A Thought On Suffering
The attempted successful or unsuccessful alleviation of all kinds of suffering through work of whatever kind gives purpose and significance to our lives, and suffering often evokes an outpouring of love.
There are two facets to all of human existence. The first constitutes suffering in some form or another, and the second the alleviation, or the attempted unsuccessful alleviation, of that suffering. We are all involved in each, and our involvement in the second facet makes our lives productive, meaningful, creative and satisfying.
If we are deprived of food we endure suffering. Deprivation of shelter or clothing also results in suffering. All of this suffering is alleviated by providers.
Farmers provide us with food. Farming presents many challenges. In meeting them, the farmer gains more than a mere livelihood: farming becomes for him a source of satisfaction and achievement. If we did not need food he would have nothing worthwhile to do. Much the same can be said of those who provide us with shelter and clothing. Our suffering is alleviated and their lives rendered productive and meaningful by the processes and challenges involved in providing for our needs.
Ill-health causes suffering. Here a whole host of providers ranging from nurses to doctors, to pharmaceutical manufacturers, and to hospital administrators, earn a living in alleviating suffering and they often gain eminence, a sense of purpose and profound satisfaction from their work, and particularly from the extent to which they alleviate suffering.
Ignorance is a form of adversity diminishing our ability to earn, function in the world, and sometimes even our ability to survive at all. All of those involved directly or indirectly in education alleviate this kind of suffering. That includes teachers, principals and the writers and publishers of textbooks. There is a need too for ongoing education in coping with life’s challenges, including the important exercise of the vote in modern democracies, since the failure to vote for good governance, like any other failure to cope, causes suffering. This ongoing education is provided by the media and all of those involved directly or indirectly in this field. And in providing their vital service they too earn and also acquire a sense of purpose and satisfaction.
Poverty results in suffering. The creation of wealth alleviates poverty. And so the businessman and all involved in wealth creation, including his employees, assist in alleviating a major source of suffering.
Politicians’ main function is to create the optimal environment for wealth creation. They are influenced by, amongst others, economists, including academic economists, all of whom are involved in the science of wealth creation and, therefore, of alleviating the suffering of poverty.
Injustice causes suffering. If it were not for injustice there would be no need for courts or judges, or attorneys, or advocates, or any of the hosts of people who provide services to sustain our legal system. All of them earn their living and derive fulfillment through the combating of the suffering caused by injustice.
Every natural disaster results in suffering and galvanises heroes: firemen, policemen, doctors, nurses and a whole host of others who rise to the challenges, and grow and attain self-worth in the process. Natural disasters do more than that. They galvanise the stricken as well, who very often rescue their families and others, and rebuild their homes and lives anew with courage and perseverance, growing in the process, and finding purpose in life.
Natural disasters, including damage or destruction of property, death, disability, and ill-health give rise to the business of insurance, including medical aid, and re-insurance, at times even conducted internationally – a business which employs very many people, including highly skilled actuaries, accountants and businessmen, who earn their incomes and, no doubt, derive satisfaction from their careers, all of which would not have occurred had suffering not existed.
The entertainment industry including television, radio, music, literature, newspapers and magazines all address the suffering of boredom and also the suffering of stress. Those involved in religious work alleviate the suffering caused by the emptiness of life without faith.
Love, which alleviates the suffering of loneliness, is the single most powerful force in our lives (1), and suffering, especially acute suffering, often results in a huge outpouring of love, and resultant loving relationships.
So we see that life is a tapestry of suffering and the alleviation, or attempted alleviation, of that suffering, and we see too that our addressing suffering results in our living meaningful, significant, fulfilled and hopefully joyful lives.
Sometimes our world, personal, communal, national, or even international, as is the case with Covid, appears shattered and void of hope. Verse 1 of the first chapter of Genesis tells us: “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth”. Verse 2 says that the earth was “without form and void”. The ensuing verses state that God then proceeded to make our ordered and magnificent world. He was, and is, the ultimate Creator and Craftsman. We are, verse 26 tells us, made in His “image” and “likeness”. And so, when our world is shattered, and becomes “without form and void”, we are called upon to act creatively like Him, and make our world anew. That may be an overwhelming challenge, but one that can, and often is, successfully overcome, leading to growth and fulfilment.