Today, I discuss why our society shies away from real suffering.

Table of Contents

What Is Suffering?

suffering | woman suffering

We all suffer—some more than others. You are strong enough to reduce your suffering and the suffering of others.

Suffering “is the bearing of pain or distress.”

Pain and distress can cover physical, emotional, mental, and psychological examples. You can suffer from trauma, a broken leg, emotional manipulation, a bad breakup, and so forth. When you go through pain, that is when you suffer.

Performative Suffering vs. Real Suffering

“He who fears he shall suffer, already suffers what he fears.” – Michel de Montaigne

However, not all suffering is equal. In our modern world, we do not understand real suffering and substitute authentic pain for performative pain.

For example, I do not suffer when my coffee takes too long to make. On the other hand, losing the life of a child is truly unbearable. Why? Because a critical aspect of one’s life and character is gone. And it can never be fully recovered.

However, performative pain is about the one “suffering” instead of others. For example, if I complain loudly about my coffee taking too long, I make it all about me. But maybe the coffee is late because the workers are short-staffed and overworked. Their distress ends in a few hours when their shift is done; my “agonizing” will stop within ten minutes. Unfortunately, I cannot see their struggles because I am focused on myself. Other customers cannot see the workers’ problems because I have focused on my and my fellow customers’ pains.

We are performing for attention and have failed to help the workers who are genuinely suffering.

Three Reasons Weak Individuals Don’t Deal with Real Pain

process pain | woman crying holding flowers

Pain is hard to process. We avoid it as much as we can to the detriment of our progress.

1) Modernity is performative and self-absorbed

Weak individuals want to be seen as good instead of developing the internal strength needed to be virtuous. Because they want to be seen as good, weak individuals gravitate towards low-cost, performative acts that show kindness. Unfortunately, such people never resolve genuine misery.

Developing virtue and resolving actual suffering requires internal strength and humility. And if you are virtuous and valuable, then you earn just accolades from a grateful society. Why not skip in line and pretend to be a good person when you have nothing to offer?

2) Real Suffering Is Nuanced

True pain is challenging to fix, and our society does not like nuanced, complex problems. Furthermore, we are incapable of dealing with complexity. We are hopelessly inept at understanding the root causes of issues and the long-term solutions to them.

Our modern era thrives on quick and easy fixes. But these fixes do not work. For example, you cannot solve homelessness with government fiat money. Homeless people are unique in their history: some are lazy, others have fallen on hard times, while others have mental issues that make reintegration into society impossible. You can’t solve these issues with the performative solution of “print more money” or “pass ineffective laws.”

To reduce people’s pain, you need traditional families, supportive communities, and high standards for the people being helped. These solutions are not easy to implement, but these solutions end hurting and resolve issues like homelessness.

As I said, our suffering is performative. Performative misery is surface deep and usually stupid. Thus, when we face real pain, we realize our tweets and sarcasm won’t solve anything. We are lost. So we ignore real suffering and pander to our egos.

3) True Suffering Is Terrifying

“There are so many ways of being despicable it quite makes one’s head spin. But the way to be really despicable is to be contemptuous of other people’s pain.” – James Baldwin

Genuine suffering is terrifying. Weak individuals are comfortable, and their problems are not painful or troubling. Most of life is full of inconveniences that we can solve with honesty and discipline. However, authentic suffering is unbearable, terrifying and can’t be overcome by brute willpower.

Most people are weak and lack the courage and fortitude necessary to weather the horrid storms of reality. Thus, they engage in performative pain that poses no danger to them. Weak individuals do not engage with trauma in the families, the suffering of the powerless, or past horrors. They seek the most effortless, shallowest pain they can find and cling to it, using this “suffering” to forge their identities and show how moral they are.

What should you do with real suffering?

pain | statue

You are strong enough to engage with the pains of self-improvement and personal improvement. Do not settle for performative suffering to make yourself look good.

Do not become yet another worshipper of false suffering. Instead, focus your attention and efforts on actually helping people. You don’t have to throw your heart open to every horror. Be measured. Focus your attention on what you can control and the pain you can reduce. Remember to prioritize. You are not cruel, apathetic, or “selfish” because you direct your resources towards uplifting yourself and your community. You are realistic and responsible.

When you have the time and stomach, do engage with the world. Read books about slavery or war crimes. See the suffering of others and see how much more blessed you are. The default state of man is short and brutal. Anything beyond that is a blessing and unique to most people.


“All gods who receive homage are cruel. All gods dispense suffering without reason. Otherwise they would not be worshipped. Through indiscriminate suffering men know fear and fear is the most divine emotion. It is the stones for altars and the beginning of wisdom. Half gods are worshipped in wine and flowers. Real gods require blood.” – Zora Neale Hurston

  1. What’s a tragedy that has happened in your life? How did you recover? How do you process the pain?
  2. What is a great moral evil you have studied? For example, I’ve read multiple books about American slavery. What lessons did you learn? How did learning about these great moral evils affect your life?
  3. Do you know someone who uses pain perfomatively? What do you think of that person? Do you wish to associate with them? Do you believe they can be helped?

Please remember that it’s important to do the actionables. You’re not on this earth to simply read but to do. To become an individual, you must act more than you consume.

*Image credit to Unsplash.