March 20, 2006

Should I feel better?

Posted in psychology, theodicy at 4:08 pm by Jerry

Should I feel better about my troubles because others are suffering so much more than I do?

There are people in this world that are poorer than me, have less friends, less education. They lose family members to war, crime, differences in beliefs. Their relationships are so much more dysfunctional than mine. They have less experiences of people being gracious, giving, loving, caring, enlightening.

Should I use their greater plight to soften the blow of my own bad experiences?

And what should those, who don’t have worse comparisons, use to make themselves feel better?

When times are hard, and comfort is scarce, should we tap into our competitive nature to avoid being the Ultimate Loser? Should this make us feel better?

I’ve never said anything to people who use this method to make themselves feel better because it’s not exactly context friendly at that moment. Besides, I can’t recall, but I’ve probably used this method myself. Nevertheless, I’ve decided to rant about this pet-peeve of mine.

Some might say, “Are you offering any alternatives, wise guy?”

No. I’m not offering alternatives. We all have to work hard at creating proper theodicies (see Theodicy definition in my post Theodicy – Part I) to meet the complexities of our individual lives. Maybe when we’ve done some work on our own, we can come together and share our responses to the bad things that happen in our lives and question what is proper.

In my last theodicy post on reviewing the book Evil in Modern Thought (Theodicy – Part IIIb) I gave some general thoughts about how I should consider responding to evil. It talks about the challenge of being empathetic. I suppose a sign for me that I’ve failed to truly empathize with others’ suffering is if I objectify their suffering by making their suffering a means to make me feel better about my own suffering.

I’m not saying we can’t make ourselves aware of greater sufferings and learn from the wise methods others use to respond to their sufferings. I’m just challenging the motives/intentions behind our desires to “gain some perspective”.

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3 Comments »

  1. Eric said,

    Hey Jerry,
    I have used this exact reasoning, but I think for a different reason. When I am stressed and feeling overwhelmed by life’s challenges I do try to gain perspective by looking at what ‘real’ problems might be or ‘how bad’ things can get for others. My motives/intentions for this are out of a desire to feel grateful for what I have and not (I think!) to place these things on some cosmic measuring stick to see that things could be much worse. I mean it doesn’t make me feel better that others suffer more, my heart goes out to those sufferring. At times looking at pain and strife in the world has actually made me grateful for my own pain. I am grateful for the lessons it can teach.
    Its a thinly sliced line of reasoning I am aware but I think a different take.
    Your thoughts? I’m a little late responding to this blog but hey! I just found out about recently!
    cheers.

  2. Jerry said,

    Hey Eric,

    I have to say, I really like the tone of your comment. It’s got a realistic sound, if you will. Anyways, in hindsight, I think the root of my pet-peeve is when others’ experiences are only used as a means for us. I don’t know. I think we have to be careful to make sure we’re continually recognizing the humanity in others’ experiences.

    Are we on the same page here and only speaking in different languages?

    Jerry

  3. Eric said,

    Absolutely I think we are speaking the same language. You are right, the humanity can get lost if we fall into objectifying the sufferring of others for our own ends.
    I want to add that at times of great trial in my life I often look back at some of the dark times I have had in my own life, to let myself know that, ‘hey, I can get through this, I’ve seen worse’. This thought follows my comment about pain teaching lessons, being a source of strength.
    Ah, life. Isn’t it a bitch sometimes how experience, like some heavy handed instructor, gives us the test BEFORE the lesson?


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