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Need to suffer in order to change?

There’s often this idea that difficulty inspires us to make changes; the notion that to motivate self-development we might make our discomfort greater in order to spur us on. Which makes sense in a way: to strip away our avoidance and force ourselves to really experience certain things so we’re more likely to address them. But is it the only way?

It’s an interesting question, as there’s certainly a lot of suffering on both the individual and social scale (see Notes One). Is the thinking that psychological or socio-economic suffering will motivate people to change their ways to align more with a specific model? That’s a completely exploratory question, as I genuinely find the psychology of the modern world baffling!

Of course, beliefs around the value of suffering have been around a long time: moral, spiritual or religious reflections as to the ultimate meaning and worth of struggles within the frame of human life. Maybe it’s just that those conversations now happen most in the light of social policy, health care, and the regulation of global systems.

Suffering, I imagine, could be considered as inward or outward: inner battles with mental, psychological or physical realities that might make life challenging; then those more systemic limitations of social division, geography or opportunity that effectively serve to make life difficult and, in a certain sense, unequal.

And, given how external life must shape our understanding (Notes Two), I’d also imagine there’s a fair amount of crossover between inner difficulties and outer realities. That clearly has sweeping implications, encompassing a vast array of intensely lived and felt human experiences, and I’m often hesitant over how far to reach with my thinking from my inevitably limited perspective; but my overriding hope or intention here is to find ground where inclusive and powerful conversation can take place (Notes Three).

Returning closer to the topic, is it true we see suffering as justifiable? Is discomfort really a driver that motivates us to release ourselves from its grip and move toward something better? And, what is that ‘something’– what vision do we have on a social, personal or economic level that we feel will resolve all our woes? I’m not quite sure what the vision of the Western world is, beyond this idea of freedom from suffering.

This has once again become much vaster than anticipated, but maybe it’s worth it. Because surely an alternative would be to change based on the understanding and conviction of its necessity. Rather than tolerate suffering, sweep it away or lay blame elsewhere, could we come to see the full implications of how we’re living within the realm of thought then commit to change based on that level of insight?

I don’t know. Maybe we need to live it out, see the consequences and have them articulated with a human voice for us to hear. Unfortunately the conclusion seems likely to be that it was foreseeable and our reasoning questionable, but maybe harsh realities might serve us in the long run?

Notes and References:

Note 1: Does it matter if others suffer?
Note 1: Ways of living and those who suffer
Note 2: Mirrors we offer one another
Note 2: Mental health as a truth to be heard?
Note 2: Intrinsic worth over social identity
Note 3: Things we can’t talk about
Note 3: How do we find a collective vision?

For a more philosophical take on the challenges arising from thought, there’s David Bohm, thoughts on life and What is real?

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