Sunday, February 8, 2009

The Ownership of Pain and Suffering

Has this ever happened to you -?

Let's say you experienced something very painful or difficult. Let's use the example of the place you lived in burnt down. You have rebuilt or found a new place, dealt with the insurance company, all sorts of troubles, but now you are ok.
Not too long after, a similar thing happens to someone you know. Except in this case, the damage wasn't as bad. Maybe just one room in their home was damaged or there was water and smoke damage because it happened in the apartment next door. Despite there being only minor damage compared to your situation, this person is very upset and telling everyone how hard a time they are having. This makes you furious inside, because what you went through was worse and you can't believe this person is making such a big deal out of "nothing". It's almost like they're making a farce of what you went through!

But wait, what just happened there?

You just claimed possession of an experience. A bad one at that. You're angry because you believe you own the monopoly on the right to feel bad when a house burns down. What you went through was the WORST in the world and no one else is allowed to feel as bad as you. You may even claim their experience is now invalidating yours somehow. As if it somehow threatens your pain.

Is that what you really want though?

It's important to remember that our egos do some very silly things some times. You may have gotten more attention when you were suffering and you don't want any of that attention turned away. But that's negative attention, for a negative situation. Do you really need that?

It's also important to remember that pain and suffering are relative. We feel things differently, but no person's pain is more or less important than another's. Sure, there are times when we take things out of context and a lot of it has to do with our outlook on life, but we can't and we probably shouldn't try to quantify pain. For some, the death of a family pet would be harder to deal with than the death of a parent. For others it would be the other way around. But it is not for us on the outside to judge.

The most positive and compassionate thing you can do with the experience of your pain is help others when they go through similar trials. Do not say, "you shouldn't feel bad because only one room of your house burnt down, but my whole house burnt down so that's worse!", but rather, "I have an idea of what you're going through, would you like to know what helped me get through it?". You might find your pain diminishes with time. If you share the load with someone else, you're only carrying half. It's that simple :)