Perhaps one of the most violent acts in the world is comparing pain.
Evaluating whose experience of pain is more or less impactful.
Ranking who is more or less worthy of compassion and resources in response.
We are essentially deciding how valid our own or another’s pain is.
And what we should feel or do in response to it, if anything at all.
But who are we to rank the validity of pain?
Who are we to put ourselves or others into groups, into categories, based on what we think we know about them and their pain?
We who cannot know the internal experience of another.
To put it simply, who we are is arrogant.
To think that we could possibly rank one’s pain against another’s or our own.
The mind may think it’s obvious.
They are in a horrible situation, and the other’s situation is clearly much better.
They are so much more privileged than the other, so they cannot possibly be in as much pain.
I have been through so much more than them, there’s no way they feel as terrible as I do.
They live with that awful condition, so they are clearly in much more pain than me.
Their pain is less valid than the others.
Their pain is less valid than mine.
My pain is less valid than theirs.
It’s all the same game.
We have no idea what another’s internal experience of pain feels like.
We have no idea how open their heart is to feeling pain, how numb they are inside, how stimulated their nervous system may become in response to life.
Someone with a seemingly horrible life may not feel much emotional pain.
Someone that appears to have lived a relatively sheltered and easeful life may be suffering terribly at the hands of an open heart and a hyperactive mind.
Someone living in a war zone may be available to feel far less pain than someone that is going through a break-up.
But the break-up sufferer’s survival may not be threatened, or not in the same way, so they are clearly worthy of less compassion, right?
And we are clearly authorities in this matter, because our minds say so.
Someone “doing” relatively little at all, perhaps living very simply, with seemingly very few cares in the world, may be in the midst of a deep healing process, an ego death, an excruciating internal experience beyond anything we can imagine.
Perhaps even with a slight smile resting upon their lips.
Anything is possible.
We do not know.
We don’t know how much pain someone is in, how much something means to them, how much they are revealing their pain, what their experience of this pain is like, or how our own or anyone else’s pain compares.
Perhaps some of the most open-hearted beings on this planet are children.
Many have not yet “learned” to close their hearts in the way many adults have.
The pain some of them experience may be intense beyond anything we can possibly imagine or remember from our “wise,” adult perspective.
How often are we potentially disregarding the magnitude of children’s pain?
And how incredibly invalidated they must feel, often without having the emotional language to describe this horrid, oppressive experience.
Without people in their lives that are humble, aware, and resourced enough to offer them the reverence and respect of deeply listening to them.
Deeply considering their pain and attempting to understand their emotional experience.
Part of how we respond to children may have to do with the mind’s tendency to make assumptions about individuals and decisions about how to relate with them based on what we think we know about the group and our role or relation to the group.
The mind may think: Child, what do I know about this group?
I’ve learned that, as an adult, I am superior to them.
I know better than them.
I can get away with treating them less respectfully than adults.
Children tend to overreact, she’s probably fine.
As an adult, it may be my job to help control her and tell her what to do.
And to calm her down so she’s not making me or others uncomfortable or embarrassing anyone by making a scene.
Not a whole lot of room for compassion, or to take a child’s individual experience into account, when the mind is running the show.
And children are far from the only “target” our mind interacts similarly with.
And often, its favorite target to categorize and rank is us…
To this point, the focus has been on emotional pain, but even physical pain may not be as black and white as the mind makes it out to be.
Different people have different physical pain thresholds, different levels of tolerance to physical discomfort, different experiences of physical sensation.
And there is also a large emotional component to physical pain.
It could even be argued that physical pain, and physicality in general, is a completely emotional experience.
Whatever the case, whether or not the mind wishes to subdivide categories of pain, the point is that we may have zero access to another’s internal experience.
What might happen if we humbled ourselves and considered this possibility?
The possibility that WE CANNOT KNOW THE INTERNAL EXPERIENCE OF ANOTHER?
What might happen to our pain ranking system in the presence of this possibility?
Perhaps it would simply fall away.
And we would no longer measure anyone’s pain against anyone else’s, including our own.
Suddenly, everyone’s pain may be equally valid.
We may not be dwelling in evaluation land, our mind attempting to figure out what category to put people in so we can figure out how to feel and show up in response.
We may simply be feeling, and showing up organically.
Seeing others as individuals.
And this may lead us to respond by doing something incredibly simple, and seemingly radical in this world.
When others describe their pain, their internal experience, to us, WE MAY TAKE THEIR WORD FOR IT.
If they say they are in a great deal of pain, we may simply believe them, without comparison.
What reason would they have to embellish their pain if it wasn’t being measured?
If they didn’t feel they had to prove it to anyone to receive the compassion and resources they “need”?
But some people would milk this, right?
Because this would also be the end of ranking our own pain against another’s.
What becomes of the inner victim when there is no ranking system?
How can one be a victim without comparison?
A victim compared to what?
That other person whose suffering is equally valid and I cannot possibly ever know the extent of?
That other person who is equally a victim, just like everyone else, making the concept of victimhood irrelevant?
What might remain in the space no longer occupied by victimhood?
What might naturally arise and “fill this space”?
In my experience, “the answer” is self-compassion.
Self-compassion that organically leads to compassion for All.
Because it opens our hearts to the “realization” that we are all One.
Meaning compassion for others is ultimately included in, and synonymous with, compassion for Self.
Perhaps, at this point, we do in fact gain access to the experience of another.
Not from a place of mind, but from a place of living in our heart.
And perhaps, as the momentum of this process unfolds, we lose interest in the mind games of ranking and comparison.
The mind wants to measure.
This is perhaps one of its primary functions.
And it’s a beautiful service, a wonderful tool, but perhaps not in every context.
Perhaps not when it comes to another’s pain, or any other internal experience of another.
Perhaps our mind cannot ever possibly measure such a thing.
But our heart can resonate with their experience.
In the absence of the violence of ranking pain, perhaps everyone would feel their pain is valid.
No matter what.
And they would no longer feel the need to fight for this to be recognized.
And perhaps, in the absence of this internal war, projected externally, we may naturally drop into our hearts.
Our internal and external reality may indeed be felt as One.
And the world may finally heal.
A version of this post was originally posted on TroyCohen.Wordpress.com and is republished here with permission from the author.