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How do we respond to suffering

When we are confronted with suering in the world around us, we have two basic choices: we can do something about the situation, or we can do nothing. People choose one option of the other for may dierent reasons. For the sake of simplicity, however, we will consider only four reasons: hopelessness, individualism, enlightened self-interest, and compassion.

HOPELESSNESS
Sometimes it feels as if we hear too much about suering in the world. Many people deal with the overwhelming nature of all the suering in the world by choosing to ignore it. Others see or hear the news of people suering but choose not to act because even though [they] make a small contribution, what dierence will it make in the big picture? To hope is to believe in the possibility that what one wants can actually happen. If people do not believe in the possibility that they can make a dierence if they have no hope they are not likely to act to change things.

INDIVIDUALISM
The independence of individuals to pursue their own destiny is an important value that has led to such good things as democracy, the promotion of equal opportunities for all people, and the notion that people can achieve almost anything if they try hard enough. Too much emphasis on individual independence, however, can break the ties that connect people with God and one another as community. Someone who is motivated by individualism believes that each person should take responsibility for his or her own life, and that when people fail to take responsibility for themselves, others should not be expected to help them. An overemphasis on individualism can lead to a me-rst attitude in which individuals seek good things only for themselves even if others must suer as a result.

ENLIGHTENED SELF-INTEREST
Hopelessness and individualism lean many people to respond to suering by doing nothing. However, many other people respond to suering the world by attempting to relieve it. In some cases, such responses are primarily motivated by enlightened self-interest the realization that by helping others we are really helping ourselves in the end. People who act out of enlightened self-interest understand that every person needs other people in order to live a satisfying life. One reason people choose to help others is that they might receive benets in return. Sometimes, helping others does not result in benets, though. The woman in t

COMPASSION
The realization that everyone in society benets when people help one another is one reason people respond to suering with action. But what about people who help others beyond any benet they might receive in return? What about people who help others even when it means that they too will suer? People how have compassion understand, both in their mind and heart, others experiences of suering. When compassion is accompanied by hope, it moves people to commit themselves to easing suering. In other words, it moves them to love.

SOURCE: Windley-Daoust, J. (2007). Living Justice and Peace: Catholic Social Teaching in Practice.

Second Edition. Canada: St. Marys Press.