We all know the scene.
As I write this I am sitting in a Starbucks. I am debating to myself whether or not the quality of the internet and the availability of elbow space and electricity sockets really does make up for the fact that the coffee in the small privately owned café across the street is in my opinion of a far greater quality.
The people walking past in the street to whom I find myself throwing a glance from time to time are going about their lives in a manner typical of 2016 Ireland.
Humans of all ages, socioeconomic backgrounds, race, and nationality are getting on with each other in peace. They are cooperating in accordance with both the obvious written laws such as not taking that which is not yours and the unwritten ones such as the gentlemanly expectation to briefly stop and help a young mother carry her babies’ pram up a set of steps with no payment other than a genuinely appreciative smile accompanied by a thanks/thank you/cheers/sound or other locally appropriate synonym. While I am writing this using a Microsoft Office package and on a MacBook Pro, the man to my left is studying case law for what I assume are upcoming exams in the local university and the man to my right is frequently giggling as he watches Netflix on his I-pad.
Life is good here. In fact, I would go so far as to say life here right now is fucking tremendous.
The thought running through my mind is whether or not these conscious objects of my observation really do appreciate how good the circumstances they currently find themselves in, really are. The thought has only occurred to me as up to recently I took all this for granted.
I am a firm believer in living life at extremes.
While I train hard in my physical fitness and martial arts training by relentlessly paying attention to the little details and regularly bringing myself to horrific levels of discomfort and fatigue, I also recover hard by controlling my stress levels and increasingly partake in various forms of meditation and mindfulness practice.
While I pay attention to my macronutrient requirements and the micronutrient content of my diet that is, for the most part, made up of high-quality proteins and veggies, I have no issue with going out from time to time with friends and family and fitting things like ice cream or a few beers into my caloric intake (which in the big picture does fuck all to negatively affect my body comp or health and in fact improves my health in my eyes due to the social experience that accompanies it outweighing any negative physiological impact of the food itself).
While I work hard by putting my focus on the task at hand and hustling to get jobs done, I also socialize hard (for want of a better word) by paying as much attention as possible to my friends and family when I am with them by doing such things as ignoring the allure of my phone drawing my simple ape brain towards the addictive dopamine bursts achieved from the strategically designed notification alerts.
To paraphrase a line I heard from the very clever and inspirational Gary Vaynerchuk, I live my life at extremes and achieve my balance through the net rather than living in mediocrity.
While I have been gradually improving my ability to operate on a day to day basis with this mentality for years; it was not until the last few months however that I started to apply this same viewpoint of operating at extremes towards the appreciation for what I have.
I may not have been born to a wealthy family by western standards, but relative to a vast chunk of the world I have a winning ticket.
The prizes that have been afforded to me through my winnings in the genetic and geographic lotteries have meant that the bottom rungs of Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs have been met. I have food, shelter, clean air, political stability, physical safety, education, affection and appreciation for and from family and friends, and find myself ultimately on a path towards self-actualization at the peak of Maslow's pyramid. It was not until I started listening to a podcast by author, navy seal veteran, Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt and all round inspirational character Jocko Willink on his simply called “Jocko Podcast”: that I realized just how fucking lucky I am.
Regularly listening to Jocko talk about his own personal experiences from war, along with his reading of extracts from books pertaining to the most horrible shit imaginable has afforded me with a whole new outlook on life as the penny finally dropped regarding just how bad life can be for a human.
Throughout my life I have been subjected to the idea of war in movies, documentaries, books, and the news media over and over: sometimes accompanied with negativity but more often than not with ideals of glorification, honor, and justification. I think I simply got numb to the realities of what I was seeing. For some reason unknown to me it was not until I heard this admirably introspective and self-aware former combatant read particularly impactful extracts and talk about his own experiences that the realities of war sunk in. I do not know why this particular content impacted me so much more than any other but it has.
Just a few examples of such horrible descriptions:
In episode 12 he talked about the beyond comprehensible pain and misery experienced by a Scottish soldier at the hands of his captors in “The Forgotten Highlander” by Alistair Urquhart. Such misery includes having to resort to putting maggots on his sores to eat the dead skin so the tissue necrosis did not spread.
In episode 16 he talked about the Rwandan genocide from the perspective of the culprits wielding the machetes in a book called “Machete Season: The Killers in Rwanda Speak” by Jean Hatzfield. The people interviewed for the making of that book, coldly described how they took off their Sunday best clothes and put on their "work" clothes after church to set about hacking up their neighbors and family members with machetes simply due to tribal affiliations.
In episode 18 he talked about the experiences of a Russian Soldier involved in fighting the Chechen rebels from a book called “One Soldier's War” by Arkady Babchenko. In this book, Babchenko details what it was like to be assaulted and beaten by his own comrades while on base and then witness his friends tortured and killed by the enemy out on the battlefield.
Finally in what was in my opinion (and his apparently if you see the tweet below), the most heavy of episodes, he talked about the My Lai massacre from the book "Four Hours in My Lai" by Michael Bilton and Kevin Sim. I will not even try to describe the details of this episode: it needs to be experienced to be understood.
War is fucking shit.
War is up there with only with natural disasters as being the worst thing that can happen to a person. It is at one end of the extreme. The death, destruction, and misery that accompanies it is as bad as life can get.
Looking at the extremes of what is possible in life, if even from a literary and anecdotal perspective, has given me a new lens through which to view everything I have. It took hearing about a Navy Seals’ take on the most disgusting and traumatic shit possible for a person to experience to realize just how good this shitty coffee really is.
IF YOU FIND YOURSELF WITH THE ABILITY AND FREE TIME TO READ THIS ARTICLE, IT MOST LIKELY APPLIES TO YOU.
Don’t get caught focusing on the minutia and missing the big picture of your life. Don’t allow yourself to focus on the seemingly negative aspects of life or worrying about things outside of your control. Don’t get caught up in the bustle of commercial life convincing you that you need to buy ridiculously expensive well-marketed bullshit to serve no purpose other than to feed your ego and insecurities.
There are unfortunately quite a lot of people in society around us with a victim mentality. They give out about not getting this, or not getting that. They feel unlucky and jealous of people they know or even see on reality TV or social media. They blame other people for their failings. They allow life to happen to them rather than happen to it.
Appreciate the fact that simply by pure luck, you are not living in a literal hell on earth.
Next time you find yourself starting to get upset over some person who has said something you didn't like, some celebrity couple break up, some order a waiter messed up, some promotion you didn't get, some "fashionable" shoes you are unable to afford or some other totally insignificant bullshit, use this (potentially) newfound awareness of what is possible to go through as part of the human experience to cultivate true appreciation for the opportunities afforded to you in life because you are not living in hell.
“Know the darkness” – Jocko Willink
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