National November Blogging Month

This blog has been pretty vacant for a while, so you may not have browsed it much. You may not have visited the About page to learn that I don’t really write much anymore. You may not have read some of the older entries from a year or two ago in which I struggled with college, work, and writing.

Let me sum it up: I used to fancy myself a writer, and starting in high school I took writing kind of seriously. Not serious enough to practice at it, but I certainly wrote a lot even if I didn’t craft it to the extent I should have. I had a few things published in very low-end anthologies, I blogged a lot, and I finally began learning to not make basic, amateurish mistakes once my college professors started tearing apart the things I called sentences.

Writing was something I had to do. I wasn’t happy, and writing didn’t make me happy, but it made me happier than I would have otherwise been. It was a creative outlet in an uncreative life. It was something I could control and own.

And then I became truly happy. I met April and stopped writing poetry. I got a good job and stopped writing altogether, at least during my personal time. I lack the interest and passion to craft fiction. I just don’t care enough to write poetry. I think that I have some thoughts and feelings I could share, but I prefer just talking with friends and with April about those rather than blogging about them.

Thus ends the summary. This blog post is to communicate that I think this may be changing. I have to include words like “think” because I’m not entirely positive, but I’ve had this simmering feeling inside for a little over a year now that started around the time the current election cycle began. I can’t call that feeling “discontent,” because it’s less passive and more angry. I can’t call it fury or rage because… well, let me unpack this a bit.

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I cannot know what it is like to be a woman

One of my classes this semester is Women in Religious Traditions. We are studying world religions over the centuries and the role of women within those religions, how those religions addressed women, and the general androcentrism of pretty much every culture. As we talk about gender roles and how women are viewed as “other,” or entirely left out of texts, and in particular how women are now finding ways to interact with religions that have been traditionally somewhat misogynistic, I’ve realized that I will just never be able to understand some of this.

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Religion Defined

My “final” in this semester’s Religion 580 class was to write a single page defining religion. The first sentence should be our core definition, with the rest of the paper elaborating on that sentence.

I’m not certain I’m comfortable with what I came up with. If nothing else, it put me in mind of the same paper I wrote my freshman year, now six and a half years gone, when we were required to perform the same assignment for Religion 100. As I considered the subject, I felt that my definition had become incredibly pretentious, overly verbose, and had perhaps lost all sight of what religion was. After the years of critical study, commitment to pluralism, and learning about a great many of the world’s religions, I find myself a bit uncertain of what religion is. I look forward to reviewing that old paper someday soon and seeing if my freshman naiveté was in some ways more accurate than what my educated opinions have become.

Religion is both the irrational desire to reconnect with something to which we never felt connected in the first place, and the means by which we seek to transcend our mundane lives and contextualize the world in which we live. Its role in our lives is influenced by our upbringing, psychological moratorium and conclusion, socio-economic situation, political bend, and a number of other mundane factors too complex to chart out. But there seems to be something more to religion, something wholly indefinable that escapes rationality and reason. The very need to reconnect in the first place raises questions that are difficult to answer—from where does this need originate?, what does it signify?, is it common to everyone or limited to certain individuals?—and the existence of religion does not fit comfortably within clearly defined parameters or fields of study. There is an essence to at least some religious belief and action that is simply irrational, defying definition unless one resorts to suggestions of either spiritual influence, mental illness, or duplicity.

To this end, it seems that religion is the very real need to connect with something that escapes classification and definition, and which eludes cogent theorizing. Whether there is a deity or not, and regardless of the numerous mundane factors that might lead to one seeking deity or some other religious ritual, duty, or connection, there is certainly something in humanity that yearns to look outside what we know of our past, the fields of psychology and sociology, the studies of chemistry, biology, and physics, our jobs and the means they provide, and our political party to find something that transcends it all. Despite all we know of this world, the feeling remains with many that there is something greater out there that casts all the rest into question. To find that something, humanity turns to religion.

The Writer’s Circle

Last Friday, April and I attended a reading at Borders here in Springfield. She had been invited to read a couple of poems out of the Moon City Review, a publication by Missouri State University in which she was featured last year, so we went and joined the sizable crowd as the MSU Concert Chorale sang some renaissance period songs and the readers were queued up. After the singing was complete, the first poet began his reading.

I had a class with this young man several years ago, and as he read about a road trip, I recognized some of the names and assumed they were our fellow class mates with whom he had become friends. We were all in the same poetry classes, two semesters in a row, and if I had continued down that road we may very well have become friends. A culture and a clique was formed there, but I was diverted and went elsewhere.

