“You were put on this earth to achieve your greatest self, to live out your purpose, and to do it courageously.”
How many times have you been through a rough phase and told yourself "it cannot be worse than this," or thought that if you can survive it, you’ll never be affected by adversity as much as that particular time or experience? I’ve been telling myself this throughout my life and yet every time a rough phase arrives in my life, I fall right back down. Then, one day, I realized how flawed our understanding of suffering is. We tend to examine from a relative dimension while the key to comprehending any kind of suffering is perception.
It is our own perception of the challenges we face that shape our reaction and in turn, decide the extent of distress caused by it. To a man who barely manages to survive, making ends meet is the foremost challenge - the primary threat to their existence, while to someone with a stable lifestyle, even the loss of one’s phone can cause distress. As outsiders, of course, we can very well comment on how menial the distress of the latter individual is compared to the former. What we more often than not fail to realise is any distress is perceptual and not relative. The more we attempt to evaluate our own or others’ distresses using our past or someone else’s experiences as the yardstick, we risk the inception of a continuous chain of unhealthy defense mechanisms. Deliberately trying to convince ourselves that our distress is not as justified as someone else’s or the other time in our lives was much worse than this does little to actually reduce it. How can something that we do not allow our conscious mind to acknowledge be reduced?
In a world of 7 billion people, we need to realize the unique nature of each person’s problems and victories. There are two dimensions to the problem of evaluating distress. One is how we ourselves are barring our conscious mind from accepting that we are indeed in a lot of pain by saying ‘ It’s not that bad’. The other dimension has more to do with us trying to place others’ distress on a scale that inadvertently results in people judging other people’s problems, creating a sort of social stigma to share the same. As a result, many feel their problems too trivial and keep suppressing them in their minds telling themselves that it must not be that bad. The entire process sets a vicious cycle of trivializing major issues and finally affects our mental health. Thus, we have so many people pretending to be happy and yet being broken inside today. Unless we stop trying to evaluate distress on a scale and realize it’s a perceptual element the understanding of which may not be the same among two people, there can be no expectation of empathy in this world.