Saturday, December 15, 2012

When Tragedy Strikes, Humanism is What is Needed

I'm sure I do not need to go into the exact details of yesterday's tragic murders in Newtown, Connecticut. The event put a huge question to the fore, namely, how should one respond to tragedies? Indeed, I have personally taken a lot of criticism for my views, which is to be expected from people who do not understand my way of thinking. I make the point that many people, living in the individualistic society such as this one, politely "turn the other cheek" in response to prayer, if I may use such a phrase. No matter how much I agree that everyone has their own right to their own religious practices, prayer is, at best, the second best choice to respond to such unfortunate circumstances. Why pray when there are more effective tools available to quell your own suffering?

It is the humanist's task, during such grieving times, to equip those who suffer with the means to eliminate such dark and depressing thoughts. Anything else - anything that does not directly impact the suffering - is useless.

To our great benefit, the Stoic school of philosophy has built upon Epicurus' timeless view of death and dying. Epicurus thought that there exists either pain or pleasure, and death does not involve any physical pain. Thus, he concludes that death is nothing to us. Mark Twain seems to resonate with Epicurus when he supposedly wrote, "I do not fear death. I had been dead for billions and billions and billions of years before I was born, and had not the slightest inconvenience from it." This is the sort of revelation that can, with much contemplation and practice, completely dissolve any sense of fear and grief when the inevitability of death surrounds us.

Stoicism has taken Epicurus' wise views and put them into practice. Seneca is known for his consoling letters to his friends, guiding them to forget their fears of this strange, mysterious thing called death. Marcus Aurelius held this view also, and even Spinoza expounded on it much much later. The bottom line is this:

It is human nature to respond to death with fear and anxiety. But death and the pain associated with its process is relatively short. If the pain stops in the event of death, then suffering is quelled. If suffering is quelled, then why view death as painful and emotionally hurtful? 

Of course, this is easier said than done. I have put these wise ideas into practice and can attest to their usefulness. My grandma passed away recently, and philosophy has molded me into a strong individual that can seem to take on any impossible task with more confidence - even a death of a loved one. She lived a long, fulfilled life. What more could I ask for? I would feel a strange sense of guilt if I responded with childish thinking.

So, when these tragedies happen, we should not merely pray for people. We should teach people how to fish so they can catch fish for themselves. We should lead them to their own inner strength instead of depending on outside forces to do their consoling for them. This, in my opinion, is much more productive than laziness. We should do this as fellow human beings - help the suffering brother or sister in a time of need.

If anyone seems to stumble upon this blog who has been affected by the shootings in Newtown, I express my utmost condolences. I do not, like many others, claim to have a omniscient, all-benevolent being on my side. All I have is myself and those many wise people who have lived before me. I do hope this is enough.

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