To be indifferent to the suffering of others, well, is it really possible? For me, human beings are too human for that. I mean, even if we would have been brainwashed with a 90°C intensive cycle — with bleach, it couldn’t erase the minimum of consciousness we have enabling us to know when others are suffering. Firstly, because it is the consciousness of the Other that feeds the self-consciousness — without you no me. Also, because we automatically understand the suffering of others, in the best-case scenario for us, as an opposition to our own well-being and, in the worst-case one, as an association of their suffering with the one we go through ourselves. Alright, before I get lynched by real philosophers, I will just stop there and go back to my original point.
I don’t believe in indifference to suffering. While the erasure of suffering…
Brace yourself, I explain!
Crossing the street to avoid passing a homeless begging, zapping the harrowing news of the famine in Yemen to replace it with an entertaining talent show, making a monthly donation to support a charity in Africa, sharing on social networks to spread the drama of a drowned migrant child… At first glance these are actions that have nothing to do with each other, yet they have one essential thing in common: there is actually only one person at the center of attention in each of them, me.
Whether with our whole body, our senses, our intellect or just our emotions, we have the tendency and surprising ability to erase the suffering of others. When I turn myself away from the one who reaches out, when I hide from my eyes the images and voices of whole countries in distress, when I mathematically clear myself of the injustice done to the poorest with a little more money, when I shout my indignation on the web in reaction to the most tragic stories, the only person who motivates these actions is me, not others.
My aim is neither to shock nor to criticize in anyway here. It is not about judging the good or evil of these distinct attitudes, but merely about trying to make an objective and unusual observation.
At which point do I linger over the suffering of others? At which point does my discomfort, my mood, my reasoning, or my emotions, simply make way for the Other and his feelings to be at the center of my attention, and as a result, of my motivation? Too often, whether in action or inaction, I turn down this suffering, which, however, needs to be heard, understood, in order to be relieved.
We can probably not all go to a far-off country in order to rescue thousands of people who do not even live above the subsistence level, neither spend nights in the cold streets of our city in order to bring tangible and human warmth to those who lack them most cruelly. Whether it is the solution to the Other’s suffering or not, unfortunately, not all of us can embark on such personal sacrifices. On the other hand, what we can all do, and which seems to be a necessary condition whatever action we choose, is to give ourselves truly to the Other who is suffering, to forget oneself even for a moment in order to put him at the center of our life, so that we can hear, understand and, if possible, share his suffering.
Maybe that’s what loving your neighbor as yourself is all about, maybe that’s Love.
And then, once we have taken this first step, small, certainly, but still one step towards the Other, even with the smallest action we can succeed in alleviating the most devastating sufferings.
I believe that, just with a glance, if it is filled with this Love, one can communicate to another a relief that speaks for itself.