A General Theory of What’s Ailing the Human Race

And how to fix it!

Ben Fathi
11 min readFeb 20, 2024
Kathmandu, Nepal

“In order to change, people need to become aware of their sensations and the way that their bodies interact with the world around them. Physical self-awareness is the first step in releasing the tyranny of the past.” — Bessel van der Kolk. The Body Keeps the Score: Mind, Brain and Body in the Transformation of Trauma.

The root causes of many of my personal ills have become apparent to me as I’ve sat around contemplating my navel for the past few years. Having retired at the tender age of 51, some seven years ago, I’ve had the luxury to embark on a journey of self-discovery and self-healing. Money can’t buy you love but it sure can make life a hell of a lot easier.

I chose to heal myself first so I could hopefully then turn around and help others around me. I’m proud to say I’ve found a community of angels who have helped shepherd me back to — both mental and physical — health and I’m finally in a place where I’ve started giving back to the community around me. I can’t thank them enough and will forever be indebted to them.

The specifics of my personal issues are not relevant here, although I’ve spent plenty of time documenting them on this blog. I list some of the salient points here only to make specific claims later. Please read the next few sentences not as bragging but as a setup for what is about to come, the meat of the post.

I was a high achieving wunderkind since anyone can remember. When I was tested at age five, my parents were told I could go straight to third grade! They “wisely” held me back one year, enrolling me instead in second grade. At age five! I skipped first grade and kept sailing through school, always at the top of my class.

At age fourteen, my adolescence was interrupted by the Iranian revolution. My parents put me on a plane and sent me to the US! On my own! With no host family or even relatives around.

But no matter. Not only did I move to another country by myself at age fourteen, I then proceeded to finish the last three years of high school in less than a year, arriving in college at age 15. Then I received two Bachelor’s degrees in 2.5 years, one in Psychology and another in Computer Science.

And so I started down a very successful 35-year career in the software industry. Yadda yadda yadda and suddenly I was a Microsoft Corporate Vice President at age 41, Senior Vice President at Cisco, Chief Technology Officer of VMware, blah blah blah. I don’t need to list my career accomplishments. In fact, I’ve tried hard to delete them from the internet. Suffice it to say that I was very successful and retired at age 51. And have lived happily ever after.

Good enough summary?

But this is only part of the story. The public facing one. Take a minute and look behind the scenes with me, if you will.

I grew up in an extremely difficult childhood environment. I won’t divulge the details here but let’s just say there was no love anywhere in the household. My older brother, one and a half years my senior, was a bully and added to the hostile home environment. Not only did he terrorize me constantly, he also managed to get into trouble at school on an almost daily basis, bringing on our father’s wrath.

I learned from an early age that I needed to work extra hard to stay out of trouble, to be the best kid, to make everyone proud of me; to not only achieve, but to overachieve. I became the exact opposite of my brother… and it served me well.

I claim this is a common pattern amongst siblings (at least ones who are close to each other in age) as I’ve seen it again and again in discussions with friends and family. The personality of the second child is heavily influenced by the coping styles of the older sibling.

In a household where the first born is an angry rebel, the second born is often a quiet mouse, an introvert, a bookworm. When the first born is a prodigy, the second child often becomes the class clown or an angry rebel, looking for alternate paths to social acceptance and approval.

But my brother’s behavior was also shaped in large part by what happened to me. Imagine being a seven year old struggling in second grade and suddenly your younger brother is acing the same class with ease. Of course you start misbehaving, throwing temper tantrums, trying to find love and attention in all the wrong ways.

Now I show up in a new country, the shackles of home are removed, and I rocket through eight years of schooling in 3.5 years! And never looked back.

But by the end of my career, the incredible amounts of energy I’d been using to suppress feelings and emotions caught up with me. I was tired, I was depressed, I was angry, I had become an Alcoholic, I had severe back and hip pain from decades of extreme sports, I had marital problems, yadda yadda yadda.

Don’t get me wrong. I was at the peak of my career, continuing up that ladder I’d started climbing in childhood. I was getting promoted every year, I had thousands of people reporting to me, and I participated in some amazing software projects in my time. But the mental and physical toll it took on me was huuuuuuuuge, as Donald Trump would say.

