We all know bad things happen to even the nicest of people. But how exactly do Humanists cope with stressful situations? Especially since we do not rely on supernatural assistance to help us handle life’s difficulties.
I know a thing or two about struggling with tragedy. Over the years, I have had to deal with a stalking and with the loss of a child. My Humanism helped me cope successfully with both situations.
When faced with a stressful or upsetting situation the first thing most people ask is “why me?” Our answer to this question is “why not me?” People were stunned the other day when Christopher Hitchens said this in an interview about his cancer. But that is honestly how we Humanists answer this question. As one of my friends noted the other day, we find comfort in our insignificance. We know there is nothing special about us that will immunize us from tragedy.
As horrid as this may seem, we Humanists feel it is far better to accept reality then to delude ourselves into thinking we were special and should have been spared. From a Humanist perspective, all believing you are special does is add unnecessary baggage to an already painful situation. We really don’t understand why anyone would do that to themselves.
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The second thing people do when coping with stress is to try to escape from what is happening. This can be a mental escape or a physical escape, but we humans seem to prefer magical escapes. Humanists are not immune to these urges. After all, the idea that we could be magically delivered from our trauma is extremely attractive. Unfortunately, the world doesn’t work that way.
We Humanists accept that there is only one way through what we are going through and that is to get through it. This approach does require you to be rational at a time when your emotions are screaming for relief. It also requires you to accept that it is your responsibility to cope. No one else can do that for you.
We understand why people take comfort in faith in difficult times. We just think that ultimately, it is our responsibility to do the heavy emotional lifting ourselves, and that attempting to take shortcuts through this process will only prolong our pain. That is not something we would rationally choose to do.
Humanists discipline ourselves to confront these sorts of challenges by deciding first and foremost that we will get through it. After all, if we are going to keep on living, we don’t really have a choice. Supernaturalism is unnecessary. Our desire to not only live, but to be happy gives us all the courage we need to confront our problems head on.
Jennifer Hancock, the former executive director for the Humanists of Florida Association and the author of the upcoming book, the Humanist Approach to Happiness, can be found online at www.jen-hancock.com.