With a touch of a melancholy I thought about What Might Have Been. Until recently, I was a double major in Religious Studies and Creative Writing, but I dropped the latter down to a minor to graduate sooner. I don’t know that I even have a 3.0 GPA in RS–last I checked, it was a high 2, but it has been a while so it might have risen. I have a 4.0 in CW, though, and while the English department is well known for grade inflation, I feel like I have earned that grade. I honestly have enjoyed almost all of my English classes, and Creative Writing is probably where I should have spent my time.

In light of my recent academic travails, though, I thought through that path to its logical conclusion. Would I have been happy if I had pursued that degree more fully, focused on that instead of getting a job, and been in the same place academically as this young man (preparing to finish my masters degree)?

As I shared with April later, a large part of what I sought there was the community, and I am relatively confident I would have found it lacking. Not that they aren’t nice people–I like every one of the advanced Creative Writing/English students I’ve met–but there’s that pesky religion thing. It is difficult to connect deeply with a group of atheists/agnostics, and it seems that the upper echelons of academia are often inundated with such.

As Jennie observed about the graduate program in art at Wichita State, where she studied for two semesters, Christianity and work inspired by Christ wasn’t exactly welcome. She was often at odds with her peers and professors, and I would have found the same at Missouri State. It wouldn’t have led to negative relationships, just shallow ones, and that is unacceptable to me.

Perhaps I am mistaken in this perception, but it seems that the majority of the people with whom I communicate solely via the Internet are likewise non-religious, and I suspect when they view my site they consider me completely looney. I’m currently becoming even more overt about my beliefs, and I fear people’s judgment to some extent. If I were in an advanced writing program, and wrote and communicated vulnerably and honestly, I wonder what the reaction would be.

Would I have been happy pursuing that education more fully? Yes, probably, because it would have kept me writing and helped me become a better writer. As I listened to the final short story being read, a wonderful piece with descriptive language I doubt I will ever be able to match, I recognized that there were heights I would likely never reach. There was a path somewhere back there I choose to not take, and there is no going back in this life.

But that doesn’t mean I can’t cut cross country now and begin struggling for my own sake. What I need more than anything is practice. And if the degree program is inaccessible to me now (as it most assuredly is for a variety of reasons), that will not prevent me from writing. If a community of writers is part of my future goals and desires, a piece of paper will not prevent me from beginning to form one.

It will not be the same as it might have been, but what will be will be. We won’t have a future if we don’t make it, if we sit around watching TV and pining for what might have been. Instead, we must cut down the trees, stoke the fires, and begin building the future we so desire.

Do we all need a college degree?

I spent last Thursday and Friday helping run the MOKA BUG conference at our university, and it was in this context that my struggle with academia resurfaced. The subject of job qualifications, pay rates, and years needed to complete a degree all came up, and I mentioned that I was sorely tempted to just not bother anymore. One of my student workers was incredulous.

“Do you not have any ambition?” she asked. “Is this really all you want to do with your life? You don’t want to do anything more?”

The questions were painful, despite their being asked out of ignorance. I’d rather just brush them off–she doesn’t know anything about me or my life, so her critiques aren’t particularly weighty–but they resonate with questions I ask myself. The problem is, my education is no longer a vehicle to get me where I want to go.

Yes, of course I want to be doing other, better, higher things. I think my current job is important, and though I’m not overly fond of where I’m at professionally, I find fulfillment in the work I am doing. It is good work that benefits people, and my efforts are yielding positive results.

Her assumption, however, frustrated me as it does when voice by anyone. This idea that a college degree is greater, more important, and better than any alternative is overly constricting to me. And it’s not just that I know people who are working jobs that don’t require degrees and are happy (such as friends who are construction workers), but it’s that I know people who are very intelligent and who do mentally challenging work, and who enjoy their lives, where their work is not dependent upon a degree.

I feel like our society has hyper-inflated the value of a degree, and we have done this largely through marketing. University was once a place to go and learn to think, to be exposed to a wider range of ideas, and to critically study subjects with resources (such as professors) that were unavailable elsewhere. Too often now, University is viewed as a trade school. It is an investment to assist one in reaching a higher income bracket. It is no longer a place one goes to learn, but a place one goes to get the job one wants.

“I want to do X, so I need degree Y. Therefore, I will get degree Y.” This is in comparison to, “I want to learn about X, so I shall go to University to learn X.”

