Suffering in the Balance

Dear Readers:

Why do bad things happen to us? Why do we suffer? These questions if not addressed properly can lead the sufferer to despair and in extreme cases, suicide. Given the number of suicide attempts in Barbados, and the recent (2002) promotion of doctor assisted suicide, I thought that today we should examine suffering.

Some assume that suffering is a result of punishment for wrong doing, while others assert that it is fate or coincidence. But what initiates suffering? By observation, there appear to be three types of suffering and a description of each type may reveal the causes.

The first two types are associated with selfish desires. Selfish desires are natural, but they are not always beneficial. We have a natural desire for food, drink, music, sex, material goods and other pleasures. Knowing when to satisfy these desires is a mark of wisdom.

Temptations are opportunities for us to satisfy these desires either wisely or irresponsibly. If they are satisfied wisely, then complete pleasure can be experienced and the residual physical, mental and emotional benefits will enhance subsequent pleasurable events. If however these desires are satisfied irresponsibly, then there may be a brief experience of pleasure but with the accompanying guilt, followed by negative physical, mental and emotional consequences.

Irresponsible eating includes consuming unhealthy foods especially after the appetite has been satisfied. There may be momentary pleasure while the food is being ingested. However, the host of health related diseases resulting from unhealthy or over-eating should be incentive enough to eat wisely.

Irresponsible sexual behaviour includes sexual intercourse before marriage and being unfaithful to your spouse. There may be momentary pleasure during the act. However, the host of incurable sexually transmitted diseases, not to speak of AIDS, should be reason enough to be responsible in this regard.

Hence two types of suffering are revealed. The first type is experienced by those who resist the temptation to irresponsibly satisfy their natural desire for pleasure. This type is beneficial to personal development and builds character. The second type is experienced by those who must face the consequences of irresponsibly satisfying their desire for pleasure.

It should be noted that temptations are realised when curiosity is aroused, and curiosity is aroused when information on the subject is promoted. Therefore the strategy of promoting sex education in primary schools may not be beneficial. It is irresponsible for either parents or teachers to awaken sexual desires in primary school children, thereby prematurely forcing them to resist these desires. They are not physically, mentally nor emotionally developed enough to bear either the first or second type of suffering in this regard.

As explained in my Co-education column, children’s brains develop differently before the onset of puberty. They mainly learn by participating, and if their curiosity is aroused, they will tend to explore the described behaviour. The recent reports of 7 to 9 year olds engaging in sexual behaviour should inform us that children are having more difficulty in resisting this type of behaviour.

The third type of suffering occurs when persons are doing nothing wrong, but bad things happen. They include: the faithful wife who gets HIV/AIDS from her unfaithful husband, the careful pedestrian who is disabled by a drunk driver, the responsible parent who’s son embraces irresponsible behaviour, the productive employee who is severed, the healthy eater who gets cancer, and the innocent victims of rape, assault and robbery. These people experience a level of suffering that goes beyond that described thus far since there is no apparent cause. We must therefore seek an explanation beyond what we can simply observe.

If we believe Jesus, who said that everyone must be seasoned or prepared with fire to receive greater responsibilities following this life, then this becomes a source of hope for the third type of sufferers. However, those who undergo this type of suffering are highly vulnerable to despair and succumbing to irresponsible behaviour. Therefore those individuals and groups, who support and encourage these suffers to persevere and maintain a positive attitude, deserve our commendation.

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