In the cosmic sense, we are insignificant mites on a bale blue dot, suspended in a sunbeam, as Carl Sagan poignantly observed.
But that is merely in an absolute sense. We are relative creatures. The moment there is a speck of dust in our eye, it becomes far more significant and pressing than universal drinking water, universal sanitation, universal basic income and every other problem that afflicts the universe.
This is because everyone’s own struggle means the world to them. In the words of Viktor Frankl:
If a certain quantity of gas is pumped into an empty chamber, it will fill the chamber completely and evenly, no matter how big the chamber. Thus suffering completely fills the human soul and conscious mind, no matter whether the suffering is great or little. Therefore the “size” of human suffering is absolutely relative.
So what does this mean for us?
Comparison of my struggle with yours become meaningless. For those of us who are privileged, the reality of more unfortunate people living a life of hardship does not affect us. Our own battles do a splendid job of consuming our mental bandwidth.
Conversely, we likely to underestimate other people’s struggles. It might be just as hard for a Nigerian mother to send her children to school, as it is for a Singaporean trader to meet his $10 million monthly trading target. And more importantly, those struggles might mean just as much to those people themselves. Without spending even a day in each of their shoes, we are in no position to understand their lives or their struggles.
Socrates said, be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle – one that we have no idea about. Once we learn a person’s story and start to understand their struggles, it becomes harder to hate them or judge them unfairly.
Dostoevski said once, “There is only one thing that I dread: not to be worthy of my sufferings.” Every human being aims to rise above their suffering, regardless of its magnitude. And those among us who die with a smile on their lips, pass away with the implicit knowledge that they have succeeded.