On the 4th of July we celebrate our declaration of independence from Great Britain in 1776. As independent as we are in relation to many countries in the world, are we really independent? We could seek answers to this question through many lenses. Today we will choose one.
In my mind and heart, we are not independent as long as we suffer needlessly and as long as we cause needless suffering to others. Now there is some suffering that is simply part of life. And others where it’s a delicate balance. If lightning strikes someone’s home, simply as a result of natural causes and no negligence on anyone’s part, causing damage to the home and maybe someone in the home, that suffering might be very painful, while at the same time it was from a completely random act of nature. On the other hand, if there is a flood, which causes untold suffering to thousands and thousands of people, and the flood isn’t simply an act of nature, but rather the result of negligence on the part of people and groups whose job it was to keep dams and levees in good, safe, working order then that is needless suffering. I know even with my explanation this is still very delicate.
How do we know if we suffer needlessly? If you were wounded as a child – let’s say through abuse or neglect, or even lack of awareness by the one who wounded you – and repair was never made, and you haven’t consciously, purposefully, safely worked through the wounding and its impact, you are suffering needlessly. And in addition, you are likely wounding others by not working through your own experiences, thus causing them needless suffering.
There are many who would use or have used (or misused) science to try to prove this, meaning to try to prove their own prejudices. What about the Milgram experiment at Yale, in which people (all adults) were urged by “an authority” to inflict pain and suffering on someone (even though the person on the other side was an actor and wasn’t really receiving the shock)? As the result of their own unhealed wounding, the unwitting subjects of this experiment were capable of following orders that caused what they believed wholeheartedly to be blatantly needless suffering on total strangers. Perhaps they were afraid of suffering needlessly at the hands of the “authority.” Or perhaps they were afraid of feeling the suffering from long ago that disobeying authority would trigger inside them.
Claiming that some don’t feel pain and suffering has gone on before and continues to go on in our world today, in blatant ways and in subtle ways. Anyone who believes others can’t feel pain and suffering is in denial. Anyone who tries to teach people that living beings don’t feel suffering is dangerous.
What will you do to heal the needless suffering within yourself, the needless suffering you may cause to others, and by so doing, the needless suffering all over the world?
© Copyright 2011 by Judith Barr, MS, LMHC. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.
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