This piece is deeply personal to me. I, like most of my friends, have been unfortunate to miss many dear friends who all decided, independently that the beauties of life were not enough to warrant living. When I think about them, I remember that they were deeply loved and greatly talented. And then I think about their passing and get angry. All these friends were smart and knew that life has many great things to offer, but they were also taught that life is flawed. For most of them, it became a constant struggle of betting between the good and the bad. Most of them courageously picked the former again and again until they couldn’t. These dearly departed were never cowardly until the end.
I get angry because I know that whatever the bad was that pushed them beyond the edge, it was insurmountable and huge in their minds. I get angry because I know that there is an outside force that builds these evils up in our heads. And what is a small problem seems undefeatable. Consider this piece an indictment of all the outside forces that skewers people’s judgment of the good and bad of life, and puts extra weight on the bad.
First off, it is thoroughly aggravating and confusing to me that in a Buddhist country – Buddhism being a philosophy built around the truth of cause and effect – people would conclude that suicides show weakness on part of the departed. If weakness – which would be innate – was the cause, then wouldn’t the departed have committed the fatal act sooner? That shows that weakness is not the cause. The real cause lies in the things that happen in one’s life.
If you look at a student who has committed suicide because they are afraid that they have disappointed their parents with their results, people tend to blame the students for the poor results. Of course, of the poor results, the blame may be placed on the student, but would you stop to look at the tradeoff you’ve created in their head? We should expect our students and children to make a few mistakes sometimes, without those they won’t grow to be wise. But when they make mistakes – as a student might do by not studying enough for a test – how have we managed to scare every student about failure so much that they think it not worse than death? What have we all told our children about failure; that there is no coming back from it; that failing a test has disgraced the entire family?
Failure is just one of the many common reasons people write in their notes. But no matter what reasons they give, there is always the issue of false trade-offs that we, the society, have created. A sacred point of the Noble truths of the Buddha is that by itself, the samsaric life has no inherent meaning. The only meaningful life – one that delivers in the long run – is the dharma. If we embrace this mono no aware, then it must become clear that life has no meaning, and nothing we do here will matter in the long run. That’s not a depressing fact, it is a relieving one; the lack of meaning allows all of us to create our own meaning in life.
But some people can’t understand that. They try so hard to find meaning in their lives – starting a family, making money, sleeping around, etc., which would be fine, except they are really fundamentalist about it. Someone who wakes up at 4 in the morning and goes to bed at 6 in the evening tries to convince everyone around them that those hours are the good hours of life. Everyone is a fundamentalist like this, at some point. And each fundamentalist idea alienates certain people. Imagine all of this as a Venn diagram. Some elements of that universe are bound to be alienated from all these little groups. These people, society calls outcasts, and nothing they do is acceptable to anyone.
But Man is a social animal. So, we simulate meaning in life by validating each other. You validate that I have written this piece by reading it. I validate you by writing about the same reality we experience. Those outcasts whose every action is unacceptable are less than valid for the rest of society. They are made to feel like their presence doesn’t matter, which to some people, equates to “your absence won’t matter.”
All of this is really abstract. What is my point? Easy – embrace the lack of meaning fully. Stop the fundamentalist BS.
In 2012, the Internet invented a word – Sonder. It means the realization that everyone we meet has a life as complex as ours. The point of Sonder is to humble us into remembering that each person measures success differently, has different dreams, and so on. This sort of pluralism is supposed to make us more accepting of others – so embrace Sonder, understand it.
When I think about my friends who killed themselves, I get angry because as I understand it, all of them could have been prevented if the people in their lives had said: “hey look, you’ve gone the wrong way now, just go the other way next time,” or “I might not understand why you do what you do but I respect it as the way you wish to live your life.” Instead they were made to feel worse for their failures, they were marginalized and ostracized. I direct my anger to all of us, and I hope you, dear reader, share this anger with me. We will use the anger to be more accepting.