You Cannot Heal the World’s Suffering

You Cannot Heal the World’s Suffering

I talk through a modern, maybe first world, experience in which well meaning people agonize over the plethora of misery and wrong in the world and their desire to contribute or help. The simple message is, you cannot do anything about most of it, but you can help a lot within your own life, and your own community. All of that only comes after you have deeply addressed your own suffering and struggles.

Episode Transcript:

Hi all. I wanted to first say, hope everybody had a wonderful weekend and good to see you again. And I wanted to address something that comes up pretty consistently. And I want to acknowledge that this is probably a somewhat Western phenomenon, although it's maybe a Western phenomenon in countries that have a certain amount of wealth and power. Or a large middle class in which people may not struggle as much as people do in some areas. But essentially, if I share with you early on in my career, I noticed something that was coming up in the language of a lot of my young clients coming from more liberal areas of the state of CA, where I would have clients coming in where it's clear that there was maybe a real lack of emotional nutrition in how they were parented, or they were just struggling, struggling existentially with some anxiety or just that life can be difficult. And they started talking about privilege. And at the time I didn't really understand what they were talking about. They were just said, well, I know that I'm privileged, and you know, my parents had money and blah, blah. And at the time I was sort of like, what did like, In my head, what does that have to do with anything? People have money, rich people have terrible emotional and psychological problems sometimes. There's no bypassing the human condition. And slowly as I learned, I learned the real and the healthy meaning of that word. Is that whatever your struggles are, there are people who have a lack of access almost as a rule consistently. There are groups who don't get to experience things in a certain way. A really simple and obvious thing is as a therapist, I've become much more intimately aware of how uncomfortable women feel in social spaces a lot. Um, I think about all the years that I've traveled, I've traveled on other countries. I've been in situations that felt a little scary. I lived in Saudi Arabia for a year. Furthermore, I traveled through Nepal, Thailand, Um, I, when I was in Iceland my buddy and I walked, kind of got lost, walked through Reykjavich at night, like two in the morning. Um, I don't think we ever worried. Maybe somebody might pick a fight with you, but I don't think we ever worried that we would be assaulted because someone wanted access to our bodies. And women walk around with that as a reality. They have to think about it when they walk at any time in public, but especially, oh, what if you are just athletic and a woman wants to go running at 9.30 at night? If I'm a guy, and I want to go to the local track. I used to live by a high school. I used to go to the track and go run. It's not even a thought. I don't even think twice about it. I throw my shoes. Furthermore, I'm going to go do that. Well, a woman might think twice and go, maybe that's not a great idea. Right. So that's just one. There are many cases in which one population experiences privilege and another population does not have access to that ease. So there's one case where Yeah, that's something for all of us to be aware of, a way in which men tend not to have to worry about that or have to expand emotional psychological energy dealing with that. And another obvious case is if you take someone who had exactly my childhood and exactly my makeup and experienced the same mental health challenges and life challenges and merely made them a black male, then they would have experienced vastly different things, probably in relationship to authorities and police. I can tell you that I haven't been stopped a lot. Maybe in my entire life, I've probably been stopped eight times. And I can tell you that when I was stopped, there were a couple of times when even unfairly I was. There was one time I was like legit speeding through local neighborhoods because the freeway was completely clogged. And so the officer knew exactly what was going on. I was somebody who had popped off of the freeway and was trying to get somewhere was like probably double the speed limit in residential. And he was just very kind and said, hey, I understand, you know, the freeway is a mess, and you're probably trying to get somewhere, but you need to slow it down. So please take this as a warning. And just Well, I should have had a ticket and I didn't. I've only had one slightly negative interaction with the police in which they were unfairly insulting and inappropriate. So there's another case in which The idea of privilege is not that not everyone suffers, everyone does, but that some people are forced to undergo their suffering while dealing with society picking on them and being unfair to them because of some bizarre perception about their race, et cetera, et cetera. So that's what privilege is. That's what it means. But that's not really the point of my talk. It's related to something that I think has expanded and something that I see people struggling with. Sorry, guys, I have to take this, and