During a phone call the other day, I learned sad news about a friend of the caller whose cancer prognosis had just worsened. We talked about how such news changes our perspective. Suddenly whatever problems we have seemed small.
However, we also talked about not dismissing our own pain and hurt. Years ago, a very wise woman told me, "Suffering isn't a competitive sport." This occurred as the two of us shared our life stories and discussed some of the painful things that had made us who we were. It was the perfect thing to say then. And it's still a good reminder.
I have never forgotten her wise words. Though a devastating event such as Hurricane Sandy has caused enormous pain and suffering for so many—and it's good to keep a broader perspective about our issues in the face of it—we should not dismiss our own hurts as insignificant. What happens to you, what happens to me, what happens to any one of us is important. And we need to take our problems seriously and make choices about how to face them.
It's a both/and kind of thing, isn't it? You can empathize with a cancer-ridden friend or with someone harmed by a hurricane and still feel the hurt of things in your own life that cause you pain. You can hold both those things at once and balance it out with a perspective that says, "It's not just one thing or another. It's both/and. And, after all, suffering isn't a competitive sport." It's all in our attitude.