On the Necessity of Pain and Disappointment

After Bible class, someone asked why you see so much mental illness in those who come back from fighting in recent wars, the kind that drives people to kill. The person did not remember seeing this kind of thing after WWII. The general thought was that the guys came back and got to work. My initial thought was that there was probably more depression/mental illness than was known. But…

…the other guys came up with some good points. One point was the different nature of the wars. Someone pointed out that our involvement in WWII was only a few years and many guys were only deployed once. Now you have guys who are deployed, come back, are deployed again, and come back. Someone else pointed to the fact that the mental tension and stress is so much more, because you never know who your friends and your enemies are. Not having fought in any wars myself, I pretty much just listened.

I wonder, though, if it has anything to do with the different way that people were raised in the 30s and 40s as opposed to the 60s, 70s, and 80s. The men who fought in WWII were not, so I am told, shielded so much from pain and disappointment. They were raised to be tough mentally, to accept hardship, to “roll with the punches.” They were, through this, prepared to handle the horrors of war, and, they were able to put it behind them when they returned. Probably helped knowing that the whole country was behind you too.

But then they began having children. There was, perhaps, a desire to shield these children as much as possible from the pain and suffering that they had seen; make sure they could grow up care free, without pain. The problem was, having been sheltered and shielded from such things, they were not prepared to handle the horrors of war the way their parents had been. Still, it has been said that Vietnam was a much different kind of war than WWII, and I think one could add that in recent years the same holds true. And, I am no authority on this. My experience was a very comfortable and easy upbringing. I did not go into the military, and have never fought a war. This is more of a philosophical reflection on culture. My friends who are chaplains might say that I am completely off base here, and so will, perhaps, members who have fought in Vietnam, and those who have been involved in the wars of recent years.

I think of the way children are brought up today: at Super kids day in my grade school, we got blue ribbons for winning a race, red ribbons for second, and white ribbons for third, and no ribbons for other places. But even that has largely been replaced by “participation” buttons. We don’t want the kids to experience any kind of disappointment. Will our children have the same problems handling stress and disappointment? Will they lack mental toughness?

Seems to me that children need, for their emotional development, to learn to hear the word “no,” to experience some degree of pain and disappointment. They need to have us parents and adults back off a bit, and let them figure some things out for themselves. If they never are allowed to experience “not getting their way” or any kind of suffering, then they will not be prepared for the real world. Just a few thoughts on a Thursday morning.

Feel free to disagree with me on this one. I’m shooting from the hip.

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About Rev. Paul L. Beisel

Graduate of Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, IN in 2001 (M Div.) and 2004 (S.T.M.); LC-MS Pastor and Adjunct Instructor for John Wood Community College; Husband of Amy and father of Susan, Elizabeth, Martin, and Theodore.
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