then I'll pick it up. I had incoming. This is related to the idea of privilege, but has expanded and got much bigger. And again, I think this might be an American phenomenon or a Western phenomenon. This is partially also related to the internet and our access to information about what's going on all over the world. So I see good people struggle with, and I have also in my life, I see good people, sometimes good people who have had really horrible childhoods, really, really difficult childhoods, tons of adverse childhood experiences that add up to chronic PTSD and chronic struggles. And in fact, maybe that's partially why they have this issue that I'm addressing. And they come in and part of their work is just this massive overwhelm, the amount of work that their brain and their emotions and their nervous system is doing, that thing that we call allostatic load, where your nervous system, your brain is just overwhelmed with all of this struggle. And negative stimuli and urges doing something about things that you can't do anything about. I find people who really, really struggle with how much suffering there is in the world. And they're feeling that there are so many things that they need to do something about. That if they're good moral people, and I see them struggle with the idea of, am I a good person? Am I a moral person? Like, do I have a right to struggle with and heal my trauma? Like, why do I come to therapy? Look, I can afford therapy, just that in and of itself. Like, how many people can't even afford to go to therapy? Then I come into therapy and I sit here and talk about, oh, my mom was so mean, and I got depressed because of it. And now I'm over reactive because I'm really uncomfortable with feedback because I have this trauma, blah, blah, blah. But what am I doing? There's so many people who have it so much worse. And they will struggle with like, what do we do about recycling? And what do we do about the fact that, um, that such and such is going on in this city. And there are these protests. And I know that, you know, in that city, that, um, LGBTQ plus people are struggling terribly and that there's a much higher suicide rate and like, what am I doing? Like, who am I? Like, You know, what right do I have to talk about and complain about the things I'm complaining about? And how do I help? What do I do? And. Maybe people are virtuous virtue signaling, maybe. But I think a lot of people and myself included for the years that I did this really, really struggled with the amount of suffering and what was going on in the world. And with the feeling that if I don't do something, if I don't participate and contribute, the world is just going to continue the way it has been and nothing's going to change. And, and. Part of this, again, is because we have access to so much information and so many videos. Look, when I was a kid, we knew Iran as vaguely this place that was unfriendly. They had taken over the American embassy in the 70s, I think it was, and I was a kid at the time. Okay, they're bad people. And then come to modern day, and you see Iranian women struggling and fighting for equality, and you see the young woman who was beaten to death by the religious police. And you understand the humanity of people. And you understand the dynamics historically of how, for example, America participated in basically taking apart their democracy so that maybe Islamic fundamentalism is partially the United State’s fault. And you see all this complexity, but we didn't have access to that when I was a kid. But everybody has access to that. 10-year-olds that are paying attention, 12-year-olds, 50. I have conversations with 15-year-olds who are tracking the news and what's going on and are bothered by these things. But this was never present to us before. It was never present to us. The few, few, few people who are able to travel, say it was a war correspondent or someone. Um, or someone who has some exceptional job in which they're exposed to these things had some sense of the complexity and the humanity across the globe. For the rest of us, if it ever reached us, it was just some vague narrative about these weird things that happened in other places. And you would learn 40 years later, oh, this terrible thing happened in wherever. So suddenly you have these people who struggled terribly with the idea that the world is a mess and there's just unimaginable suffering going on all the time. And whether you agree with global warming or not, well, I'm not getting into it. I'm not interested in that. It's clear that human beings have a capability of just making a mess of the environment and making it, maybe we're not going to destroy the environment, but we make it gross and ugly and dirty. And without the benefits of the things that were there when I grew up and 50 years before that and a hundred years before that. And so you have all of these people struggling with this. And so I have a simple message for them. In the entirety of human history, these things have always been going on. There have been people preying on one another, whole nations or kingdoms going over to a neighboring kingdom, taking over, enslaving women and children, raping, murdering, torturing, causing mass starvation. As a whole, human beings do amazing things, but we also, as a whole, like 50-50 just seemed to be doing a lot of terrible things. And