In a world of competing voices and values, it is often very difficult to make sense of what is happening around us. Even the most rudimentary decision, like making a purchase on Amazon, can be filled with complications. For example, can we trust these reviews? How do we know these are real? Are these descriptions accurate? In a larger sense, the fact that we are often able and willing and even desire to purchase something completely sight unseen is an assault on our somewhat well-developed theory of common sense.
It’s with this backdrop that I have come to realize that good advice can be exceedingly hard to find — the kind of advice that neither admonishes us to paralyzing guilt nor builds us up to unattainable heights. No, I am talking about real practical advice from those that know how humans work and how we can each make our own way in the world without causing harm to others, let alone ourselves.
I recently attended a lecture from a relatively well-known psychologist. His talk dealt primarily with how our perceptions aren’t necessary the reality, or at least our realities change depending on our own perceptions. For example, a $1 million problem looks a heck of a lot different on whether you have $1 or $100 million.
During the question-and-answer portion of the program, the audience was invited to submit questions electronically and the psychologist would try to answer as many as he could.
As he was sitting on his oversize chair on the stage with one spotlight directly traced on him, he found a question he wanted to answer but hesitated.
He stated that he was tired and perhaps his answer wouldn’t be as helpful as if he was a bit more on his game, but he’d attempt to answer it. The small crowd chuckled a bit from his explanation but the speaker quickly admonished the crowd. This question was literally a matter of life and death: The writer of this question was considering taking his own life.
You could have heard a pin drop.
The entire audience waited to hear what advice would come forward. The good psychologist went through a short list of why suicide is largely a worse, permanent solution to a bad, temporary problem. Primarily, suicide affects those who are left behind. The speaker brought forward that seemingly painful truth but it needed to be said. He said in his practice he has seen hundreds of people who never get over the suicidal death of a loved one.
I have personally never known anyone to take their own life but I know those who know people who have. And I know that in each of those cases it is something that has profoundly had an impact on their lives. The world becomes a little less pleasant and a little more confusing. These people are left with more questions that can never be answered.
And as good as that answer was, it wasn’t as good as the final explanation.
The good psychologist stated that each person has the spark of divinity in them, regardless of whether they are a spiritual person or not. This was an undeniable truth; there are parts of your mere existence that separate you from every living creature. You can think, you can feel both happiness and pain, you can think about your future.
And then came the big question. The psychologist stated, “And because you have this spark of divinity in you, what gives you right to extinguish that spark? You didn’t put that spark there — what makes you think you can take it away?”
It was as if an atomic bomb were dropped in that small lecture hall.
The psychologist is right. No matter where are in life, we don’t solely belong to ourselves. Many of us believe we belong to a higher power. Even for those that don’t believe, we can at least admit we belong to (or at least with) our family and friends.
Suicide is a serious subject. And there is help. Counselors and therapists are trained to help you. Even when they can’t be found, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline can help. They can be reached at 1-800-273-8255.
William Lutz is executive director of The New Path Inc. He can be reached at email@example.com.