A Variant On Pascal’s Wager: You’ve Got Nothing To Lose When You Address Your “Minor” Hardships.

Posted on August 19, 2011


I suspect, when people finally learn that Charles Foster Kane had whispered on his death bed the name of a long lost sled, some thought, “is that it? A sled? Really?”

I’ve noticed that people frequently react in this fashion to the sources of their own sadness, hurt, or anger: “Is that it? That? Really?”

This reaction probably originates in an otherwise reasonable short term coping mechanism. By downplaying the intensity of a harm it may be easier to endure the harm. However, based on my own experience, I think this coping mechanism, if employed in the long term, also becomes an obstacle to full recovery.

This happens, I think, because of a curious bit of reasoning: “Sure, that experience was bad but it wasn’t that bad. There are other people who have endured much worse than me. So, I don’t really deserve — or have the right — to feel that bad about my experience because other people have had much worse experiences.”

It’s as if the only person who is entitled to address the negative feelings caused by his or her hardships is exactly that person who has suffered more than any other person in the world.

When this absurd conclusion became apparent to me, I decided to frame the question of whether or not we should address our negative feelings from the other extreme: why isn’t every negative feeling, whatever the source, worthy of our concern, consideration, and attention? Whether one feels cranky because of a poor sleep or because one’s spouse is emotionally abusive, shouldn’t the negative feelings caused by both of these situations be addressed in some kind of constructive fashion?

The answer is, I think, “yes; yes, it should be.”

I say this for two reasons.

First, a person can only die from a thousand paper cuts, if s/he ignores each cut as it happens. Similarly, and by analogy, a car will eventually break down if its day-to-day maintenance is ignored.

Second, if the negative feelings caused by supposedly inconsequentially harms really are minor, you should be able to attend to them quickly and easily.

In other words, you really have nothing to lose if you address your negative feelings — however minor you take them to be — and a lot to gain if I am correct.

Posted in: Identity