In my university Greek philosophy class, I got in to several heated debates with others about whether or not suffering is inherently valuable. At the time, I was convinced that intentionally painful experiences are not necessarily the best educators– why suffer needlessly if you could instead, attain knowledge/enlightenment/etc. without the pain?
Aren’t there pain-free roads and why can’t we go on them? was my line of interrogation. I never appreciated the glorification of the hero’s quest– the immense loss and tragedy as the only way to a better end. It struck me as romantic at best and formulaic at worst.
Yet here I am, at times suffering needlessly and wondering just why oh why I’ve sought out such a life. My life here isn’t all bad– please don’t misunderstand– but it is singularly lonely and exhausting in ways I cannot communicate fully with words.
I’ve been reflecting on this suffering problem a lot as I move in to my last 12 months of service and I’ve decided to change my mind a bit re: the pain and growth relationship.
The discomfort that my Peace Corps experience has forced me to sit in has, in ways I don’t fully comprehend, made me look inward. It has made me grapple with some of the ugliest, most dysfunctional bits of my inner world– not because I want to, no no, but because I desperately need to work out my shit. At the risk of sounding overdramatic, it’s really about my survival some days.
Which brings us back to the suffering problem.
I am still not one to romanticize suffering and I’m still not sure(?) it’s the only way towards growth. However, my experiences here are making me think twice about the value of a being in a seemingly impossible situation and pushing onward. It’s not that the pain itself is transforming me in to a better person somehow, as if by magic– but rather, the overall situation is facilitating tremendous amounts of self-reflection and growth for me (whether or not I am actively seeking it). I’ve had to learn to communicate better, do right by people and treat myself better all because my situation is too unbearable without these adjustments.
Without ever realizing it, I’ve been participating in my own little quest, gaining new skills and insights in exchange for moderate suffering. The joke isn’t lost on me.
This experience is requiring so much of me but with any luck, perhaps I will grow into a kinder, better person by the end of all this. Perhaps there is something to the hero’s quest, something much more simple and human, something I failed to recognize before but now feel so clearly.
“Be strong, saith my heart; I am a soldier;
I have seen worse sights than this.”