The Suffering Olympics
Last week I focused on one of the pitfalls of comparing ourselves and our lives to the “shiny” world of social media. This week I want to focus on another dangerous comparison game we can sometimes play - comparative suffering.
The Urban Dictionary has a term and definition for this - The Suffering Olympics: The pointless endeavor of comparing different tragedies or histories of oppression to one another by attempting to quantify the suffering and/or injustice of each, so as to determine which tragedy was more tragic, or which oppressed peoples were more unjustly oppressed.
Please understand, I am not in ANY way attempting to diminish the authentic suffering that individuals and groups encounter. Sometimes it is actually quite easy to identify real suffering, especially when it is happening to us or to people we love and care about. The danger of competing in the Suffering Olympics comes when we are using it as a way to justify just how bad our suffering is, like it’s some kind of an award to win! Suffering is actually a universal reality. It's impossible to exist in this world and not experience suffering of some kind, and the truth is, regardless of how my suffering may compare to yours, my suffering is authentic to me. It's real, and it is making an impact on me.
Since this is true, the most important question then becomes, how am I going to respond to this suffering I am experiencing? And a powerful second question is, how do I want to support you in whatever suffering you may be experiencing? When we can remove ourselves from the Suffering Olympics, we can shift our attention to responding to it in healthy ways in us, and supportive ways in others.
Where have you been tempted to compete in the Suffering Olympics? What would it look like for you to shift from trying to compare your suffering to the suffering of others, and instead figure out how to respond in healthy ways to your own challenges, and supportive ways to the pain and hardship of those around you?
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