I’ve documented some of what has happened to me since retirement in other blog posts: Here, here, here, here, here, here, and elsewhere. The short summary is that I lost thirty pounds in a few months, started biking for three hours a day, spent time traveling and healing, thinking and processing.

Having let go of all the stress and anxiety around me, I finally had a chance to stop, breathe, and think. You might say that’s pretty selfish but, as I said earlier, it’s not until you heal yourself that you can help others. Finally, now, I find myself opening, helping those around me, being a good friend, living life in accordance with my values. It’s done wonders for me. I look and feel twenty years younger than I did just a few years ago. I cherish every minute of every day.

I’m a huge fan of Gabor Mate, the eminent Hungarian-Canadian author, physician, and psychologist. His “Myth of Normal: Trauma, Illness & Healing in a Toxic Culture” is a magnum opus deserving a space on every bed stand. Equally amazing is his book “When the Body Says No: The Cost of Hidden Stress”, a definitive explanation of how stress and anxiety are two of the most important factors in all chronic conditions — be they cancer or diabetes, fibromyalgia or cardio-vascular disease.

Sadly, western medicine has completely missed this point or chosen to willfully ignore it. Your oncologist never asks how your marriage is going nor is the colonoscopy probe ever accompanied by a query about how things are going at work. The “diagnostic” report lists only the number of polyps removed and whether they were cancerous. In other words, it reports on symptoms, not causes. For that, you’d have to dig a little deeper.

Another amazing book in this genre is the deservedly famous “The Body Keeps the Score” by Bessel van der Kolk. Every cell in your body indeed holds information about everything that has ever happened to you. Maybe not in the sense of bits of recognizable data about specific events but in the form of tension, energy, held in the body, captured, kept hostage, until you face the trauma that first introduced it.

I’ve made amazing progress in the last couple of years in using breath work and yoga to methodically release these pockets of energy from my body and the healing has been incredible. They are often, almost always, accompanied by a yawn, a burp, or a sigh — purging in other words.

I often think of the old adage that disease (dis-ease, as in a state of unease) is caused by miasmas, literally “unhealthy vapors”, every time I let go another burp or yawn. Those guys knew what they were talking about. And as I release the tension, the energy, and the trapped air, for the first time ever, I find my body is actually rested, pain-free, in homeostasis.

What I realized slowly after retiring was that I had been in a state of full alert, of hypersensitivity, for as long as I could remember. This had become my normal mode of being, so much so that I didn’t even realize it wasn’t “normal”. People would constantly point out that my shoulders were hunched up, as if I was shivering from the cold. In fact, the explanation was much simpler. I was always in a constant state of hyper-alertness without even realizing it. Since childhood.

The first time I noticed there was something amiss was when my daughter asked: “Dad, why are you always so intense?!” This at age fifty! Oh, you mean I’m not supposed to constantly be chomping at the bit? You mean the world around me is actually safe and I can trust the universe and just let go and rest? What does that feel like?

It was only after I’d experienced silence of the mind and peace of the body that I realized what a “normal” human is supposed to feel like. The reality is that homo sapiens did not evolve to live in such a constant state of alertness. The primate body has evolved, over millennia, to engage in short bouts of intense anxiety followed by long stretches of rest.

Think about the hunter gatherer hunting a gazelle for half an hour and then spending the rest of the day sitting around the campfire with friends and family, enjoying a meal and a conversation. I know this is a somewhat idealized picture of prehistory but it has been shown that it still holds true for modern day hunter gatherers who spend an average of four hours a day foraging or hunting and twenty hours resting. Compare that to the modern human and you see my point. Now multiply it by a few billion, rinse and repeat.

So what’s ailing the human race? What’s causing the high rate of cancer and diabetes, the war in Ukraine, the slaughter of innocents in the middle east (on both sides), the politics of hate, depression, ADHD, PTSD, child abuse, rape, and yes, even climate change, and the myriad other diseases we struggle with every day, both intra- and inter-personally?

The root problem is that Western society and Western philosophy are selfish at center, choosing to elevate individualism above community. Me, myself, and my shadow are more important than anything or anyone else that gets in the way. In our headlong rush to “civilization”, we’ve forgotten how to love each other, how to engage in community, how to just be. It’s that simple.

If my parents had loved my brother, he wouldn’t have become a bully. If they’d shown me some love, I wouldn’t have felt compelled to overachieve. I would have been nicer to those around me instead of running around like a chicken with his head cut off attempting ever higher accomplishments at the cost of relationships.

