Nature is adaptive. It's programmed to survive. So as it grows, when it meets an obstacle it simply grows around or through it. Like all those tree roots pushing up sidewalks, flowers growing in unlikely places, and that large and very old vine that absorbed and became one with my neighbor's chain-link fence.
As part of nature, humans are also adaptive. We are also programmed to survive. The past year has felt like nothing but adaptation since the pandemic suddenly and drastically changed absolutely everything everywhere. There are many examples of positive adaptations, like sending as many people as possible home to work and developing a vaccine in record time.
Unfortunately there are also examples of negative adaptations in the face of Covid19, like when masks were turned from lifesaving tools to markers of political affiliation. And this week the Director of the World Health Organization publicly admonished wealthy nations for fighting over their next million vaccine doses when other countries have only been able to secure tens of doses to date.
The respectable intention of national leaders securing inoculation for their citizens seems to be coming at the expense of access for entire other countries. That means whole swaths of humanity remain unable to get out from under the devastating effects of coronavirus. Which means we are all still in danger of Covid spreading and mutating and arriving back on our shores.
And that is just a practical implication, which says nothing of moral or ethical considerations. It is certainly not a new phenomenon for those with means to use those means to secure their own comfort or convenience ahead of or instead of the have-nots. History is littered with examples and the resulting fallout.
To survive an ever-evolving world, it is necessary to grow and change. However, adaptations are often just workarounds. A response to current circumstances without much consideration for long-term planning. So a frequent unintended consequence of adaptation is perpetuation of whatever systems are presently in operation.
I adapted to the particular flavor of my volatile upbringing by developing the survival skill of taking up no space and not rocking the boat. I learned how to anticipate the needs and reactions of my parent and moderated my behavior to accommodate those rhythms. It kept me safe. And it also had far-reaching consequences in my adult life.
I brought those skills into my other relationships and ended up surrounded by emotional vampires. Friends and partners drained my energy, time, and emotional processing power and gave nothing back. The unintended and unfortunate consequence of my childhood survival skill kept me safe, but it didn’t allow me to be healthy.
I continue to see the same perpetuation of unhealthy systems in the way a lot of people are adapting to the increased overall awareness of racism, sexism, ableism, and all the other flavors of oppression and othering in our societal structures. People who intend to make a positive change don a differently shaped badge of superiority, taking every available opportunity to tear down others demonstrating what they deem as insufficient wokeness.
Overcoming oppression by oppressing others won’t work. Just as trying to fulfill the promises of “liberty for all” by taking freedom from others isn’t actually liberation. No matter who you take it from, whether it’s the currently rich and powerful or other lowly folk, if you’re taking it from someone else than it’s just another kind of bondage. In the end, all you have is a workaround; not a real solution.
Rearranging the system leaves us with the very same system, even if you end up differently positioned within that system. Naomi Alderman explores this truth in her compelling novel, The Power. As girls and women all over the world suddenly develop a new physical power that can overcome the strength of any man, the societal power imbalance shifts. The unintended consequences of how that shift is orchestrated are immense and horrifying.
So what are we cultivating as we adapt to the world and the people around us? Is it what we want or are we instead creating an environment where all the unintended consequences will bloom and flourish without our being any the wiser? Are we creating a workaround that enables us to survive in an unhealthy system, or are we growing something new that gets us closer to collective health, peace, and wellbeing?
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Jaydra is a human in-process, working to make the world a better place. Sharing thoughts, feelings, and observations about the human experience.