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Friday, 01 February 2013 09:40

Dear Dear Shakespeare – Suffer or perish?

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My dear Billy,
We have often been confronted with warnings and admonitions like “suffer or perish”,  “do or die”,  “adapt or perish.”
Sometimes they sound like threats and sometimes we wonder whether they are giving options or choices. It’s as if we are going to perish if we do not bring suffering upon ourselves; or we shall simply die if we refuse to do something against our will, and that if we don’t want to adapt ourselves to something which goes against our principles, we are doomed to perish.

There is a widespread belief, especially in some religions, that pain is beneficial to the human being. People do inflict all sorts of physical pain upon themselves, some by getting flogged, some by cutting their flesh and in a number of other ways. Physical pain is regarded as something noble and sufferers are brought to believe that their joy in the next world will be proportionate to their misery in this one.
But this, you will admit, is intellectual nonsense, my dear Billy. Pain is simply unpleasant.

We do instinctively recoil from it. A person who makes no effort to avoid pain must be mentally deficient, a masochist. One who deliberately brings it upon himself is either a misguided religious fanatic indulging in self-mortification, or he is insensible to its torments, like the man who can lie on a bed of nails. Of course, we are not here referring to the one who observes certain religious edicts like fasting or going on a pilgrimage on foot. But don’t forget that even Christ was far from comfortable on the cross and he even felt at some time that his Father had abandoned him.

If you subscribe to the belief that pain ennobles or elevates the spirit, catch hold of a hospital nurse and ask her to tell you about her experiences. I spent about a week in hospital last year, and I can safely say that for one person who bears his pain with fortitude, there are dozens who degenerate into selfish, inconsiderate, demanding individuals. Where, in health, these traits are absent, in sickness they rush to the surface. Pain has performed its act of degradation.

It has also been said that adversity strengthens the character and brings out the best in humans. But this statement is as ridiculous as it is deceiving. The absurdity of this claim can be found on the thousands of faces that peer through our prison bars. The hungry man steals. The jobless man indulges in violence to get rid of some of his frustration. Adversity has brought many to murder and many more to self-destruction. Yet it is considered laudable. It has even been described as “blessed adversity.” All reason refutes this. Adversity is evil. To fall into it exposes one to malignant, not beneficial influences, my dear Billy.

Like adversity and pain, poverty has also been extolled as if it is a boon and not a bane. Here again, religion has undoubtedly played its part in propagating this piece of stupidity. “To be poor is to be blest,” we have often been told. It is not difficult to find people who have lost every shred of self-respect because of the agonies of poverty. Nor is it difficult to find dishonest and unscrupulous people who are what they are only because poverty has made them so. The heel of poverty can grind a man into dust. Some anonymous writer once said, “The man who can bear poverty without shame deserves it.”

We come now to the most noble-sounding myth of all – the one that urges people to be self-sacrificing. It is recommended as virtuous that you continually deprive yourself of something in order to help someone else. Admittedly, the evil in this is, at first, not easy to detect. But it is unmistakably there. If one person repeatedly helps another, the person helped gradually feels debased, and eventually turns against his benefactor. If it is also known that some sacrifice was involved, the secret resentment is still more intense.

The frequent accusations of ingratitude that we hear arise of situations like this. Further analysis will show that the constant helping of others tends to destroy their initiative and makes them seek alms when they should be seeking work. It has also been found that the largesse of the welfare state towards certain categories of citizens tends to turn them into an aided group that is always waiting for government to provide all their needs. Mahatma Gandhi’s wisdom shines through what he said many years ago, “More is always expected from those who give much.”

It is always a good practice to regard with suspicion those theories which try to elevate what is clearly undesirable, such as pain, adversity, poverty, self-sacrifice.   No rational argument can be put forward for their justification. They are wolves in sheep’s clothing – spurious, hypocritical, false – and they deserve to be shot down.



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