Monday, November 21, 2011

Theory of Relativity

It is my firm belief that all suffering is relative.

Everyone experiences pain in their lives. No matter who they are or where they live, something will make them experience some sort of anguish.

The source of that anguish varies. Children around the world suffer because they don't have enough to eat and go to bed hungry every night. Some people are entirely alone in the world, having lost their whole families and everything that mattered to them. Others have lost their jobs and had to give up their homes, and it kills them inside to see their children adjust to a smaller home, a different school, and losing their friends all at once.

In that short list, only the hungry children face deadly suffering. But that doesn't make the person who lost his whole family feel the pain any less. It still hurts just as acutely, and is probably the greatest pain he's ever known. The mother who lost her job can still afford a place to live, thanks to her spouse's income, but she dies a little every time her child says she hates her new school.

Each one of those people is suffering to some degree. Just because children are starving around the world doesn't mean a teenager's broken heart hurts any less - to her, that is the most immediate pain, and to her, it is the worst thing she's ever felt. Telling her children are starving and orphaned does not ease her heartache; it just makes her feel guilty and selfish, compounding her original pain.

Yes, it is important to remember that others around the world are worse off than we are. It can sometimes help us remember that things aren't so bad, and remembering others in that state often moves us into action on their behalf. But that doesn't mean our individual plights are not worth voicing, or not worth improving. To devalue ourselves like that is to devalue everyone.

Some people who are participating in Occupy Wall Street have known starvation. That doesn't mean losing their jobs and wondering how the next bill will be paid hurts them less now. It is the current pain, it is the pressing need, it is what most affects them in this moment.

People don't want to have massive credit card debt, but there's no way around building it up until that next paycheck, and they're worried that it will never be paid off and they'll lose their house. They don't want to move, because their house is their home.

Reaching out to help each other, here and now, can have a profound effect on the world, not just on the United States. When we have more people working for a living wage, we will have fewer homeless on the streets. Fewer people in our own country will be starving. And more people will be able to individually donate to charities that can improve the lives of others around the world.

There is no scale in existence that can rightly say losing a child is more painful than losing a parent. It cannot say homelessness is more painful than the inability to provide for one's family. Who are we to create a scale like that? Everyone has their own pain; we should try to respect that.

Just because others may be hurting more on some level doesn't make us hurt less. It just belittles us into the mistaken belief that our pain doesn't matter. And everyone's pain does.

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