Tragic incidents of suicide are difficult to discuss, but also are a reality that we must face as a society. Given the sensitive nature of the topic, what are the appropriate attitudes to approach it?
According to Albert Camus, “There is but one truly serious philosophical problem, and that is suicide.” Although Camus himself was very much against suicide, he identified both the pertinence and ambiguousness of the topic. Indeed, different schools of philosophies have widely divergent understandings of the frustratingly multidimensional subject of suicide. It would only be natural to expect members of society to have their own viewpoints.
Pragmatically speaking, however, it is usually sufficient to adopt an absolute opposition to suicide. We cannot ponder the idea of suicide regularly if we are to go on about in our everyday lives, since suicide is simply too distressing to consider seriously. It is much easier to categorically equate suicide as bad, and then to give no further thought. To make matters worse, Korea has a suicide pandemic, with one of the highest suicide rates in the world. To suggest suicide as anything other than unacceptable in such a climate is often viewed as inappropriate. This pragmatic viewpoint on suicide is highly convenient for society to adopt. Not only is it straightforward, but it can also be beneficial. It motivates us to discover the reasons why our lives are worth living. We remind ourselves of the consequences we would leave behind. Furthermore, it encourages us to prevent suicide when we see that a fellow member of society is considering it. Supplying this viewpoint should be the most pragmatic method of suicide prevention.
Or, so it would seem.
In reality, the people who can be successfully dissuaded from suicide by this flimsy method were never the ones needing help. The extreme nature of suicide means that the people who do decide on suicide live in situations that are, in turn, extreme. The popular rudimentary opposition to suicide will never be able to remedy those who are actually in danger, since they have already transcended such a naïve attitude. When taking this into consideration, one can quickly realize that when an average member of society preaches these unsophisticated ideals in order to “fix” a person who is suicidal, their advice is no longer helpful, but harmful. After all, what could be more aggravating to a suicidal mind than reminding it that it is misunderstood?
Suddenly, the pragmatic opposition no longer appears to be as pragmatic as it was once thought to be. While it is acceptable to be used as a self-satisfying philosophy for the stable and fulfilled, the actual victims have been indirectly harmed from its mainstream endorsement. When confronted with a person who is seriously considering suicide, we are — while eager to help in any way we can — ultimately powerless to help. We come to realize that we were babbling a message that we were underqualified to validate.
Unfortunately, such an enlightening experience never happens to most people. More often, our encounters with suicide happen when it is too late. Being a naturally gossip-worthy topic, the occurrence of suicide sparks discussions and emotions. Condolences are offered, fingers are pointed, and fists are raised. Society becomes fervent in the face of the tragedy, blissfully unaware of how incompetent it was at preventing it. In one way or another, the immediate suffering grows to be soothed, and the emotional atmosphere slowly lifts. Afterwards, life goes on.
Although one may be tempted to think otherwise, it is neither the number of tears shed nor the flowers offered that measure how much society cares. The loud actions are attempts to disguise the previous glaring inactions. Becoming upset to make up for our own inadequateness is not virtue, but only cowardice and irresponsibility. The sooner our society realizes the fault in its attitude towards suicide, the sooner we offer more realistic ways to cure the pandemic.
Asking what a society should do in response to suicide can be a good start, but it is self-satisfactory at best. The better question is to ask ourselves what we can offer to prevent suicides. The prevention I advocate for is more difficult, but proper: prevent the circumstances that would bring one to suicide. While it is not our responsibility to fix all the broken individuals, it should be a common goal to make a society that everyone agrees is worth living in.