Flirting with darkness: When knowing hurts
The other day a friend and I were talking. Something came up on a television show that shocked this friend. Though it was fictional, he was pretty taken aback at how such a thing could be allowed to happen. He said how it was the “most depraved thing” he had ever heard.
It wasn’t THAT bad. I knew of a dozen things far worse than that in real life. I wanted to say “Really? Because that’s nothing!” and give a few examples of things far, far darker.
From time to time, I want to nuke a conversation like these with some one-up example of depravity and darkness. Pride can make me want to one-up situations. Usually it is actually out of respect (or perhaps my pride justifies it). I respected this friend and wanted his perceptions to expand beyond the sheltered and naive mindset he’d just expressed. But look at me, trying to “fix” someone. Like many instances, I kept my thoughts to myself.
Should it really ever be my place to rain on someone’s rosy outlook on the world—as a Christian or even as a friend? Is there a time to force someone to recognize how bad things can be, but maybe in a positive way? Can such things be positive?
And furthermore, how healthy is it to dwell so long in books and in the news about the sufferings and pain visited on people by others? Sometimes I feel like I’m being drawn in to this morass of melancholy. My waking hours are filled with sobering statistics of the painful human condition.
As a Christian, I have an innate desire to do good. I am exhorted to thirst after righteousness. I am asked to defend the defenseless, be a voice for the voiceless, and do things in such a way that I don’t seek glory or recognition for this work. I am given the Holy Spirit who acts as my counselor and teacher, who cultivates (if I’m not a stubborn idiot) the attitudes and lessons that let me strive after these things.
There are times when I feel I should shake awake those who think first world problems are the highest form of human suffering. I feel people sometimes should have their perceptions re-aligned. Perhaps they should know more about actual persecution and suffering versus put-on tantrums.
So I absorb information. I read about children forced into prostitution. I learn about human trafficking even here in the U.S. I hear about rape prisons run by ISIS. I see the 10 year old murderer here and there. I read about the kid who killed his mom and had sex with her corpse. There are the slavery rings of our migrant workers. There are the unfair trade practices that keep entire nations in poverty. Diseases rage across all borders. There are famines. There are wars.
I combine this with my own experiences in Iraq. I remember faces. I remember some gruesome scenes. I remember the desperation in the people. The smells of war…
It all enrages and breaks my heart. In its remembering, it brings me low. Really low. To the point where it’s damaging. Ecclesiastes 1:8 talks about how all things are wearisome, and that the eyes and ears will consume more and more if you don’t rein them in. Their appetites are such that they are never filled.
The same chapter in verse 18 also says an increase in wisdom is an increase in sorrow (we’re more familiar with the sentiment’s opposite: ignorance is bliss). The more I learn about reality, the more brokenness I see.
Professionals like police officers, soldiers, healthcare workers and journalists especially know these struggles. Humanity can be absolutely evil. And for those of us in these professions (and others), if we don’t guard against this darkness, it can turn on us. We’ll become tainted or, at best, cynical and detached.
I first became depressed and suicidal when I was a teen. I got help, but it is something that has always stuck with me, throughout college, the Army and after…I’ll go through good periods and bad periods. My mood will shift.
It doesn’t matter how good or bad life’s situations are—or how many people are around who love me, I’ll go through cycles every few weeks where I’ll reach a real low point. I have people who are there to catch me. But the brooding darkness always creeps in. It’s like the pull of the tides, powerful but subtle.
My inner struggles started before learning as much about the world. It seemed to happen in tandem, not caused from one to the other.
However both my emotional dispositions and what I’ve learned about the world (however relatively small) do serve a purpose.
Others want to talk about their struggles too. And in some of these types of situations, it takes one to know one. I am no professional counselor, but I can listen. That can be enough.
So there’s a redeeming aspect to all of this. It keeps me restless and keeps me quiet, hoping to hear why someone feels a certain way versus attempting to conquer the world through a perspective of ideology.
It can also be dangerous, though. Flirting with darkness cultivates empathy, but it can also give way to despair and corrupt appetites.
But when I learn that my identity isn’t in my circumstance, I gain the strength to transcend it. That’s the idea, at least, even when I fail.