Don’t worry – it’s not about me.

I liked the essay by Herbert Fingarette in The Aesthetic Turn. Not so much the conclusions, more the supporting evidence.

“To suffer” is one of those ambiguous English verbs. Just as the Inuit have twenty words for “snow”, it turns out that The Oxford English Dictionary has twenty separate meanings for the word “suffer”. How very bourgeois & western. The first set of meanings cover the “to tolerate, to allow” senses, sometimes including pain. The second set are more to do with “allowing or permitting something or someone to be or to act without interference”. As in “suffer the little children”. Unfortunately, I’m not sure the Irish clergy knew that difference back in the 1960s.

“Patient” is a related term. It has come to mean “one who bears quietly, without making a fuss”.  But the root of the word is “passive”, and so the patient is “the one who is acted upon”. The opposite of “agent”, I suppose. So you can literally be an impatient Patient.

This leads into Pain and the Psychology of Pain. From the journal of the AMA, Levin (1991) is quoted as establishing that the physical pain people experience is commonly 30 to 40% anxiety-generated, which may explain why placebos work.

Why should we patiently suffer? As Finagrette puts it:

“In the modern age, self-assertion is a fundamental value. To be patient is to be frustrated, whereas to act and to shape the course of events to one’s liking is to be gratified. It follows that … to suffer, to be passive is in its very nature to be defeated”.