I got an amazing question from one of my little geniuses last week and it was a such a damn good one, I wanted to share it here.

How do you deal with the predominance of Suffering Culture?

Don’t you just love that? Suffering Culture. It so neatly describes our current cultural obsession with doomsday predictions, martyrdom, and looking on the shady side while beating yourself up–all in the name of being an enlightened, intelligent person.

I looked up the word suffer and it comes from the latin, sufferre, which is sub “from below”  and ferre “to bear.” So, to suffer literally means to “bear [something] from below.” Makes sense doesn’t it? When you’re having those conversations, doesn’t it feel like a weight is bearing down on your very soul, pushing you lower and lower, until your shoulders and ears are in the same vicinity and the big bad problems of the world are looming all around you? Let’s bear from above instead, shall we?

First: boundaries, yo.

You get to decide what you bring into your life and your world. It’s that simple. And that complex. 

It’s really easy to make excuses about your boundaries–stories about how you need to know the news in order to be a responsible citizen, you need to be informed in order to be able to plan, you need to be aware of all the suffering people and yourself could potentially experience because that will somehow expatiate the guilt that you feel sometimes because you’re privileged and your life is actually going somewhat okay.  

It’s much harder to say, “Adding fear to my life is not what I need right now. I am going to draw a line around myself and choose a better feeling, more abundance, more generous belief/story/perspective. Adding fear does not help me solve the problems I or the world is facing.”

Put another way: we cannot solve the problems we all so worried about from a fear-based place.

I believe that’s because a lot of these problems were actually caused by this fear-based place. Take our economy, for example (no, please, really someone take it, har har). A lot of people have a lot of opinions about why our economy is in what appears to be a semi-permanent recession. Now I am not an economist, which is why I’m allowed to believe that part of the reason we had our little financial melt-down is because we have a lot of scarcity and fear-based mentalities around wealth and money in our culture. This mentality, which my little genius has aptly termed “Suffering Culture” then produces individuals and organizations that seek to grab as much as they can as fast as they can like a hangry person on meth, let loose during Supermarket Sweep.

Greed comes from a scarcity mentality. Unethical corporate and individual behavior comes from a scarcity mentality. If you believed you had enough, you wouldn’t be trying to hoard as much as you can.  Scarcity mentality is part of Suffering Culture. Scarcity mentality shuts down your ability to creatively problem solve.

If you believe that we’re going to solve these problems–problems that are going to require creative solutions, problems that were caused by a scarcity, fear-based set of beliefs–by engaging in more scarcity and more fear, then go ahead and try it. I will wait over here while you go bald and put a stress-caused hole in your digestive system. I got time.

You don’t have to be sanctimonious or incessantly cheerful to do this. In fact I really don’t want you to do it that way. There are few things I can stand less than people I basically agree with presenting things in such a way that make me cringe and have me running in the opposite direction. You know what I’m talking about you well-meaning yoga-voicers. You don’t need to say, sotto voce, “Guys, my life coach told me I’m not allowed to engage in any conversations that repeat the stories of Suffering Culture. Please, namaste.” (Unless you want to get a drink thrown at you, or find out who your real friends are: Real friends are people who stick by you when you accidentally slip into yoga voice.)

Just, when you’re out having drinks, and someone starts the latest round of the game my friend Rachel and I affectionately refer to as “BURN IT TO THE GROUND” (because that is always, always where you end up at the end–feeling like your life, and the lives of every human on the planet are doomed! doomed I say!), you can sidestep that whole she-bang. Now would be a good time to launch into some sexy gossip. Or your latest public humiliation that you are able to laugh about. Or to ask someone about something that is going right–“Stella, didn’t you get just a promotion?” “Rex, did I hear that you brewed another chocolate stout?” (Pat yourself on the back for having friends with such cool names while you’re at it.) If people persist, just say, “ugh I’m so sick of this ‘we’re all doomed’ conversation, can we talk about something, anything else?” Make it a game–everyone throws five dollars on the table the last person to dip into the Suffering Culture well, wins the pot.

You don’t always have to be heavy and serious to protect your boundaries. You don’t have to wave that desire around like a sword. You can carry it lightly. You can have a sense of humor about it. Do it in a way that feels good, authentic, and honest to yourself. But do it. It’s part of how to cultivate resilience, grit, and stick-to-it-iveness.

The opposite of Suffering Culture is Thriving Culture. Part of your agreement with yourself can be about cultivating a culture of thriving–how can you focus on what is thriving, what is working, what is flowing–in your life and in the world? It’s not about there is nothing to bear–that bad things don’t happen and you can just ignore them–it’s about saying, how can I bear something from above instead of from below? How can I get out from under that thing?

Second part: Perspective.

There has always been suffering. There will always be suffering/fear/pain. Part of our experience as humans is pain and fear. That’s the deal. But! we don’t have to worship at the altar of our flavor of suffering. We don’t have to turn it into some sacred thing to worship.

People, on the whole, are doing better and better than they ever have in the history of existence. On an individual level, this varies wildly. I don’t mean to diminish individual pain. On a bigger level, institutions and structures are crumbling. It’s possible that they’re falling down to make way for something better. Things are falling apart. Things will always fall apart. It is an immutable fact of the universe–entropy, look it up!

When I try to fight it, and cling to the belief that we shouldn’t be suffering, we shouldn’t be scared, that things shouldn’t be falling apart, but also that the very presence of that suffering and fear means that we are doomed, then I am getting it twisted. I am fighting with reality, which as Byron Katie reminds us, is a fight I am destined to lose 100% of the time. I am hobbling my ability to thrive, and my ability to help others do the same.

Have you ever had a friend who was so obsessed with the way the world was falling apart that they had a hard time focusing on anything else, including perhaps supporting you during a rough time? I have had those friends. I have been that friend. It’s shitty.

The presence of suffering and fear means we are having a human experience in the midst of great change. It means we’re here. It means we’re alive. Isn’t that interesting–the very presence of suffering is actually evidence that we are thriving in a way. At least that we are alive.

We can also have the human experience of curiosity, awe, meeting it with open arms, etc. in the midst of great change. That is one way to create a Thriving Culture.

Sometimes I think we all like to choose the certainty of the fear stories over the uncertainty of the “well this might actually work out on the whole” stories. The fear stories give us a really compelling, clear narrative of how things will fall apart. We have less of a clear and therefore less compelling narrative of the way things could fall together. Our minds hate uncertainty and will rush to fill that vacuum with the certainty of “everything is doomed.”

Embracing uncertainty with humor and lightness and willingness is another way to create a Thriving Culture.

Finally, the anger piece.

Madeline Kahn Forever.

Get angry about all this fear mongering! It’s bullshit designed to sell stuff–ad time, page views, graduate degrees, etc. Don’t allow yourself to be manipulated by people who have a vested interest in the status quo into believing that our changing status quo is the worst thing in the world. It’s bumpy, I’ll give you that. It’s painful, for sure. But can we be certain that it spells DOOM?

So. That’s the answer I have worked out for myself. What do you say? What do you do with Suffering Culture? How are you committing to cultivating a Thriving Culture in your life?