LIFE: Shared Suffering
A common interest or mutual friend are certainly things likely to unite us. It’s why we feel an instant kinship to someone we just met who also likes that author or TV show or who also went to that concert.
“You know so-and-so?! I went to high school with her!” and suddenly the gates are open and we welcome in a stranger-turned-friend because of this commonality.
Sharing things has been an emphasized practice since pre-school, and not just because it’s polite, but because it’s sacred.
In the unpredictable, scary and potentially painful human experience, sharing something with someone else is an ancient biological signal of friendship, togetherness, trust (even if only temporary.)
But despite this, we are paradoxically hesitant to share the most uniting of all experiences: struggle. Suffering. Hardship.
When you grieve with someone, struggle alongside another heart, suffer right next to another soul— you are inextricably connected, deeply bound beyond likes and dislikes because you, too, felt that indescribable, unwanted feeling. And for whatever reason, struggle and suffering infallibly unite us. How many marches have we had in the past year over this very concept?
To struggle together is to put more shoulders beneath the weight of the world. It does not change the weight nor the world, but it changes our perception of both.
So why is our instinct to hide when we fail?
When we don’t know what we’re doing?
When we’re lost, confused, hurting, angry?
Perhaps it’s because fear is easier to respond to than the contrary: exposure.
Perhaps it’s because we’ve been taught to feel shame around anything less than meeting the marks, smiling and saying “Fine, thanks,” and meeting expectations.
I think there are a number of reasons we choose to struggle in private rather than together, but that is a greater shame, to me, than the one of falling short.
The real struggles—like deep uncertainty, unexplainable sadness, gut-punching failure, and terrible self-invented loneliness— these are the struggles we need to be living in front of other people.
Hating the same president, being bothered by the same issues: those are superficial unions. If we want deep connection (and deep connection is what we need) we’re going to have to rightfully, go deeper.
There is no experience more common and intimate than struggle, and though it's counterintuitive, that's precisely why we absolutely must start sharing our suffering and struggling in front of other people.