J. A. Recommends: the Red Hand Files
A small pleasure of gliding into early-middle age is looking into the rear view mirror and discovering, here and there, skips of youthful judgment that are still easily mended. I ignored the oeuvre of Nick Cave for twenty-some years because I once knew a shouty haircut of a man who simply worshipped at the Alter of the Esteem-able Mr. Cave (shouty’s phrasing). With a recommendation like that, from a haircut like that — an unreliable young puddle otherwise devoted to atonal emo-core, how could I help but ignore the subject of such idolatry? If this guy digs Nick Cave, I logic’ed, by extension I must not: I cannot. But lo, did my mental heuristics fail me. Better late than never, I suppose…
As one does when newly discovering (for oneself) the exceedingly well-documented and broadly-known, the internet came in handy in “researching” videos, more videos, and encyclopedic histories of Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. The best nugget, though — by a measure of miles — was discovering the Red Hand Files newsletter, wherein fans send their queries to Nick, who writes invariably thoughtful, philosophical, frequently hilarious responses in return. That do sometimes evoke tears.
My question is about how you perceive the utility of suffering. What is the value of suffering to us as individuals, and to us as a species as we go through our life carrying suffering around, like some mind-numbing, soul crushing weight?
Peter / Hanover, Canada
In order to transform our pain, we must acknowledge that all people suffer. By understanding that suffering is the universal unifying force, we can see people more compassionately, and this goes some way toward helping us forgive the world and ourselves. By acting compassionately we reduce the world’s net suffering, and defiantly rehabilitate the world. It is an alchemical act that transforms pain into beauty. This is good. This is beautiful.
To not transform our suffering and instead transmit our pain to others, in the form of abuse, torture, hatred, misanthropy, cynicism, blaming and victimhood, compounds the world’s suffering. Most sin is simply one person’s suffering passed on to another. This is not good. This is not beautiful.
The utility of suffering, then, is the opportunity it affords us to become better human beings. It is the engine of our redemption.
Highest recommendation. Rarely are heart and wit so deftly mixed.
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