Dahlia Lithwick has a Sharp Mind

As if you did not already know that.

Scoring your own side’s suffering is a powerful way to avoid fixing the real problems, and trust me when I tell you that everyone—absolutely everyone—is suffering and sad and yet being sad is not fixing the problems either.

One of the things about sharp minds is that they produce thoughts which don’t change meaning completely when taken out of context. When you yank those thoughts out of their context and think about them, you often find they are expressing something on the order of a platitude, but much better. Something like a nuanced platitude, with both depth and utility, but not sense that answers are simple.

My out-of-context thoughts about the above quote have to do with the platitude that every person’s hardest struggle is their hardest struggle.

There is no quantity to pain. Which is to say, that you can feel you are in the most pain a human can feel and there is still enough pain in the world for me and everyone else to have our own grief.

Also, there is no hierarchy of pain. Yes, we attempt to quantify pain all the time–you can take a sick day for this but not that; you recover $X for this injury by $X+Y for that injury. We are less free with sympathy for a 20-year-old who reacts to a skinned knee like a four-year-old does.

And in the end, all of that is unfair, because pain is a symptom or a manifestation of a problem. It may be an external problem–an injury, instance–or it may be an internal problem–a seemingly out of proportion reaction to an injury. Comparing the manifestations, even quantifying the manifestations, does not even identify the problem; how can it approach solving the problem?

Continuing with my out-of-context reactions. “Scoring your own suffering” is powerful because it validates and it can rally others to your side. But It really holds you in place. Along with binding you to your grief, it blocks your compassion and stunts your empathy.

My griefs have been–and continue to be–ordinary. I hope they always remain so.


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