Stress has certainly become a buzz word relating to just about anything in life that appears to give us difficulty. For many in our current culture, who find ordinary life issues falling into patterns that either thwart or block their efforts to make life run smoothly and easily, they tend to view their difficulty as being stressful. Then what's the difference between stress & challenge? In this contemporary instant gratification society stress has become the catchall label applied to whatever doesn’t come easily according to our expected preferences.
Granted, our world is moving faster now than a generation ago having intensified personal and social pressures and creating the perspective that life is more difficult now than it used to be. However, we can’t completely blame changing external circumstances for the difficulty we perceive. The slow introduction of expected instant gratification to our culture has cast adrift qualities that were present when things weren’t instantly gratified and while we also accepted the premise that we would have to work toward the things that we wanted. With that earlier perspective also stood the learned qualities of patience, tenacity and the acceptance that some things actually require time and effort to bring to fruition. With the advent of instant gratification all of these qualities appear to have fallen by the wayside, especially when we list what we feel is required of us for our personal accomplishments. What is even more unfortunate is that they appear to have been forgotten by many parents and are no longer taught to the younger generations. With the younger generations, and some adults, instant gratification has regrettably metastasized into entitlement. And as entitlement has gained a foothold, we also find that we are also losing the learning manners and compassion. Granted, they are, or were, also taught but seem to have also been forgotten. So now, as we concurrently focus on what we feel is stressful, we have either forgotten or come to ignore patience, tenacity, manners and the need for compassion as they have been prioritized to the bottom of the list, if considered at all, all in the name of battling stress. At this point I also have to say that stress should not be used a valid excuse to be rude. Before the encroachment of instant gratification and entitlement, patience, tenacity and acceptance were strong component representatives of an important perspective and quality we considered in our approaching life; namely, challenge. So, what has changed that has made such a big difference between what we label as stress and what we label as challenge? Aren’t they the same dynamic but just with a different label? I believe that they are. The difference is in why we approach the issues differently that their label has been applied to. Let me explain.
There is a very strong movement toward spirituality in our current culture. I feel that it is a reaction to our overemphasis on our physical comfort and survival as our perceived outside pressures have led us to focus more on tangible issues than our emotional well-being. Granted that our emotional well-being has a lot to do with how we fare in our physical world but I also believe that it has become a casualty as have our other inner qualities lost through the advent of stress having morphed into entitlement. The point I’d like to make here is that the over-emphasis on tangible issues has over-emphasized the importance of how we allow the external world to influence us. There should be a balance between the inner and outer issues for us to find peace. This emphasis intensifies our belief that the world has much more of an effect on what we can or can’t do or be in our daily lives. As our belief switches to the premise that the world determines our fate, we slowly move into the perception that our efforts are controlled by external circumstances. This can create a growing and persistent feeling of helplessness leading to depression. Both are symptomatic of constricting or even halting our energy flow. This brings us to the historical definition of stress dating all the way back to the 1300s. Explaining stress as a verb it’s quoted as “to subject someone to force or compulsion” and “to draw tight” and as a noun it’s quoted as portraying “hardship, adversity, force, pressure, narrowness and oppression.” We can plainly see that all these definitions relate to our reacting to outside forces.
There are many factors, most of them aforementioned, that would lead us to assume this perspective, where one, least of which, is not being encouraged to trust our own judgment in our child rearing years. I believe that as the younger generations have been raised to primarily focus on conformity, obedience, restricting their expressiveness and attending to the welfare of others over their own personal well-being that we have, effectively, sabotaged our youth and ourselves through neglecting to apply encouragement at crucial points in their development.
When children receive encouragement, they no longer see what life presents them with as an immutable fate but something that they have the power to work at changing if not completely overcome. If we are not given the opportunity to at least test and confirm our own effectiveness in changing the world and adjusting it to fit our own comfort level we are left only with a confirmed belief that we have no personal power and that the world controls every aspect of our fate in our daily lives. Without encouragement we are beaten before we begin. Challenge is defined in the 14th century as an “act of laying claim to something,” a “calling to fight” and “one who challenges another in a contest.” If we have no confidence in ourselves, no trust in our abilities stemming from discouraged childhood efforts and no belief that we can change our personal circumstances, what hope do we have of moving past the perception that the world determines our fate? This is the essence of challenge; that we have the ability to contend, that we have the self-confidence built on tested and encouraged childhood efforts and that others in the world are no better or worse, no more deserving or undeserving, no more capable or incapable than we are. This is the major difference how and why we differentiate between stress and challenge. Stress says we are hopelessly bound by what the external world presents us and challenge says we can change most anything we put our minds to. The first is bred through discouragement and imparting a fatalistic attitude to our children and the other is bred through parental encouragement and the allowance and encouragement of confident self-testing.
Whether we realize it or not we have done ourselves a terrible disservice by giving so much power and permission to the outside world to determine our individual fates and well-being. Is it any wonder that the spirituality movement has taken on such momentum against the emotional oppression that we feel under the wheels of the modern machine? There are a plethora of books, programs and videos instructing us on how to overcome overwhelming odds but if we are devoid of the hope that comes from encouragement, we will remain dead in the water despite all the ingenious methods available to us. So, where do we begin? First we begin by encouraging each other of us to follow our dreams and to understand and accept the fact that it takes time and effort to mold our own world into a place where we can find peace and comfort. But the most important place is in the hearts and minds of our children who need to feel that they can and that they are allowed to change their world. This can only be accomplished by giving them hope through encouraging them and cheering them on to actively work at changing their world into their vision of peace and prosperity and of not burdening them with our belief that they can do no better than we have. Overprotecting them and buying them off of putting in the effort is the worst thing that we can do. We have to let them scrape their knees and fall down a few times while we still cheer them on and urge them on with the confidence we have in them. If we believe in them, they will come to believe in themselves. Then they will see life as a challenge not as a fated dead end as many of us have allowed ourselves to accept.