As a student of life, I am perpetually observing people, situations, and things around me for lesson material. If you look for the patterns and connect the dots, there is always something to learn. Take for example, a comically weird situation that happened yesterday morning. I was heading to an appointment when traffic began to slow down. I glanced out and noticed a skunk in in the oncoming lane pacing back and forth. Cars swerved trying to give the animal a wide birth – either out of fear of hitting it, triggering the stink, or both.
I noticed a man in a SUV pull over to the side, followed by a patrol car. The man opened the door to his car and it seemed as if he was trying to encourage the skunk to get in. Huh? Admittedly, I know next to zero about animal behavior – but inviting a skunk into your car seemed a little reckless. Apparently, the skunk didn’t like the offer either as it did a slip-sliding away under the vehicle. Unfortunately, I was obliged to give up my ringside seat when traffic moved.
On way back home, I drove past by the scene of the fiasco, but things had cleared. As I thought about that skunk, I felt it represented certain symbolism. In a metaphysical sense, skunks represent defense, prudence, and effectiveness. In life, we associate them with a bad odor, and just as in life stinky situations have a way of showing up. Though they’re sometimes uninvited, like the guy in the SUV, we often open our door and encourage them to step in.
For clarity sake, there is a chasm of difference between a “stinky” situation or drama, and a tragedy of nature. Tragedies of nature occur in every life: loss of a loved one, illness, serious accident, calamity – situations that collide with our lives and cause us to change through our response. They are beyond our control. We are blindsided, often losing our bearings as we suffer through these great challenges. Tragedies suck the very lifeforce from us. We navigate through by thoughts and prayers for recovery bringing forth hope, faith, and sometimes a reprioritization of life.
Dramas, like stinky situations are usually self-induced by amplifying an event and giving an invitation (read: drama queen/king). That idiom from the 16th century “making a mountain out of a molehill” is just as relevant today as it was more than 450 years ago. More than gossip, stirring the pot, blowing things out of proportion, or going into emotional overdrive, drama produces a physiological arousal. “Drama causes the pituitary gland and hypothalamus to secrete endorphins, which are the pain-suppressing and pleasure-inducing compounds, which heroin and other opiates mimic.” Wow! While the situation itself may be benign, the drama we associate with it can become serious. So much so – we can develop an addiction.
Sometimes we need little dramas that simulate tragedies of nature. Through juxtaposition, they provide perspective by allowing us to experience sadness against happiness, wellness and illness, calm against turmoil, lose versus gain. But, moderated drama is akin to one drink versus full blown alcoholism. It’s a self-governing mechanism that says, “Okay, enough. Step away from the bar.” In addition to our individual addiction to drama – we are collectively addicted. We’re fixated with non-stop news, social media tragedies, and things that stir-up the pot.
I recently came across a class action lawsuit against the Ferrara Candy Company. The lawsuit alleged that Ferrara packaged its boxed candy products in oversized packaging with nonfunctional empty space and settled for $2.5 million (Note: I kid you not). With participants who do not have proof of purchase receiving a maximum refund of $7.50 – it’s easy to understand why lawyers would want to create the drama. But why would any individual? Imagine, the lawsuit gives parties to the suit the opportunity to appear in court to object to the settlement and/or speak up about it. Really? While I could go off on a tangent about our judicial system, I’ll save that for another day. I couldn’t imagine walking into a court room, standing straight faced in front of a judge, and protest about my candy box being filled with too much air. Could you?
Some might say this is just an example of people with too much time on their hands. Perhaps. Yet as part of a greater pattern, it may express our need for drama because those released endorphins make us feel alive. We somehow ascribe having a purpose by participating in a nuisance lawsuit. Even as a kid, I knew there was air in the box. Isn’t the candy sold by weight and not by volume? If those lawyers wanted a meaningful lawsuit – heck, think about how many of us lost fillings, crowns, or caps chewing on delicious Jujyfruits®, Jujubes®, or RedHots®? Sorry, I digress.
I used to think that one of my father’s favorite expressions, “I’ll give you something to cry about” was designed to toughen me up. Like the suffering I was experiencing was enough punishment. In retrospect, I don’t think that was what he was trying to tell me. In his own street-wise way he was letting me know that inviting drama was a slippery slope. Because when the tragedies of nature come – all the other so-called dramas will become meaningless.
So, where does this meandering dialog take us? To ponder when and why we need to create drama. If drama produces a high, I’d submit volunteering and getting outside of our heads induces an even greater high and the perspective check we often need. When we feel the need to create mountains from molehills, crave a desire to worry, or expend energy on nonsense – volunteering will cure you of what ails you and give you that same sense of purpose. As I think back to the guy in the SUV – I’d like to think he wasn’t inviting the trouble in, but simply trying to help that poor skunk out.