At thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore (Ps. 16: 11)
“The heart knoweth his own bitterness; And a stranger doth not intermeddle with his joy” (KJV).
“The heart knows its own bitterness, and a stranger does not share its joy” (NKJV).Proverbs 14:10
Whenever we encounter difficulties, one of our perennial temptations is to complain that others simply “do not know what it is like.” This is very true, as this proverb attests, but it is also beside the point. It is self-evident from the very fact of our individuality. If we knew what it was like to be somebody else, we would be that person.
We can learn sympathy, of course, but when we sympathize we are reasoning by analogy, and what we grasp of the other person’s affliction is usually just a rough approximation.
The proverb tells us that our troubles are our own, and that our joys are our own. Inside each individual is a black box, and other people don’t have any access to it. We know, of course, that this does not include God, who knows and searches all hearts exhaustively. In fact, God knows our hearts better than we do. But the same thing cannot be said of others.
One of the reasons that our “rough approximations” of how others are suffering can be way off is that pain thresholds vary. Internal emotional resources vary. Think of it as a cash flow problem. A poor man who only has five dollars is going to be distressed by a ten dollar invoice. A rich man wouldn’t care about that at all—pocket change. He can be tempted to look on the poor man’s distress with contempt because “ten dollars is nothing to get worked up about.” Well, yes, for you. And the poor man can look with contempt at the rich man, assuming that it is not possible for him to have any troubles at all because he has a million dollars. But it never occurs to him that a man with a million dollars might be required to pay someone 1.2 million dollars. Big planes can also crash. No one outside knows the bitterness of a man’s heart.