The Sole Cause of our Sorrow
BY: T. Franklin Murphy | December 2015 (edited 2018)
We suffer as part of existence. We are responsible for some, but not all our sorrows. Sorrow in moderation can spur change, moving us forward; too much and we collapse.
“The keenest sorrow is to recognize ourselves as the sole cause of all our adversities.” ― Sophocles
Apparently, personal responsibility has been preached for over 2500 years. While this quote may poke and prod our wills to examine our lives a little closer, unearthing undesirable flaws in need of attention, Sophocles, in all his wisdom, undershoots the complexity of existence. We are not the sole cause of all our sorrows. Certainly, we are the cause of much of it.
If we are sad, mad or happy is it ourselves that makes it so?
Accepting our personal role, or perhaps full responsibility, for all of life’s painful adversity must be cautiously undertaken. Do we not feel sad when a child crumbles to destructive addictions, or we are stricken with terminal illness? The complexities of life include several domains of control, some events we control, some we partially control and other we are innocent victims to happenstance. Accepting responsibility for circumstance we don’t control discourages our resolves. Sorrow over past behavior only encourages growth when the resulting guilt provides wisdom, illuminating the mistakes. Unproductive guilt, however, invites helplessness and depression.
When bad happens, there isn’t always a recognizable cause—an obvious person to blame. Unpredictable disaster can strike, disrupting our lives, dampening joys, and leaving us worse off—sorrow is an appropriate response. I’m not grateful when a loved one suffers from the ravages of cancer. I often fail to immediately embrace new opportunity when grieving loss. Sorrow and healing are a process—a natural process. Certainly, we may blame ourselves for sorrows, and the lack of happiness. But what’s wrong with feeling natural emotion to difficult events?
Even when we stupidly hurt our future, damage a relationship, or act with imprudence, why should we beat ourselves into sorrowful submission? Mistakes will be made, we stumble through existence. We routinely slip and some of those slips cause us to land hard. We should feel something—not positive jubilee; but a discomforting emotion to remind that change is needed.
"We routinely slip and some of those slips cause us to land hard. "
We are not responsible for all of our sorrows; but we are responsible for many of them. A significant contributor to the blessings and sorrows of the future is our present. What we do today impacts what we experience tomorrow. When we read about well-being, we envision right and wrong choices. Life isn’t so simple. Many choices aren’t clearly defined with known consequences. Life unfolds in bundles. Actions are intertwined with tradeoffs and variations. Healthy behaviors typically bless, and selfish behaviors usually curse, but we don’t know exactly how those blessings or curses will be expressed; we just know they will. We do our best, seeking wisdom, learning from practice and observation, willing to accept responsibility when appropriate.
Personal responsibility wrenches the soul. Seeing our role in creating pain (in our life or in others), we feel guilt, sorrow and regret. Many find solace in victimhood, excusing their roles. Yet it is a fools' comfort that stagnates growth and invites repeated attacks from disabling consequence. Blaming others misdirects attention from behaviors we should abandon or adjust. When we ditch responsibility for internal solace, expecting others to serve our cravings for joy, we blindly ignore our errors.
Why do we fear our own humanity? Why do we keep harming futures and then blame others? Perhaps fear of vulnerability frightens us. So, we lie and become the cause of much of our sorrows.
We must slow down and mindfully examine our mindsets. Adversity is not always our fault. Sometimes others do wrong, that impacts our life, and we rightfully feel sorrow. We must accept and endure these uninvited guests. We still have plenty of personal work. Notwithstanding the influence of outside forces, we also follow many errant patterns that interfere with happiness and invite sorrow. These damaging patterns can be improved. Our sorrow to the consequences of these behavioral and emotional patterns flag the error, bringing the actions into the light, if we will just look. Flourishing is neither achieved from a harshness nor ignorant blindness; but proceeds forth from self-compassion and gentle corrections.
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