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Opinion | Escapism is not the best way to deal with life's curveballs

By Timothy Mersch
On November 5, 2012

A few years ago, country music singer Kenny Chesney, an artist whom I normally enjoy, came out with a song that troubled me. The song "Reality" is a seemingly harmless song that, I'll admit, is fun to listen to while driving around with the windows down in the summertime.

However, there seems to be an unsettling message that Mr. Chesney conveys to his listeners: escape reality.

While perhaps I'm reading too much into the lyrics, I do think that this message of escapism is a danger that is running rampant not only on college campuses, but also in our society as a whole.

According to Oxford dictionaries, escapism is the tendency to seek distraction and relief from unpleasant realities, especially by seeking entertainment or engaging in fantasy. In other words, it's when people try to distract themselves from the suffering going on in their life with noises and comforts.

Escapism can range anywhere from abusing drugs and alcohol to shutting the rest of the world out and snuggling up alone in your room on a Friday night to watch a TV series. Either of these examples, although the former is much worse for your health, are escapism.

I would however make one exception: the company of friends and family is not escapism.

There is a difference between persons showing comfort and compassion for another's suffering, and the excessive use of things to divert attention away from suffering.

An example of this provision of comfort is the tradition of having a wake when someone passes away to allow friends and relatives to pay their respects for the deceased, as well as show comfort and support for the family.

This behavior begs the questions: Why do we indulge in escapism? What suffering is so great that we feel the need to distract ourselves in diversions and comfort?

I would answer with the statement that almost no situation is worth escaping. Maybe it's the macho-cowboy in me, or maybe it's because I haven't had a very rough life, but I love life, and I think that suffering, although by definition painful, can be beautiful.

How can it be beautiful? Suffering breeds maturity. It makes us wise (we will not touch the hot stove again after we are burned the first time).

It allows us to look at the deeper meanings of life when we ask: Why me? What is this suffering for? Suffering can also bring us closer with those we suffer with.

There's a bond that forms between people when they both have gone through the same suffering together. It's almost an unspoken glimpse into the other person's soul.

Furthermore, escapism is, by definition, temporary.

At some point, we will sober up; at some point, the TV series will be over.

Like a child who runs away from his parents' home, we will eventually have to come back to face the harshness of reality with an increased sensitivity that contrasts reality to the glamour of our daring escape.

On occasion, people can escape for a long time by moving far away, or drowning their sorrows in alcohol, but that just makes the homecoming to reality all the more bitter.

It's best not to jump out of the canoe when we hit the rapids - for that will only mean we have to swim through the rapids to get to our canoe!

Now we zoom out, so to speak, and look at the macrocosm of our culture in general.

It seems like everywhere we turn, people are trying to escape their lives. Whether it's escaping from the monotony of everyday life, or a particular personal suffering, people want to be anywhere but here and now.

We have celebrities who end their marriages after weeks, when the slightest discomfort rears its ugly head, and college students (literally some of the most blessed people in the world, when we think about it) who recreationally take drugs on the weekends to unwind from their class work.

Obviously, this is unhealthy behavior.

I personally take the approach that is that of G. K. Chesterton, who said, "An adventure is only an inconvenience rightly considered. An inconvenience is only an adventure wrongly considered."

I believe that nothing is so bad that good cannot come from it.

I believe in the words of Pope Benedict XVI when he said, "The world promises you comfort, but you were not made for comfort. You were made for greatness!"

I'd rather become great through suffering than spoiled and pampered through escapism. I'd rather face this storm that is life standing up than huddled in the fetal position.

I'd rather say to life, "Bring it on! Give me everything you've got! You may be painful, but my God, you are beautiful!"

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