Necessary Suffering

Some suffering is unavoidable: our parents grow old and die, our lover falls out of love, we fall and break our bones, and inevitably we suffer.

All of that suffering, it’s part of the human condition. In a way, the bad times and the good times are infinitely intertwined – I doubt we could understand one without the other. I couldn’t.

But then, a lot of suffering is unnecessary.

Every day in Washington, DC I see cars that cost many thousands of dollars glide by homeless people.

Malaria is inexpensive to prevent and inexpensive to cure and yet it kills hundreds of thousands every single year.

Some women are forced to undergo female genital mutilation, some men lose their lives in meaningless wars, and some children grow up malnourished and unloved.

This type of suffering is preventable.

Homelessness, preventable illness, sexual assault, neglect, mindless violence, malnourishment (both physical and emotional), and a million other forms of suffering are completely unnecessary. They are not part of the human condition. They are the result of societies with poor values and individuals who ignore the fact that we belong to one another.

What we have to do as leaders – hell, not even as leaders, just as rational, caring, decent people – is acknowledge that there are two forms of suffering: necessary suffering that is part of the human experience and unnecessary suffering that can be prevented.

Then, we must go to work to reduce the amount of unnecessary suffering on earth. Significant gains in the reduction of suffering won’t happen overnight. It will be a long hard battle, but in this case, all forward motion is good.

We don’t have to spend all of our time reducing unnecessary suffering. I don’t. But if you’re not somehow using at least some of your resources to help less fortunate people, I don’t think you’re doing your job as a human. If you’re doing nothing to help others reduce their suffering and maybe even access happiness and stability, then I think you’re part of the problem.

Of course, if you’re part of the problem now, it doesn’t mean you have to be part of the problem forever. You can get in the habit of donating to charity, buying a homeless person a meal, getting involved with meaningful politics, volunteering, raising awareness that leads to action, and a million other things that reduce suffering.

For now, our planet is awash in needless suffering. Whether you do something about it or not comes down to you.

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