Guest blogger Ali Fusi is a student on the BA (Hons) Theology, Religion, and Ethics programme within the St Mary's School of Theology.
We’re very cynical, pessimistic and depressing people. Every single person who has even the slightest ability to connect to others, will ultimately feel disappointment, rejection and maybe even hatred in their lives, and it is through these personal experiences that suffering is not only prevalent, but inevitable. As we grow and learn, even in youth, we are constant witnesses to multiple forms of suffering and we are all searching for the antidote; a way of responding to it.
While it’s evident that many people fight their ‘demons’ through ignoring them, or numbing their pain through drugs and alcohol or other forms of distractions, the increasing suicide rates and mental health campaigns suggest that this solution is far from the route to a meaningful life; an obvious statement perhaps, but nevertheless an important one to make.
So, what does make one’s life meaningful? Where can one find purpose? I would like to allude to a response given by Dr. Jordan B. Peterson in a video lecture of his, where he proposes that the antidote to suffering is truth and responsibility. The first step in addressing responsibility is understanding how crucial it is and how, without it, one can so easily crumble in despair and maintain a sense of dissatisfaction in their lives. When one begins to accept their own responsibilities, one can gradually gain control of their life back. It’s so fundamental to face the things that seem the most daunting or traumatic because paradoxically, dealing with those elements of suffering is the first step towards meaning.
In a world where there is more and more talk of ‘victimhood’ and an attitude whereby we are encouraged to ‘do whatever we want to do’ and ‘be whoever we want to be’, is there a lost sense of responsibility? Perhaps these types of maxims are more likely excuses for short term happiness. Consequently, they suggest a lack of need for self-improvement and lack of direction in which one can follow for a more fulfilling life. I would not argue against the concept that we should ‘love ourselves’, but only in the sense of respect and allowing recognition for mistakes and self-forgiveness. However, it is not, in my opinion, adequate enough to simply ‘love ourselves’ if we lack a willingness and motivation to also ‘improve ourselves’.
It is also apparent that this attitude of doing what we want and being whoever we want to be can easily lead to destruction and pain through relationships; it requires one to turn away from humility, selflessness and other virtuous qualities and instead, to act on their own desires. Although some appear content with short term happiness, it is evident that the longevity is in fact ‘short-term’ as there comes a time when one questions life and their values, aka ‘mid-life crisis’. While it is often joked about – I, myself, often feel I’ve had many and I’m 21 – on a more serious note, the statistics state that ‘in the UK, the highest suicide rate was for men aged 45-49’ (Samaritans.org). A clear indication that it is of paramount importance to seek better solutions of dealing with suffering; more now than ever.
In terms of the ‘truth’, I believe this can allude to our personal beliefs and understanding of religion. I would argue that whether or not one has beliefs, the acknowledgement of religion should be taken seriously with regards to seeking truth. In a world where meaning is lost or disguised through materialistic or momentary pleasures, the bigger questions, why are we here? what happens when we die? etc., are avoided or even seem irrelevant.
Being Catholic, it is maybe not a surprise that the truth I believe in stems directly from my faith and its core values, beliefs and traditions. It is also in this truth, that this same sense of suffering and responsibility can be found. It is no coincidence to me that the teachings of Christ, which I believe in, seem to support and confirm a wide variety of elements found in a number of secular psychological and philosophical testaments such as those given by Peterson and many others.
The motivation to seek truth and responsibility is undeniably personal and unlikely to be easy, but it also an example of the choices one has to make. Peterson expresses that if we are able to expose the best of ourselves to the world with a continuous desire for improvement, we are each contributing towards an overwhelming force for good.
I have been told many times in my life that because I am optimistic, I am naïve and I will admit that there have been many times I have been naïve, and I have been able to learn. However, I would argue that, though we cannot eradicate the suffering in the world, we can express an optimism that is not naïve; one instead that promotes hope and a better outlook for individual fulfillment that can, perhaps, begin through expressing truth and responsibility.