Who are you to tell me to stop complaining? Did you see yourself in the mirror?
Updated on April 18, 2021, Mbougar
Before you talk about the misfortune of others, check yourself in the mirror first! I have always found strange, even absurd, even imbecile, this habit, this mania, this religion that many of us have of referring to the condition and the misfortunes of others so as not to have the right to complain about their own. To hear oneself say, as in a bad sermon: “Give thanks to God, because do not forget that there is worse than you” or “Esteem yourself happy, take advantage of what you have and think of those who do not have it, or have nothing”… gives me asthma.
If we no longer even have the right to grumble against our own existence, if we can no longer even indulge in this so enjoyable exercise that most men like to experience and which they delight in, to know how to curse life, if, finally, to be selfish for a second, to think of your own face, to be alone in a world that you hate by what it crushes you, is impossible, with the argument that others suffer more, what precisely is the meaning of living? Prince from the height of my intimately experienced sufferings, I take the right, imprescriptibly – I want it – to complain about it. They may be ridiculous compared to others, of course, but they are mine. And no one else experiences them, perceives them, or even knows them. Please allow me for a moment to forget humanity and lament outrageously, excessively, excessively, like Achilles weeping for Patroclus.
There is always worse than oneself, of course. Suffering is perhaps one of the rare areas of the human soul where, in the absence of hierarchy, it is necessary at least to show relativism, in order to stand in solidarity. That the other can suffer, I readily admit: there must be some who suffer like me, in order to come to terms, again in solidarity with our miserable human condition. That he can suffer more than me, nothing is less certain, but why not, if it can have some stake or some direction to prioritize human suffering. But that I have to keep quiet about my own misfortune because the other is suffering as much, if not more than me, is just plain stupid. I do not see in the name of what I should be required to hide my scars because the other has still protruding wounds.
I am told that it is morally that I am bound to be silent; I am told that it is morally that I must be decent; I am told that it is morally that I must think about the suffering of the other before shouting my own. I don't mind, me; because I am for morality, which is always a beautiful and noble argument. But morality precisely, in these times, seems to me to be a great and glorious whore, that all the self-proclaimed defenders of ceremonial causes, all the bellatters of a misunderstood and usurped humanism, all generous hearts for the sole glory, all the impostors slumped in ease, but so quick to defend a misery of which they have never perceived the odor except from afar and whose grayness they have seen only through their flat screen, approach, accost, stop and end by putting, after easy discussions and businesses, in the bed of their obscure interests. I do not believe in the diktat of a morality which requires me to keep quiet about my misfortunes because there are worse ones. Because I do not know that shouting his pain has ever prevented seeing and being moved by that of others.
Morality, if it exists and if it must intervene among men, has no real greatness unless it is rooted in the intimacy of the conscience, the sincerity of the heart, the depth of the soul; it cannot hold either in the word that one says or does not say, nor in the gesture that one exhibits or does not exhibit. Morality is not a game of appearances: what counts in it is its idea, its principle, that immaterial “je ne sais quoi” that reigns in the heart, and in the heart alone: not its publicity, not his ostentatious demonstration. Between shouting out your misfortune and yet being moved by the misfortune of others, perhaps worse than your own, and silencing your misfortune for the sake of conformism, for the sake of a deceptive facade of moralism, but not to be touched by the misfortune of the other, my choice is made.
That there is worse than me does not prevent my evil from existing and eating away at me; that the misery of the other puts me out of my eyes does not prevent me from seeing mine and being distressed and complaining about it. And that, neither men and their friable codes of solidarity, nor what they do with God and religion will prevent me from thinking about it. Like a mourner, I will lament my poverty in front of the misery of a beggar; and that does not mean that I will be ashamed. It is necessary to refuse that the feeling in front of the misery of the other is the standard of the behavior to be had in front of his own. There is of course courage, nobility, elegance, modesty ... But what is all this worth in the face of the truth of human pain, sudden and unforeseeable? Suffering is often selfish.
We live in a time when a certain lukewarm humanism and without content requires that we be ashamed of being unhappy in front of others, and that we are also ashamed of being happy in front of them, a time when we must justify permanently in court. It is not only, out of humanism, to take care of one's attitudes, but one must also control one's emotions. The other has become a wicked god, a tyranny: he is no longer this equal, this other Levinassian whose face and the suffering which is painted there indicate humanity and provoke pity; he has become the Other, faceless distinct but so impressive, imposing that one thinks of him and is moved on his behalf without having to justify himself, simply because he is the Other and that he can potentially suffer. Consciousness and individual liberty brimmed, prevented by the gigantic and oppressive shadow of otherness, the fear of saying that one suffers because the other suffers even more: this is called resignation. The other king, the other tyrant, the other executioner, who demands and imprisons. A certain Sartre explained this phenomenon admirably in the last century.