OUR TURN: The lost art of suffering
I hate it when bad things happen.
There I am, minding my own business, with all my plans for how life should be, and then — WHAM — something unexpected intrudes into my life and throws me off track.
As annoying as this can be, I've come to realize something: These intrusions are a part of life, they are not abnormal, and I really should learn to expect them.
I don't like that idea one bit. It's uncomfortable. It means I can't blame my problems on life's inconveniences and disasters. It means the real problem is in my own expectations. And It means I need to change rather than expecting life or reality to change to accommodate me.
I suppose it also means I'm rather spoiled, as we all are. We have it too easy. We're too used to not only having everything we need, but also getting everything we want. All too often we don't anticipate trouble and difficulties and we think something is wrong when we do encounter them.
It wasn't always that way. For most of the history of mankind, people have had to struggle just to survive — not the kind of survival where you are trying to keep up with your neighbors and get all the things you think you deserve, but the kind where you are trying to get enough food and shelter to literally stay alive. Just a little over a hundred years ago, pioneers faced death regularly from starvation, weather, disease and attacks. Suffering and setbacks were a part of life and were expected.
In modern times, we tend to think that we have conquered all these troubles. It's true, we have made life much safer and more certain, but we are also deceiving ourselves if we think nothing bad should ever happen.
Like it or not, there will always be difficulties, disasters and death. Life isn't perfect and never will be. You can either accept it and move on, or fight it and try to live in a fantasy world that doesn't exist.
The problem is, those who live in that fantasy world can be dangerous. When they buy into that idea that life should never have any suffering or difficulty, they become unable to cope when it inevitably occurs. Then they snap and even more bad things happen.
Our response to tragedy and misfortune is also important. Not only do we need to understand that bad things will happen, we also need to learn that sometimes there isn't really anything you can do about it. But the idea that we should just accept any kind of injustice, suffering, or accident as part of life without taking some action is becoming foreign to us. We always want to do something, such as pass a law, build something, ban something, blame someone or regulate more.
But this idea can also be dangerous. Rushing to blame ignores the fact that sometimes bad things just happen and no one is really to blame. It ignores that fact that we all make mistakes. If we constantly try to sue, convict, unnecessarily regulate or make someone pay, it just hurts us all in the long run.
Dealing well with suffering and pain is becoming a lost art, one that older people may need to relearn, and one that we need to teach to kids when they are young. Rather than shielding them, we need to let them fail and experience suffering, while teaching them that it is a normal part of life.
There will always be accidents, tragedy and misfortune. But ultimately (we hope), the good will outweigh the bad and we can have a good life even if there is some pain and suffering.