Suicide and Russian Wisdom

Have you ever contemplated suicide? Many of us probably have uttered some wish for death at one point in life. If I’m being honest, I think of death whenever my alarm goes off Monday morning and when I get an email from my boss with the subject line – We Need to Talk. Humans are unique in the fact that we have self-awareness and hence the ability to decide whether or not we want to continue living. No animal has the thought process to end its life; I will never find my chihuahua refusing tortilla chips so that he can slowly starve to death. It makes me think of this line in Moby Dick…

“For there is folly of the beasts of the earth which is not infinitely outdone by the madness of men.”

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To end one’s life is a tragedy because there is always hope and always unforeseen victims. Last night I watched the Dead Poets Society with Robin Williams for the first time. The film follows a creative group of prep school boys and their experimentation with the world of poetry. Without completely ruining the ending, one of those boys ends up committing suicide because his father sees no point in him pursuing the arts. Unfortunately, Robin Williams committed the same act three years ago. The cause of suicide is complex and cannot be generalized; many times it is an amalgamation of different mental-health ailments. In some cases, suicide is performed as an act of revenge. Why would someone kill themselves for revenge? The best answer to this question comes from Leo Tolstoy in his epic novel, Anna Karenina. 

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Anna Karenina is set in 19th century Russia and follows various characters of the noble class. Anna gets mixed up in an affair and eventually is forced to leave her son and social standing; Vronsky, her lover, actually cares for her and does desire to create a new life for their unconventional family. Unfortunately, Anna begins to feel paranoid about Vronsky’s affections towards other women – which were baseless in reality. By the end of the novel, Anna can no longer love Vronsky because she thinks herself worthless – rationalizing that any moment she will be thrown to the curb. Anna had no control over her destiny because her husband would not grant a divorce. She decides to commit suicide because she believes it will punish the people in her life. She does end up eliciting negative emotions from Vronsky and her husband, but her suicide eventually fades from memory.

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At the end of the book, the characters are moving on and slowly becoming happier with each day. The sad fact is that Anna can never move on. Her reasons for suicide were revenge, and in a way, she achieved her goal. The only problem is that her goal of revenge caused only temporary emotions while the means to that end was permanent. This is the problem with suicide as a whole – feelings are transient and actions are permanent. Life moves on, and no matter what, there is always hope. There is never a time in our lives when change is not knocking at our doors. That change may bring positive or negative feelings – neither are constant. Whatever the reason – revenge, sadness, hopelessness, anger – don’t ever fall for the lie that change is impossible.

“All the variety, all the charm, all the beauty of life is made up of light and shadow.”

-Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina 

 

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