The Value of Suffering
My friend Joyce experienced a bout of sciatica last week. The day I found out, I asked her what she needed and rearranged my day so I could take some supplies and medicine to her. I called the next morning to see how she was feeling and realized that lately, when I call it’s to check up on her health – not to say hello or see how she’s doing.
As I digested this information, I thought, what kind of message does that send? I would never want her to think she’s only thought about or valued when she’s not well. Yet, reaching out mostly on those occasions does have that subtext, whether either of us realizes or not.
Our society, as a whole, pays so much more attention to those who suffer than those who express joy. I guess we figure that those who are happy don’t need acknowledgement and love as much as those who aren’t. But what a belief system that sets up. By valuing suffering we say, “This is how to get the expression of love and comfort I want.”
From only reaching out to friends or family when we perceive they’re suffering to companies that market or advertise products and services to make you “feel better,” we are a culture invested in feeling bad. Just watch TV or listen to the radio for an hour. The abundance of ads for medications designed to make us feel better – Ambien, Prozac, Ablify – and fast food places like McDonalds, who pitch crappy, albeit yummy food, prove we are a population starving to feel better. And we buy it, so if only for a moment, we can be comforted by the special sauce sliding down our collective throat.
I still value compassion, but what if we asked ourselves, how can we validate joy? How we can steer a conversation away from suffering and focus instead on ways to find joy and peace in our experiences?
There are so many ways we affirm suffering. From enrolling in others’ drama to focusing on the negative. From talking about how “bad” things are to watching the evening news. We use suffering to bond with each other – author Caroline Myss calls the behavior “woundology” in her book The Anatomy of Spirit.
I want to see all the ways I can affirm joy, growth and faith. Celebrating with a friend when she has an insight that allows her to change a habit. Acknowledging a hurdle overcome. Congratulating someone who has worked hard to stand where she is. Out of the blue. Just because. I think I’ll go call Joyce.