Saturday, September 6, 2014

Asking the Bigger Questions About Suffering...a Few Initial Thoughts. Ah, but it's Saturday Morning

I, along with some of my more interesting colleagues, was asked to be in a small learning community at Fairfield to address the question, "Why suffering" and "What are our responsibilities to communities who suffer?"

We met yesterday, a Friday afternoon, and I thought to myself, "Why are such busy people gathering at the end of the work week to ask ourselves such complicated questions?"

A nurse. A business woman. An engineer. An economist. An accountant. A historian. A teacher.

We were united because of our interests in working with populations locally and globally who have lived with trauma and immense obstacles.

This is premature in my thinking, but I was most drawn to the ways our diverse disciplines responded to the question, especially in terms of economics, opportunity, inequities, and global realities. We couldn't help but discuss happiness, too, as the opposite of suffering and how relative the terms we use actually are. I think we all struggled with our initial thoughts, especially as we make sense of how to best guide our students to thinking about such difficult questions.

I was thinking about junior curriculum at the Brown School where I inherited that larger question and the books we taught. We felt that 17 year olds should begin thinking about the question of suffering as they were on the verge of adulthood. The notion of pain (psychological and physical) is relevant to how we create a philosophy of life.

Pain makes us beautiful. Or does it?

So, I will be spending every other Friday talking this way with others who think very different than I do and I have to admit the conversation was thrilling, if not scary. We all recognize that being in a place of higher education is a privileged space to intellectually meander around such questions, but I believe wrestling with them brought all of us to a better understanding of their importance. The opposite of addressing the questions is not addressing them.

And we began to address them. I have many pages of notes that I left on my desk (and am angry about this because I wanted to process them this morning). But, I am good rifting from memory, knowing that the questions were so influential that I actually talked about them with the lady cutting my hair after work and with friends over dinner.

Perhaps at the core of who all of us are is our willingness to face such a question head on and/or the total avoidance of thinking about it. Our behaviors, I suppose, indicate our relationship to our responses.

These conversations should prove to be more interesting. I loved that I was in the company of so many experts with different angles of the world. It was a dialogue that was very rare.

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