Audacity in Suffering
By: Krista Keil
I recently went to Cameroon with my university to train local practitioners on treatment interventions that will assist in providing effective clinical mental health services. While it was a brief stint, the insight I’ve gained along with the respect and empathy I have developed for those enduring severe conflict, has made an indelible mark on my heart, and surely, will have enduring impacts on my life.
To provide further context, the North-West region of Cameroon is amidst civil war and has been war-torn since 2016. As a result, many Cameroonians have endured great suffering and turmoil. While the conference my colleagues and I were hosting was not located in the area of conflict, many who attended traveled from conflict ridden areas. The process those individuals had to endure in order to arrive safely is gut wrenching. Due to the violence, not only have many individuals lost family members in brutal ways, but some have also lost their homes, villages, and livestock, which have been burned or otherwise destroyed. Depending on their location and time of day, it can be dangerous for them to leave their homes for fear of being targeted by violent extremists or those that oppose them. I met parents who sent their children 400 miles away to attend school, to ensure their safety. These same people, chartered life threatening territory just to attend our five day training. Talk about resilience.
Reflecting on my time in Cameroon, I have realized it is not solely the suffering of locals that strikes me, but also the resilience of the people and their audacity in suffering. Throughout the month of February, YLF students and mentors discussed the virtue of audacity- the habit of acting with boldness or approaching a task with daring confidence. Mentors and students discussed what it looks like to embrace the virtue of audacity in their daily lives and how it is relevant to leadership. The individuals I encountered in Cameroon, embraced their sufferings with transformative power and a resounding sense of audacity and resiliency that seems to permeate human limitations, for those of us unfamiliar with such turmoil.
As is known, suffering is universal to the human experience and humanity spends its existence constantly attempting to flee the grips of suffering- no matter what form it takes. In my experience, it seems that in developed societies people often try to dismiss their sufferings; to either downplay them or run from them. While this is a natural human inclination, what if, instead of spending our time running from our sufferings, or avoiding them we put in time and effort to transform our sufferings instead?
Some years ago, I lived in Tanzania briefly and learned to speak a bit of Swahili. When someone is sick, grieving, or upset, they ask “unaumwa?” Which literally translates to, “are you suffering?” They address the source of suffering head on, directly and boldly. While I observed that this could be difficult at times, people most often seemed to respond honestly. They owned their emotional state and the difficult circumstances that may engulf them- they did not deny them. When times of mourning were necessary, they allowed themselves to grieve intensely. Many I encountered, both in Cameroon and Tanzania, did not have the leisure of first world luxuries such as ordering delivery, watching tv, or laying on a couch. When suffering arose in their lives, not only did they keep going (although not without challenge), but they held each other up in moments of suffering. They persisted and confronted the source of their brokenness, together. Imagine if we all learned to carry our sufferings with such audacity, resilience, and a community oriented approach.
The stories I have shared exemplify how individuals simultaneously live with great suffering and yet, great virtue. My life experience has taught me that both virtue and suffering hold transformative power, and they are not mutually exclusive, but rather, go hand in hand. With these memories of mine, I seek to share the stories of some of the most resilient and audacious individuals I have ever met, who possess strength of character that I can only aspire to. To clarify, I am not attempting to quantify levels of suffering- the depth, breadth, or intensity of suffering is not what holds transformative power. Everyone has a unique story and one person’s sufferings can not be more or less valid than another’s. The point being, that suffering can only be transformed when we shift our perspective; when we choose to embrace the parts that we don’t want others to see, when we choose to be bold and address the turmoil that lies within each of us, when we strive to live a virtuous life.
So the next time you’re amidst trying circumstances, no matter how big or small, I encourage you to ask yourself the question, “What would it take for me to be a little bit more audacious and resilient in my suffering?” Perhaps the answer is not grimacing or gossiping in the face of difficulty, perhaps it’s sharing your difficulty with someone, perhaps it’s encouraging someone else when you recognize their hurting. Whatever it is, if we allow our suffering to transform us, it can be a beacon of hope from which virtue is sure to follow.