This last weekend I found myself really wanting to study apocryphal books from Judeo-Christian history. If I were to pursue this, I would need to finish up my bachelors in Religious Studies, learn Ethiopian, Greek, German, probably French and Spanish, and brush up on my Hebrew. I would also need to move out of state to study elsewhere, incur probably $60,000+ in debt, and not have any way to pay that back. I couldn’t pay it back because I’m not doing this to get job X. I want to learn it just to learn. On a certain level, I understand that universities have bills and salaries to pay so we need to pay tuition, but at the same time I feel like we’re paying a certain amount so we can get a higher paying job. If a job isn’t your goal–say, if you won’t be studying something to leads to a high paying job, but just because you want to learn–then you’ll sink under a pile of debt.

I can study this on my own, to some extent, but I am limited by my day job as well as the mostly meaningless classes (in which I am not interested) to get my own piece of paper.

Yes, I do want to do more. And as I sat reading and thinking at the end of last week, I thought, “Just as soon as I finish my degree, I can start doing some things…”

No.

I’m going to start doing them now.

I do have ambitions, things I want to do, and things I want to learn. A degree will not give me those things. Taking more classes will not give me those things. What does a degree do? It opens doors, helps us get better jobs. But what if what I want to do doesn’t involve submitting a resume, attending an interview, and being awarded a job? What if what I want to do is to actually do something?

Those things aren’t going to magically happen as I attend class and get a piece of paper. They’re not going to magically begin happening after I graduate. They will only happen if I start acting, start doing, and the only thing holding me back is me. Not having my degree doesn’t keep me from doing what I want. Making excuses and procrastinating on my dreams is holding me back.

I’m not going to start studying apocryphal texts hardcore, though I’m going to keep reading and discussing and learning. I am finding a cause I want to promote, and I’m going to start promoting it. I’m going to start doing things. We don’t need a degree to have ambitions, to live productive lives, or to change the world. What we need is a will and a drive to act.

I’ve read a bit about health care

I feel like I ought to do this right. To spend a few more days researching and reading, then a few days writing and drafting, then a day or two editing before putting up a long piece on health care. That’s not going to happen for a few reasons though. First, I’ve nothing original to say on the matter. And second, I just don’t care enough.

I care about the topic, to be certain. My novice year debate case was universal health care (as a solution to poor mental health care in the United States) and I have followed the topic ever since then. I had a pretty damn good plan (though I can’t find it and sadly don’t recall the specifics at this late date) and I’ve seen versions of it suggested over the years by congressmen and women. But I don’t care enough to spend a lot of time writing something here because it’s simply not going to change anything. People with more clout, intelligence, and wit than me have written on the subject, so I will simply nod to their fine work.

Too Poor to Make the News

I read this Op-Ed piece in the New York Times (login required, but check BugMeNot for a quick fix) when it first came out, and after reading the third in this series today I went back and re-read it. This series doesn’t deal with health care. Rather, it deals with poverty.

As the author observes, while the bad economy hurts the wealthy and the middle class, it’s not as great a fall for the impoverished. “We were poor before, and we’re still poor,” one woman was quoted. That doesn’t mean things aren’t bad, or worse, for that matter–they certainly are. Those who had at least the occasional job have none, and it’s harder to get help than ever. The problem is that the poor are getting poorer, and the system is being tailored to hurt them more.

A Homespun Safety Net

Part two in the series of op-ed pieces, this article addresses welfare less than it does the social networks built by the poor to get by. The author notes the generosity of the poor, which she experienced some while researching a book several years ago, and how willing they are to help one another without question. Because “the system” treats them like criminals and discourages them from seeking state assistance, they help one another, but that safety net can’t hold under much weight. Eventually their home-made system breaks simply due to a lack of resources.

Is It Now a Crime to Be Poor?

The last article in this series takes a look at the criminalization of poverty in the USA. The odd thing (or perhaps it isn’t) is that as poverty levels rise, more laws are put in place to target the impoverished. While some lawmakers may claim that these laws are applied equitably and fairly against both poor and rich, I don’t know who they think they’re fooling. The poor are hit hardest, and this article makes some good observations I hadn’t considered. There are some laws, and in particular some combinations or applications of laws, that just strike me as wrong.

The Cost Conundrum

Possibly the best article I have ever read (though I read a great one in Conde Nast – Economist a few months ago… I’m not much of a magazine person though, so I don’t read articles often), The Cost Conundrum is written by a doctor turned journalist and compares the health care costs of two Texas towns. Though near each other geographically with similar health statistics and income levels, one has almost double the national average cost of health care while the other is right around average.

