Some Things Should be Easy
Struggle is necessary to change ourselves and to change the world. It’s not inherently ennobling or virtuous, though. Not everything worthwhile should be hard-won. Some things should be easy.
Struggle happens against an obstacle. In many cases, that obstacle was erected deliberately. That wall you’re chipping away at with a nail file: who built it? Who handed you such a woefully inadequate tool? Why don’t you have a sledgehammer or, better yet, some dynamite? Struggle is nearly always about power. Those barriers are about keeping that power in the same hands. Some things should be easy. Other people choose to make them hard. They know struggle is a choice too, and that we can opt out. Sometimes we should.
If struggle is about power, then it is necessarily also about relationships. I particularly deplore the notion that interpersonal relationships must be rife with tumult, conflict, and drama before the people involved earn contentment and peace. I hate “struggle love” narratives. It’s easiest to spot in lopsided relationships, where one party is crawling over broken glass and razor blades to win the approval or acceptance of a parent, significant other, friend, or even a co-worker or boss. If you’re not constantly “fighting for the relationship,” you don’t deserve anything positive from it. In some cases, frequent arguments and screaming matches are painted as evidence of “passion.” The willingness to take disrespect is framed as “loyalty.” The expectation to be “ride or die” is a mask for sustained pressure to prevent the other person from setting and enforcing reasonable boundaries. Refusing to accept emotional and other abuse is twisted into a character flaw. The struggle, the battle, the drama are constantly being ginned up, because someone in the relationship is addicted to it all, and they want the other person to be too. “Struggle love” is often about fostering codependency. It’s also about extraction: mining another person of what they don’t want to give freely. This is a toxic mindset that creates unnecessary conflict.
Relationships all have their rough patches, but they shouldn’t be emotional cage matches. It’s all right to make a conscious choice to give up the struggle. It’s all right to go through your days without being riddled with anxiety and feeling like you have to claw and scratch to be respected. It’s all right for your interactions with the people in your life to flow easily most of the time. It’s all right for your relationships to fulfill you and not exhaust you. It’s all right to unplug from the struggle porn and engage with healthier ideals. It’s easier for other people. It can and should be easier for you too.
Romanticizing struggle also has civic and political implications. Freedom is a challenge to power, and it must be curtailed if that power is to be maintained. The more power there is at stake, the more brutal the repression of that freedom becomes. In the words of Frederick Douglass, “Power concedes nothing without a demand.” The demand is never enough, though. There must always be conflict. There must always be struggle. Things that should be easy, like casting a vote in a democracy and surviving a routine traffic stop, are made hard. Where there isn’t a deliberately-constructed, crushing bureaucracy, there are jack boots, truncheons, and bullets. If you manage to jump through the flaming hoops and navigate across the crocodile-filled moat unscathed, you are praised for having struggled and prevailed. That pyrrhic victory is meant to be your reward. There is danger in romanticizing those moments. The manner in which the triumph is framed and presented can normalize the injustice. What should be easy remains difficult and may become even harder.
It’s a tough line to walk: doing the hard thing that should be easy, because you must, while simultaneously trying to dismantle the obstacle course you’re navigating. It’s exhausting and maddening. You can’t ghost or divorce a repressive government or an unjust economic system. A fortunate few can navigate their way to better circumstances, but the overwhelming majority are stuck. Those who think supporting the repression will save them often learn a grim lesson: Unchecked power eventually devours many who shelter in its shadow.
Struggle — personal, political, or otherwise — is necessary. It is nearly always forced on us. Sometimes we can walk away. Sometimes we can’t. I would caution against romanticizing some of those struggles. The rose-colored glasses often mask the truth we should be telling: It shouldn’t be this hard. Some things should be easy. They aren’t because of other people’s selfishness and cruelty.