Thursday, August 1, 2013

Then and Now

Along the lines of a previous post, I came across two articles on the subject of outdoing others in tragedy, one by Joyce Wadler entitled "Who Suffered Most" (rather witty, I must add) and the other, Frank Bruni's "Show Us Your Woe."
Robert Grossman
When it comes to suffering, whether it be relatively piddling or of great magnitude, sometimes the idea of . . . worthiness? creeps into our thinking. To clarify, pain can only be valid if greater than another's pain. 

Even if it wasn't one's own agony, we can assume it for ourselves. My grandparents are/were Hungarian in origin, meaning their experiences of the war, that of incomprehensible suffering, is incomparable to that of Polish Jewry. According to this table, there were over three million and 825,000 Jews in pre-war Poland and Hungary, respectively. The same amount, around 300,000, survived from both countries. Six years of ghettos and deportations and murders, as opposed to one. 

I feel oddly defensive, or perhaps meek?, in the presence of a survivor from Poland. 

Wadler's observation is merely social, as friends (or do they just claim to be friends?) compete for worst heartache, worst dog-death, worst day at the office, and she provides some tips on how to fake sympathy. 

Bruni notes that any competition nowadays, whether it be singing competition or politicians for office all possess under "qualifications" some sort of anguish. 

We seem to believe that with great suffering comes great quality, like gold in a roaring furnace. But that is not so, concludes Bruni: 
But I know strong, empathetic people who haven’t weathered anything much more distressing than a hangnail, and I know jerks who are graduates of garish travails. Hardship isn’t necessarily the crucible in which virtue is formed. Sometimes it’s just hardship, sad and unenviable, and the man or woman on the far side of it is exactly who he or she was before: kindly or cruel, brave or timid. 
In the end, what makes a good candidate or good singer is how they can perform now, not how miserable their childhood was.

My connecting validity to misery is yet another contemporary concept absorbed from my current surroundings. At least, when we once had to spend our days and nights tilling the land, who had time to compare notes?    


FrumGeek said...

Well if being miserable counts for nothing then Calvin's dad's "it builds character" theory is wrong....

Princess Lea said...

Supposedly comedians had miserable childhoods. I suppose Calvin must have grown up into Louis C.K.