essay on how “anatomical research and training” heavily relied on the extracts of bodies of “poor people” from graveyard during the eighteenth century. “And the bodies of the poor were buried, at best, in flimsy coffins or, more often, laid coffinless in shallow mass graves or paupers’ fields—easy picking for the resurrectionists,” writes Sapolsky. “The wealthy, in contrast, were buried in sturdy triple caskets.” This is how we enriched our medical comprehension through the flesh and bones of impoverished people.
Contemporarily, COVID-19 patients also are aiding our health experts and scientists to better understand the nature of the epidemic and physiology of corona virus. There is still a lot to achieve, and one thing is sure that our weaker, vulnerable members will be a great boon in the advancement of our civilization.
When there are not any predisposed ideas and preexisting tools, the power is always in the hand of victims to ignite actions, to lay map for the future. In the current debilitating state of COVID-19, it makes me wonder: who are the victims and what are the actions being implemented or considered?
I peek sometimes at the statistics of the quarantined, infected, and dead. I also wonder about millions of people, like me, isolated at homes. The former ones are obvious victims, and there have been tremendous measures—timely or untimely—to safeguard these victims and break transmission cycles.
Also, huge chunks in the latter troop, social distancing at their homes—assuming they have one—are also victims of growing domestic violence, unemployment, and mental health issues. What are the actions being taken for such victims? Lockdown extension is not one, for sure.
Survival is the prime motive in our current situation as well, but we must acknowledge that virus is not the only one that kills.
— Nischal, Kathmandu
* This is a submitted post *