The Sole Cause of our Sorrow The mind amplifies and dulls experience BY: Troy Murphy |December 2016
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“The keenest sorrow is to recognize ourselves as the sole cause of all our adversities.” ― Sophocles
Well ain’t that a dandy! Apparently, personal responsibility has been preached for over 2500 years. While this may poke us to self-examine, finding those difficult to notice 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 a personal role, or perhaps full responsibility, for painful adversities has limitations. Do we not have a right to 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 simply innocent victims to happenstance. Accepting responsibility for circumstance we don’t control discourages our resolves. Sorrow over past behavior only encourages growth when the guilt provides wisdom, and provokes change. Sorrow not creating change has limited value. Unproductive sorrow leads to helplessness and depression.
When bad happens, there is not always someone at fault. Unpredictable disaster can strike, disrupting our lives, dampening joys, and leaving us worse off—sorrow may be the appropriate response. I’m not grateful when a loved one suffers from the ravages of cancer. I don’t embrace opportunity for newness when grieving loss. Sorrow and healing are a process—a natural process. We may respond to these natural sorrows by blame ourselves for not lacking 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 are costly. We should feel something—not positive jubilee; but a manageable discomforting emotion that reminds change is needed.
We are not responsible for all of our sorrows; but we are responsible for many of them. A significant contributor to our future is our present. What we do today impacts what we experience tomorrow. Not all choices are clearly defined with known consequences—but healthy behaviors bless, and selfish behaviors curse. We don’t need to know exactly how those blessings or curses will be expressed; we just know they will.
"Mistakes will be made, we stumble through existence. We routinely slip and some of those slips are costly. We should feel something—not positive jubilee; but a manageable discomforting emotion that reminds change is needed."
Personal responsibility wrenches the soul. When we see our role in creating pain (in our life or in others), we face guilt, sorrow and regret. Many find solace in victimhood, excusing their roles. Yet it is a fools' comfort that stagnates growth and invites the repeated attacks of consequence. Blaming others misdirects attention away from behaviors we could improve. When we ditch responsibility for internal solace, expecting others to slave for our cravings of joy, we blindly ignore our errors.
Why do we fear our own humanity? Why do we harm futures by blame others? Perhaps fear of the vulnerabilities of weakness frightens us. So we lie and become the cause of much of our sorrows.
We must slow down and to mindfully examine mindsets. Adversity is not always our fault. Sometimes others do wrong, that impacts our life, and we rightfully feel sorrow. We must endure. But we have plenty to work. We follow many errant patterns that interfere with happiness and invite sorrow. These damaging patterns can be improved. Our sorrow flags the error so we can implement change. Flourishing growth is neither achieved from a harsh punishing stick nor ignorant blindness; but growth proceeds forth from self-compassion and gentle instruction.