Being Mindful of your Suffering
We all suffer from time to time. How we react to that suffering differs from person to person.
Many times I have observed people try and flee from their suffering, especially psychological pain. Sometimes, they try and escape using drugs, alcohol or even other people (e.g. sex and love addiction). Other times, people lash out in anger towards others, perhaps saying (unconsciously) if I am going to hurt, you too are going to hurt. Don't believe me? Go watch small children on a playground for awhile and you will notice this behavior.
Here in the United States, we just had an election for the president. Donald Trump, who by most accounts was not expected to win the presidency won. This election win took many people by surprise. Many in the U.S. feel that the current president-elect is racist, sexist and just plain immoral. The day after the election I was walking around the greater Washington, D.C. area. Maybe it was just my imagination but the air was pregnant with anxiety. I walked into a post office and two black postal workers were talking about how thankful they were to be so close to retirement. They were glad at not having to deal with the new incoming president for all four years of his tenure as federal employees. Later in the day, I witnessed a small group of protesters shouting slogans and holding up signs.
There is no doubt in my mind that these people were suffering, psychologically, to varying degrees. Suffering, I believe is ultimately a choice. We tell ourselves that whatever event happened in our life, happened to us to specifically cause US pain. The ancient Greco-Roman Stoics understood that events merely happen, it up to us to place an assigned value to them. What we choose to do with our suffering is also a choice as well. Often times, lashing out is not very helpful; making a choice based upon careful deliberation is often a more positive behavioral response. I have discussed before how suffering can be one of many tools to build our psychological resilience.
However, responding immediately to our fear is often our default response it seems. Too often we view ourselves as weak or give into our fear. Unfortunately, doing so creates fear in others and causes them to react in fear as well, setting off a chain of fear response. In my life, I have held job positions that required me to maintain a calm demeanor no matter what was happening around me. I observed a curious thing, whenever I was calm and collected and I interacted with someone who was hysterical for several minutes, after a bit, they would mimic my calm demeanor. In psychology, this is known as mirroring.
We may never rid ourselves completely of our personal suffering but we can choose how we express our suffering to others. By doing so, you can either force others to suffer as well or you can learn from your suffering. So what will you do with your suffering today?
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