I believe in a concept I refer to as “the particularity of pain.”
This idea basically means that the experience of pain is unique to each individual and cannot, therefore, be fairly compared with the painful experiences of another.
It seems a matter of common sense that some problems are harder to deal with than others. After all, we can look at the different challenges in our own lives and assign varying degrees of difficulty to them. For instance, I find it easier to write a song than to do fifty push-ups. If I were required to do the latter task, then I would have a more difficult time than if I were required to do the former.
The problem with these sorts of comparisons is that they completely break down when we seek to compare difficulty levels between different persons. For instance, let’s consider a 14-year-old boy who’s emotionally crushed because a girl he’s “in love with” doesn’t like him back. Let’s compare that boy to a 35-year-old man who has a wife, four kids, and a mortgage to pay. Let’s suppose this man just lost his job.
Who has a bigger problem?
The 35-year-old man, right?
Well, how do we know?
We think we know the answer because we imagine how easy the young boy’s problem would be for us, while we tremble at the thought of losing our own jobs.
Here’s where the “particularity of pain” comes in;To really understand the gravity of a problem, you can’t just look at the problem. You must look at the consciousness of the one who actually claims to have the problem.
Judging the size of a person’s problem by only looking at the issue they complain about, results in an incomplete picture of their reality. We must also take into account their worldview, along with all the insights and experiences which might be absent from that view.
Understanding this principle is critical in overcoming the feelings of guilt, jealousy, resentment, and self-loathing that can easily arise out of situations where we compare our problems to the problems of others.
In tomorrow’s post, I’ll continue this topic.