that was always true. And now suddenly we're all aware of how true it is. And people come in and agonize about it and struggle with it and feel like bad people because they don't know what to do about it. And here they are working on their own life. And so this is the message I want to send to you. The only hope the rest of the human race has, if someone is in a position, say they're in a concentration camp, or they have fled, and they've immigrated because of war or famine, and they're in just dire straits, they've been forced out into the desert, and they're just struggling to maintain their kids, et cetera, et cetera. That person cannot benefit from anything you do until you have so deeply and effectively solved your own challenges and have begun to thrive at such a deep level and have developed an emotional equanimity an emotional balance, a resiliency, a joy at being alive, a practice of breathing, a health in your body that would give you a chance at living to be 110, 120 years old, such that you've solved your financial problems, and you've cared for your kids, and you have a healthy marriage, and you have a healthy relationship to self. And then you can begin to build wealth and influence such that you can go in your own community and make a significant difference for someone. Just start with one family who you see struggle, and maybe they need a year's worth of groceries. Don't save the world. Stop it. Not a single one of us is big enough and strong enough, including billionaires, including politicians, including anyone. Not a single one of us is big enough and strong enough and powerful enough to significantly impact all the suffering in the world. All you're going to do is make yourself miserable. And you're going to weaken yourself, and you're going to frighten yourself, and you're going to make it harder for you to develop yourself to the point that you can truly deeply contribute to others. The only solution available to the human race that you can participate in is first, make sure as much as possible that you have not been beaten down and dragged down by your own mental health challenges and the needs of your own family, that you become a cost to others, whether that's emotionally, psychologically. So what that means is no matter how weird it feels, if you feel that you're struggling to maintain for yourself, The best thing you can do for the rest of the human race is to invest in gratitude and joy and health and resiliency for yourself and to feel no guilt because if you are ever to help on a bigger scale, if you are ever to help on a bigger scale, it requires that you be in a state of health and gratitude and resiliency and that you have a healthy, loving relationship to self. I can tell you from my own personal struggle from all the years, and I lived through things that my family doesn't even know. More than a year, years of actually barely eating maybe two meals a day. And there was a period of time that I ate one meal a day and was dangerously skinny because I was so poor and so dysfunctional. And all that time I worried about the world and I worried about other people. And then I went through my own mental health issues and I worried about the world and I worried about other people. What are we supposed to do? And I guarantee you that I was not able to help anybody or contribute anything until I solved my own problems. And learned to relate to myself with some kindness and some generosity towards myself. And then was able to find a vocation that was very kind to me and matches how I am and who I am in a way that I experienced a lot of joy and pleasure in my job. And then am able to generate enough money that I can help people that I have enough emotional wherewithal that I'm not so beaten down that I'm just holding on by my fingernails and that I can support somebody else and genuinely give and be like, you know, it is okay because I'm okay, So I have enough overflowing that if you need something, I want to give that. It takes nothing from me. I want to give that. It doesn't put me back in a deficit. This is not to say, I mean, as moral people, we're all, we're going to worry. We all will worry about the state of the world and about, you know, Palestine and Israel and about Ukraine. Like you're not paying attention, or you're not a moral person if it doesn't bother you. But if you're using the fact that those things exist as an excuse to, um, to emotionally starve yourself, to inflict pain and suffering on yourself, to punish yourself because you don't feel that you should feel good in a world where these things exist, then you don't understand what possibility or what chance you have to actually contribute. Because to actually contribute absolutely requires that you be in a state of generosity and genuine joy often enough and happiness and a state of abundance that you can generate. Abundance that you can generate so much in your own sphere and with your own family that if someone else is in need, and they come within your sphere you can go the hell with that. No, I can just give this to this person. I want this person to be okay. If they have a chance to be okay, and I can just give this, then I want to do that. You can't do that by wearing yourself out, being miserable that the world is miserable for a lot of people. And those people in those situations don't want you to. In fact, they would