Human Suffering vs. Political Suffering

Peter Block’s lamely-titled book Community won me over, finally, about halfway through. Among the many, many wise and elegant passages, there’s this:

Human suffering is the pain that is inherent in being alive: isolation, loneliness, illness, abandonment, loss of meaning, sadness, death. These are unavoidable; they are going to happen to each of us, and try as we may, there is nothing we can do to prevent them. We have infinite choice how to respond to this kind of human suffering, but it is part of the deal and is what gives vitality, meaning and texture to a life.

The other kind of pain is political suffering. This is avoidable and unnecessary. Some of the avoidable suffering is very visible: poverty, homelessness, hunger, violence, the diaspora of those unable to return to their homeland, a deteriorated housing project, a neighborhood in distress. There is also political suffering that is more subtle: people’s learned dependency, internalized oppression, the absence of possibility, the powerlessness that breeds violence, imperialism, and a disregard for the worth of a human being. I am calling this political suffering because I believe it grows out of human choice. Human choice to sustain a world of imbalance—surplus on one side and great scarcity on the other…

What I am calling political, avoidable suffering occurs as a result of our disconnectedness and the imbalance of power and resources. This does not put blame on anyone or any segment of society. I do not believe “those people’ exist. I have simply come to believe that when we are unrelated to those whose lives are so different from ours, suffering increases. When we see a growing distance between economic classes, an increase in protectionism and gatedness, and more resources coming into fewer hands, our capacity to bring those on the margin into the center is reduced…

This is not just about large societal movements, it is also about our growing dependence on experts, our attraction to celebrity and power, our increasing tendency to label….What is needed is for us to choose over and over to more widely distribute ownership and accountability.

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