It’s a long article and I really encourage whomever to read it, but the gist is two-fold:

  1. Doctors realized they can charge whatever they want and make tons of money, so some of them do.
  2. The current solutions proposed won’t fix anything because they only address insurers (those writing the checks) rather than the doctors (the ones writing the bills).

America has no right to speak ill of our NHS

This British op-ed piece does a fantastic job of giving a perspective from the other side of the pond. It is well-researched and well-written, and I appreciated how the author highlighted the flaws in both our current system and our current debate.

Most interesting, however, is the author’s take on the philosophy of health care, and their derision of the USA’s system being non-Christian. Particularly interesting from a Brit, where religion is on a huge decline, to a country that continues to pride itself on its Christian heritage (or, at the least, predominantly elects Christian leaders).

Matthew’s Thoughts

The last article perhaps echoes my own thoughts best. I feel we have a moral obligation, an imperative if you will, to provide health care to everyone. Not just health care, but care in general, and food and clean water, clothing, shelter, etc. I recognize the challenges to doing this worldwide, though I think it could be done. I do not think it would be challenging at all to do it in the USA if we reorganized things a bit. Admittedly, such a reorganization would almost call for a dictatorship, but solutions are possible.

That’s why I wouldn’t make a good politician. I suck at utilitarianism, and I recognize that. Politicians have to be utilitarian and they have to work within a system. Major overhauls are generally unfeasible. Minor corrections are, though, and I think we have the opportunity to correct some things.

The poor need it, and they deserve it no less than I do, or anyone else. I admit to the same mentality mentioned in A Homespun Safety Net, that the poor just need to get over it, work hard, and pull themselves up by their own bootstraps. I don’t believe in excuses, and while I recognize my unique set of circumstances that led to me having a good job and a comfortable lifestyle, I also recall the years of planning and work that went into reaching this point. I have been actively working towards this goal since I was nine years old, so fourteen years. I tend to suspect even a destitute, poor, uneducated person with a criminal record could get out in fourteen years if they applied themselves.

Regardless of what I think (that entire last paragraph), I know what my creator tells me to do. We’ve got to take care of people, and we’re doing a poor job of it in the USA. We can do better because other people are doing it better. If they can, so can we.

What have you been reading?

I don’t have any idea what the current debate about health care is like. We don’t have television service and I honestly don’t even glance at the news on a day-to-day basis. I rarely open up Times to see the headlines, let alone read anything.

What have you been reading, or what can you share on this topic? I’d love to read anything you can offer.

Don’t Pull Your Punches

I'd really like to own this poster someday, JUST LETTING YOU KNOW.
I'd really like to own this poster someday, JUST LETTING YOU KNOW.

I’m currently taking a 200-level religion class that is required for my major, though I somehow overlooked it until last semester (I’m currently in my sixth year at Missouri State University, partially due to how much I suck at reading degree audits) so I’m just now taking it. Paths of World Religions is essentially a world-religion-summary class, with an hour or two dedicated to each religion in a whirlwind tour of belief systems.

Unlike most 200-level religion classes, I have been surprised to see that a lot of the class is actually interested in the subject and excited to be learning this stuff. Since it also counts as a general education requirement (which is the reason most people are in there), you usually see students who are just looking for a grade, but this particular class has a lot of people who honestly want to learn about religion.

That’s all fine and well, and it’s nice to see, but they’re also people who are only now being introduced to some of these religions and concepts. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it means that their conclusions are usually wrong.

And though I like the teacher, who is a very nice woman with a great deal of energy and exuberance, I think that she should probably be telling them that.

When a student compares the Buddha to Jesus, stating that the Buddha was doing OK but then made a mistake and sinned so he had to go out into the desert and meditate/pray before becoming a religious leader, well that’s just wrong. It’s historically inaccurate, and though there are some similarities between the moral codes of Christianity and Buddhism, the view that they’re practically the same religion is incorrect.

We don’t do a person any favours when we go on letting someone think something that is wrong. Yeah, you can inform them nicely, but you still have to tell them the truth or they will continue being ignorant. There’s nothing wrong with ignorance in and of itself–we’re all there until we gain in knowledge on a particular subject–so I don’t think it’s something to be feared, ashamed of, or hidden. But I do take umbrage with people who 1) willingly remain ignorant or 2) allow someone to remain that way, particularly if the person is looking for knowledge.

