Our societal concept of a badge of honor for having endured suffering can be detrimental and even destructive at times.
As as society, we have an infatuation with suffering. I would like to think that it stems from a healthy, compassionate place. We feel intrinsically drawn to suffering, and our hearts go out to those affected. Obviously, this has been exploited in many different ways. Somewhere along the line, our perspective of the value of suffering has warped.
We now find ourselves in a situation where we glorify and revere people who have suffered. The problem is that, at times, these positive reinforcements create environments that foster and encourage unnecessary suffering. I wrote about one of these environments a few weeks ago: The plague of busyness.
Another environment primed for this warped perspective is the world, or industry, of sports. In nearly every game you watch, you will hear either the coach, the players, or the announcers discuss the adversity someone passed through. It’s almost like we believe that victory is not possible, or perhaps not valuable, unless it comes as a result of suffering and adversity.
I recently finished reading Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl. I was inspired by his ability to endure great suffering, and still maintain a belief and perspective that life is valuable and worth living. Something he said feels particularly relevant:
But let me make it perfectly clear that in no way is suffering necessary to find meaning. I only insist that meaning is possible even in spite of suffering—provided, certainly, that the suffering is unavoidable. If it were avoidable, however, the meaningful thing to do would be to remove its cause, be it psychological, biological or political. To suffer unnecessarily is masochistic rather than heroic.
As I think about my own life, I want to remove the pursuit of these badges of honor. I want to stop trying to suffer in order to legitimize my experiences or achievements. I have value just as I am. I can allow myself to feel joy whether I earned it through suffering or not. There is no “earning it.” The badges are illusory.