On The Comparison of Suffering:

Isn’t it enough to know we’re all in this together?

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The suffering of humanity is inescapable. 

Everywhere we look, we see other humans in pain. Flicking through a newspaper or television channels, we can regularly find a striking example of someone bearing one of the many crosses we are forced to carry in our lifetime as humans. 

None of us can escape the suffering that is human life, and our experiences will be defined by those struggles which we have found the strength to overcome in our lifetimes. All of us the phoenix, our individual suffering our ashes.

And yet we insist on turning these struggles into an issue of race, gender, sexuality, class, religion, or culture. We relate to these issues not as humans, but as a colour of skin, a possessor of certain genitalia, a sexual preference, a place in society, or a zealot of a certain God or Goddess. 

We continue to break ourselves apart into smaller and smaller pieces until we fit into tiny, exclusive boxes. We are a black, upper-class, Protestant, heterosexual female. We are a white, blue-collared, atheist, homosexual male. 

We restrict our empathy when we latch onto these exclusive groups; they become the only ones who can understand the vastness our individual suffering.


Liberty Leading the People (1830) by Eugène Delacroix: We will unite (and separate) under flags, skin colour, religion, and sexuality - but not our suffering.
Liberty Leading the People (1830) by Eugène Delacroix: We will unite (and separate) under flags; we will unite under the banner of skin colour, religion, sex, and sexuality – but not our suffering.

We live in an age where we are surrounded by comparison and competition and, whether we’re conscious of it or not, we’ve started to live for it. We revel in it. We waste so much time in our self-comparison with others that giant online industries such as Facebook and Instagram were partially founded – and partially depend – upon it. The desire to compare our lives has literally become a multimillion dollar industry. Even our suffering – unique to our own journey – has not escaped our thirst for comparison and competition.

The problem does not lie in our desire for comparison. Our lives are inherently different from one another, and comparing differences in ourselves provides a means of recognizing and accepting one another despite our superficial differences. 

There is also nothing inherently evil in a thirst for competition. I think of the teachings of various martial arts which insist on competition being a vital aspect on the path to self-awareness, self-respect, and personal growth.

Comparison and competition become issues when they are applied to our individual suffering. It arises when we invest in the idea that our suffering is somehow greater and more valid than the suffering of others

This notion segregates us. It divides and ranks us based on an assumption we do not have the power to confirm or deny – unless someone eventually learns how to experience the lives of two different people, with different issues, simultaneously in order to compare them.

Who’s to say those of us who were born without fathers – whether we’ve lost them to death, jail, or another marriage – suffer more acutely than those who grow up with fathers who leave for work before the sun rises and comes home after their bedtime, the father who’s never around? The suffering for each resides in the longing for paternal affection. They just wish they could throw the ball around with their pops.


Father and Son (2008) by Bahram Gonche pour: To any young boy, is there really a difference between losing a father and being separated constantly from one?
Father and Son (2008) by Bahram Gonche pour: To a young boy, is there really a difference between losing a father and constantly being separate from one?

The examples are endless. Who are we to assume those that have lost a spouse to cancer suffer more deeply than those who have lost theirs to infidelity? That the little brother who loses his big brother to drugs suffers more than the little sister who loses her older sister to the popular group in college?

That the pressure to be of a certain sexuality is more excruciating than the pressure to pursue a traditional career? Both instances pressure the person to live unhappily in a lie in order to please others. Both people are too terrified of social or parental judgements to be true to themselves. Both have somehow been convinced that who they are as a person is wrong

We could spend an unlimited amount of energy arguing for one case or the other, but it is this exact determination to separate and rank our suffering that is driving us apart. 

Instead of a division of suffering, I see the gay male – afraid to come out to his orthodox Christian parents – and the daughter of two Harvard law graduates – who wants to be an artist instead of a lawyer – as two people who are fighting the same battle of identity. I see two people struggling, in different ways, with who they are and the expectations about who they “should” be. I see two people who can show compassion and empathy for one another and who can unite in their suffering under a common thread.

The truth is we don’t know if our suffering is any greater or less than any one else, because it is not in our capacity to understand suffering that we do not know intimately ourselves. Our individual experience and perception only leads to assumption. 

The truth is, we all have a different observable universe and our individual suffering is unique to our own story. Our suffering is different, yes, but it can never be assumed that we know what those differences feel like. We certainly cannot presume to know how those differences rank, no matter how obvious it seems. 

It’s not about the differences themselves. It’s about the acceptance of those differences. It’s about doing our best to understand those differences. It’s about mutual respect. It’s about loving one another.


Every life history is the history of suffering.” – Arthur Schopenhauer, Manuscript Remains – Volume 3.


The one thing we know for sure is that we all are suffering. We suffer through battles with our identity, image, ego, and our place in the world. We all suffer heartbreak. We all struggle with self-love and acceptance. We suffer through unhappiness and the restlessness of our spirits. We’ve lost loved ones and lovers. We’ve felt alone and unworthy.

Why then, must we compare this suffering? Isn’t it enough to know that every person we pass in the street is fighting a battle of their own? Isn’t it enough to know we’re all in this together? Suffering is the one thing that connects us all.

To be human is to suffer. Instead of using our suffering to separate and rank us, let it unite us. There is no “I”, “me”, or “you.”

There is only “us”.

Be good to each other,

– MG.

8 thoughts on “On The Comparison of Suffering:

  1. I just think the people that like to compare just want more understanding. If someone has experienced the same thing as you then you’d assume that maybe they’ve felt the same pain, then you feel like you’re not so alone in the way you feel. Grief, abuse, loneliness, these are all different feelings, everybody suffers but is it so wrong to want to relate to someone who’s been through the same experience as you? That doesn’t mean you don’t have a capacity to feel empathy towards another persons suffering. But I can’t honestly say I understand the pain of say, a parent losing a child, so how can I offer a proper sense of understanding? That’s why I think people flock to the groups. Just my opinion but I still think this is a beautiful article.

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    1. Thanks for your comment!

      I don’t believe there’s anything wrong with relating to someone. In fact, I think it’s essential to our future as humans. I also think you’re absolutely correct as to why people flock to groups. Really, I couldn’t have put it better myself!

      My problem is limiting ourselves and our experience to only those who we deem the “same” as us. I believe that if we limit who we feel we can deeply understand, we also limit who we can comfort, support, and received comfort and support from. This, in itself, is a wall between us and a fairly large group of humanity.

      I would say you very much have the capacity to understand the pain of a parent losing a child. Why? Because you have, at some point in your life, experienced loss. No matter if it was a toy as a child or your brother as a teenager, we all have that moment of definitive loss – that is, the moment that we our greatest sense of it (loss). We all have that moment that sticks out in our mind as the worst loss of our lives. Loss, therefore, is what unites us in this scenario. Because we all inherently understand it.

      I think of movies that I’ve cried watching. Movies involving things I’ve never experienced, such as the loss of my mother or a lover. I know many people who can also feel that pain, even though its Hollywood and it has never happened to them personally. This is because on the most primal level we can put ourselves in those moments of great loss in both our hearts and our heads.

      I just think we’re divided enough as it is, and I just think our greatest uniting factor should bring us all closer together. At the end of the day our greatest source of comfort will come from a person – regardless of how similar their experience is to ours – who is willing to just be there for us, to hold space for us, to be a shoulder to cry on, coming from a place of nothing but love.

      Thanks again for your thoughts, they are much appreciated and wonderfully received!

      Be good to yourself,

      ~MG

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