Tuesday, 17 June 2008


A lovely-sounding person left a comment on my blog which said, 'I'm finding it hard to come to terms with the fact that there's so much unhappiness in the world.' I understand that completely. Over the last three years my main emotion has been outrage. Again and again I find myself unable to come to terms with the amount of suffering there is all around me. But the question is - why am I surprised? And why is the lovely-sounding person on my blog so surprised? After all, the levels of suffering have not got worse. In fact, if anything, suffering has vastly reduced over the last fifty years (at least in the Western world). So then why are any of us surpised? To me this is a key question. I think it has to do with the fact that we are living in a society which is in massive denial about sadness, adversity, grief, pain. We live surrounded by images of happiness and talk of positive thinking. Conversations about death are considered morbid. Feeling sad is equated with failure or weakness. Avoiding pain has become the main national occupation. And so we are conned into thinking that the world is essentially a happy place. But it isn't. Suffering is right at the heart of human existence - and it doesn't matter how rich you are, how educated you are, how good you are - that's always going to be the same. If that were accepted and discussed then there wouldn't be people like me (aged 41) saying, 'Oh but I didn't know it would be this hard.'


Tash said...

I think as it's improved for us (let's just take babies as an example: mortality rates down, women dying in labor down, age of viability down considerably, babies now as a rule tend to live longer than two years old where this was always a rather dicey period of life, etc.) it's stayed the same or become worse for others in other parts of the world (I'm thinking specifically of Afghanistan here) and the thought that WE could remotely in any way be like THEM is very hard to wrap one's head around. Not to mention I think people are somewhat prepared for suffering that follows a pattern (parents dying, losing a job) but not for suffering that does not (babies who die, tsunamis, etc.).

In other words, agree with you totally. I think I'm just more aware of it now.

Also wanted to let you know: An anonymous person nominated you and submitted the post to the site. And thanks so much for the words on McEwan -- everyone else hated it too so for once I wasn't the grump of the evening.

Charlotte's Mama said...

It is true. I think of this often: on the odd, unusual times when I actually do read the newspaper, or watch TV: suddenly the sadness is everywhere. Suddenly the women in Africa whose babies are starving are not just statistics: they are women watching their babies die, and I know what it feels like to have a dead baby. Those people where bombs are going off every day: I imagine the fear, the reality of having people around you lose children, and you wonder if it might be you. There is a realness to it that, I'm embarassed to say, I've never sat with before. Suddenly it seems this way, that we are all just barely hanging on to survive, to make it through, and I am certainly not the worst off of them all.
It makes me sad, but it also, in some great way, comforts me: this is life at its most raw, but it is just that: it is life. Life brings misfortune, and we trudge through it, and we learn, and we become everly grateful and humble for the things that we do have. Life. Not as we might have planned, but life just the same.

Melissia said...

I agree. I don't want this to be a political statement because I don't mean it to be. But I have a son who served in Iraq and was injured and was medically discharged home from the Army.(I told you I was a child bride, and don't get me started about the war in Iraq).
Anyway, the reason the US press is not allowed to cover the deplaning of coffins of US servicemen and women in Dover Delaware as they have done since every conflict since tv was invented is because it would be upsetting. Of course it would be upsetting, that would be the point.
I think you are right about it being something about our age, that makes the denial a global era. I am 44 and I wasn't allowed to attend funerals as a child, as they would be too upsetting. Family pets didn't die, they just disappeared. Unhappy parents didn't get divorced, they stayed together for the children. Perhaps in 50 years time this era will be call the Age of Denial. I am not sure why our parents and grandparents thought this would be better, I am sure they thought that they were protecting us from a harsher past but I guess they didn't realize that there never is a new reality.

kirsty said...

I very rarely leave comments on blogs however I feel very strongly about this post that I felt compelled to write! I agree with you totally. The society in which we live prescribes happiness in a bottle. Suffering is the ying to happinesses yang however it never gets dicussed. You're right when you say sadness is seen as a sign of weakness or failure. But it's as common as happiness! Bizarre.

I do not think i know what happiness is. I have had fleeting moments of happiness but never anything prolonged. However maybe I am happy? Who knows. I feel I am always looking for the next thing, day, week etc and THAT'll make me happy. Well, those things have came and went and I'm still waiting for that flashbulb moment.

Happiness? Pah. It's overrated :o)

Melissia said...

I forgot to leave you my email address. I can be contacted at kregis@comcast.net. I look forward to hearing from you.

missing_one said...

You are so right. Life is suffrage. There is always some struggle to survive. There is always such a balance between life and death.
I'm only 25, but I guess I was a little surprised to.

Life has not turned out at all how I had expected. but then again, maybe I had no right to what I expected.

In the end my father was right "life is not fair"

and now I know, it was never meant to be

Alice said...

Thanks so much for your comments. I really feel like I should set up an organisation which campaigns for the right to feel thoroughly sad and miserable - as often and as much as you want!