Everyone has struggled; everybody has hurt and continues to hurt. We can empathize with the pain of others because pain is human: it is that unavoidable and unshakeable thing that feels tangible because of its weight but cannot be felt when we try to reach for and remove it. It is the thing that cannot ever be removed quite as simple as we would like, the thing that sits on top of everything else, elapsing in its own timestream and commanding its own gravity. And it has all of these characteristics, at least to an extent, regardless of the painful experience from which it stems. Which is why the frequency with which we compare our pain to that of others is an issue. We diminish our own pain, thereby diminishing the importance of our experiences; or we diminish other people's pain and reduce their collected moments into something small.
Such thinking suggests that there are levels of legitimacy to suffering. And perhaps there are indeed gradients in that stubbing a toe is not losing a toe… when we gauge the distances between our solvable experience and someone else's enduring grief, we not only spot our own fortune but more importantly, we have the emotional depth-perception to appreciate the weight of other people's trials. The perspective to see our suffering, and the suffering of others, for what it is, is a tributary of empathy and selflessness that allows us to connect to and value our fellow man. It also allows us to understand that nobody exists in isolation; it allows us to put our feelings in the context of wider happenings and to understand that we indeed exist in context, our events inevitably overlapping with, receding from, and building off of someone else's.
The trouble is when perspective bleeds into something restrictive and damaging so that we dismiss ourselves, or dismiss other human stories. The trouble is when we lose sight of the validity and humanity of every other person with which we're sharing space.
I am very fortunate to know some truly good-hearted people, people who genuinely care about others, who invest their time and energy in those who need them, and who are able to look past the immediate and the personal to see something bigger than themselves. It is also these very wonderful and mindful people, people who actively put a lot of good into the world, who often look so far past themselves as to grant their own hardships less weight. In their case perspective somehow bleeds into something with the makings of shame. I really don't have it that bad. It's not worth talking about. I'm sorry for talking about myself so much. It is strange to hear these phrases from people I care about, whose thoughts I am pleased to hear and whose burdens I am honored to help shoulder if I can. But the point is that we may allow perspective—something positive—to fester into something that shrinks our feelings into illegitimacy, into what feel like indulgent and selfish sentiments that are unworthy of attention and discussion. Why is it that when we feel deeply, or are inclined to share that which we feel deeply, we are ashamed or afraid of our capacity to feel? For whom are we shrinking ourselves?
On the other end of the spectrum, there is the possibility of overlooking others and losing perspective. If we view our hardships as the fixed mark of suffering by which we should measure and validate—or deem invalid—other people's pain, then by our own definition no one will ever have suffered as we have. No one will ever have suffered legitimately. No one's pain will ever be valid because it will not be synonymous with our own. While the only lens through which we may view the world is that of our own background and experience, this restriction does not excuse us from practicing empathy and understanding, and such a mindset completely dismisses the validity of others. We cannot lead anyone else's life, and no one else can lead ours; but we can bridge the experiential gap by understanding that the human pain we have felt has been felt in another life, out of whatever situation. We have to avoid the danger of judging other people's circumstances as lesser because we have not lived and known them, and because they have not lived and known ours.
Because if you feel it, then it's weighty. Regardless of the gradient, regardless of whether the incident is feeling ignored by a friend or losing a friend of forty years, our experiences and feelings are always valid if they come from a pure place—that is, if they spring naturally from us, and not from a place of manipulation of hatred, both of which are chiefly unnatural. What is felt, whatever comes from within, is real and true and meaningful. What is felt is legitimate regardless of the size it takes on when compared to the trials of others… yes, there will always be someone in dire straits, but we can allow hurt to be what it is, and we can grant ourselves enough space to feel what we have to feel without qualification, and without remorse.