Surviving everyday tragedy

Something that we don’t look at much is the concept of suffering.

One of the ways that Frankl speaks about that we find meaning in life is by suffering.

When we are no longer able to change a situation…we are challenged to change ourselves.

There are many many quotes like this in his books that reiterate that even in unavoidable suffering we can control our reaction. His suggestion is to search for meaning in the suffering.

In some way, suffering ceases to be suffering at the moment it finds a meaning.

He justifies it quite well. Suffering is much easier if we have a meaning for it. Meaning isn’t objective, I don’t think. Meaning is just the story we tell ourselves about what is happening.

…man’s main concern is not to gain pleasure or to avoid pain but rather to see a meaning in his life. That is why man is even ready to suffer, on the condition, to be sure, that his suffering has a meaning.

I want to note that he isn’t talking about avoidable suffering.

If it were avoidable, however, the meaningful thing to do would be to remove its caused, be it psychological, biological or political

The suffering he speaks of is the unavoidable.

We tend to dismiss unavoidable suffering as the kind of terrible suffering he may have gone through. After all, he is known for being a holocaust survivor. Think about this though: he went on to treat people in public practice for decades. They weren’t all holocaust survivors.

I’ve been thinking about the application of this concept to any unavoidable suffering. Why is it that we seem to see these ideas as applicable only to suffering relative to the greater tragedies of our history?

I think that it might be useful to apply this to the smaller day-to-day tragedies, because these, though small when considered relative to others, are heavy and gigantic to us, the individual sufferers.

Maybe we can start seeking meaning in those terrors that chase us daily, however small we may think that they are.

The cascade of pain after a rejection.

A nightmare of ghosts past.

The contract you don’t know if you’ve won, without which you’re out of runway.

The boss who refuses to acknowledge your training gaps.

Being silent treated.

The examples are infinite.

In the same way that finding meaning in his suffering did not diminish his experiences or those of his patients, this does not undermine ours.

It’s not putting a brave face on it.

More so, it dignifies it with a purpose.

We need to stop asking about the meaning of life, and instead to think of ourselves as those who were being questioned by life — daily and hourly. Our answer must consist, not in talk and meditation, but in right action and in right conduct. Life ultimately means taking the responsibility to find the right answer to its problems and to fulfil the tasks which it constantly sets for each individual.

What surprised me most was the pragmatic nature of his words. I was gifted with some truly practical tools for thinking about what “happens” to me.

If you haven’t read the book, I would definitely recommend part one of Man’s Search For Meaning. It made my heart ache, my head spin, my eyes water. Afterwards, the world seemed more terrible than I had thought and more beautiful than I had thought.

Any thoughts on suffering in general? I’d love to hear them.