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The Table Video

Array Array& Lynn Underwood

What Is Suffering?

Professor of Psychology at Rosemead School of Psychology, Biola University
Senior Research Scholar, Inamori International Center for Ethics and Excellence at Case Western Reserve University
June 9, 2017

What Is Suffering? – Lynn Underwood & Elizabeth Hall

Suffering is an individual’s response or experience to very difficult circumstances. And so, Lynn, you make this distinction between dire circumstances and suffering. I wonder if we can tease out some of these dire circumstances that are gonna be common to the human condition.

Yeah, a lot of the work I’ve done has been like chronic disease and disability, in that context, so, but that could be anything from depression, you know, to spinal cord injury, all the way through end-of-life situations. So it’s just a real spectrum of things that can count as suffering, Or count as dire circumstances. One of the issues that I’ve looked at in the past is stress in our lives. We think about stressful life events is one way to measure stress. But we also think we can measure stress by how stressed out we feel. And those are two different ways of measuring stress. I think suffering has a little bit, pain and suffering, dire circumstances and suffering as a parallel to that. That you have dire circumstances or you have pain, some people suffer a lot in very, very similar circumstances. So there’s kind of an individual response to the situation that’s particularly important. And also, not just the individual, but the particular situation. I might use an example of pain. You know, when you have dental pain it really hurts a lot, but you know it’s gonna be over. You’re gonna get out of the chair, you know. There’s some suffering involved but it goes away. It doesn’t hit you like if you have maybe chronic pain that you don’t know where it’s coming from and it stays with you for years. That can cause maybe more suffering for a person. So that kind of thing, maybe, is a way of thinking about the circumstances and then the suffering.

I’m thinking of even the contrast between the pain of childbirth and in those circumstances, we’re almost entering into it voluntarily and the pain seems rather insignificant because it’s not an occasion for suffering, at all. So I think that makes a nice clear distinction between pain, per se, and suffering.