Thursday, February 08, 2007

How To Make Big Problems Seem Small

"The truth that many people never understand, until it is too late, is that the more you try to avoid suffering the more you suffer because smaller and more insignificant things begin to torture you in proportion to your fear of being hurt."
- Thomas Merton, American Trappist monk (1915–1968)

Everyone has problems they consider to be severe. They may or may not be constant stressors, but when they come along they are as severe for one person as for another.

It doesn't really matter how important or significant a problem is. If a small problem exists in isolation of others problems, it becomes the most important problem and has the same effect on one person as a critical problem has on another person.

Everyone suffers from problems. Whether the problem would be forgotten within a month or would continue (even in memory) indefinitely, the bearer of the problem sees it as severe. Future resolutions of problems seem unimportant to a person who is suffering from and worrying about today's problems.

Those who try to hide from problems close themselves off from situations that might aggravate their emotions. Emotions are the part of us where we suffer, so shielding the emotions is thought by some to prevent suffering. But by shutting themselves off from the potential consequences of problems, people also shut themselves off from the realities around them. They lose their grasp of realities of life.

They come to believe that the tiny world they live in is the same as (or should be the same as) the one others live in. They want others ourside of their tiny protected world to live by the same set of rules and understandings as they live by.

Rather than hiding from problems, we need to face them down and feel the accomplishment of conquering them. We can keep in mind that every problem we have will be solved eventually. Every one. Persistent problems such as physical disabilities we can work around so that they no longer become disabilities but instead become opportunities to better ourselves in other ways.
How can we lessen the effects of our problems? By helping others with theirs. Most of us don't have to go far from our own homes to find others with problems far more severe than our own.

First of all, finding others with problems far worse than our own makes ours seem less severe to us. Second, helping others with their problems causes us to neglect the emotional stress that our own problems cause us.

That one-two combination may be found in most or all of the people you know who never seem to suffer from their problems the way others do. They have problems, like everyone, but all they have time for is solving them, not worrying about them. They are too busy offering help to others with more important problems to worry about themselves.

Unless a problem persists because another person with emotional instability or a legal or phsysical disability themselves, most of us forget our most severe problems a few months after they cease to be stressors for us. Can you remember the problems you worried about a year ago?

Little problems seem big if we have no big problems to worry us. Big problems seem insignificant if we busy ourselves helping those with problems more severe than our own.

That leaves helping others as the solution to finding relief to our problems. That may not be intuitive, but it's true. It's one of the mysteries of human nature. It's works.

Bill Allin
Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems, striving to make our little problems that seem big into little problems that we don't worry about.
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