Does suffering strengthen character?
What suffering sometimes does is focus your perspective. In a crisis, it’s make-or-break, and you’re forced to bring all your intelligence and character into play. In such a case, it’s not suffering that creates or strengthens your character. The situation causing the suffering simply brings dormant character and intelligence to life.
We should not have to depend on suffering to create, strengthen or bring character to life. Whatever character and capability we possess ought to be something we actualize – for our own sake, most of all – in daily life.
Suffering is not good. It’s good to reduce, eliminate or eradicate suffering whenever or wherever possible. It’s a dangerous rationalization to claim that suffering brings about something good. While it’s true that life can be good despite one’s suffering, or one can sometimes emerge from suffering better than before, it’s a terrible mistake to think that suffering is the cause of that strength or happiness.
There are people who “need” suffering in order to feel better about themselves. Another’s suffering makes them feel less alone, or makes them feel useful because they can help out and “be the hero” by relieving another’s suffering. Frankly, that’s sick. While spontaneous and sincere generosity may be beautiful things, a lot of giving has a darker side and we have to be careful.
Some people “enjoy” suffering because it makes them look like martyrs. One of the most destructive ideas that good people have allowed themselves to accept is the false idea that self-sacrifice is good. When one suffers, it offers proof that “I’m sacrificing, and therefore I’m good”. Truly perverse, when you think about it!
Suffering is not a badge of virtue. In fact, when you achieve anything at all, so long as you came about it honestly, that’s a badge of virtue. Most people have it all backwards ethically, and therefore psychologically. They’ve been sold a false bill of goods, that self-sacrifice is virtuous and that suffering, therefore, strengthens character.
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