“My suffering is different from yours, and maybe it is less, but it is mine, and I will not listen to you belittle it.”
– Princess Zahrah, “the Little Rose,” Spindle, by E.K. Johnston
When Zahrah says this, she is speaking to a young man whose life has been anything but easy. He grew up without a father, had to leave his home when he was fairly young but old enough to forever remember it as his home, grew up in poverty, and saw his friends lose their loving parents to the same disease which was set to claim his own mother in due time. The youth in question has long been filled with bitterness about the entire situation, though he thankfully looks beyond his own pain to help those closest to him instead of letting it consume his compassion. When his journey through life brought him to an unexpected meeting with Zahrah, he expected to find an entirely spoiled princess whose parents chose her welfare over the lives of their subjects. Instead, he found a young woman who was anything but spoiled, who knew suffering of her own. Zahrah might never have had to wonder about her next meal, but she grew up in almost complete isolation and maddening idleness, forbidden from pursuing any of the useful skills she so loved, knowing she was cursed by a demon who wanted to possess her body and lock her up in her own mind, knowing that she was going to have to marry a prince who was both cruel and stupid, and knowing that her people’s suffering was in some way tied to her, yet being helpless to do anything about it.
One can compare and contrast the pains which these two youths endured for as long as they could remember. One can argue either way which one has suffered worse and which one has had less to hope for in their lives. Indeed, most people in life seem to find such comparisons riveting. But that is not the point of pain, I think.
Some people wear their pains on their sleeves, forever moaning, groaning, whining, and excusing whatever they do because of whatever terrible thing they have felt.
Some people see other people’s pains and immediately dismiss their own as unimportant in comparison, even the point where they refuse to acknowledge it.
Both of those are mistakes, but I think the worst mistake we can make is when we diminish the pains of others. It’s very easy to do, especially when they’re always whining about it, and even more when they are the ones diminishing our pain in some way. It’s yet another mistake to allow that, to let someone else dismiss what we have suffered, but we must avoid doing the same in return. Whether we are the first or second aggressor in such an argument, where we say, at some point, “Your pain isn’t real pain,” we are still in the wrong for it.
Everybody hurts, and comparisons are ultimately meaningless.
Some suffer in poverty without ever knowing their families, while some live in lonely luxury having lost their loved ones, while others are abused, abandoned, betrayed, or even sold by their own blood-kin. Some become great at something and then lose it to crippling physical injury, while others are never able to walk at all, and some lose their very minds to neurological diseases. Some lose everything, and some never have anything.
Whose pain is greater, whose pain matters more, is irrelevant.
It doesn’t matter.
What matters is what we do in response. What matters is how we treat each other and ourselves.
Do we add to the pains of others, or do what we can to help them heal, or at least avoid hurting them further?
Similarly, do we live in our own pain, and keep hurting ourselves, or do we get help to heal ourselves?