Does suffering build character?

Or does it, as one columnist/blogger opines, “only… builds is the ability to suffer–a useful ability in a world where suffering is the routine nature of life but not a virtue that makes the world a better place”?

Perhaps it depends on the kind of experience being talked about? In this particular column, the writer was discussing medications, their possible overprescription, and the idea that some conditions just don’t need to be treated, as a transient fact of life - e.g. the belief that sometimes, depression is “just being sad,” or that restless leg syndrome is a phony baloney “disease” made up by greedy pharmaceutical companies.

But I did want to extend it beyond that particular issue. Any thoughts?

I suppose. But there’s no point in suffering just for its own sake if there’s a remedy. That is, for things like grieving for a loved one who’s passed on, you pretty much have to deal. There isn’t an easy cure for something like that. But why suffer with restless leg syndrome or ulcers or migraines if you’re able to find medication that works well for you and doesn’t give you too many side effects?

In my case, the only thing suffering did to my character was to break it into one million billion tiny fragments. Some suffering might be good for character but living with it relentlessly is soul destroying.

I think any experience builds character, whether it is positive or negative might depend on the person.

What these two said. I think (from experience) that too much suffering can build bitterness.

I’d say that it depends.

Pointless, needless suffering like happens to far too many people in this world? Being raped in some third world village because of civil unrest, being hacked to pieces because you’re different than some jackass with a machete, having your home burned because you’re a different tribal group? Being tortured by the secret police because someone fingered you for nothing?

Not very much to build character with.

Going through some bad times because you made a mistake or something bad happened? All depends on you and the choices you make.

I think it can. Some people grow, some wither.

Based on my limited understanding, I think a Buddhist might say such suffering might serve a purpose if it leads individuals to understand that life is suffering, and one should seek ultimate release while in the meantime practicing compassion toward one’s fellow sufferers.

“Release” in part involving the letting go of earthly attachments. Including attachments to loved ones, to one’s own body, and one’s own life. All such attachments are illusion, and are a cause of suffering in themselves.

At least, that’s what I guess the Buddhist would elaborate.

This pretty much sums up why I will never be a Buddhist.

Agreed. It sounds more like an argument to blow up the world than anything else. And it certainly sounds like something that would hinder solving the problems that are causing all that suffing.

As far as suffering building character goes, in small amounts yes; unfortunately, we are made so that we need unpleasant experiences to learn. In large amounts, no; large amounts of suffering warp or destroy people, they don’t build them up.

That was kind of my thought. Unless there’s some new form of depression that’s good for you :dubious:

“Suffering builds character” is all too often used by people who could do something to relieve another person’s suffering, but they won’t take the trouble. The OP’s example is probably an example of this.

I think sometimes, some suffering can help build character. It may cause some people to be more empathic, to have suffered themselves. It may teach some people resolve, even confidence, if they manage to win their way free of bad circumstances. Unfortunately, we have no way of knowing which people will react positively and which will react negatively. My father used to say, about his experience being in the Army, that it made good men better and bad men worse. I think most of the time, suffering is like that, but certainly not all of the time. Nothing is simple when it concerns people.

Worked for Boethius.

Worked for certain “monks” as well: *Pie Jesu domine, dona eis requiem. *

Can’t say it would work for me. I’m all for developing through meeting challenges, not from being moidelized.

Yes, and suffering for its own sake just seems pointless, or soul destroying, as you put it. After a certain point, what good is it doing?

I’m a reminded of a scene in the novel, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, where Francie remembers how her mother, when food was short, used to have the children pretend that they were Arctic explorers holding out against a storm, etc. When Francie got older, she asked her mother what the point of it was in real life (i.e., in the game, it was to discover/reach some goal), and her mother responded that she’d found the catch.

Calvin’s Dad

I personally think the character gained from suffering lies largely in how one deals with themselves after the suffering has ended. Whilest one is suffering, ‘character building’ is the least of one’s worries. Afterwards, does one let the past devour them, or embrace it and move onward? It depends on what happened and on the person. Personally, having suffered from depression, it has weakened me but yet also given me insight into the depths of my character that I would not have had any other way. In any case, this question is much too large and complex to have a yes or no answer.

I sure as heck hope so.

It certainly builds a certain kind of character - if you can survive it.

I think XaMcQ has the best take on it. It can make you a much better person, or a horrid bitter person. After my “interesting” (in the best Chinese curse sense) life, I sometimes find it hard to be emotionally close to someone who hasn’t been through the wringer themselves. And you can’t explain it to someone who hasn’t been there.

I saw this a million times in Calvin and Hobbes but I have no idea what ‘building character’ means. Makes you more interesting? Wise? What?

And what is with the idea that depression/alcoholism/RLS are fictional? Is this the ignorant person trying to look smarter? Isn’t it just as valid as saying autistic people are just retarded, because it’s too complex for non-professionals to understand? Are they really conspiracy theorists, believing that the pharm companies are out to get them for watching too much TV?

But blowing up the world won’t do the job, at least not if you’re a Buddhist who thinks that there might be extraterrestrial life somewhere. You’d have to destroy the universe, and even that might not be enough if you think there might be parallel universes…

We haven’t figured out a way to destroy the universe yet AFAIK, let alone any parallel universes.