I am a big fan of suffering. Not just because it is useful for developing insights but also without suffering it is more difficult to develop any compassion. How can we feel and experience other people’s suffering unless we have some actual experience ourselves?
I was talking with a woman who was born into an upper middle class community of high achievers. She, along with all her family, friends, neighbours etc, had been born with high intelligence and a drive to succeed that meant that a place at Oxford/Cambridge and a job as a lawyer, consultant, surgeon, banker etc. was the norm and expected at the very least as an entering qualification for their elite society.
Unfortunately she had contracted a crippling disease when very young and had spent many years battling the results rather than following the usual path to privilege. This meant that although she shared their keen intelligence she was viewed as a failure by her community and treated as a failure, given menial work such as cooking and cleaning and generally looked down upon. Quite often she would receive nothing but criticism and complaints and if you think this sounds like a character from a children’s story you are absolutely right.
Her community of high achievers seemed to have little experience of suffering apart from hers and lived in a well oiled, stratified atmosphere that excluded those that they considered beneath them. Unfortunately some of these high achievers were working in the caring professions as consultant psychiatrists, psychoanalysts etc and were treating traumatised people for problems they had no actual experience of. The only knowledge they had was theoretical and their treatments were cold and chemical.
This woman’s crippling disease had meant she had missed out on the glittering prizes but was bearing witness to the sort of behaviour that winds me up no end. Her dilemma was, although she had many friends from other cultures who loved her, her immediate family were the ones causing the greatest pain. Should she abandon them and turn to the kindness of friends or should she stay loyal and connected to her roots?
For the time we spent talking I was deeply impressed with her humanity and humour and I loved her dearly for being so honest. She had escaped the silo mentality and become a real human being. I felt privileged and enriched for having met her.