Beyond Suicide Prevention, Being Kind to Make the World a Better Place

Chester Bennington died last week. By suicide. At age 41. Chester killed himself on what would have been Chris Cornell's 53rd birthday, if Chris hadn't killed himself in May.

Cue DJs playing Linkin Park songs, news magazines writing tributes, social media posters encouraging their friends in pain to reach out, and everyone sharing the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

Not that there's anything wrong with that. Those are important things. Reaching out, connecting, and supporting each other in the bad times is vital. Recognizing pain and finding ways to help can make a difference.

As Rolling Stone put it, Chester Bennington was "an honest voice of pain and anger for a generation." Tributes to him and conversations about his life and death come from an outpouring of love and grief. Many felt their own suffering ease as they listened to Chester scream out his anguish.

Likewise, those who post messages about "being willing to listen" and those who share their own stories are making an honest effort to help others. They are reacting to the pain and fear of suicide and genuinely trying to counter it with love and hope. It's kind and beautiful and important.

But it's also not enough. And--in my mind--it sort of misses a larger point.

Chester Bennington had been open about his depression and addiction, which was rooted in the trauma of childhood abuse. Without a doubt, he had friends and family who loved him and were there for him.

I don't know what happens in those last moments when someone decides it's time to die and then goes through with it. I suspect it's both very similar and entirely different for every person who makes that decision.

I do know what it's like to be close to that. And I know that even in my darkest moments it isn't necessarily about my own personal pain.

For me, it's about feeling my own pain and knowing that we live in a world where horrible things continue to happen. And, also, that they happen largely because we have a society that lets them happen.

We live in a world where kindness and empathy are often withheld until we actually see someone's pain for ourselves. A world where we cling to judgments and look down on those who are different.

We live in a world where people with power exploit others for their own personal gain. Where people inflict pain on others to feel better about themselves. Where people try to force their will and their narrow beliefs on everyone else.

When it comes to morality, we can choose to live with empathy and kindness, showing love and compassion above all else, or we can choose to follow an external system of rules that lays both the credit and blame with a higher power.

As a society, we create our own rules for law and order. But what is the basis for those rules? Who are we helping? Who are we hurting? Who is gaining power at the expense of others? Why are we letting that happen?

Look at the world around us. Look at our own country. Look at our own neighborhoods and at our own families. If you see anyone being treated in a way that you would not want to be treated yourself, ask yourself why. Imagine how that would feel.

Don't make yourself feel better by assuming they did something to deserve they way they are being treated. Don't make yourself feel better by believing that you are better than them.

Instead, recognize that you're luckier than them. It's likely you were born with some kind of privilege (wealth, gender, race, orientation, etc.) or that you were simply lucky enough to not have faced the same challenges or abuses.

It's also likely that your own religion, if you have one, teaches some version of the Golden Rule. Most religions include some variation on "treat others the way you want to be treated." If you aren't following that above all else, why not? Who has convinced you to sidestep that basic human tenet? And why?

By all means, continue to reach out to friends in pain. Share information for suicide prevention and encourage those suffering to find professional help. Be there when others need you. But do more, too.

Question the way you treat others in everyday life. Question your biases, privileges, and shortsightedness. Educate yourself. And, most importantly, do your best to be kind whether you think someone is in pain or not.

That's how you make the world a better place. That's how you reduce the suffering of others. That's how you make the world a place where people can live.


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