So if you’re hear someone say something that’s wrong, correct them. Tell them they’re wrong and then explain how, why, and what the truth is. You’re not doing them any favours by pulling your punches and letting them think they’re smart for making a connection between the Tao Te Ching and the Hebrew Bible simply because they’re both religious texts. We have an obligation to spread truth and knowledge, and sometimes that will mean telling someone they’re wrong. Don’t worry, they can probably handle it.

And if they can’t, then I guess they’ll have to learn how to.

Generations Seeking

lonely

When I look around at my peers, I see a great deal of confusion, insecurity, instability, and/or non-commitment. I first thought that this had to do with comparitive opportunities: where our parents might have had relatively few choices regarding what they might do with their lives (limited by finances, education, family, etc.), my generation(s) seem to have fewer, if any, barriers. Education is relatively easily accessible and affordable, the Internet makes information pervasive and instantly available, and the cost of learning continues to decline.

I began to think that, if we are unable to decide what we want to do with our lives, it isn’t because we don’t have the opportunity to do what we like. Rather, it’s because we see and experience so much we enjoy that we can’t settle on what we want to do. Despite this initial conclusion, however, it didn’t seem to fit. We could do a little of everything, or settle on something, and enjoy our lives, but I don’t see a lot of people who are satisfied. Rather, most everyone I know continues to yearn for something else, usually something indefinable.

While conversing with April about this topic, we came upon an interesting thought. Our parent’s generation (labeled as the Baby Boomers, from which both Generations X and Y really sprung) were a group of independent, centralized small families. Following World War II and especially the Vietnam War and subsequent political fallout, there was a move away from the larger community, with a greater a focus indoors on the household, on the family, and on isolationism.

I believe that growing up in this setting has instilled in our generation a deep and abiding desire for community that we might neither understand nor acknowledge. We know that we are unsatisfied, that we want something more, but we’re not finding it in money, materialistic goods, education, careers, etc. We want a family, but we want more than the nuclear family of our parents.

For a lot of people, though, I think that desire has been associated with negative experiences from our childhoods to the extent that people are hesitant to seek out the community they desire. A dislike of “organized religion,” or organized-anything for that matter, leaves people in a place where they cannot get the satisfaction and help they need. And so people remain unsatisfied, frozen, and insecure.

And if one isn’t put-off by an organized group (and let’s face it, someone has to bring people together for there to be a community; there has to be a core before anything else can form), their hesitance tends to come from other insecurities. We become afraid to invest in people because either we might leave or they might. College-age students in particular struggle with this, because their time in any location is limited: once they graduate, get a job, etc., they’re gone and those relationships are left behind.

Or, in perhaps the most self-destructive state, we do not seek out community because we feel selfish doing so. We don’t feel like we’re worthy of friendship, or we feel like we’re imposing on others by seeking them out. We are hurt by our loneliness, and then hurt ourselves further because we cannot trust others to help. We do not seek help and so degenerate into self-imposed isolation and depression.

Those of us who are secure, and have found our communities, have an obligation to reach out to others and alleviate their loneliness. Some people might not know what they are seeking, but they will know when they have found it. All we have to do is welcome them with love and the rest will take care of itself.

Image by: mrjamin

Moral Evolution

Last month, April and I joined FnC in watching the movie Expelled (I would have linked directly to their site, but it’s an atrocity of Flash and nothing else). During the movie, Ben Stein conducts an interview with a historian at a concentration camp, and is essentially attempting to link Darwinism, or the concept(s) of survival of the fittest, to the Nazis. The movie acknowledges that Darwinism is not to blame for Nazism, but it does make the claim that Hitler’s mission was based strongly on the concept of “survival of the fittest.” That the Rom, Pols, Jews, et. al. were weaker than true Germans, and that by allowing them to exist, we were harming the human race by weakening it through interbreding. Therefore, such peoples must be exterminated to preserve the human race, ensuring that the fittest survive.

Hitler argued that we had been violating the natural laws of Darwinism, and must forcefully reverse such mistakes. As the movie progressed through this argument, I began to wonder about what constituted “fitness.” There are obvious traits one might note, such as physical strength, stamina, or mental acuity. A genius will more likely survive than an ignoramus, just as a track athlete has a greater chance to survive than a parapalegic. Despite this, most humans would not argue in favour of the extermination of those who are not as “fit” as other people; we recoil at such horrors, and maintain that “all people are created equal.”

Obviously, not everyone feels that way, or someone like Hitler would neither have arisen nor would have gained support. The same goes for some of the programs of the early 1900s. It made me wonder about what separates humanity from other animals, though, and whether there might be more traits than just physical and mental when considering the evolutionary stepladder.

