“That’s the trouble with being me. At this point, nobody gives a damn what my problem is. I could literally have a tumor on the side of my head and they’d be like, ‘Yeah, big deal. I’d eat a tumor every morning for the kinda money you’re pulling down.” -Jim Carrey
Does Paris Hilton have an easier life than you?
How about Donald Trump, Kim Kardashian, Bill Gates, George Clooney, your next door neighbors, your employer, your wealthiest client, or whoever else seems be to living your version of “the good life”?
Whatever your answer to that question is, how do you know?
Here’s the tricky thing about making comparisons between various people’s problems:
If I am allowed to define suffering in terms of MY experiences, then what do you think the chances are that YOU are going to beat ME in a “who has the harder life” contest?
If you’re allowed to define suffering in terms of YOUR experiences, then how many people are going to beat YOU in a “who has the harder life” contest?
What about Paris Hilton? What if SHE gets to formulate the definition of suffering and what if she decides that nothing is worse than having people look at you as a spoiled little princess who doesn’t deserve her wealth? What if she thinks YOU have it easy because you don’t have to deal with the emotional stress of being hated by hard-working people who are jealous of your good fortune?
Sounds laughable, right? Of course it does. It’s not YOUR definition of suffering.
I am not gullible enough to believe that I’ve somehow managed to convince my readers to feel sorry for Paris Hilton, but that’s not the point anyway.
Let’s illustrate the real issue by taking my examples further:
What if all the people who aren’t white got together and decided that white people don’t know what “real” suffering is? What if it was the other way around?
What if the gay and lesbian community uniformly decided that heterosexual people have it easy?
What if all the people who felt unattractive decided that “pretty” people should never be allowed to complain about anything because of the special treatment they get?
It’s easy to brush this aside as an abstract philosophical exercise, but how can one have a meaningful discussion about who has the harder life without sorting out the issue of how suffering is defined?
Who gets to decide?
Americans? Israelis? Palestinians? Nigerians? Egyptians? Rich People? The middle class? The Poor? Liberals? Conservatives? Religious people? Atheists? Women? Men? Black people? White People? Native Americans? Gay people? Orphans? People with cancer? People with H.I.V.? People who hate their jobs? The physically abused? The jury for the O.J. Simpson Case? The people who feel disrespected and disregarded for not being including in this list of examples?
We all tend to take our personal concept of “suffering” for granted. We zoom in on our life-defining difficulties, then we look around at all the people who don’t appear to suffer from the particular ailments that afflict us and, no questions asked, we assume ourselves to be modern-day Viktor Frankls.
Such an assumption is very good for the ego, but I can only wonder how much that type of thinking alienates us from the kind of compassion, open-mindedness, and authentic human contact that we all need in order to deal with the unique kind of suffering each of us are facing.
That’s today’s two cents.