Life is not a benign thing – quite the opposite. You are required to strive to continue with your existence and in many cases find a mate and reproduce. Now it just so happens that these things are not as simple as they sound. In the process of striving, you will come across a multitude of others who are also striving, and in some instances, if harming you enhances their own survival prospects the opportunity will be taken. And let’s not pretend we are one of God’s angels – we too may do the same thing. Concrete examples abound, and not all are concerned with direct physical survival, but also with psychological survival. A parent may put a child down because they don’t want it to be smarter, stronger, more attractive than they are – it happens much more than you think. Siblings strive for supremacy, friends will strive for domination, and more direct violence may be directed at you – lies, trickery, physical violence, theft – and so on.
The net result of all this is that we get beaten up by life. As such you might think that people would exercise some kindness toward themselves – but no. Many of the most beaten up people go seeking comfort in religion, spiritual gurus, ideologies, with the result that they pile numerous extra requirements upon themselves – be compassionate, be kind, be charitable, be grateful, be humble, be successful, be popular. This is like asking a disabled person to run a hundred meters in less than ten seconds – self-harm is the only outcome.
We didn’t create ourselves and the environment we live in, and so we have to be smart – we have to understand it and live skillfully. Our survival and sex drives are tyrants, serving life through the continuation of the species, but not serving us at all. The result is often rabid ambition, vicious competition for resources, and incalculable harm. Our emotional nature is the barometer for survival status – and many of the emotions are painful – grief, melancholy, anger, envy, remorse, shame … Only understanding can mitigate the effects of these emotional states – not completely, but enough to make life less painful, since we are largely driven by pain, want, lack.
The net result of all this is that we should make efforts to understand ourselves and the world so we can exercise a skilled kindness toward ourselves. No one else is interested in our own pain, we have to take responsibility for it, and above all understand that the only person interested in improving our inner state is us. Life is not benign, and certainly not benevolent (as many spiritual types would claim), it is a pain factory that has evolved to push along the evolution of species. As such it is a self-made monster: wise up to it, and do yourself a favor. Be kind to yourself.