This Sunday we are considering the issue, How to deal with worries.
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How to deal with worries
A discussion on worries can easily spiral into a group therapy session;
it might even end up such a session anyway. This is probably due to the
inherent nature of psychological problems and philosophy.
Psychology deals with the here and now whereas philosophy is more long
term and certainly not in a hurry to fix things. And since the task of
dealing with worries has more or less been shifted to psychology instead
of traditions, family, or religion this had put the pressure on
psychology to fix human beings at the cost of understanding them.
Psychology seems to have become like a disposable razor or lipstick
tube: quick, functional, accessible and affordable, but a short term
fix. What I want to suggest is that although the subject of worry does
not appear as an important issue in philosophy (analytical) it is still
a valid subject for philosophy.
What do we mean by worries? This question should not be confused with
the functional question, what should we worry about? For example, we all
worry about something or other in our life. Career prospects, finances,
our partner, health, our family, the weather, our pet gerbil, global
warming and so on. However, we are first interested in what sort of
activity is worry?
An activity, for our purpose can be both active and passive. We can be
actively worried about something by doing things related to that problem
or issue. For example, I can be worried about my partner having to drive
under difficult conditions, so I try and enquire how my partner is doing
by check the traffic and weather web sites to find out how dangerous the
roads are. Or even trying calling her. On the other hand, I might be
passively worried about say global warming, but still buy goods that are
made in a country or by a company that is a high polluter of the
Do passive worries have a place in our discussion? And are they really
worries instead of concerns, preoccupations, interests, an indulgence,
and so on? They may or may not have a place in our agenda, but they
certainly play a role in the person who has these worries. In which
case, maybe, we shouldn't dismiss them out of hand; certainly not
without an argument.
Then, of course, there is the issue that someone's passive worry can be
someone else's active worry, and vice versa. Which is quite an
interesting, if not serious side issue. Is there some test we can employ
or criteria we can establish to objectively decide if an issue is worth
I am inclined to think not, but that there are some issues that we all
seem to worry about. I will also try to show later that not all is lost.
Any reasonable person would worry about the state of their partner. But
we might argue that a reasonable person is not obliged, feel compelled
or moved to worry about the environment. One can take the line that
anyone who is alive today will be dead in two hundred years time; and
anyone who will be alive in two hundred years time has not been born
yet. So why worry? And if one does not have children of one's one the
issue might, at face value, seem academic.
Furthermore, we mustn't confuse the psychological state of passive
worries and the moral implications of what we are worrying about. Of
course, one can always worry about the moral implications of an issue.
But that does not make that worry a moral issue. Worrying about the
environment because it will affect the quality of life of future
generations, is a different question from whether we are morally obliged
to worry about the quality of life of future generations.
Incidentally, those who insist that we should worry about global warming
because it affects future generations are probably scaremongering, if
not making a handsome profit. Those who insist we keep our street free
from pollution and clean are certainly creating a better environment.
The world is too big a place and too complex a problem for the
individual to comprehend fully in a rational way let alone solve it.
Charity begins at home.
Irrespective of the status of passive worries, I think that what we
should understand by worrying should really apply to active type of
worrying.. Something qualifies as worrying if we are doing something
about it or try to do something about it. This is because worrying is a
very serious activity of a human being, as opposed to an indulgence,
concern and so on.
Why do I say that worrying is a serious activity? Clearly worrying is a
survival activity. If we did not worry we probably wouldn't be motivated
to act in order to solve certain types of problems. I would go so far as
to sat that, what pain is to physiology, worrying is to epistemic
psychology. That is, worrying relates to what we know and what
information we have in order to act to survive or to strategise for our
So worrying is important philosophically because it deals with
information and secondly it is important because it addressing our
future actions or events. What shall I do? and What will happen? are two
very important questions we constantly keep asking ourselves throughout
our life. And although I described worry as relevant to epistemic
psychology, there is more to it than just mental states; worrying, as we
know, has its own physiological implications such as blood pressure,
facial expressions, heart beat etc. And although everything that
concerns the human individual has to somehow manifest itself physically,
worrying originates in the brain/mind and affects the various parts of
the body, whereas pain originates in parts of the body and reach the brain.
As many philosopher and scientists have pointed out these past few
centuries (e.g. Descartes, Spinoza) what affects us physically can and
does affect us psychologically (mental). Important as they are, I won't
concern myself with the physiological implications of worrying. However,
this distinction of origination, brain or body, is very important in
itself and for our philosophical discussion. I have already suggested
that someone's big worry could be someone else's amusement. What is,
therefore important for us, is that this makes worrying a very
How-to and How-to-deal-with are practical types of questions or enquires
(issues). But practical in a rather unconventional sort of meaning. If I
ask someone to tell me how to make a cake I expect a step by step
instruction commentary. And a reasonable person, who is enquiring about
how to make a cake is presumably interested in the cake. Of course, they
might be asking because they want to write a book about cake making, or
maybe to give the recipe to their partner, whatever. But what matters is
the cake. Again, if I ask how should I deal with difficult customers,
what matters is that these types of customers stop being a nuisance. The
end result is a happy customer, or they go somewhere else to be difficult.
However, how to deal with worries, does not fall within, at least, these
two categories. If we stop worrying it does not necessarily follow that
we have also solved the problem that caused us worry in the first place.
The psychological activity and the physiological events that happen to
us when we worry have absolutely no direct causal bearing on the problem
or issue at hand. If I stop worrying about my partner driving under
difficult conditions, or for that matter continue, it does not turn
those difficult conditions to easy conditions for my partner. Secondly,
the chances are that we worry because we cannot see an immediate answer
or solution to our problem. Which probably explains why people end up
using some form of drugs, legal or illegal, to forget rather than solve
problems and worries.
But that might not always work and secondly, sometimes we really do want
to solve the problem, in the same way that sometimes we really do want a
cake. Fortunately for us, some problems are solvable, which means that
some problems we worry about also have an objective component.
Earlier I suggested that a lot of people worry about the same thing,
one's partner, career and so on. This suggests that although we worry
subjectively, there are problems and issues out there that are
independent of our subjective self.
In my opinion this is where the how-to type of enquiry can become
relevant to worries. But instead of asking ourselves: how should we deal
with worrying? (How to deal with worries?) we should endeavour to
discover how to identify problems that we can solve or can be solved.
Then go and solve them or deal with them. What is left is either beyond
our control or only worth worrying about at our leisure. Maybe even with
a glass of sherry and a nice piece of fruit cake.
from Lawrence, Pub Philosophy Group, Sunday meeting: How to deal with
worries + 2 items