Tuesday, June 18, 2013

The Decent Thing To Do

I've often heard it said that you come into this world with just your body and you leave the same way. Which is to say, don't get too attached to what you have. But as long as you live, you need certain things. Your desire to live is proportional to how much you have – money, work, love, support, freedom.

Indirectly, our laws acknowledge this fact. That's why every society eventually has to allow for divorce in some form. No culture can deal with mass unhappiness for too long. This is also why governments have to enforce minimum wages, the right to work, or unemployment doles.

In a humane culture, allowances are made for those who have suffered. People who are under extreme stress – say, they lose their livelihoods, or their health, or have been emotionally abused for too long – may lose their desire to live. Sometimes, businessmen kill themselves rather than adjust to a life of poverty. Some farmers kill themselves because they cannot bear to lose their land, or their dignity. Some people kill themselves because they feel trapped in an unhappy marriage and see no way out.

In a decent society, alternatives are created. Farmers don't have to lose their land if they lose a crop. Being homeless and jobless doesn't have to translate into you becoming easy targets for violence at every street corner. A divorce doesn't have to translate into abandonment by your own family.

In an indecent society, you are forced to stay alive because others do not want to acknowledge your pain, nor do they want to look for long-term solutions. It is easier to criminalize suicide. Or call it a 'sin' against God.

But criminalizing doesn't help (and God, obviously, doesn't care enough to intervene). If someone is deeply unhappy and starts feeling powerless, that person will quit. Even animals stop eating if they're unhappy. 

But suicides make the rest of us feel guilty or upset. Everyone has troubles. If people just quit whenever we feel pain, what happens to the family? To the nation?

Besides, families (and governments) invest in individuals. Even from a socio-economic perspective, suicide is such a waste of resources. So we try to prevent it, or locate the source of a suicidal person's pain. A decent society looks for reasons why people feel hopeless. An indecent society looks for a scapegoat, a convenient target on whom we can collectively turn. We make laws about 'suicide abetment'.

A twenty-five-year-old quit because she saw no hope of ever finding happiness. She was hurt, possibly assaulted, but did not talk about it openly. She may have thought nobody would believe her and her career wouldn't survive, or that she herself would be blamed. She did live in a society where any hint of liberation is seen as an invitation to sexual violence. Where 'bachelors', especially artists, are not welcome as tenants. Where elected representatives get away with shaming rape victims. Where, despite alarming statistics about child abuse, schools refuse to allow gender workshops. Where officials conduct virginity tests before allowing weddings. Where, if she survived the suicide attempt, she could be punished by the law.

And we turn to the young boy who didn't want to take responsibility for her happiness, nor did he know how to cure her pain. This is the safe thing to do, after all. Because if we acknowledge where blame actually lies, we'd have to admit that our current way of being deserves to be smashed. Rapists would have to be punished. Women would have to be set free. And our society is not decent enough to allow this.

First published here

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