As mentioned in my previous post, my good friend Michelle
and I had been talking about what makes us feel more connected to people--sharing in their joys or sharing in their sufferings. Certainly both are really important in getting to know someone, and building an honest relationship with them; but it seems to me like there's a special way that sharing suffering connects people.
I realized how much I believed this when Michelle mentioned that someone she knew connects to people better through their happiness than through suffering. This struck me as very odd. I mean, I can see how you can be happy for someone when they're happy, and enjoy their company and the overall good vibe they're sending out...but to really feel more connected to them by virtue of them sharing their happiness...even more connected than sharing pain...I'll admit it, I'm somewhat skeptical. At the moment, I have two main thoughts about this, that kind of go in different directions.
1) There is this girl I have a really hard time liking. Part of the reason is that she always talks about how utterly happy and content she is. Now, that in itself would not be over-the-top annoying (though, seriously, if someone talked about that all the time, it might be something I'd need a break from). The annoying thing is that I always pick up on a strong undercurrent of sadness from her, whenever I interact with her. So it's like, who are you trying to convince, lady? I mean, maybe that's her coping mechanism or something--we all have them, a mix of some healthy and some unhealthy ones. But the thing with her is, I can't connect to her when she's in her "I'm the most content I've ever been in my life" facade, because it's just not true. I feel so distant from her. But it's not the fact that she says she's happy that keeps us distant, it's that she's lying about how she's doing. And that's the thing, people are (on the whole) much more willing to share their moments of joy, success, happiness, and contentment with others. And that is certainly a good thing--and I think it can forge real closeness and intimacy in relationships...as long as it's true. With her, she recently had something frustrating happen, and then all the suffering that had been just under the surface started spilling out. And I felt so much love and compassion for her--not only because she was suffering, but because she was just being honest, finally, about what was really going on with her. So...one thought is that it's possible to connect with someone deeply through any feeling--as long as that feeling is actually present and what the person is really experiencing.
2) Another thought is that connecting through suffering just is
a deeper level of connection. Part of that comes from the reality that it's typically harder to share real wounds, failures, and areas of pain than to share joys and successes. You're putting yourself in a vulnerable position with the person, while at the same time you are in a more vulnerable position more generally because you are in pain. When you're on top of the world, and content about everything...you're less vulnerable, right? I mean, there is nothing you really need that you're not getting, you're doing ok, and you probably feel hopeful. That is a position of strength. But real suffering is a position of weakness (at least, perceived weakness); and I think there's something about the neediness that really opens a person up for greater levels of connection and intimacy.
3) The last thought is just that for real connection to be established, there has to be sharing of both joys and sufferings. I don't know about you, but I always have a good deal of both within me, at any given time. There is never overflowing joy without (at least background) awareness of areas of sorrow. And, there is never overwhelming sorrow without (at least minimal) awareness of areas of joy. Though, of course, there is usually a predominant feeling at the time too, and I guess that's what gets expressed in the typical conversation. It's so much like the cross, you know? It's been coming up a lot in conversation lately (maybe since we're in Lent...), especially the travesty and horror of the cross. It is such a great paradox that the most ugly, horrible, hideous, hateful, senseless, heinous act of brutal violence, is also one of the most beautiful, loving, amazing, compassionate acts of selfless grace. Suffering and joy do exist simultaneously.
Labels: authenticity, friendship, Relationships, suffering