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Why We NEED to Keep Pushing that Rock Uphill

ckosarek's picture

 I was reading the latest issue of Psychology Today recently and came across an article about a man who haphazardly fell into ultramarathon running. For those of you who don't know, an ultramarathon is a race anywhere from about 30-100 miles long, and, yes, you run it. A podiatrist who ran two miles "to keep in shape" gradually found himself training for marathons and then graduated into runs lasting from 10 PM to 6 AM in preparation for hundred-mile races. 

But enough about this ironman. The article features a subsection called, "Toughen Up: Four keys to handling challenges," which states that people with a trait dubbed "hardiness" are more resilient and have a better general well-being than people who can't adapt to change. The article states that since the world is in a state of constant evolution, then the ones who can adapt to relative inconsistency by finding balance in themselves are perhaps "more fit" than those who lack "hardiness."

In our class discussion today, we seemed to gravitate toward the idea that avoiding stress and change would lead to a more consistent and happier life (wouldn't the residents in Camus' novel agree that they would be happier without the plague?), but it seems that psychological research points in the opposite direction. We might instead have a need to keep pushing out metaphoric rocks uphill in order to be properly prepared and "fit" for the inevitable changes tht occur both independent of and dependent on our own doings.


Sarah Schnellbacher's picture

Ich, der Überlebende (I, the Survivor)


- Bertolt Brecht -

Ich, weiß natürlich : einzig durch Glück.
Habe ich so viele Freunde überlebt. Aber heute nacht im Traum.
Hörte ich diese Freunde von mir sagen : "Die Stärkeren überleben."
Und ich haßte mich.


I know of course; it's simply luck
That I've survived so many friends. But last night in a dream
I heard those friends say of me: "Survival of the fittest"*
And I hated myself.


(This line should say "I heard these friends of mine say 'the stronger survive", I don't quite agree with the translator's interpretation)


In class on Thursday Erin quoted this poem by Bertolt Brecht about the Holocaust. I don't quite agree with the translation of the third line by the translator's use of "those" instead of "these" describing friends and the superlative case in "Survival of the fittest". In the original German only the comparative is used. The original German also implies possesion "Freunde von mir" = "friends of mine" as opposed to address "say of me". These three alterations to the meaning of the poem create a distancing in the English translation that is not present in German and make the poem focus more on Darwinism than the original German suggests. These minor changes to meaning make me think of our discussion in class about why we only study English literature in classes at Bryn Mawr rather than translations when studying the evolution of literature as I feel that Brecht's "Ich, der Uberlebende" ironically is read more in English than in the original German. This aside, Brecht's "Ich, der Uberlebende" serves as a good tie to  Camus's "The Plague". The plague chooses its victims randomly from the citizens of Oran. Although some characters in the play (Othon for example) are changed by the plague, most of the citizens of Oran do not seem to display survivor's guilt and return to their normal lives as soon as the plague ends.

rachelr's picture

Flat, toneless

 Avoiding stress and change may provide a more consistent life, but isn't consistency what humans are always pushing against? Sure there are people who are content going about their daily lives in the same way each and every day (or at least people who resign themselves to such a cycle), but the majority of us go out of our way, out of our means to experience things outside of our personal "norms." We travel, we skydive, we change jobs, we move, we discover, we rise up among the ranks of our kind. To link this back to Generosity, I think that the only way that humanity could survive without the plague would be if we were emotionless. Emotions are our inner connection with our environment, and to me they have a direct relationship: if one were to become flat, the other would fall in kind. Its true that humans do often create our own problems, but I think even that would be impossible without the natural plague that is the stressor for change, for growth, for pain, for joy. 

alexandrakg's picture

Re: Why we need to keep...

 This is a fair point.  By continuing to face up to challenges, people can learn to grow and adapt to change.  If people decide to remain passive and let what happens happen, the situation may worsen and they will be left behind.  If we as human beings do not bother trying to succeed and get through life, then what is the point?  Evolution in a strictly biological sense is to a certain extent out of our control, particularly what has happened in the past, but it is what we choose to do with what we have is what determines our future evolution.  In order to adapt to change, we have to change ourselves.  Those who face many hardships must learn how to be happy with life, no matter what may happen, and perhaps are "better" at it than those whose lives are mostly devoid of struggle.

However, one question I have is, what if there were no stressors?  What if there were no plague-carrying rats, or metaphorical rocks, or famine, disease, natural disasters, etc. and only positive events?  Would humans be happy then, or would they create their own problems to compensate?

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