The Bright Side Of Pain And Suffering: After Hurt Comes Healing

On a conceptual level, it’s easy to grasp that everyone on this space rock we call home is struggling in their own way. Wherever you live and whatever you do, pain and suffering are universal feelings, and some people’s problems are a lot bigger than others. Understanding that same idea on a real, person-to-person level, however, is something entirely different.

Looking to Others for Perspective

Sometimes it takes a major change in our own lives to understand how others struggle. That was the case for Maggie Lane, who talks about her last day at a cancer treatment center in her essay “Tenderness Follows.” While she certainly didn’t lack for empathy before her debilitating brush with the illness, she describes a feeling that washed over her as she left the center for the last time: Looking at all the people on the street, she writes, she realized that all her problems are nothing compared to what they and others go through.

I can’t imagine getting the call from the radiologist Lane talks about in her post. I absolutely cannot fathom the thought of having a serious, potentially life-threatening illness hanging over my head as I go about my day-to-day affairs and deal with my own mundane issues. Worrying about other people’s problems during a time like that? I’d like to think I would, but I also know it’d be pretty hard with my own pain and suffering looming at the forefront of my mind.

Because of this, I have unending admiration for people who go through life with a smile on their faces while dealing with major complications. I also think that most of us could stand to learn from Maggie’s words and experience.

You’re Not the Only One

Life isn’t a contest, and looking at someone scornfully because they have it easier than you is a counterproductive way of thinking. Feeling empathy only when other people go through worse pain and suffering doesn’t help, either

All of our circumstances are different, and those circumstances make us what we are today. Sometimes, those circumstances lead to problems — some big, and some small. But to the person experiencing them, they’re a big deal, and that’s what makes them important. The person having trouble paying her mortgage might feel fortunate that she isn’t seriously ill, but she’s certainly still worried about keeping her house. I might not view a flat tire as a big deal, but the guy who’s running late for work and already in trouble for attendance — that’s huge to him!

Just like Lane says, everyone suffers. Keeping that in mind as we interact and deal with others — with or without substantial problems of our own — is the kind of thinking everyone can do to help make the world a better place. Don’t save your sympathy for those who “deserve” it. Instead, work it into every interaction, because everyone, regardless of where they’re at or what they’re doing, deserves it.

Image source: Flickr