be pissed. They'd be like, are you kidding me? Like you have access to all these things, and you could generate money and maybe get rich and then maybe get rich and then come find me and, and give me the funds and access to things such that I could be healthy, and I could have a chance to go to college. And I like, and then my life, like, do you think I want you to be miserable too? No. Nobody who seriously suffers or is seriously miserable actually wants anyone else to be. They're like, sort yourself out and then if you can help me, come help sort me out. That's not always true. Sometimes their misery loves company, but the kind of people in which misery loves company are the kind of people whose basic biological needs are taken care of. And they're in a really, really difficult mental state, and they feel lonely in it. And so they want other people to also feel miserable so that they don't feel that no one understands them. Right. So this is just to address this thing that I've noticed over the last 10 or 15 years. And again, it's probably an American thing, maybe a Western thing of people who torment themselves with how much suffering there is in the world, because they can see it now and there are pictures of it. And they struggle with, why am I doing this work? Do I have a right to do this work? Do I have a right to struggle with my own emotional issues and with my losses and my griefs? And I'm going to tell you a line from the movie Unforgiven. In which case the sheriff, who was kind of a good sheriff, but also kind of brutal asshole, goes up against Clint Eastwood’s character. And Clint Eastwood shoots him, not fatally, and the guy's down. And Clint Eastwood stands over him with a shotgun ready to basically execute the guy because Clint Eastwood’s character is just a stone-cold murderer. Somebody who's perfect at just killing people. And the sheriff looks up and probably thinks about his entire career of law and order and ensuring that the good citizens are protected and making sure that the unwanted elements do not come into his town. And he looks up, and he says, I don't deserve this to die like this. And this is one of my favorite lines of all time. Clint Eastwood’s character says, deserves got nothing to do with it. And that applies exactly to this situation. Do you deserve? More than the person who's suffering in Ukraine or in Gaza. Do you deserve to be able to go into therapy? Deserve's got nothing to do with it. There's no deserving or not deserving. Do any of us deserve to be alive? Do I deserve to be a deer with, you know, chronic wasting disease who gets taken down and eaten by a mountain lion? Does an infant deserve, or a toddler deserve to get cancer and die when they're three? Like deserves got nothing to do with any of this. It isn't about whether you deserve to have the wealth and the money to have access to therapy or the ability to struggle with and mourn what happens to you. It is that if people who are suffering deserve help, the only way you can offer that help is to get yourself right, which means that your mandate is to stop emotionally limiting yourself, to stop beating up on yourself, to stop agonizing over the fact that you have wealth or access or privilege or whatever. If you do, then make use of it. Be kind, be loving, be generous to yourself, be radically generous to yourself. Because in that radical generosity, you will fill yourself up, and then you will fill your family up, and you will receive gifts and benefits and abundance from life. And out of that abundance, then maybe you can offer to struggling, suffering people something that will make a significant difference to them. There is no other way. There is no other way. I don't know why it works this way. I am not a spiritual leader. I don't know why it works this way, but I'm a pretty good therapist and I know for a fact in the human condition that this is how it works. Be generous to yourself, be loving to yourself, be kind and forgiving and fill yourself up, solve your problems, take on your challenges, heal your wounds to the point that you feel a lot of generosity and comfort and calm and positivity, and you have vision for your life and allow it to spill over and then allow it to spill over and direct it to people who need that. And if it's ever been done for you, then pass it on because deserves got nothing to do with it. Do I deserve to be male and to be born in the United States and to not suffer? No, deserves got nothing to do with it. It's all luck or bad luck. Deserves got nothing to do with it. Make use of it. Give to yourself, heal yourself, care for yourself, go to therapy if that's your way, or just go for hikes in nature, whatever. Like it's not important, but do not think that by tormenting yourself or limiting yourself, and wearing yourself down with the suffering of others. Do not think that you are contributing anything to them. You are not helping them. Be kind to yourself. Don't go to the “deserve” conversation. It has nothing to do with it. Be kind to yourself because you will thrive in kindness and in thriving and kindness and forgiveness and healing, you will be in a position to help others. That's what I had to say for today and I hope you guys have a wonderful week and I will talk to you next time. Take care.

Meet your hosts:

Jon Sorensen


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