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elbanditoroso's avatar

Is suffering optional?

Asked by elbanditoroso (31943points) January 24th, 2021

I’m rereading Atlas Shrugged, and I ran across a phrase that I hadn’t noticed before.

Rand (the author) uses the phrase “Dagny doesn’t allow herself to suffer” – as if it is optional or a matter of choice.

Can you choose not to suffer?

Is it like the choice to be offended or not?

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16 Answers

Mimishu1995's avatar

Yes, pretty much like choosing not to be offended. It’s choosing not to be bothered by the misfortune.

janbb's avatar

I find that a pretty specious concept like much of Ayn Rand that I’m aware of. You can choose how you will deal with suffering but to deny that it is happening seems like you’d have to be an automaton.

Buddhists feel that you have to accept that suffering and pain are a part of life but I still don’t believe that they don’t feel the pain.

JLoon's avatar

If you follow Buddhist teaching you find that for almost everyone, emotional or physical suffering is part of existence.

What’s “optional” is how much you can avoid damage to body and mind through awareness, detachment, and compassion.

JLeslie's avatar

I think it is not a simple black and white prospect. I assume we are discussing emotional pain.

Sometimes we are overcome with emotion and it’s very difficult to simply choose not to suffer. I do believe we can reframe situations in our minds though. I believe it actually rewires our brains. We are not always at the mercy of our emotions, we do have some power.

I have gone through times when I‘ve wanted to be sad. Something awful happened and I did not want to feel better for a while. I think sadness and depression have some use. I think the brain fog can be good as long as it is a temporary state.

When I worked in the chemical dependency unit I observed how so many people who are addicts seem to be hurt very easily. I saw this in friends of mine too. Many of them did have some really crappy things happen to them as children, and I’m completely empathetic to having ongoing pain from that. However, on top of that it carried into adulthood reacting strongly to what I would call little things, but they were not little to them. Things I even find funny or no big deal they were very hurt and angry over.

Meanwhile, I’m quite terrible myself at handling the stress of decision making, so I’m not one to talk. I feel like I should and could be better at it. I wish I were.

hello321's avatar

What @janbb and @JLoon said.

Additionally, anything Ayn Rand writes can be dismissed out of hand – just like you would for any other sociopath.

Zaku's avatar

Yes. Much (if not all) suffering is often quite optional.

Case in point: I have avoided great amounts of suffering by avoiding reading as much of possible of the writing of Ayn Rand!

On the other hand, people who decide to suppress suffering are often just masking it, instead of dealing with the issue, which tends to lead to it festering and growing inside. It tends to be better to allow oneself to acknowledge, feel, and work through emotions that are actually ours (and to ignore the nasty philosophy of Ayn Rand, which is not ours).

LuckyGuy's avatar

Please don’t think I am being disrespectful. This is a serious question.
Isn’t that what people do when they commit suicide? Don’t they decide to end their suffering by taking that pill, or pulling that trigger, or steering left instead of right, or falling on the tracks, etc.?

Mimishu1995's avatar

@LuckyGuy I have read 3 scientific books about suicide, so maybe I can answer this. But I hope I don’t come off as being too dry and insensitive.

When people get to the point of wanting to commit suicide, it usually because they are overwhelmed by their pain and can’t see any way out. They want to “end their suffering”, but it’s not in the same sense of the saying in question. Suicide is a way people try to stop feeling their pain, a way to run away from the pain. And in most cases suicidal people are willing to give up suicide if they are presented with a better solution to deal with their pain. Not to mention a lot of people give out signs that they are about to commit suicide to other people, consciously or unconsciously, so that someone would take notice and save them. Some people say vague things like the world is meaningless, some people kill themselves but not to the point of dying… This is all because it’s not human nature to end one’s own life. Suicide is essentially a last-ditch response to a lack of option.

And that doesn’t even take into account the kind of suicide called “passive suicide”, which is very unconscious and has less to do with the free will to choose not to suffer.

As far as I can understand the saying in the question, it’s more about being at peace with your pain. You still experience pain, but you choose not to let it rule your life. You are at peace with it, accept it and make the best of your life in spite of it. This is the total opposite of the mindset od suicidal people, who want nothing but the pain disappearing. They don’t want to deal with it or accept it as part of their life. In a way they let the pain influence their decision. And this is not what the saying means by choosing not to suffer.

elbanditoroso's avatar

A couple of comments:

- Although Rand is no doubt a controversial author was justifiably criticized for some of the extremist ideas, I think says “everything she wrote should be dismissed” is a bit too much. You may not like her solutions, but she raised certain questions that are extremely relevant today.

- @LuckyGuy I take what you mean about suicide, but that’s going the other direction from what I got out of the phrase I quoted.

My take on the implication of the phrase is the a person can consciously decide to ignore or dismiss suffering, as personal choice, instead of letting it affect their behavior and psyche and their future actions. In other words, stay alive and well, but just not let it bother them. Not going the suicide route, but the “stay alive and be strong” route.

What I question is whether people can actually do that- push aside suffering – or if that was a literary invention of Rand’s, and totally unbased in reality.

janbb's avatar

@elbanditoroso Speaking personally, my Ex and his brother were raised in a very repressed household where were feelings not honored or discussed. I think they then learned to push down feelings and not acknowledge them and this was greatly to their detriment as adults. If one can suppress their feelings of pain or suffering, it is not a great thing although ultimately accepting it and working through it is optimal (and helps you keep your friends.)

Zaku's avatar

@elbanditoroso Since I have avoided as much Ayn Rand as I possibly could, I can’t say with certainty that I’d find all of her suggestions bad, but from what I have read of her, my impression is that most of what she wrote, I would find with her perspectives on (and answers to) those questions to be limited, wrong-minded, perverse, cruel, awful, anti-social, terrible and/or atrocious, and my only temptation to study what she wrote has been be to understand the mindsets of the people who tend to say they agree with her.

Just thinking about her in this thread is already bringing unwelcome amounts of suffering into my life.

janbb's avatar

@ZakuJust thinking about her in this thread is already bringing unwelcome amounts of suffering into my life.”

But don’t allow it to!

Zaku's avatar

@janbb Good advice. Now, I’m off to do something completely different!

Mimishu1995's avatar

@Zaku I’m no fan of Ayn Rand myself. But I’m answering this question based on the meaning of the quote alone, without any context. The saying is actually echoed by other more respectable people, such as Albert Camus (with his absurdism philosophy) or Viktor Frankl (whose entire career is based on accepting pain and turning pain into power).

Maybe you can use that approach too?

janbb's avatar

@Mimishu1995 With all due respect, I would suggest that the quote “Dagny doesn’t allow herself to suffer” has a different nuance than saying that writers or philosophers talk about the acceptance of suffering. Ayn Rand seems to deny the validity or recognition of the emotion at all in this statement which is quite different from recognizing that one is suffering and then accepting it.

si3tech's avatar

@elbanditotoroso In some senses and areas suffering can indeed be optional. Great book.

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