THIS week’s journaling prompts help us explore our responses to painful world events, as well as how we could, can, and do help others. The prompts are designed to help us understand, on a deeper level, what triggers our sense of empathy for other human beings. I’d like to continue this theme and talk about the sharing of life’s ups and downs that is the “human condition,” and how we make meaning of life and death.
After all, how do you make sense of natural disasters that cause thousands of deaths and untold suffering in other ways? How do you make sense of war, or of humans’ cruelty to others? To make meaning of something means to create an understanding of it. So what do we do when there are things we simply cannot understand?
When we don’t understand something — whether it’s a natural disaster or the actions of another person — we can respond in a number of ways.
- We can turn away in denial: “That didn’t really happen,” “It’s too far away and doesn’t concern me,” “It’s too big to think about,” or “I have my own problems to attend to.”
- We can judge it (or others): “They deserve punishment,” “This person (or this organization) is to blame,” “They’re stupid (evil, horrible, etc.).”
- We can look for reasons: “This happened because …,” “He wouldn’t have acted that way if he had been loved as a child,” “Centuries of war and hatred are impossible to surmount.”
- We can accept something as inevitable: “There is no way I will ever understand this, and no way to change it.”
- We can try to change the situation: “I’m supporting [this organization] that is working for change,” “I’m banding together with my neighbors,” “I’m demonstrating or protesting,” “I’m working with the victims.”
Whatever our responses, they are our way of coping and creating meaning out of situations and events.
These are not easy issues to think about or to write about. Nevertheless, I invite you to reflect on and write about your own responses and ways that you attempt to understand and make meaning of the larger issues related to the human condition. Writing about your own responses and the belief systems surrounding those responses will help you to increase in self-knowledge. And when we understand ourselves, we are able to contribute in more meaningful ways to the world around us.
I also invite you to add to the conversation. How does journal writing to understand larger issues help you to understand yourself better?