In a recent New York Times editorial, Mark Epstein talks about a personal conversation with his mother, over four years after his father died from a brain tumor. As he points out, our grief doesn’t immediately go away. And sometimes, it doesn’t ever go away. It doesn’t hurt less. It just hurts less often.
Epstein’s approach to suffering, grief, and therapy is influenced heavily by his Buddhist practice, and he highlights the fact that suffering and potential suffering are universal human experiences. “There is no way to be alive without being conscious of the potential for disaster… Our world is unstable and unpredictable, and operates, to a great degree and despite incredible scientific achievement, outside our ability to control it.”
One of the most important tasks of human existence is our ability to make meaning from suffering, and to come to terms with the reality that things end, break, hurt, and disappoint us. Learning to face these realities with hope and courage gives us the capacity for joy.
In 1968, Kent Keith wrote the Paradoxical Commandments as part of a booklet for student leaders at Harvard. The Paradoxical Commandments acknowledged the reality of risk and loss, but encourage us to “do it anyway” despite the unpredictability and turbulence of our lives.
People are illogical, unreasonable, and self-centered.
Love them anyway.
If you do good, people will accuse you of selfish ulterior motives.
Do good anyway.
If you are successful, you will win false friends and true enemies.
The good you do today will be forgotten tomorrow.
Do good anyway.
Honesty and frankness make you vulnerable.
Be honest and frank anyway.
The biggest men and women with the biggest ideas can be shot down by the smallest men and women with the smallest minds.
Think big anyway.
People favor underdogs but follow only top dogs.
Fight for a few underdogs anyway.
What you spend years building may be destroyed overnight.
People really need help but may attack you if you do help them.
Help people anyway.
Give the world the best you have and you’ll get kicked in the teeth.
Give the world the best you have anyway.