It is often said that the stock market abhors uncertainty. In other words, investors would rather hear bad news than worry about what the news will be.
We see a corollary for this in life, with people seeking certainty about inherently uncertain things such as their health, job prospects, and family status. Further, we believe this search for certainty is behind much of the pain and conflict in modern life. As one of our readers recently noted, western cultures do not deal well with the certainty of eventual death. As she put it, "When it happens it is 'devastating, tragic, sad, unfair' as if it is not supposed to happen. A fluke rather than a rule."
This, of course, is a relatively new development, tied largely to the dramatic increase in lifespans over the past century or so. Prior to the development of modern medicine, people saw death in much more realistic terms--not only as a certainty, but one about which they could do little (if anything). Thus the widespread appeal of religion, which not only gave people hope (for life after death), but also nurtured the illusion that things happened "for a reason." Getting sick and dying, in short, was seen as a natural part of the ebb and flow of life, with death often greeted as an occasion for rejoicing rather than weeping (as the deceased was in a "better place").
Today, by contrast, we labor under the far more dangerous illusion that we can not only delay but perhaps...someday...if we keep working on it...actually prevent death. Not many people would actually admit to this, of course. But how else can one explain the vast resources we as a society devote to keeping people alive?
Indeed, people are arguably more humane in their treatment of pets than of family members. When a pet gets sick, we are far more likely to "put it out of its misery" rather than desperately attempt to prolong a life we know is drawing to a close. Yet when family members get chronically ill, most of us go into full-scale denial, refusing to accept (or even acknowledge) the ultimate certainty of their mortality.
Thus, while the rapid advance of medicine has certainly benefited society as a whole, it has also instilled the (largely unacknowledged) belief that we can cheat death if we only try harder. (After all, look at all the ways we can prolong life that did not even exist a few decades back!)
The tragedy is that, human nature being what it is, people forget the advances we have made and ask "what have you done for me lately?" They do not, in other words, celebrate the fact that they do not have polio (for example), but rather fret that the lead level in their drinking water may be slightly too high. Or that they must take a daily regimen of expensive pills. Etc, etc, etc.
This is yet another consequence of most people's refusal to accept their own mortality. Rather than viewing illness and death as just another part of life, modern society sees death as the ultimate horror, to be delayed by any means necessary in the (futile) hope that it can ultimately be cheated. The supreme irony, of course, is that in so doing we end up denying ourselves the joy of living in the moment and taking each experience as it comes.
In seeking to cheat death, we unwittingly cheat ourselves of the wonders of life.