What am I Supposed to Learn from This Argument?

Andy and I got in a fight last night over that stupid frickin’ Carnival cruise.

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I’ll back up.

First, there was a greeting kiss and a, “Red or white, dear?” moment. Followed by a surprise gift exchange — something we haven’t done in years. Valentine’s Day has long since lost its lure around here. I think we both knew that the other could use a pick-me-up.

Then, as he skimmed menus at the kitchen bar, and I spread goat cheese on a tortilla chip, I asked, “Did you hear what Nick Kristof said about the cruise thing?”

He hadn’t. So I read to him from my phone, “Just to put the cruise ship fiasco in perspective, the nightmare that those passengers have endured for the last few days is roughly what 1 billion people endure every day.”

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It did not go over well. There might have been a hand slam to the counter. He might have said, “Fuuuuuuuk, Hoooouuuu, Mister Kristof.” Maybe, but I’m a poor witness, I’ll be the first to admit.

In fact, our second-longest-running fight is that I, he insists, can “never” quote him accurately. This, invariably, ignites our third-longest-running fight, which is me pleading, “Will you PLEASE stop speaking in absolutes? It’s ineffective, at best, detracts from meaningful communication, and usually serves to escalate anger, specifically, MINE!”

I guess both of those are meta branches of our first-longest-running fight, the really super annoying one: our disagreement over suffering.

See? It circles right back to the topic of those poor people trapped on a ship with no plumbing, and Nicholas Kristof’s dose of perspective. Andy maintains (I fact checked this today with him) that one’s suffering should not be dismissed or disallowed by the notion that “it could always be worse”.

I can see the love in that. I even want to repeat it with a bigger font.

One’s suffering should not be dismissed or disallowed by the notion that “it could always be worse”.

But last night, his attitude really angered me. And my point infuriated him.

“Andy, you know Nicholas Kristof, of all people, has witnessed — worked to alleviate, dedicated his life to annihilate(!) — the suffering he’s talking about!”

“Witnessed — not experienced—-“

The conversation devolved from there.

I think most of us who agree with Kristof on this topic do so, not out of insensitivity to the cruise passengers, but out of our own appreciation for plumbing, and our desire to have compassion for people who’ve never had ongoing access to it.

Hellish, dreadfully hellish things happen every minute of each day, and what’s probably more prevalent is the quiet thirst that bakes people to death without a dramatic villain present.

I don’t think I’m a minority in the way I shift my perception of my own circumstances based upon how awful I imagine life might be for other people. Of course, their plights sadden me — but let’s be honest — my mental tendency isn’t so much compassion-based as it is a desire to lift my own mood, a desire to enjoy the good fortune I have while I have it. Because I know it’s temporary.

I want to be conscious of the times when my body is comfortable, when breathing comes easy, when there are ten fingers moving painlessly on the keyboard that works. Light is readily available. My cats sleep in the next room and their breathing comes easy, too.

Andy often seems to approach it from the opposite angle. Thinking of anyone’s suffering — especially people who are imprisoned and animals — doesn’t inspire gratitude as much as it blocks his enjoyment of his own advantages. It’s his deep compassion that interferes with him appearing compassionate.

As I write about this, I realize that what it comes down to for me is my belief that not all suffering is equal.

When I endure pain physical pain, it’s usually at the dentist. Many factors mitigate this as a preferred experience of suffering.

(1) I get to choose it voluntarily.

(2) I know that it’s for the purpose of preventing future pain.

(3) I’m treated kindly there,

(4) by experts who assure me,

(5) “This will only take a minute.”

If I don’t take the time to really appreciate all five of those things, I’m worsening my own situation. Further, if I focus on those points, I’m able to diminish my own suffering.

But it can’t be that easy. There’s more — much more — to write about and think about and fight about.

This is too big for a blog post, isn’t it? I’m going to publish it anyway and follow up later.

6 thoughts on “What am I Supposed to Learn from This Argument?

    1. Thanks, Dear Erin. I think I a lot of journaling to do about this to see how I can work the themes into a story. I’m finding it painful to write about though. Hmmm……

  1. I have a feeling I’m more like Andy, but would probably be happier if I were more like you.

    (Sorry, Andy. Sadness/pessimism borne of empathy is genetic? I don’t even know what I’m saying.)

  2. Was that Kristof’s statement in its entirety? Was there somewhere else that he directly diminished the suffering of those affected cruise passengers? I admit that I’m unfamiliar with him and his writing, so perhaps I’m missing some off-panel or inferred context. But reading his blurb there, I got no impression that he was maligning the passengers or disregarding their plight. What I read was simply a heads-up that perhaps we could all find it in ourselves to not just care for some people who had a one-time horrible experience, but to also keep the multitudes of people in our thoughts (and deeds) who regularly suffer horrible experiences. From that perspective, I see no need for him to be either cursed at or defended.

    1. Hey Dave,

      Yes, that was the full statement – a FB status update. Your take on it is admirably succinct, ” . . . perhaps we could all find it in ourselves to not just care for some people who had a one-time horrible experience, but to also keep the multitudes of people in our thoughts (and deeds) who regularly suffer horrible experiences.” I spent too many hours & words yesterday and I didn’t even get to the “deeds” part!

      Yesterday Kristof followed up with this, “We journalists were all over the story of the cruise ship from hell, and those passengers’ suffering was real. Now that it’s over, how about if we provide equal attention to the 2 billion people around the world who always lack adequate sanitation, water or food? Now, there’s a story!”

      Thanks for reading & commenting.

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