I was sitting with a dear loved one recently and was asked through tears, “Why is it so hard?” I know it was a rhetorical question because who really knows? As a mother of three I have expressed many times that 1) Life is not fair and that 2) Lamenting that fact is perfectly healthy. The why I cannot answer. The next day I read about a group in the UK, thankfully small, who believe that it is immoral to have children, so adults should desist from procreating. They are called anti-natalists, whose essential belief boils down to human consciousness as an error because of the pain that comes with life. I find it appalling and childish that educated adults would swing so far to an extreme. I say childish because parents expend their lives encouraging children to do hard things, in order to mature. To realize they are capable. To function in society. To take care of themselves. To be thankful for the gift of being, instead of calling it a burden.
I heard the well-known psychology professor and author, Jordan B. Peterson say that “Being is the interplay between the finite and the infinite. In that interplay there is tragedy, it is a condition of existence.” If you can accept this proposition, and if i took a stab at the “Why…” I would say that objectively, there is tragedy in existence due to the definition of finite. We all end. In fact, once we are full-grown, entropy begins as we evolve towards old age and ill-health. There is no amount of energy objectively available to stop this march. Our physical bodies are finite. Our more abstract qualities are also objectively fallible, as beings with limits. Therefore we will cause pain to ourselves and others. These two simple ideas are not my opinion alone they are objectively verifiable by our very lives and all those around us.
I agree with the Antinatalist Party and Fredrich Neitszche who both say that “to live is to suffer.” Unlike the anti-natalist’s who see giving up as the answer, Nietzsche completes his thought with “to survive is to find some meaning in the suffering.” He adds elsewhere that, “We have art in order not to die of the truth,” showing that there is more to life in his view than suffering. I cry hear, hear.
The great author Leo Tolstoy speaks of wisdom in life. “Real wisdom is not the knowledge of everything, but the knowledge of which things in life are necessary, which are less necessary, and which are completely unnecessary to know.” Some of his ideas for the necessary things in life were, “The improvement of the soul,” “Love,” “Seeking the happiness of others,” “Kindness enriches our life,” “Bring love and truth into the world,” “Do not blame others,” “Seize moments of happiness,” “Keep going when the going is hard,” “Art is as important as language.” He gives us great ideas on where to turn our minds when the suffering of life comes into play. He also wisely admits that, “It is easier to produce ten volumes of philosophical writings than to put one principle into practice.” Nobody says it will be easy.
This ofttimes difficult finitude of being we find ourselves in, can be seen as nothing more than a gift in my eyes. I did nothing to create it, or deserve it. I hope those who suffer greatly can take comfort in the fact that they didn’t do anything to deserve the difficulties and can find the moments of love and art and joy. No matter the struggle it entails, I can only think of one response for a gift and that is gratitude. I’m not thankful that it isn’t fair. I’m not thankful when it sucks. But unlike the anti-natalists, I want to be thankful that it IS. I would not trade one second of my sons lives for all the joy or wisdom or painless ness for them or me, in the world, so I cannot fathom this anti-natalist view. And maybe the acceptance of the reality of the dark parts of life will remind me to attempt to be a light within it.