If Joe’s dad didn’t beat him with a belt every day and chose instead to sit down and play a game with him, he wouldn’t have ended up hitting the bottle. If Jane’s husband had loved her, she wouldn’t have gone looking for love in all the wrong places. This is not about placing blame, it’s about acknowledging and then forgiving — ourselves and others — for the mistakes of the past. It’s only by breaking this cycle of pain and trauma, by intentionally starting to love those around us, that we can hope to heal our existential wounds.

“Let go of everything that’s not love.” — Beautiful advice from a friend.

“We’re all sent to a family who can help teach us how to achieve our mission: sometimes by showing us skills we should emulate and sometimes by teaching us the exact opposite, how *not* to behave. And sometimes all we learn in this lifetime are skills we need in the next one.” — Advice from another friend. What can I say? I have amazing friends.

“Nevertheless, an iron rule exists in genetic social evolution. It is that selfish individuals beat altruistic individuals, while groups of altruists beat groups of selfish individuals.” — Edward O. Wilson. The Social Conquest of Earth.

Author’s note: I’ve deleted all my social media accounts (except for Medium) and now depend exclusively on the kindness of strangers to pass the word around about my blog posts. Please share this post with others if you liked it. Thank you.

And now, Nina Simone’s “Isn’t it a pity” in its entirety because there’s nothing else to be said. But don’t read it. Go listen to it. Please.

Isn’t it a pity
You don’t know what I’m talking about yet
But I’m gonna tell you soon
It’s a pity
Isn’t it a pity
Isn’t it a shame
Yes, how we break each other’s hearts
And cause each other pain
How we take each other’s love
Without thinking anymore
Forgetting to give back
Forgetting to remember
Just forgetting and no thank you
Isn’t it a pity
Some things take so long
But how do I explain
Why not too many people can see
That we are all just the same
We’re all guilty
Because of all the tears
Our eyes just can’t hope to see
But I don’t think it’s applicable to me
The beauty that surrounds them
Child, isn’t it a pity
How we break each other’s hearts
And cause each other pain
How we take each other’s love
The most precious thing
Without thinking anymore
Forgetting to give back
Forgetting to keep open our door
Isn’t it a pity
Isn’t it a pity
Some things take so long
But how do I explain
Isn’t it a pity
Why not too many people
Can see we’re all the same
Because we cry so much
Our eyes can’t, can’t hope to see
That’s not quite true
The beauty that surrounds them
Maybe that’s why we cry
God, isn’t it a pity
Lord knows it’s a pity
Mankind has been so programmed
That they don’t care about nothin’
That has to do with care
How we take each other’s love
The most precious thing
Without thinking anymore
Forgetting to give back
Forgetting to keep open the door
But I understand some things take so long
But how do I explain
Why not too many people
Can see we’re just the same
And because of all their tears
Their eyes can’t hope to see
The beauty that surrounds them
God, isn’t it a pity
The beauty that surrounds them
It’s a pity
We take each other’s love
Just take it for granted
While not thinking anymore
We give each other pain
And we shut every door
We take each other’s minds
And we’re capable to take each other’s souls
We do it every day
Just to reach some financial goal
Lord, isn’t it a pity, my God
Isn’t it a pity, my God
And so unnecessary
Just a little time, a little care
A little note written in the air
Just the little thank you
We just forget to give back
’Cause we’re moving too fast
Moving too fast
Forgetting to give back
But some things take so long
And I cannot explain
The beauty that surrounds us
And we don’t see it
We think things are just the same
We’ve been programmed that way
Isn’t it a pity
If you want to feel sorry
Isn’t it a pity
Isn’t it a pity
The beauty sets the beauty that surrounds us
Because of all our tears
Our eyes can’t hope to see
Maybe one day at least I’ll see me
And just concentrate on givin’, givin’, givin’, givin’
And ’til that day
Mankind don’t stand a chance
Don’t know nothin’ about romance
Everything is plastic
Isn’t it a pity
My God



Ben Fathi

Former {CTO at VMware, VP at Microsoft, SVP at Cisco, Head of Eng & Cloud Ops at Cloudflare}. Recovering distance runner, avid cyclist, newly minted grandpa.