Why Does Suffering Exist?

Taylor Gross currently attends Texas State University where she studies Psychology.

IMG_3126We live in a world where technology and innovation causes hope for a better future, where influential leaders promise equality and hope, yet each day I read the headlines in the news, I become filled with rage over the suffering and evil that seems disproportionate compared to our perceived movement forward, evil that makes me question if there is any sign of peace for our future. 

Although the United States of America is a leading economic world power, there is suffering happening in our country. With a population of just over three hundred million, five hundred thousand of those people are homeless as of 2017. Forty thousand of those homeless people are veterans who fought for our country, who endured war for peace and now suffer every night, not knowing where the next day will take them or from where their next meal is coming. Homeless veterans who end up living the rest of their lives suffering from PTSD and other horrors of war make it difficult to earn a living, not knowing what to do next with little protection.  It may seem like a small example of suffering compared to the entirety of the world, but it is an example where evil has prevailed when there is clearly another way to create good. 

Another example is the current situation in Sudan. At the end of 2018, the people of Sudan stood against the government to try and create a society more acceptable for the people and allow for lower taxes on imported goods. The protests seemed to make a difference when the government agreed to make changes to prevent a civil war, but the military overruled the people and came into the cities murdering civilian protesters in an attempt to reestablish the previous government. Sudan is now on high alert and currently cut off from the internet and any outside help. Sources say that over a hundred people have been killed, some even just thrown into the Nile River so that they would not have to deal with their protests. There have been cases of rape and young children trapped because they are trying to make a change for their country. This is the beginning of a war that is pure evil and has caused thousands to suffer.

To see these headlines and the reports of death made me wonder: why is there so much suffering? Why do we see so much evil in the world?  

The Tao Te Ching talks a lot about yin and yang, or the balance between opposites, and in this case between good and evil. The more I thought about it and dedicated time to understand the concept, the more I began to see the difference between the definitions of the words  “evil” and “suffering”. Lao Tzu provides a distinction between good and evil and what causes human suffering, suggesting that evil is the result of human-made suffering, which is deeply rooted in how humans use their freedom. An example of this might be global warming and climate change, taking advantage of what we have been given. 

Evil does not result from the consequences of making a wrong choice; it exists because we are human. The human will creates the concept of evil; it is the consequences of that evil which creates suffering. Rather than focusing on the evil acts of a person who hurts others, this definition of evil applies to wrongful actions on a broad spectrum that are rooted in the intention of doing good.  

There is no exact answer to the question of why there is suffering in the world. Philosophers have wrestled with the origin of evil and how it applies to the suffering of individuals. Nietzsche battled with the problem of suffering and concluded that in a finite world, individuals are bound to create disasters which result in suffering. Even in cultures where there is not a focus on evil and believes in the good of the world, suffering is inevitable. Socrates believed that we cannot live without the concept of evil, focusing on the value of virtue and what it meant to live a life with virtue, suggesting that evil acts result from our willful human avoidance of suffering. Life is suffering. By ignoring suffering, we create evil. 

Although most of the time it seems as if evil is more prevalent than good, there is no promising answer to why there is evil in the world, though one might be perspective. These cases of suffering, especially with Sudan, have truly put my life into perspective. Without knowing and acknowledging the evil that happens, I would not know how grateful I am to live the life that I live. I have the freedom to post whatever I want on the internet; other countries do not. It seems as if I am saying that I have a wonderful, perfect life; that is not the case. My life is filled with wrong decisions and flaws, but I acknowledge that I have access to much more than some do. I have decided, no matter how insecure I feel about the future, I will constantly stay updated with what is happening around the world, to stay aware of the suffering. I will use what I have been given to make sure that others become aware of the imbalance of good and bad.  

If we stay silent, evil and suffering will take control. We, as Americans, have been given the right of freedom of speech and freedom to be who we want. We can use that power to look around the world and do something about the suffering in other countries, to use our social media and our voices to help as much as we can. That can include donating money, even if it is only a couple of dollars, donating clothes for children, donating canned food to fight hunger. Just these small actions can help end suffering in America as well as around the world. Use your voice, do not let the sadness of suffering prevent you from making a difference. 

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