Lent II: A brief anatomie of Stress

In the interests of fairness and plagiarism (hey, it’s my work here), I wrote this as a comment on my dear friend Jane’s blog, Acts of Hope. She talked about renouncing stress for the Lenten season and I had a problem. Well, so what else is new?–so my reply is reprinted here with edits.


Lent is also the time to speak what you feel in order to free up the breathing apparatus and the damaged soul. Therefore:

Welcome to the culture of murder.

Many of us who have labored in unrewarding vineyards for years know this as a truth. Stress kills. I believe it is intended to do so. It is the human perversion of instinct and reactions to threat. It is threat in the name of control. It exists to thin whatever herd there is.

David Mamet did not tell lies in Glengarry Glen Ross about the corrosive effect of a culture of Gimme and Fuck You. Nor did Joseph Heller make up stories when he presented an ad agency in Something Happened where the boss reveled in seeing his employess bent over with fear from spastic colons. Fear, you understand, increases your precious Productivity before it causes a fatal heart attack at age 45.

This is not a new idea. The first Roman Catholic Archbishop of New York, “Dagger John” Hughes, said of his priests “I won’t have any men in my diocese who I can’t control!”

At least he was honest. Really.

Stress is not a God-given attribute of the human spirit. Fear, however, may very well be: and the corporate principalities of business, education, and the Church are goads to push us to and then beyond our limits by playing to the flight/fight response that is the human animal’s (or animal animal’s) response to what we call fear.

Stress can be manufactured from fear if it’s done in controlled doses. This is most purely visible in commission sales jobs but you can find it in any total environment: the aforementioned Church, academe, or business. Sales personnel are pushed unmercifully to “produce,” meet quotas, forced to adhere to rules of administrative happy horseshit. Faculty are held to the publication fetish. Even non-tenured faculty live and die by their student evaluations, effectively a popularity contest and only secondarily a judgment about whether they learned anything.

Instead of revolting against our environments, usually because we’re “mindful” of economic motives, we shut up and internalize our distress. We look down on ourselves as cowards and prostitutes who “do it for the money” (it’s not really a lie), and we turn against ourselves via the aforementioned spastic colons, insomnia, alcohol and drug addiction, sexual rampages (as long as an orgasm lasts you’re not worrying about your next car payment), spending money we don’t have, and temper tantrums that hit the people nearest to us because we can’t tell our bosses to go screw themselves (can we)?

I don’t believe anyone but ourselves cares a damn about our relationships, either to God or to other people. All that matters to the stress-maker is that you grab the oar and keep pulling. And it’s always Ramming Speed.

I know: breathe. That’s not a choice, it’s autonomic. What about the choices we can actually make?

Welcome to Lent, then. Again.

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