Saturday, July 6, 2013

Bet My Suffering is Worse than Yours...Or is it?

It's striking how many people don't feel like they aren't allowed to be hurting.

I take 3-6 crisis calls and chats every week at the Suicide Prevention Center in Los Angeles, CA and every week, sometimes multiple times a week, individuals tell me that they don't want to burden me with their problems - even when it's literally my job to listen when I'm on the lines. I hear friends tell me the same thing over and over.

How often I hear people tell me that other people have been through worse - they don't want to complain.

What they mean is they don't feel like they have the right to complain. They don't have the right to feel as if they are suffering.

We see images of emaciated children in Africa and we think, "What right to I have to call anything I experience suffering when I have clothes on my back and some extra belly fat?"

We see images of Jews in concentration camps and we think, "What right to I have to call this suffering if I haven't experienced that level of persecution?"

It's as if suffering were some kind of competition.

As one person who called the Suicide Prevention Center eloquently put it this way, "If someone is happier than I am, does that mean I'm not happy?"

So often people tell a person in very real suffering that their suffering is nothing. That they shouldn't complain. Sometimes even that they are going through nothing compared with themselves. Too often when we try to share the difficulties we are going through who isn't weary of that one person who's just waiting to one up us.

But this kind of thinking simply doesn't make sense.

So what happens when we act like suffering is a competition? Then only one person can win. Only one person - or group of people in the case of the Holocaust - are allowed to win. The rest of the world isn't allowed to suffer.

We belittle the pain of the person trusting us with something very personal and fragile. By belittling their pain instead of trying to understand it, we push them further away, putting them in even more pain.

It can be difficult to understand why a child who has gone through abuse most of their life names the death of their dog is their most traumatic moment, certainly. But when one stops to consider that if their parents, their siblings, their aunts and uncles are there to be safe and welcoming form of love, then a dog becomes the only source of love they can depend on.

Take that away and what do they have?

My suffering will never look like yours and will most certainly never look like that of Elie Wiesel, the author who wrote a memoir about being a victim of the Holocaust.  And if we expect it to then we will miss the truly most important thing about another human being - what hurt them the most deeply.

Suffering is not and will never be a competition. If it were, then even Elie Wiesel could never win. Because even he could never be truly understood.

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