Misery and the Absence of Company

A few days before Halloween, New York Times columnist Ross Douthat posted an op-ed that hit at something I’ve been thinking about for a while, particularly as it relates to Christian faith & practice and the seeming inability of Christians to talk well about what’s actually happening in life.  Douthat calls is “the misery filter,” something rooted in the practice of screening out all of the negative aspects of life when using social media.  By the end of the op-ed, he pins the problem on education.  From the piece:

Because this seems to me to be the signal failing of modern education — visible among my own peers, now entering the time of life when suffering is more the weather than a lightning strike, but especially among the generation younger than us, who seem to be struggling with the contrast between what social media and meritocracy tell them they should feel and what they actually experience.

In America we have education for success, but no education for suffering. There is instead the filter, the well-meaning deception, that teaches neither religious hope nor stoicism, and when suffering arrives encourages group hysteria, private shame and a growing contagion of despair.

How to educate for suffering is a question for a different column. Here I’ll just stress its necessity: Because what cannot be cured must be endured, and how to endure is, even now, the hardest challenge every one of us will face.

And while that really is the most quotable chunk of the piece, there’s something earlier in Ross’s thinking that stood out to me, that gets me each time I read it:

We tend to be aware of other people’s suffering when it first descends or when they bottom out — with a grim diagnosis, a sudden realization of addiction, a disastrous public episode. But otherwise a curtain tends to fall, because there isn’t a way to integrate private struggle into the realm of health and normalcy.

Because we don’t have “a way to integrate private struggle into the realm of health and normalcy.”  He’s right. He’s right. He’s right.  And because we don’t, we don’t really know what to do when the curtain falls or the diagnosis comes or things altogether fall apart.  And so it festers (something Lewis hints at in The Great Divorce).

One of the comments made by those saying good and wise things about the disastrous end results of the sexual revolution of the late 20th-century get this, I think.  They know the collapse is coming.  And some of them are trying to “shore things up” so maybe there can be some recovery from the fall.  But if we don’t learn the language now, if we don’t find a way to make normal the day-to-day struggle that is life itself (and glossed over by our digital veneer), we will have failed long before the bottom falls out.

You can read all of Douthat’s op-ed here.  If you’re like me, you can send it to some people.  Hopefully they’ll find a way to respond.

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