The Subjective and Value of Suffering


Suffering is the exposure to aversion or pain due to either physical, mental or economical issues. Suffering across society has been advocated either as positive or negative, how one perceives pleasure may contrast with another’s pain. Thus suffering is subjective to not only individual experiences but to societal norms and governance. While often illustrated as a negative substance, suffering can have value whether personally or institutionally dependant on the environment.

Friedrich Neitzsche argues that suffering provides the foundation for personal development, with the exposure providing insight into an individual’s character and strengths. Bodybuilding for example utilises both physical and mental suffering to achieve a required aesthetic that in turn delivers value in achievement. Additionally several religions advocate some form of suffering to attain some spiritual resolution, such as chastity through the form of sexual restriction. According to Hall et al. issues arise with the objectivity of good, with certain constructs that have been emphasised as intrinsically bad can only be constituted to objects – such as a blunt knife being bad. Whereas human function allows for the intended experiences to be personal due to self-assessment.

Hall et al. argues that, according to Biblical accounts, suffering is the delivery of sin to the environment. Illustrating that suffering is sketched to the motive of God, working everything, including pain, into the narrative of those who follow the path of God. While relative to those who follow the theology, the biblical understanding of suffering provides a framework to its value (the construction of self virtue and the positive reaction our suffering can have to others). Hall notes that three positive reactions can occur from suffering:

  1. The pain we experience is the direct result from our wrongdoing. The suffering is intended to ‘serve’ as a punishment for our aversion to the divine path.
  2. Serving as productive material for self-assessment.
  3. Guide individuals towards the value of interpersonal relationships.

However while suffering can have a degree of value to the individual, especially when the individual accepts that suffering or perhaps brings it upon themselves, mediated suffering practiced by the media and artists can produce issues. Accounts of conflict and despair are often portrayed throughout the environment of the media, according to Ibrahim the media is the primary form in which individuals engage with these events. Ibrahim argues that media portrayal of such incidents can humanise or dehumanise the victims through author bias, thus reframing and illustrating distance of the narrative.

Moreover the media illustrating the consumer as the observer, the ability for the audience to understand the material is largely dependant on two factors; the ability of the producer (often portraying the incident through the eyes of western ideology) and the individual’s own compassion and experiences; A pervasive image economy of suffering in accelerated modernity can de-sensitize people’s relationship to pain.” Joye and Engelhardt argue that certain forms of symbolic communication, such as the utilisation of child suffering can move the conversation away from the cause and impact of the suffering. However the value of children promotes the image of innocence, allowing for the movement towards action. Taking a controversial position, one can argue that the suffering of innocence has a monetary value to the producer.

Ultimately whether suffering is intrinsically good or bad is subjective, with not only the value of suffering emphasised by the Bible but also for the media. However the subjective value for theology is emphasised as part of a higher context. Finally the context that suffering in the media is again subjective to the personal understanding of the incident, and how the media narrates it. 


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