Translated from an original text by Rabindranath Tagore.
Sometimes, I feel rather sad. However, be that as it may, why do people immediately try to console me? All at once, ten people must lean towards me, and with ‘What is it?’, ‘Why is it?’ and so on irritate me so much that no matter how much pain I am in, I have to say, ‘Nothing, nothing at all,’ and drag a smile to my face. Is there anything more difficult than that smile? Rather than smiling thus, I would gladly brood all day and night with a grave face. Don’t they understand that? Maybe they do, but lest I think that I am sitting with such a mournful face yet they didn’t ask me a word, they come to do their duty.
Just as we simply pass our eyes over ‘dear’, ‘respected’, ‘dearest’ and similar addresses while reading a letter, and do not believe for a moment that the writer regards me as his or her heart’s dearest, that the headline-creators of the past have merely allotted those terms to us, similarly, when they come to ask me about my sorrow, I can well understand that they are not asking out of affection, but because they are supposed to. I alone know how much that consoles me. Most people don’t know how to comfort someone; the sorrow that they come to lessen feels sweeter than their words of consolation.
While comforting someone, people often say, ‘What are you so sad about? So many others have your grievances too.’ No consolation can be as painful as this. First of all, he who comes to comfort me with these words, clearly, he is not at all moved by my sadness, because he knows my sorrow to be so insignificant that he cannot be moved by something so trivial. Secondly, I feel as if he did not even understand my pain; he is comparing my pain with everyone else’s; he does not appreciate my hurt. No matter how great or little my sorrow, if you feel sympathy for what it is, fine. If not, whether anyone else faces a similar problem, whether anyone else grieves so much – you have to think and consider so much, you have to weigh the importance-lightness of my sorrow, and then you’ll come to show some sympathy – I’d rather not have it. Although, right before genuine sympathy softens the mind, such thoughts probably work in it unnoticed, yet, if someone speaks such words while comforting another, then it becomes even more painful – at least, for me; I don’t know about others.
When I try to comfort someone, that’s not how I act. I may say, ‘Oh dear, really, it’s very difficult for you,’ and the person in question thinks, ‘Oh, at least someone understands my problem’; he is relieved and starts telling me so many things; and thus his burden feels much lighter. Consolation must be offered so that the grieving person does not understand that he is being consoled. If I understand that someone has come to console me, I immediately think: ‘This person is not pained by my pain; this person thinks that I should not be so hurt at this; otherwise, why would he try to do away with my pain?’ He who thinks that the difficulty I am grieving over is not worthy of grief, that he is not very moved by my pain is quite certain. Maybe he is thinking: ‘How childish! I wouldn’t have reacted this way.’ Or, even if he does not think so, he would make me believe so. I cannot admit so much self-contempt to pray for affectionate sympathy. That someone is sitting gravely and criticising my tears is very painful knowledge. What! That which is hurting me so much should not hurt at all! So insignificant is my pain! I am so weak, am I, that I break down on the slightest pretext? Some people may find comfort in these thoughts, may reproach themselves, and even, in time, forget their sorrow. But there must be many others like me. I feel annoyed at such a sympathiser: ‘So you think me trivial, do you?’ If you feel sad at my reason for grief, then come, let me tell you what’s on my mind; that will lessen my pain. Otherwise, if you think, ‘Weak heart; easily hurt; let me just quieten him down,’ then you don’t need to comfort me.
The truth is: consolation is often very irritating. Often, I feel that the time I have found to brood on my sad thoughts is merely being wasted by someone else. It’s not that it is not painful to waste the time to brood on sad thoughts. But it is indeed painful if people come to disturb while I am brooding thus. Hence the preference to brood in solitude. For a sad person, the reason for sorrow may be painful, but the contemplation of it is much more pleasurable. If you can lessen the reason for that sorrow, fine. Otherwise, don’t interrupt her or his contemplation with some illusory consolation.