Monday, 2 September 2013

Dealing with meaningless suffering

Nietzsche says that what causes anger and indignation is not suffering but the meaninglessness of suffering. We could endure our suffering if there was a reason for it; for example, the agony of childbirth is accepted (otherwise no woman would give birth!) because it allows new life to enter the world. However the majority of suffering in the world is not causally linked to some good.

To help us endure this world and its “veil of tears” we had to invent gods and an afterlife to find some sort of meaning. The presence of a god is to comfort those who suffer; for example, when something bad happens most people pray to a god, even though, at the very least, this god was passive when the bad thing happened; the desperate need to find meaning in suffering outweighs logic and reason.

The presence of Parkinson’s in my life and the suffering it causes is senseless. There is no reason for the fact I was thrown into the world with a susceptibility to Parkinson’s. I’m not to blame, nobody is to blame, no god is to blame, no thing is to blame; it just is. Looking for meaning when there is none makes suffering meaningless. Engaging with the search and setting up a reason that simply isn’t there leads you nowhere. It is immensely comforting to imagine a benevolent all powerful god or to blame the sufferer for their own suffering in original sin (and thus giving an illusionary sense of control). Yet these things are entirely illogical: god is seemingly without the benevolence or power to stop my suffering and how can you be guilty of original sin when you didn’t ask to be thrown into the world? This is breathing in bad air and coughing uncontrollably.

We all have the freedom and choice to disengage from a meaningless search and look for ways to be alongside our suffering. We also need to learn to live with not knowing the reasons why when there are none; instead focus on the how of suffering and what you can do about it.

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