& Suffering (Chosen vs Unchosen)

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Do we choose to suffer?

Many of us seek to understand our purpose in life.

Why are we here?

Why do we exist?

How did we come to be?

Beyond the fact that we exist, every human being comes to know suffering on some level. The questions about suffering and the meaning of life have been asked by many people over the course of human history. I have studied the concept of meaning, suffering and purposefulness for a long time.

What I have come to believe is that answers only lead to more questions. I’ll share an example of this morning. One of my family members is very ill, he is on his last moments and beginning to transition to whatever comes next. I was thinking about him and his immediate family. I was thinking about his children and his grandchildren, and his life. As a young person, he was a distant life raft, always ready to help but far enough away that he wasn’t involved frequently in my life. If I needed him, he was there.

As I was thinking about him, I looked over at the trees. I thought of the concept of the Stonecutter story. The Stonecutter made his way through his story seeking to be something more powerful than he perceived, only to find that he was already what he sought out to become.

As part of the story, the Stonecutter became a mountain. I was considering the idea of human souls taking on other forms of nature. What if we became trees? Would this be peaceful, or would this be unending purgatory? I start thinking about the simple things and simple concepts and find myself quickly in complex ideas.

Recently, I watched a video by Paul Bloom on Big Think, he offered the concept of chosen suffering vs unchosen. https://youtu.be/1AqUYejDdmU

Chosen – Essentially things we choose to do which we know are difficult and will cause us some pain. Think marriage, having children, working out, or other things we choose to do knowing we will suffer in some capacity.

Unchosen – Death, illness, other things which may happen to us.

I kept it simple but generally, it is the difference between what we have chosen vs what has befallen us.

After listening to Bloom and reading a bit more, I have concluded there is no such thing as “chosen suffering.” If the assertion is that I have made a choice because life would be drab or boring or not fulfilling without my choosing to make it complicated, this still doesn’t account for the conditions which allowed a person to make the choice. We can choose to some extent, but I don’t think any of us is sophisticated enough to really understand the variables and the outcomes.

I think all suffering is part of natural chaos which occurs at any point in a person’s life. What we know is that all people suffer. We know that no matter how rich or how poor, how gifted and talented, how charmed or how destitute, we all come to learn suffering in some way. Some people suffer more than others and the frequency to which they suffer will vary.

In the past, I have written about people who have suffered in ways that are truly horrific. They turned suffering into a super power. While I don’t believe that we choose to suffer, I do believe that we can choose to do something with our suffering. There are stories of people who are blind and deaf finding ways to engage the world while they live in perpetual silence and darkness. The only interaction they have with people is through touch. Imagine living your life in partial sensory deprivation and finding a way to make good with it. There are all the people who live with a spectrum of disorders. Losing limbs, sight, sound, taste, smell. Having mental challenges, anxiety or being totally healthy but oppressed in some way.

In some religion, it is said that we choose the life we live. We may know that our lives will be hard and we choose it because we need it to grow spiritually. This doesn’t answer the question of why. In the Matrix movies they sought to answer the question of suffering by sharing that humans don’t want paradise. If normal was boring, we wouldn’t want it. Paul Bloom also asserts this to some extent in his talk about suffering. It makes sense to think this for some people but to make a blanket assertion for humanity is a stretch.

So, what of it? Do we choose to suffer? Is it an inherent desire? Is there chosen vs unchosen suffering categorically?

For all that is said on the necessity of suffering, I don’t believe that humans have ever had a time at any point in history where there was no suffering. Do people choose to introduce challenges in their lives? Absolutely, but this doesn’t mean they want to suffer.

Suffering is a very important topic because it drives so much of what humans do. We want to end suffering. We want to end our own suffering and the suffering of others. Some people want to see others suffer for a variety of reasons. Even if the world was relatively perfect and aligned from the perspective of humans being kind to each other, we all would still know suffering. Why is this? Is there anything that we can do?

What about living in the moments that we do not suffer? Do we seek to find awareness of these moments, recognize them and celebrate them? Should we? Shouldn’t we?

What do you think?


4 Replies to “& Suffering (Chosen vs Unchosen)”

  1. I think you have confused some sacrifices as being suffering Howie. We do choose things in this life, especially relationships and endure consequences of relationships. But if we choose because we love others sometimes we have to sacrifice a piece of ourselves to realize that love many times can become like suffering especially when things don’t go as planned. We usually don’t enter the relationships willingly expecting to suffer but sometimes the road will lead us there. The old saying is true …offer your suffering up is a way of sacrificial love. Many folks misunderstand sacrificial love as enabling others but that is only if fear drives your motivation instead of love. Fear is at the heart of all suffering but love transcends even death which seems to be humans greatest fear.

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  2. Great post!
    I think “suffering” is vague and differs from person to person. The act of suffering, the reasons why we suffer and the choices we make to come out of said feelings or physical space in many cases.
    There are so many areas of our lives that we DONT have control of but more that we do. Our society likes to blame our upbringing or our parents dysfunctions for OUR choices but I think we can choose NOT to suffer and let things and I’m some cases people go. We would need to identify a specific situation.
    Staying in unhealthy or toxic relationships and waking up miserable daily is a choice. Getting into an accident and suddenly loosing half of your body function is NOT a choice.
    Let’s take the folks who are born deaf, blind or with other health ailments out of this conversation. Someone who is born with a health condition doesn’t necessarily lose out or suffer. Again, we would need to categorize this conversation as there are so many twists and turns to life.
    As for relationships…. Each one of us can control who we invite and keep into our lives. I feel like the people who make TERRIBLE decisions on company just do not have a healthy relationship with themselves. It’s not our parents fault what we tolerate as adults. (Literally and figuratively). Side note…I’m the luckiest girl around coz your my braddahaaa! We were raised by the same people yet we nurture and encourage many different types of relationships based on our needs. I’ve never been in an abusive relationship or kept company with the wrong crowd (wrong for me) I also have a broad range of friends on hand and their culture spans across the globe. Nurtured and appreciated all by choice, with a little luck sprinkled in.
    We also know people that stay in a state of misery because that has become part of their identity IN THEIR MIND. It’s a relationship they have with themselves. I would say they have a bad relationship to stay in a miserable head space. I know people day dream about all the positive possibilities of “what if” and then thinking they are just not good enough so they don’t proceed fwd. Interesting how they nurture the negative. I can’t put myself in a dark, negative space to ever wonder what I would do to get out of it. Not with the tools I have. I strive to NEVER be in a place of mental suffering. Now, that doesn’t mean I don’t have sad days…
    The unknown is (I’m at a loss for words) scary and well indescribable. We seek the opinions of strangers who have never experienced actual death or Heaven and hang onto their every word. We constantly seek validation from others when I believe validation must come from oneself. I know this may be an unpopular opinion… but you asked. Oh and by the way, is GOD real? How do we know..
    Not only is my glass have full, I’m happy to have a glass.
    Our mind is everything. That’s literally home.. it’s where we suffer, find joy and sometimes coast along.


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