Empathy: One of the Joys of Suffering
I believe we all have an innate ability to empathize with others. I also have seen in my life how understanding and feeling the pain of another has come from experiencing pain myself.
Suffering isn't a friendly word, I know I don't think so. Who wants to think about going through pain or discomfort? Much of our social conditioning seems to be about avoiding pain instead of learning from it. While it requires we be open to it, I think suffering can be a powerful crucible for empathy if we will allow it to be so.
I have known people who have experienced many painful things in their life, physically and emotionally, and have a variety of different outcomes. Some people come out of their experiences hardened. If pain has taught them anything, it is not to trust, not to risk being hurt again and so their defenses are always up. I have seen people go through pain and come out broken. These people may not only walk with a limp but do not know how to get on with their lives. Their spark is gone. Others come out wounded, and with a capacity to heal.
I have experienced the pain of rejection and marginalization, and those experiences have helped to soften me and give me understanding into the experiences of others. Compassion means to suffer with, after all. Sometimes to be there for people in that capacity requires having gone through the same pain yourself.
This is not a license to inflict pain on others and hope they "do the right thing and use it for good." This is a call to be aware of our own suffering and find the good, to use our pain as fuel for beauty, for understanding, for human connection.
May even our deepest pain become power for us to understand, to empathize, to love.