Dear old and new friends,
Suffering abounds in each of our lives and throughout the world. While physical and mental afflictions are a part of the human condition, attempts to explain their purpose continues as a blindfolded quest. In previous ages pain and sickness were considered a visitation of the gods or God as a warning or punishment. A stoic theory proposed painful suffering was a teacher; whatever was the lesson became the patient’s responsibility to unravel.
Today medical drugs that dull or remove pain are easily available. So imagine your physician prescribing you shouldn’t use them to escape your pain, but instead you should enjoy it! Medical madness, except for a condition of those who strangely get pleasure from suffering…of others! No single English word exists for this perverse pleasure, but there is one in German—Schadenfreude!
In the first century C.E. crowds in Rome of over 50,000 jammed the giant Coliseum for public spectacles. They came to experience Schadenfreude as they watched the bloody slaughter of slaves, gladiators and animals. In just the Coliseum’s inaugural games 9,000 animals were slaughtered to entertain the carnage-hungry crowds. Lest today we protest that we aren’t so barbaric, ponder why gigantic sport stadium crowds cheer the often brutal or crippling collisions of players in football and basketball or the bloody body battering of prize fighting.
Shouldn’t we find the blood-spattered injuring of others repulsive? Yet, we don’t. An unnamed cousin of Shadenfreude is the fascination for television or newspaper reports of disasters, murder, rape and massacre. News editors know our hunger and so operate on the editorial rule: “If it bleeds, it leads!” In this age of instant 24/7 news a spiritual necessity of an absolute imperative is that we must safeguard our souls and hearts from any delighting or fascination of the suffering of others. Daily vigilance is required to cultivate our compassion by frequent Holy Hurting Communion with any who suffer—spouse, friend, neighbor or the complete stranger.
We begin to cultivate authentic compassion by rejecting that universal illusion, akin to the earth is flat, that another’s painful suffering is exclusively theirs! As our planet Earth is a sphere and not a flatten disc, so likewise each one of us is united as one with everyone else on this planet. So another’s pains or joys are always yours! While unattainable intellectually, this amalgamated fusion of all life is both a cosmic organic reality and a mystical spiritual one.
You may find it helpful in deepening your compassion to whisper “Ouch” every time you see another suffering.