Sometimes, reactions to my posts merit deeper discussion than the limited space allows. Often follow-up remarks go unseen by most of my audience since they are either posted late in the week or are sent directly to me and do not appear on my website at all. Such was the case with last week’s entry, What About Suffering? The comment, in this case, is from my daughter Kierra.

She references Katherine Boyle’s article in The Free Press, “Get Serious: About Suffering.” A full reading of Boyle’s article [which I recommend] can enrich an understanding of Kierra’s commentary where she raises important concerns, significant enough that I thought I’d share them with you, my readers, for your thoughtful consideration.

For those who missed it, Kierra writes, “I think one of the great problems in our Western societies right now is the conflation of distress with suffering. Should we be diligently working toward minimizing extreme suffering like hunger and war. Yes, of course, one hundred per cent. But how do we minimize those things, what tools do we use? Diplomacy, conversation, sharing resources, empathy, strategizing, etc. We can work to avoid the pain and suffering of hunger by implementing productive tools and working together.

“When we start to say that suffering is also—being offended, being challenged, sitting with people who disagree with you, living through the natural changes of your body, working through grief—when we seek to ameliorate THAT kind of suffering, what are the tools that we use?

“Silencing of dialogue, persecution of thought, dispensing of addictive medications, wallowing in victimhood, blaming the other, using technology to replace the incredible things that make us human in the first place–like puberty, childbirth, and aging. None of these “tools” seem to lead to good places in the long run.

“As the mother of two teenagers I am having to discern suffering from distress on an almost daily basis. If I treated all my kids’ distresses as true suffering they would never learn how to cope with distress, they would grow up to be isolated, fearful, and incapable. The inability to cope with distress is what leads to the depths of suffering in adulthood.

“The most disturbing part of Katherine Boyle’s article, for me, is this effort to build synthetic wombs. Recognizing the distress and risks of pregnancy and childbirth should lead our society to being more supportive of women and new mothers, but instead we tell women it’s all horrible and dangerous and we’d be better off not going through it all—completely ignoring the incredible majesty of what pregnancy and childbirth have to offer. The day we start growing human babies in warehouses is the day we have fully given up on humanity. There is nothing more dystopian to me than that.”

I am most intrigued by Kierra’s distinction between suffering and distress, a differentiation that I find most helpful. True suffering is to be abhorred and eliminated (or at least mitigated) and we all must be active participants in this endeavor, especially as it is perpetrated upon vulnerable individuals and marginalized communities. Confronting, and not eliminating, distress, on the other hand—even though such a process may include personal suffering—can move us beyond our comfort levels; help us discern what is most essential in our lives (i.e. as in the concluding words in Boyle’s article: For whom will you sacrifice? What will you defend? For what will you choose to suffer?); and help us cope with the rapidly changing complexities of today’s world.

Thank you, Kierra, for your challenging thoughts—and to everyone who takes the time to respond to my posts. What a great gift!

3 thoughts on “Suffering Redux

  1. Kierra has two teenagers? Yikes. I am in deep distress about that news. The last time I saw Kierra was about… , omg… , about FIFTEEN years ago! She could not have been much beyond her teenaged years herself, right? Which, if time (as opposed to frequent distressing) is any measure, makes me… , wait, let me count on my fingers… .

    OMG! I’m THAT old?

    To paraphrase a moment in Kierra’s distressingly thoughtful commentary, aging apparently has made me VERY VERY human. Very human indeed.

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