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  • Writer's pictureastrid v.j.

It is our duty to reduce the suffering of others

Richard's motto isn’t just a nice sentiment for a character who is a prince and later becomes a king in The Siblings' Tale. Reducing others’ suffering is something more of us should probably think about than we usually do. It isn’t for the politicians or the rich to resolve social problems. Suffering doesn’t only appear in the form of poverty.

When we start tuning into other people’s suffering and think about what we could do to alleviate it, several things happen. Firstly, we become aware of our own blessings, allowing us to be thankful for what we do have instead of constantly focusing on what we “need”. Secondly, small gestures of kindness spread a ripple effect around us. If you’ve read books like Chicken Soup for the Soul you’ll know what I mean. Happiness engenders happiness. Kindness engenders kindness.

Let’s start seeing small, “bite-sized” aspects of suffering in our daily lives that we as private individuals can do something about. Is there a homeless person hanging out on your street? Do you have a spare blanket you don’t really use? Is someone in your office sad about something? Could you take the time over lunch break to reach out to them and listen? What can you do today to alleviate the suffering of someone else?

The more kindness we spread, the happier we feel and the more kindness returns to us, making us even happier. Shall we start breaking the vicious, depressive cycle the media and politicians feed on? They want us to believe that the world is filled with sharks and monsters. They want us to be afraid, because our fear gives them power. And untreated suffering leads to the blackness that power feeds on.

Let’s take a hypothetical. You may, or may not, know that a man named Adolf Hitler was rejected from art school in his early twenties. That man took that particular rejection to heart and chose to blame a Jewish student who did get a place at the school for “stealing” Adolf’s “rightful” place. When Adolf gave up on his dream and instead turned towards blaming the system and a person from a different ethnic group, hatefulness festered. As time went on, he did not change his mindset and we are all aware of the blackness his personal hell cast on the world. What could have been, had that young man been accepted into that school? Or, what would have been if he’d said, “Okay, I didn’t get into this school this time. What other schools are there? When is the next intake at this school?” What might have happened if someone Adolf knew, instead of commiserating with him about “those evil Jews”, had said, “I believe in you. If you really want to become an artist, it will surely be possible. Let’s see what you can do today to make that dream a reality.”

Who knows, by giving a recent divorcee a hug, or encouraging someone to take whatever failure they’ve just faced as feedback, or listening to the pain of someone else so they can work through it, you might just be doing the thing that person needs to overcome their darkness and shift into a new way of thinking that will allow them to achieve things they never realised possible before.

In my recently released book, Gisela’s Passion, Hilarion also follows a similar path into darkness. He hardens his heart because of circumstances, turning his back on the world for the wounds his life has inflicted on him. He does not grow from any of it. He nurtures hatred and despair and then turns around and dishes it all out to those around him, with tragic consequences.

One of my beta readers for Gisela’s Passion mentioned she was satisfied with the ending Hilarion got dealt in the story because “he had it coming”, but I find that misses the true tragedy of Hilarion’s situation−and there are so many people out there who see the world like he does. If Gisela had been a little more aware, a little wiser, perhaps, if she’d had more experience, she would have been able to see Hilarion’s cry for help and treat him with the true respect and support of a friend. She tries, but she is young and inexperienced and allows his manner to flare her anger, instead of seeing that it's nothing personal, that he’s hurting and just needs someone to truly listen−if he were only to open up and let his hurt flow out. Had Gisela had the courage to sit down and talk to Hilarion, give him her reasons and put her rejection into context, and had Hilarion had the guts to acknowledge his thoughts and talk about what was going on in his mind, things might have turned out differently. Communication is the root of any relationship and most pain and suffering is increased a hundred fold if it is kept shut in.

We humans are social creatures and we do our greatest good when we listen to others, find the root of their pain and offer a solution, or the possibility of a solution. We don’t have to rid the world of poverty, starvation and emotional stress and suffering overnight, but each step forward helps. We can take one step today and see where that takes us tomorrow.

In The Siblings' Tale, Richard, as king of Vendale, heals many of the wounds his father inflicted on those around him out of blind zeal for something he believed in without looking at moral implications. Richard’s father merely did what he “had” to, no matter the sacrifice, in order to achieve what he deemed “imperative”. Richard, on the other hand, weighs his decisions, contemplating the effects of a decision. Once, he almost fails in this, when he allows anger and incredulity to govern his mind, but Elisabeth rescues him from making a hasty and cruel decision (this is one of my favourite scenes from Becoming, Part 2 of the Siblings’ Tale). Richard does what he can in his position as king to alleviate the suffering of those in his court as well as further afield, by implementing programmes to alleviate poverty and support those struggling to make a living in ways that are constructive to their achieving independence.

From all of this, I’d like to challenge you, dear reader, to look around you and see “with eyes unclouded by hate” (to quote a fabulous Myasaki movie). Is there anyone near you silently screaming their agony at an unheeding world, the pain evident through their actions and behaviour? And then ask yourself: What can I do to help this person? Sometimes the smallest gesture of friendship or support can mean the world to a person.

Do what you can to reduce the suffering of others, especially during this Christmas season. Make the most of the Christmas spirit to spread happiness through your kindness.

Thank you for reading. I would love to know what you think on the subject. This is intended as a discussion starter and an opportunity for many different opinions to circulate. Please comment below and share your thoughts!

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