I’m off facebook. And giving the other blog a break. It’s personal. Basically, i found myself pridefully watching my posts and my comments and stats and wanted only to connect. But it was a pathological way to connect. My expectations for myself and others were out of control.
But. I need a place to put my rants. I need a place to put websites, songs, and arguments against stupid ideologies. Moreover, it wouldn’t hurt to have a place where I am a little more comfortable sharing personal beliefs. I didn’t feel too comfortable with that with my old blog. And I only felt marginally comfortable doing that on facebook for fear of getting sucked into a stupid ideological shouting-match. I’ve been there folks, it isn’t pretty. Just plain energy and time draining. So here’s this.
Renowned psychological scientist Paul Ekman and his colleagues researched emotions in the 1980s and 90s. They described 17 basic primary emotions which are common to most civilizations in the world. The researchers concluded that each primary emotion serves a function. For example Ekman hypothesized that the function of sadness is to tell us about the good–we are sad when we lack things that are good for us. He was on the same page as Augustine who wrote in his love-poem to God, Confessions, describing how sadness and longing relate:
“My heart is restless until it rests in you my Lord.”
Every instance of sadness is really our heart aching for something greater, our bodies and spirits telling us what we need to thrive. Ekman would argue that each primary emotion serves a function–either to tell us about our survival biologically or connect us socially. Augustine would probably go a step further arguing that emotions tell us about the depths of our humanity–the objects of our longing, ourselves, our purpose, and even the Truths of existence.
But many emotions are painful too, as we all know. And pain can lead to suffering, which we naturally want to avoid– I addressed that topic last year. Suffering is a monster even worse than the pain that led to the suffering. Suffering is like being lost in a forlorn, barren forest: suffering aches, hopeless, helpless, and doubtful. Suffering makes us question who we are, why we are going through this, and why can’t we–if we are any good at anything in life–get out of the mess we are in. Pain may come and go but suffering is long-standing. Suffering follows us everywhere like a demon, chasing away our hopes and dreams. Suffering takes away from us one of the greatest gifts our of forefathers: control. Or at least the illusion of control.
And that is why suffering is not always bad. Suffering can be a good thing. In fact, suffering can be a wonderful thing, even beautiful. Suffering suffuses our lives with depth, meaning, and vigor. If suffering is even sometimes a good thing, then there are consequences for certain cultural debates. While it is clearly evil to effect suffering upon someone, offering a program trying to prevent possible suffering does not always have such solid ground. “But others might suffer if this program is not enacted” cannot stand as a premise when weighing options such as forced sterilization and abortion.
As a culture we are so immeasurably blessed in many ways. One of the blessings of contemporary Western life is inoculation from death, disease, and the variable food supply. The result has been our collective squeamishness with suffering. Our ancestors and contemporary counterparts unaffected by contemporary Western culture do not have this curse. They face suffering, day in and out. Though we have at our fingertips the centuries of wisdom, we cower from suffering as children afraid of the boogeyman.
Suffering, then, is beautiful. Suffering teaches us about who we are, individually, and who we are as human persons. It brings us to the “Threshold of Eternity,” where, broken, we can open our lives to growth.