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Thursday, February 28, 2019

In Other Words: What Group Wisdom Can Teach Us About Suffering

FTM file photo

Most people prefer to keep their grief and suffering private.  But sometimes it rumbles into public life -  like a house fire, death of a child,  a freakish accident, a return of cancer - and reminds us of how fragile and wonderful life is. But we don't need to be told this.  We do, though, need to be reminded that everyone suffers.

Buddha said life is suffering. True. But I want to add that how we suffer is important. Intentionally or not, we learn from our suffering. We grow when we become aware of why we suffer. Our character as individuals and community are revealed through how we suffer. It does not build character; it reveals it. Whether we like it or not, we inadvertently become a model of how or how not to suffer.

All of us have had that punch in the gut moment. There’s that sudden loss of security or memory or property or life.  These are the real costs of suffering and it hurts, but it’s not the lesson. When I was told my cancer had returned, well, it was a kick to the groin moment. With steel tipped boots. Worn by a linebacker.

A chemo injection

It’s important to learn from our suffering. It’s important to open to the support and love of family friends, and community. We should not suffer silently although we often do.

Suffering prepares us for the next time. So I threw a question out on social media and received surprisingly insightful answers. The question is “What have you learned from suffering?” Here is the group wisdom of some of their responses from around our community, from around the country, and from around the world.

KC: I have learned compassion for others and to not take things or people for granted.

CH: It is temporary.

TF: That someone is always worse off than me.

LF: You’re never alone.

CR: That I’m stronger for what comes next.

PM: Sometimes you have to ask for help.

LS: How to be humble. How to receive acceptance of help and love. It also makes you feel vulnerable. You find that we really do need each other. And that feels good with the right people. And then it goes full circle, because now you know you need to step up your game to help others. It does make you stronger. It allows me to be more free to talk about needs, wants and help to others. We have a new bond with others like us.

SG: When you finally overcome it, you are able to look back and see the things you’ve learned and start to understand why they happened.

Photo: Sandy Miller

CS: That the suffering won’t last forever.  Lean on the people that love you too and it will always soften the blow.

SR: Not to judge others because of what they may be experiencing.

CM: People want to help or talk. Let them help you in any way. It can be overwhelming but most everyone has good intentions. Be an advocate to reach out to people that may be struggling with something similar.

MB: I have learned there is absolutely nothing noble in suffering. (I used to think there was.) I have also learned there is immense beauty in the surrender which suffering often seems to require.

KT: That you are stronger than you ever thought possible.

AR: Suffering is temporary, and it's just one small part of that chapter that leads you to betterment of yourself and your life.

SS: 3 things:
I never knew how strong I was until I had to fight for my life.
 That the worst moments of suffering are temporary.
 I never knew how many people really cared and loved me and my family.

JH: When confronted with suffering, you can't go over it, under it, or around it. You have to go through it to get to the other side. You find empathy in significant proportions for things you'd never thought of before. You learn to ask for help. And because you understand others' suffering after going through your own, it's incumbent upon you to help others going through their own.

RB: Things don’t matter, people do.

BD: The dark makes the light brighter.

PB: Many, many facets of APPRECIATION!

SW: Suffering taught me to cherish and honor every moment I have with my friends and family... and to always count my blessings.

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NN: You feel like you'll NEVER overcome. Then you do. And you start to believe that "anything is possible.” …Also I've always say "Life isn't about waiting for the storm to pass, it is learning to dance in the rain.”

NF: However, the scars left behind are everlasting. Through life’s uncertainties I have learned to embrace the either physical or emotional scars left behind, to inspire and try to help others. Suffering has taught me to remain humble and express gratitude so that I am not isolated and can help someone else who is suffering.

AM: Like a seed in the ground, seemingly in the dark there begins a pain that comes from within. All of a sudden the skin splits open from pressure and there is agony in the darkness. A growth, spins out from the wreckage, and what once felt like death has become life itself. Without suffering I know, very little about everything else.

ES: That asking for help is a sign of strength and not weakness.

TK: Grace.

CI: Suffering taught me forgiveness.

RS: I am stronger than I thought.

KL: Having suffered from chronic pain my entire life, the greatest lessons I have learned are compassion for others and patience.

SD: Never judge someone. You have no idea what battle they are facing. I never realized how strong I was until being strong is all I had left. During my 5 plus year cancer journey I have lost my mom and sister. I didn’t think I would be able to go on but life goes on whether you’re ready or not….You deal with it. When you ask for help it is not a sign of weakness. That one is still hard for me to grasp!

JS: I think suffering often shows me where I have misplaced priorities in my life. On my worst days I have often realized that great things I have taken for granted and what trivial things I have worried about that were inconsequential. Suffering then also leads me to believe that there has to be more than this.

We may not find solace in every observation, but we may find some comfort when taken as a whole. I don’t have a ready answer for people who suffer, just this observation, suffering is a tie that binds us - as individuals and as a community. There is a Swedish adage that applies, "Shared joy is doubled joy; shared sorrow is halved sorrow."

My heart breaks when I hear about what happens to people in our little town - death, disaster, disease, accident - because what happens to one, happens to all. But amazing things happen when we help each other.

I think Friedrich Nietzsche was right when he wrote, “To live is to suffer, to survive is to find some meaning in the suffering.” We are survivors.


  1. So well written. Thank you for sharing.

  2. Chuck--
    The toughest, most demanding, most uncompromising English teacher ever-(HHS?), has shared his sensitive personae for all of us who have lived through hard times or know others who suffer, now. Feeling the "double joy" and "halved sadness" ... Thanks, WB