Pain and suffering are relative. As REM sang, Everybody Hurts. It helps if we think of ourselves having more in common in these terms than we have differences.
The human conundrum is literally the broken human condition – the ravages of the sinful nature, if you’re a Christian – and just our fallibility, if you’re not.
Pain swarms in many different ways over the lifespan. Suffering is the generalised trauma that engages us all uniquely.
It isn’t much good to anyone to feel guilty for not having suffered enough. Or, for that matter, it doesn’t help to feel guilty that our own prospects or experience of suffering makes it uncomfortable for others to be around us.
But it is understandable in a highly relational life to feel different or inferior to others in certain ways at times. We are constantly comparing, if not consciously, unconsciously. Good signs of maturity are that we would be a threat to nobody and we wouldn’t be threatened by anyone. But none of us will attain anything like perfection in the maturity stakes.
It is normal to experience pain and to suffer.
Whilst some might seem to suffer more than others, much pain is relative, and it’s not as if there are massive divides of experience regarding suffering if we limit our view to a particular culture.
The human experience – the conglomeration of thoughts and feelings of vulnerability, shame, and need of love and acceptance – is inherently common. There are some regional differences; cultural disparities that set us apart, but not so much from our peers.
And our responses to pain and suffering are remarkably similar, even if we take into account wide-ranging moralities. Whilst empathy, as an attribute of personhood, varies a great deal, responses to grief and loss, for instance, are more humanly predictable, except for in the truly pathological person, the narcissist, etc.
When it comes to pain and suffering we have an opportunity; to allow pain and suffering to permeate our experience of living. Not so we are heard whinging and complaining, but that our grief is approachable and that people know it’s not off limits. We need to be free to talk about it, listen to people genuinely, and to allow pain and suffering the latitude of a voice.
Pain and suffering are common to the human experience. Yet, our experiences of pain and suffering are also unique. Both are true. Pain and suffering are sacred, and these experiences are to be wholly respected. This is how we dignify people. No life is a perfect life, yet no life is abysmal.
© 2014 S. J. Wickham.