A hand grenade is thrown. One soldier rushes out and smothers it with his body. We call this an act of altruistic bravery. In this act, he has given up his own life to save the lives of his comrades. He is considered a hero.
A man is despondent. He recently lost his job and the bills are piling up. He feels like an abject failure. No matter how hard he tries, he screws up time and time again. So, he puts a gun in his mouth and pulls the trigger. In this act, he has taken his own life and not saved the lives of anyone else. He is considered a coward.
Too often, we judge things based solely on their outward manifestations. In the two scenarios above, we generally exhibit knee-jerk reactions. The first one is honorable, while the second is not.
But what if the soldier threw himself on the hand grenade, not because he was concerned with the lives of his comrades, but because he was depressed and didn't have the courage to kill himself? What if the fellow in the second scenario believed he was an evil person and killed himself to save others from his predatory nature?
The fact is that it is near too impossible to put ourselves in other people's shoes. We can never know the doubts, demons and pain that other people experience in the deep recesses of their minds.
I find it irritating when, learning that someone has killed themselves, some people declare that this means the person was weak and a coward. By what right can they render such an assessment? I can't judge your pain based on my pain nor can you judge my pain based on your pain. Neither you nor I have the right to tell the other how much pain the other must withstand.
When it comes to pain -- both physical and mental -- most of us have a limit. When our pain exceeds that limit, we look for relief. We live in a doped up society in which most of us utilize all sorts of strategies -- legal or not -- to minimize or eliminate pain. We drink ourselves silly. We toke ourselves high. We take all sorts of over-the-counter and prescribed painkillers.
All of these methods generally are accepted to one degree or another. But what if the pain seems bottomless? What if no amount of booze, pot or drugs (or whatever else) can blot it out? What if we try and try and try, but nothing seems capable of staunching its flow?
Why is the ultimate act -- suicide -- considered an unacceptable option?
(Note: I am NOT advocating suicide. If nothing else, it damages the people who loved the person who chose to end their life. It often creates lifelong repercussions for many people. As a regular Joe and former social worker, I get that part.)