Tuesday, May 31, 2011

A Personal Revelation about human adaptivity (is that a word?)

I find it unlikely that these thoughts are original amongst professionals in the field of psychology or perhaps anthropology, but just a moment ago, it became an original thought in my head. Original in that I didn't read or hear this, but it occurred to me as I was listening to Stephen King's, "The Waste Lands: The Dark Tower III".

I can't even say precisely what thoughts came together but the gist is this: a small group of travelers finds themselves together in an impossibly unusual and strange place. They are all from different times and one from a completely different place (both geographically and by its nature). Their ability to accept their situation, deal with the issues at hand, and not lose their minds due to the unfathomable difference from the worlds which they are accustomed to is amazing; almost unbelievable.

Another thought almost occurred but was interrupted as I began to focus on the story once more. One of the characters was dreaming and in that dream, he found himself back on the streets of his home town, but certain key players in his life, came to him in roles that made no sense. For example, a powerful drug dealer appeared to him as a pan-handler begging for change (not unlike I encountered every 30 seconds while recently in San Francisco).

That character had already made a mental transition from his previous life to the one in his current waking world and now he was essentially back in that previous life via a dream. I expect the transition was the mental equivalent of living the better part of 30 years with gravity, instantly loosing it and learning to deal without just find, then suddenly being cast back to place with gravity; a feat that should be virtually impossible.

It isn't thought. We (humans) have an absurdly amazing ability to adapt. I came to understand this without realizing it, when I became a United States Marine. Given my upbringing, life as a Marine was nearly as foreign to me as would have been life living as a monk. I was never exposed to the demands, prepared to deal with the conflict, forced to be so insensitive, made to see things through, etc... (this would be another post completely if I really wanted to elaborate). After being discharged from the USMC and "coming back to the civilian world" where so many things were taken for granted, I learned a new respect for war veterans. Even if you consider yourself an "outdoors person", there are things you can't understand until serving in the military; in particular, being trained as a Marine/Soldier, or doing hard time in war. Things like a clean bed, warm shower, clean/soft clothes, comfortable/quiet toilet, a roof, fresh food (even if not great food, just cooked is a luxury).

War veterans can come home from a place where every stranger (someone not in a friendly uniform) might be as ready to bring out a weapon and shoot you as they are to make a phone call to a friend. A place where a private, warm, long shower might be had at most once a month. (I could go on and on)

Yet when they come home, they often go to watch for these dangers out of habit and instead see little more around them than petty conflict between "adults" who might as well be kings/queens/princes/princesses by the standards they've come to know and experience. These people might find their day ruined because someone cut them off in line, their coffee order at Star**** was wrong, their food is a little slow coming to their table at  a favorite restaurant, etc.., etc...

Still, they manage the transition (some need a bit of help, but they do it none the less). They resume life in this world despite their new perspective which makes this a completely foreign place for all they recognize and know in it. Eventually most even thrive because they now have perspective and knowledge that gives them an advantage. They are grateful for the life they have.

For those who don't because their experiences in combat have put images and memories into their mind so grotesque that they hesitate to speak of them, it's not unusual to become homeless because they can't live up to all the expectations of our culture. Expectations that are far too often misplaced and meaningless in their minds. In a mind that understands what really matters and doesn't.

Be in awe of your minds ability to adapt to new and strange surroundings. Be grateful for those who live another life where comfort rarely exists so that you can live your life, where comfort is abundant. Be sympathetic of those who you might otherwise find disdainful, because they've suffered and changed so much that they try to come home and can't find home when it's all around them; people who have literally given away themselves and their life for you (even when they still walk).