Friday, January 20, 2012

Cheer Up: Things Could Be Worse

There's an old Mexican folk tale about a man who was in the midst of lamenting his misfortune of being born with one leg, when he saw a man without any legs at all.

And it is a tragic truth about life, that no matter how bad things seem to go, with a little keen observation, they could be worse. Yet, sometimes this is little consolation.

Broke a leg? You coulda' broke both. Broke both? You coulda broke an arm too. Lost your house? You coulda' lost your job too, and you car. And your wife! Your dog?

My wife is fond of saying "Nadie sabe lo que trae el costal de otros" (no one knows what others carry in their knapsack.) But there is something so human, so bonding in acknowledging the shared suffering of humanity. The metaphor, "everyone carries his own cross", is strangely consoling. At least, we're not in this alone.

No one escapes suffering. We are all "in the same boat." when it comes to pain and suffering, and it is prudent not too complain too much, and try to endure what is "given" (though we may well be resonsible for much of our suffering by the stupid choices we make). Walk a mile in my shoes. I'll walk a mile in yours.

 But the human condition is to be trapped inside our own bodies. At best we experience the emotions of "sympathy" and "empathy" that can only minimally suggest what another fellow being is going through. It is imprecise, incomplete.

"I know what you're going through", we console one another with. But do we? How can I know what you feel? How can you know what I feel? We can only guess. I hear people talk about having a "pain threshold", for example, suggesting that one's endurance to pain, may be different from another's, whether it be physical or emotional.

In the end, there is no tool with which to measure human suffering. Yet, in an imperfect human scale, there are plenty of people that appear to have it far worse than me, so I will try not to complain too much. Some suffer because they have too much, others because they don't have enough.

Does it suffice to say then, that in the end, we all suffer a lot and we all suffer "equally" when tallied by some perfect, universal, and cosmic scale? The saints might disagee.

3 comments:

#167 Dad said...

Nicely articulated, Rick.

To answer your question, I don't get the idea that suffering somehow equals itself out in the end for everyone. I think suffering is quite unevenly distributed.

V said...

Great post, Rick. Faulkner wrote his nobel speech about fear following the atomic bomb and for me, it made me think of the types of fears we are living with today. I think fear of suffering is one of the most rampant fears; so great that we allow others to suffer in order to avoid it ourselves. You are right to suspect that we don't experience suffering in the same way; some people will never truly suffer. And some people suffer only within their minds. I believe the path to truth freedom is to free the mind and the spirit will follow. Yes, there is great suffering in the world and we must do all we can to alleiviate as much as we can. At least, that's what I'm trying to do. Healing begins with acknowledging suffering. Not sure if all I've wrote makes sense, just musing on my rapid thoughts!

Rick Rivers said...

Thanks, V. Not sure we can separate physical from emotional suffering. One hurts as much as the other. We can't help from measuring ours to that of others, though and without looking to far find others who have it worse (or so it seems).