What may suffering in our lives teach us?
It may be that one lesson from the suffering we endure in our lives is that we can feel a certain empathy with others in their own suffering. This empathy ought to lead to compassion. I say “ought to” because there are people who have suffered much and yet do not have compassion in their hearts towards other humans that are suffering. Suffering can lead some of us to a bitterness, a hardness of heart that makes it very difficult to feel compassion towards others. A person must be on guard against the tendency towards egocentrism or self-centeredness.
Compassion and love can motivate a person to aid and/or comfort others in their suffering and to work to help alleviate the suffering by reducing or eliminating the causes of it.
Buddha said that life is suffering. But, he also taught compassion for all living entities. Jesus taught love of God and love of thy neighbor.
Everyone suffers as that is part of the human condition. The pains of birth, disease, old age and physical death are permanent features of human life in this world. As well, there is much mental and emotional pain humans experience and endure during their lives.
But, one may rightly ask: Were we not created for something better than suffering? Were we not created for a higher purpose than mere agonizing living in this flawed or fallen world?
We hope so.
Religions do not always have good or satisfying answers when it comes to questions about suffering. They usually answer the question of why we suffer by merely blaming the victims (the law of karma, the Garden of Eden story). As well, some religions seem to glorify suffering or to view all suffering as necessarily good or beneficial. Such a fixation on the value of suffering can lead one down the ascetic path and to a disapproval or condemnation of any of the natural pleasures or joys that can be experienced in life, amidst our struggles and our suffering.
There are those who because of their religious fanaticism, zealotry (or bigotry) or because of their dogmatic ideology cause much suffering, harm and injustice in their mistaken and misguided attempts to remake the world into what they believe it should be like. Violent Islam, communism, and fascism have increased human suffering. (Communism must completely destroy the old order – regardless of the very high cost in human suffering and human lives – before it can build its workers’ paradise. Such a “paradise on earth” is a mirage, a chimera, a vain hope that can never be achieved.) As well, vindictive, punitive measures imposed upon defeated peoples by western nations after the wars they wage have also needlessly increased human misery and caused many needless deaths.
Beware social movements that sow enmity among the people. Beware ideologies that seek to divide people into opposing groups that must fight against each other in society and in the political arena in a never-ending zero sum game, or even results in a lose-lose outcome for all parties.
A final thought to briefly discuss is on modern feminism. What started out more than one hundred years ago as a social movement to achieve equal rights and equal opportunities for women (so-called Equity Feminism) has been hijacked since the 1960s and has really gone off the rails. Now, it is more accurate to use the terms gender feminism or radical feminism to describe what the feminist movement has morphed into. We now see many women who give evidence of having a real animosity towards men. Many of the strident spokeswomen of feminism today also place little or no value on motherhood and have a contempt for children in the womb. One may not be faulted (too harshly) for wondering if some of these angry, unhappy women are perhaps resentful and unhappy that they there were born female. We do not think such a feminist movement has been beneficial to society as a whole.
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