This is a continuation of the post on willpower.
Something that has in the past annoyed me to no end is when someone belittles a struggle that I am having by telling me that they have endured far worse. I would be lying though if I said I hadn’t done the same myself, or at least though the same myself. I imagine that most of my readers have had similar experiences. What I want to examine here is the legitimacy of critiquing the struggles of others based on an objective standard.
I find myself torn between two lines of argument on this problem. On the one hand, I’m strongly inclined to say that certain struggles are objectively more difficult then others. A Holocaust survivor would legitimately have undergone significantly worse then someone who just has a crappy job. There are two pieces that stand opposed to this argument however. First, the experience of struggle is subjective – just as the out of shape person struggles more in exercise, our experience of struggles in general are subjectively based. I am an introverted person currently working in the public service industry, and I’m fairly confident that I find it considerably more stressful then many of my co-workers. Second, struggles do not necessarily negate each other – that I have struggled in the past, maybe even faced fairly objectively greater struggle then you, does not seem to make your struggle evaporate.
The last point may make it seem that I’m inclined to say that perhaps we can not legitimately criticize others for how they act in their struggles. If we were merely talking about the inner experience then I would be willing to endorse this statement – I do not think we should criticize people for merely having different experiences. It is the way that we react to our struggles which is important however – it is the measure of the matter. Adversity can strengthen us, or it can break us down. In being broken down, we can become burdensome to those around us. We can become obnoxious, pitiful, dreary. We can even become resentful, mistreating those around us in our own misery. It runs counter to my intuitions that it is right that we should endlessly turn the other cheek.
My inclination is to say that we should try not criticize others in their struggles, though only in so far as that criticism is only about how we feel that we could do better. I think it is quite legitimate to let someone know if they are being self-destructive in their struggle (such as if they’re drinking excessively or suchlike). As far as we can bear them as a burden, being supportive in a time when they are impaired, we are doing them a service. I do not advocate taking on this struggle though past our breaking point, as soon as it begins to harm you, I think it is completely acceptable (indeed, I think it is the right choice), to shut out someone who is doing you harm in their own internal struggle.
Thank you for reading, let me know what you think,