Sometimes I’ll hear a conversation flirt with acknowledging really terrible things in the world. Someone will bring up how people are starving to death in parts of the world, or how children are sold into slavery and often horribly violated and abused, or some other wicked thing that should not be. And at that point, sometimes, I’ll hear someone say something like this:
“I try not to think about that too much. I’m afraid that if I do, it’ll be too much for me to handle.”
I want to point at this question of what we can or cannot handle. I think this is a really important question. I suspect that what we believe we can endure guides what we can and cannot clearly see; after all, if looking too closely at (say) our own mortality would destroy us, maybe it makes sense not to look. If we want to see everything in our lives clearly, on the other hand, maybe we first need to know we’ll be okay after we see whatever we find.
So, how might we come to endure whatever we find?
Well, in short, I think there’s something wrong with the question. I think we already can endure whatever we find. What I think we need instead is a sort of skill with trusting this fact about ourselves.
I know this is a bold claim. Some horrors do seem to shatter us. People do, in fact, seem to experience psychological trauma and get triggered. If we can already weather any hellish storm, why do we sometimes break?
I think it’s because we misperceive our relationship to horror.
I think it’s because “endurance” might be the wrong word.
I suspect it’s because we try to look away.