Last week, I had the pleasure of listening to a good friend, Debra Moore, speak on Diversity & Inclusion and we followed that up with lunch. She spoke about a concept she called the “Hierarchy of Misery,” where one minority or victimized group feels like their misery is worse than that of some other groups’. Blacks feels more persecuted in their past than say, women do, or vice versa. Jews feel more prejudice than, say, Mormons.
Her perspective was that persecuted groups often speak of their pain as though it is the worst pain that human beings have been subjected to, and certainly worse than other travesties committed. Her point was that there does appear to be a “Hierarchy of Misery” where those who have the stage and audience, tell their story better and louder. We all concede that telling these stories so we are reminded of our evil capacity and can inspire hope to avoid them in the future is a very good thing and quite frankly, takes some courage.
But is there more power in using one’s stage and audience to speak to all kinds of pain and suffering, injustice, and prejudice? What if a movie about slave trading was supplemented with a story of gender abuse? What if a story of the Holocaust was supplemented by an anecdote of prejudice against gays and lesbians? Why is it important for us to make our misery more important than someone else’s?
Would it not be more powerful to channel one’s energy to try to avoid all misery? Those of us who have been either traditional victims (e.g., minorities) or non-traditional ones (e.g., prejudice against overweight people), we can rise above our immediate line of sight and take an even more courageous step to get upset over all forms of prejudice and injustice. This week folks across the US will wear purple on Wednesday as a tribute to the discrimination against young gay men. How cool would it be to say all minorities wear purple on Wednesday?
Whose pain is worse is a terrible argument to have. The better one is how much of it to anyone can we avoid. What can you do?