What I’m getting it, if I may be brief, is the consideration of a moral code common to all humanity. This isn’t a new idea, by any means, but it was the first time I really thought seriously about why we don’t abandon the weaker to their fate. Why do we protect those weaker than us?

I have religious answers of obligation, mission, and duty, but without my faith and the words of my God, I don’t know that I could come up with a feasible answer. The best I can come up with, without resorting to religion, is to fall back on the foundational concept of our social contract, and the recognition that everyone is weaker than someone. Therefore, we agree to protect the weak so that someone stronger will agree to protect us in a somewhat feudalistic way. I find this answer a bit of a stretch though, especially because our thoughts and responses on this subject seem to be unconscious. No one really consciously agrees to this structure, but we also don’t steal or beat the poor just because we can.

And the idea of morality gaining primacy through survival of the fittest doesn’t seem to work either. Outside of fairy tales and Bible stories, the immoral often win the day through backstabbing and trickery. If one person is honour-bound and attempting to not hurt the other, the other will probably win because their job is simply easier. Then again, if there is some sort of “morality gene,” it would make sense that members of the opposite sex would be attracted to those who treated them well, thereby increasing morality’s prevalence… but there’s no real evolutionary reason to justify morality, that I can see.

Regardless, I find the subject challenging and worth further consideration. What are your thoughts? Plesae join in the conversation by commenting.

Thoughts on Buddhism – Suffering

I’m taking a class this semester on Buddhism and will subsequently be writing a series of posts on the subject. They’re not intended as final critiques or conclusions about the religion/philosophy, but are just thoughts I had during lecture. My opinions might change as I learn more, but I want to have a record of what I was thinking as I go through the semester.


The Four Noble Truths of Buddhism are

  1. Life is Suffering
  2. Suffering is caused by Desire
  3. Suffering can be ended
  4. Suffering is ended by following the Eight-fold Path

As we discussed the life of Gautama Buddha, one of the underlying assumptions that jumped out at me was that suffering is bad. In leaving his palace during his three trips as a youth, he saw a diseased man, a decaying corpse, and a begging ascetic, and it was these three encounters that prompted him to leave home and seek out a better way. How can one enjoy life when death haunts our every step? he asked.

Of course, I come at the subject from an extremely different point of view. The concepts of karma and reincarnation were natural laws in south and east Asia, much like we consider gravity, and went unquestioned. Reincarnation was simply a fact of life, but one I clearly disagree with. As a Christian, I take the idea of heaven and eternity very seriously.

Which is to say, I take the idea of eternity with not only full faith, but expectation and recognition. Eternity isn’t something that starts at death, but something that simply is. My soul is eternal, and when this body dies, I merely pass through a doorway between this world and the next. I will have all of eternity to roam, learn more of God, worship and spend time with my Lord, talk and meet and learn with other Christians…

Therefore, my perspective on suffering is very different from a Buddhist’s, or perhaps a non-Christian’s perspective. I do not necessarily assume suffering is bad, and in the case of the Buddha, I couldn’t help ask the question (to myself, anyways), “If not for suffering, would he have been spurred towards enlightenment?”

In The Cave, the famous argument of Plato for why we seek knowledge, Socrates describes a cave in which people are chained to stare at a wall. They can see nothing but the shadows cast by those outside the cave, and so they assume that these shadows are all there is to life. When one is freed, they are led outside, and are blinded at first by the light. After seeing the wonders of the world, if they were taken back and chained to stare at the wall again, their mates would never believe them. What’s more, their suffering would be great, as would their desire to escape and gain more knowledge of the world.

Humans thrive on suffering, pain, and depravation. It is what motivates us to greater good, to higher goals, and while the pain is frustrating and hurtful, its outcome is not always negative. If we survive it, holding our sanity intact and bending rather than breaking, we learn something new about ourselves, the world, or both.

That isn’t to say that I advocate seeking suffering. Self -flagellation or -mutilation isn’t something to be desired in my book, but I can at least see the value of suffering in our lives. I think the key isn’t to try and stop the occurrence of suffering altogether, but rather to turn it to good. Find a way to take a negative situation and derive a positive from that situation.

If I was always content, there would be no reason for me to question, grow, or learn. It just seems daft to me to ignore the value of suffering. While ending suffering is a very noble goal, the initial assumption, that suffering is altogether bad and completely undesirable, seems naïve at best.