A luxury of the modern world is that we do not have to be afraid. Fear is a misunderstood emotion (emotions in general are misunderstood, but we can get into that later). Fear is a signal to action, and the fight or flight response is the action that is taken in the brain. Inaction causes stress, or at least hesitant action does. The modern world has taken away many traditional stressors, or, if we prefer to avoid that controversial word, threatening situations. When threatened by a tiger, we either fought back or ran away: simple. A world lacking tigers makes room for other things to “stress” us out. Boss yelling at you? It’s inadvisable to attack them, and running away doesn’t really solve anything, so in response we suck it up. We let it stress us out. Although we have plenty of food, we have a roof over our heads, and typically we have a satisfying relationship, we stress.
When I was in Army I developed a standard for a bad day. At first, a bad day was when something didn’t go as I hoped it would. I’d stress at something not going to plan. In response I learned to be adaptable, and plans became more like sketches than masterpieces. Next, a bad day was failing at a task personally, or disappointing someone or having to cause pain. But even then there was always something to salvage from a failure or a justification or strategic purpose for loss or disappointment. I realized I was dealing with a slowly shrinking set of “bad” situations. The resolution was two fold. First, there is no good or bad, only the same or different, the rest is up to interpretation or extraction. Second, the only things that I would classify as a bad day are: (i) somebody died, (ii) I got yelled at, (iii) I lost a piece of equipment. Those are intentionally very specific. Let’s analyze.
Death is permanent, no doubt about that, and when you spend enough time with the people with whom you work, you take death very personally. Couple that with the moral charge that you care for those that serve under your command, and you take their deaths even more personally. Pretty self-explanatory.
If someone yells at me, I usually fucked up pretty bad. Gone are the Hollywood movie style days of Army where everyone is an asshole to each other. This isn’t boot camp, I’m not on the bottom of the totem pole, and the cultural climate of America is such that yelling at someone for no reason is no longer acceptable or the best way to communicate change. Yelling at someone is rare enough to achieve a purpose: you fucked up and I can no longer contain my emotion to rationally communicate this to you.
Losing equipment in Army is particularly stressful for young officers. Equipment is not just stuff that you use. Equipment can make or break your success and, ultimately, your survival. It’s also fucking expensive. Ruggedized anything is expensive and when you pack 10 years of R&D and top secret tech into a briefcase it tends to be even more so. An officer’s career success is often dictated by how well or poorly he handled command supply discipline (not losing Army property). When shit goes missing, people freak out, and if it really is lost, there’s no making up those career points.
Now that I’ve been out of Army and in the real world a bit, I think I can reassess my standard for a bad day. Someone dying still stands on top, but it typically is only a bad day if that person was in my team or in my circle of influence. And, come to think of it, losing someone is probably it on the list. There isn’t much out there that can force me to objectively call a given day “bad”. If someone yells at me now, I can recognize that my relationship with them is not irreparable. The yelling is a breakdown in communication or the other person’s personality flaw. If it’s the former, we can work to repair communication and form a stronger relationship in the process. If it’s the latter, then fuck ‘em — I can’t be responsible for your poor behavior. Rarely, however, is it the latter. And, last, property discipline and losing shit isn’t the same as it was in Army. I use company supplies and equipment, and I don’t think about stealing it. What a concept. Moreover, my life isn’t dependent on a weapon or vehicle protecting me. And thus, it no longer affects the merit of my day.
There you have it, then, the makings of a bad day are permanent things that negatively affect your life. Negative is relative, and can only be determined by your own preference weighting. Death is the only permanent event, and even then, it is only permanent in the physical sense. Emotionally, mentally, and in history, death is not permanent, but it does change things. The next step is to examine your own preference weights and see if anything is truly bad or good, or if it’s just different. If it’s different, then see if you can wriggle out of it, transform it into something positive, or be a good scientist and complete the scientific process by going back and refining your own hypotheses.
Am I off-mark? Crazy? Rambling? Let me know what you think! I like having conversations and finding common-ground à la Hegel (thesis, antithesis, synthesis). Ask before your react, and let me clarify before your go crazy in the comments.