Can Positive Suffering be the Solution to Preventing Mass School Shootings?
The only thing that is guaranteed in life is that we will suffer.
Most people are caught up in a race, chasing happiness and trying to escape suffering, without realizing that it’s a trap.
It’s another version of the “rat race”, where at some point you will get tired of not being able to close in on happiness. This situation leads you to stop running when you get tired, and when you do so... the suffering you’ve been running away from catches up with you.
At some point, you might regain a bit of energy and decide to try again, which is a good tactic because we should never give up, but a bad strategy because it’s an effort that will not lead to any valuable results.
Tactics can deal with the symptoms, but without a strategy, the disease won’t be cured.
A great example of this is the ongoing mass shootings that we have been seeing over and over again lately. I’m no expert on psychology or on policies, but I do know a thing or two about problem-solving.
One thing is very clear, you can’t expect to solve a problem by doing something that was done before when facing the same problem and it didn’t lead to a solution. Also, dealing with the symptoms will not solve the problem.
Should there be changes in gun policies? Probably… Will that lead to solving the problem? Not likely.
First, we have to think deeply about the problem that is causing these mass shootings… which is deeply related to the “rat race” of pursuing happiness and running away from suffering. The shootings are the symptom, the lack of human connection and meaningful relationships is the disease.
How deeply disconnected from its tribe does a human need to be to cause so much pain to the people close to them?
If we keep sending a message that the goal is to be happy, and if you are not happy you are a failure, then we will keep seeing people disconnecting from its tribe as a way to deal with the suffering they’ve been facing.
But what if we send a message of abandoning the pursuit of happiness (gasp)... so that we can stop and learn to walk hand in hand with suffering?
Suffering Is The Only Sure Thing In Life
Most of the events that cause pain and suffering are a sure thing. On the other hand, the events that cause happiness are not.
To make things worse (or maybe better?), we need suffering because without it we would have no way to appreciate happiness or joy.
Think about the things that gave you the happiest moments in your life.
Graduating from college? It takes you about 22 years of suffering through school and then college to do that. You can say what you want about how much you love learning. I know I do. Yet, you can’t deny that there is a lot of suffering when you are going through high school and college.
Getting the job you’ve dreamed about? Compare that single moment with the years of education, and the countless interviews where you were rejected because you were honing your interview skills. Throw in there those internships that you might not have enjoyed.
Getting a promotion? Same as the example above.
Even having a child takes 9 months of pain and suffering. I know you love your kids, and they are worth every sacrifice. But most people will agree that pregnancy is not a time full of joy and happiness.
If suffering is the sure thing in life… why do we spend so much time trying so hard to avoid it?
We’ve tried so hard to eliminate suffering, and have somewhat succeeded, that suffering is now evolving. It’s like a virus.
Before, we used to suffer because we had no protection against the elements. We had to be 24/7 focused on surviving because anything out there was a potential death threat. We also suffered from hunger because food was not easily accessible.
Winter, summer, no access to water, hunting or being hunted, hunger… these were our concerns and the situations that made us suffer.
Nowadays, in most cases, these are no longer concerns. Yet, these are things we take for granted.
Suffering Gracefully Without Complaining
Take a moment to think about the people that you consider “successful”. People who have overcome many obstacles, faced hardships, developed world-class skills, and improved the lives of others in many ways.
A great example of this is Chris Gardner. The movie “The Pursuit of Happiness” was based on his life. During the movie, you can clearly see all the suffering he and his family went through.
Yet, what was shown in the movie is not even half of all the suffering he had to endure in his life. Something that wasn’t shown in the movie is that his stepfather was physically abusive to his mother and sisters. The problems between his mother and stepfather caused them to be placed in and out of foster care several times during their childhood.
At some point, his mother was convicted for trying to kill the abusive stepfather.
Yet, you can see that even with all the obstacles that he faced he was still able to overcome these and succeed. Some might argue that it was thanks to facing all this suffering that he developed the strength needed to be successful.
There are thousands of examples like this one.
Michael Jordan was cut from the basketball team when he was in high-school and now he is considered the best basketball player of all times (although LeBron seems to be catching up but that’s not the main topic here).
Kyle Maynard is a quadruple amputee and was still able to compete at wrestling, climb Mount Kilimanjaro (without the aid of prosthetics), and achieve many other amazing feats.
And there are countless stories about all the suffering and hardships that successful people had to go through.
If you can summarize these stories, and look for a theme, you can clearly see that the people who can deal with the most suffering, while keeping a positive mindset, are the ones that will succeed.
The athletes that can suffer in training the longest, believing this will lead to victory, are the ones that will usually win. This also means suffering because of having to say no to simple pleasures to stay true to their goals.
The entrepreneurs that can suffer through as many NOs as possible, believing in their vision, are the ones that will usually win. This also means suffering because of the sacrifices that need to be made to win in a game where 95% or more lose.
The artist that can suffer while creating something they don’t consider as beautiful as their vision, believing that their skills will soon match their imagination, are the ones that usually win. This also means suffering while the rest of the world tells them to “get a real job” or laughs at their creations while they are mastering their craft.
Can there be such a thing as positive suffering?
Mastering the Art of Positive Suffering
The concept of learning how to suffer is not something new. Stoics have been talking about this for thousands of years.
I don’t want to get too deep into the research, but Malcolm Gladwell has an entire book (David and Goliath) where he talks about the advantages of disadvantages and the disadvantages of advantages.
Also, Ryan Holiday has an amazing book called “The Obstacle Is The Way” and the name says it all. He also has another book that goes hand in hand with the first one mentioned, and with the topic we are covering, called “Ego is the Enemy”.
Yes, Ego is the enemy because it doesn’t like suffering. Ego likes pleasure. And not just any type of pleasure, it likes simple and immediate pleasure. Yet, it’s not the Ego’s fault. That is just a mechanism that has evolved to help us survive.
If we didn’t give in to our most basic pleasures (eating, sleeping, and having sex) we wouldn’t be alive. But times have evolved, yet our biology hasn’t evolved as fast as many other things. So it is on us to hack our system, and rewire our brains, so that we can be in line with our evolved context.
Daily Positive Suffering
There are ways in which we can build our tolerance to suffering.
Some of the things I do:
Fasting every day for 16 hours and sometimes 24 hours
Eliminating certain foods for periods of time (i.e. no sugar for 30 days)
Not drinking coffee for a day or two (I know, it’s a caffeinated sacrilege but it its for a good purpose)
Doing things with my left hand every now and then (i.e. writing, brushing my teeth, etc.)
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