Death and our growing need for safety
While there aren’t many absolute certainties in this world, there is one thing we know for sure: none of us are getting out of here alive.
Despite a niggling awareness of our eventual but inevitable doom, death remains one of those conversation topics deemed unseemly for polite company. We don’t like to think about it. We don’t like to talk about it. And if we are forced to face the inconvenient reality of our own mortality, the experience is, for most, a terrifying one.
Perhaps we fear death so much because most of us harbour an inherent fear of the unknown. After all, at the moment of our passing, we literally lose everything we have ever consciously experienced. Boom! Gone. All in one fell swoop.
But if this is indeed the case, our stubborn opposition to consciously considering our eventual demise is a proverbial shot in the foot. Avoiding the topic makes it all the more enigmatic. And the more mystery-shrouded bucket-kicking remains, the more alarming it appears.
Interestingly, not all cultures are so deathly afraid of death. The indigenous Torajan people of Indonesia have a fascinating array of rituals in which they partake after a family member shuffles off the mortal coil. Deceased family members often continue to ‘reside’ in the family home for months or even years after their passing. During this time, their living counterparts offer them food, cigarettes, and even take them on outings.
Relative to the Western approach, the Torajans draw a distinctly less distinct line between the concepts of ‘alive’ and ‘dead’. Death, to them, is a part of life. And I can’t help but wonder whether this dampens the associated fear factor.
In contrast, we in the West seem more distraught now at the prospect of passing away than ever before. Throughout the COVID-related pandemonium of the past 2 years, news media and politicians touted every death as a ‘tragedy’, regardless of whether it occurred in a 47-year-old or a 97-year-old.
Now, call me cold-hearted, but I don’t think it’s normal or healthy to view the end of life as a calamitous catastrophe. And I certainly don’t think it should be ignored. On the contrary, I imagine there could be a number of social and psychological perks to each of us tuning in a little more closely to the certitude of our own mortality.
Regular reminders of our own eventual doom might encourage each of us to live a little more fully each day. Periodic prompts that our partners and loved ones won’t be around forever may likewise lead us to truly value and appreciate the time we get with them. Might make us less likely to sweat the small stuff, or yell at our better half for not cutting the bread straight.
None of us expect to live forever. So why are we so distressed when, once again, someone inevitably fails to do so?
It wouldn’t be such an issue if our inbuilt aversion to maker-meeting didn’t have such significant implications for our way of life. But our attempts to defy death mean that we often employ extreme measures to prolong pain and make life-living a safer endeavour.
I would go as far as to say that we as a society have become a bit too preoccupied with the notion of safety.
We helicopter-parent our children to the detriment of their development. We obsessively swab our bodies and environments with alcohol, lest any pathogens be lurking. We deny nursing home residents access to their families in the name of prolonging their lonely existences.
It’s almost as though we are tiptoeing through life with the express purpose of arriving safely at death.
Now don’t get me wrong. I know that safety is pretty fundamental to Maslow’s good ol’ needs hierarchy.
And I’m not saying we should recklessly abandon sensible precautions. Strapping on a helmet or seatbelt is a pretty minor imposition, while failure to do so could be fatal.
But I can’t help but wonder whether maybe there needs to be a more nuanced discussion around the potential consequences of constantly erring on safety’s side.
Originally published at http://flitmusings.wordpress.com on March 18, 2022.