The question of suicide
29. ‘The story is old
Suicide is regularly on the radar of anyone who socialises and consumes the media. It occurs and disturbs. Sometimes disturbing is its main purpose, as it was for the Vietnamese buddhist monk self-immolating in the picture, sacrificing himself to draw the world’s attention to the need for peace-keeping efforts in that country, in an act historically linked to public protest. Mass suicides that happened in Germany in 1945 were attributed to the public defeat of the the country and of its leaders.
Such contagion has been observed enough to earn a title of its own: the Werther Effect. This is not surprising, for issues brought to attention are what enter the mind. The trend is also mentioned in Gary Lachman’s study of literary suicides, Dead Letters, which received good reviews for its comprehensive and cautious treatment of famous casualties, both of writers and of the characters they created. The last section contains excerpts from relevant writings, such as Lord Byron’s quote that “I should, many a good day, have blown my brains out, but for the recollection that it would have given pleasure to my mother-in-law…”! G.K. Chesterton’s similarly-themed poem, A Ballade of Suicide, is also there, printed in full.
Others would argue that to be alive and possess a consciousness is to ask the question which is best: to be or not to be. Albert Camus, whose existential preoccupations in part inspired humanistic approaches in psychology, claimed that “there is only one truly serious philosophical problem, and that is suicide”. A more detached consideration of suicide recognises many different circumstances and causes as opposed to a universally negative view of it. Social authorities have even encouraged it as the most honourable thing to do in certain situations, such as when spies or military personnel are cornered, which makes for drama.
While feeling bad frequently makes sense following terrible experience, especially when no end seems yet to be in sight, the problem with looking at suicide as a solution is that it eliminates all chances of improvement or accommodation. The true story of the kidnapping of teacher, Brian Keenan, in Beirut where he was held in harsh conditions for five years, is recounted in his book, An Evil Cradling . After suffering much he was finally freed and was ultimately able to put it all in context and even feel compassion for his capturers. Different gratitude practices are recommended to help overcome disappointment too, with the idea being that not only can something to be thankful for be found in any situation, but when a past horror is re-framed, it can often be transformed into a redemptive strength.
When trust, resources, or health has been shattered, start with the basics. A certain amount of effort will probably be needed to be prepared to enjoy anything again. The lucky ones have access to kind understanding people whose presences offer reviving and illuminating support, because the wrong words or attitudes can only make things seem worse. When safe sharing’s possible, try it; ‘giorraíonn beirt bóthar’ (two shorten the road). Whoever can breathe, drink, eat, move and sense life, though, has already got the basic conditions to receive some pleasure, moment to moment, from the immediate environment.
“Sometimes your joy is the source of your smile, but sometimes your smile can be the source of your joy.” So states Thich Nhat Hanh, who addresses how to handle difficult feelings. By tenderly nursing the injured self, a taste for living returns. It can take a while, though sometimes conundrums resolve amazingly quickly.