On the way to work today, traffic was simply dreadful. First, my windows kept fogging up and it was hard to see as I drove through my neighborhood in the dim morning. Then there was the matter of driving through the remnants of accidents and disabled vehicles just after two of the interchanges I drive through on the way to work. Finally, when I had navigated through all of these blockages along my path to work, I arrived at a signaled intersection near my job where the light was disabled and refused to turn after several light cycles, forcing many of us who had been somewhat impatiently waiting at the intersection to make dangerous lane changes and left-hand turns in a state of some choler and frustration. In most of my activities in life, I am a rather tranquil and calm person, but not when I drive alone. I find driving alone to be an immensely stressful experience, especially because I hate barriers to progress in my driving and ordinary life. I like progress, I like to be able to move in the directions I have planned, and I absolutely detest those things that are in the way. I can’t understand why others should have a pleasant and obstacle-free path while my path is lined with difficult barriers and takes far longer than the path of others.
I should note that this frustration at driving consists largely of driving alone. The same sort of traffic faced when driving with others is far less stressful to me, largely because there is pleasant company to spend the time with, making the speed of the journey a less critical matter than it would be otherwise. Nevertheless, I would say that while my frustration when it comes to driving alone is a relatively minor matter in life, it at least touches upon larger and more consistent frustrations in life, and therefore signifies something that is far deeper than it would appear to be at first glance if one only took a superficial look at it. Being a person who is not content to look at things superficially, I tend to analyze what is within and around me, so as to better understand it as well as understand it in the context of a life and of its circumstances.
Earlier this afternoon, a coworker of mine wondered aloud why matters in life tend to happen all things all at once. I know that I tend to have a lot of irons in the fire, so there are always things going on all the time without my notice, simply as a result of living life the way I tend to do. That said, I know I tend to notice when matters are stressful or troubled in a variety of areas of life, and such matters do tend to occur all at once in several seemingly unrelated ways. It is worth at least a brief examination as to why this is the case. There is often some sort of connection that links together seemingly unrelated issues into a larger coherent picture. For example, my frustration at a lack of progress in traffic as well as the sight of seeing others move when I cannot is related to other frustrations when analogous situations occur in other aspects of my life. Presumably, if those larger matters were less frustrating, the minor irritation of traffic would not be such a major concern on a daily basis as a talisman of much more intractable issues that lack any sort of progress towards a desirable end.
While sometimes issues happening at once are related by a common connection in terms of their symbolic significance, at other times issues tend to happen at once because of matters of resources and logistics. For example, in the mid-1990’s, politics in the United States became much more antagonistic and much less friendly than they had been before. For some decades, there had been serious ideological divides and a simmering culture war, but the collegial atmosphere of Congress had not been impacted until that time. What did happen in the mid-1990’s to make matters more serious is the growing feeling of scarcity for resources to bargain over. Whereas the ordinary processes of political corruption had ensured a great deal of political peace in most issues, the growing feeling of austerity (as little as that was reflected in budgets) over shutdowns of military bases and the lack of future bureau of land reclamation projects for dams and reservoirs meant that Congressmen could not deliver the pork back to constituents back home even as larger disputes over the role of government in the financial and health and housing and educational sectors and the concern of long-term financial stability in light of our short-term mindset became more and more serious. Although there were plenty of causes for conflict before this time, the threat to resources and the lack of room to maneuver has made political matters more difficult in government, given that politicians would vastly rather cut deals with each other than squabble, if any better options were available.
Since human beings are social organisms, with an eye to what is going on, often problems will piggyback on other problems. For example, if one group of people is having a particular need addressed by some kind of authorities, that progress will encourage others who have similarly long-term issues that are not being dealt with to make their displeasure more obvious and to be more urgent about their own actions. Though one problem will not directly create another, the recognition that human beings have of their surroundings will influence their behavior to turn a series of somewhat smaller issues into a much larger and more general crisis. An example of this is the fall of the Assyrian Empire, when a beleaguered regime led by the brutal scholar Assurbanipal had to deal with simultaneous threats from rebellious Babylonians and Egyptians as well as expansionistic Medes and Scythians (whose strength had been greatly bolstered by perennially rebellious Israelites). Any one or two of these issues, even with the demographic crisis of the time, could have been dealt with, but all of them happening all at once, Assyria was unable to cope. These crises, moreover, were not accidental, as the various enemies of Assyria were working in collaboration with each other, doing together what each of them were not powerful enough to do alone, topple the greatest power of the Middle East at that time. Within a generation, these simultaneous threats had managed to destroy the Assyrian Empire so completely that later historians doubted its existence as a biblical fable until the ruins of Nineveh were found. Such a disaster may happen again, if we are unwary and unwise.
Let us take comfort in the fact that it is not only bad things that tend to happen all at once, but also good things. We should expect positive matters to cluster for the same reason that negative matters cluster together. Namely, solving one particular aspect of life or resolving one particular weakness or shortcoming can be expected to provide positive results in many areas of life that we may not fully recognize or understand. Likewise, those who wish us well will seek to encourage us and build us up in tandem and enjoy our company just as those who wish us ill will seek to gang up and try to tear us down in a group also. Although we may notice the grouping up of unpleasant occurrences, let us pay attention as well to the aggregation of pleasant situations and occurrences as well, to maintain a sense of balance and optimism in our lives that will give us the resources to roll with the punches and overcome and whatever we have to face in our lives. And if we cannot bear such matters by ourselves, let us find encouraging people to help us with the burdens that we must bear.