If you consult a list of religious virtues, it does not take long to find the virtue of longsuffering. The capacity for enduring suffering without letting it destroy your attitude has long been prized by ethnical religious communities because life is full of a lot of suffering, and enduring this suffering cheerfully has correspondingly been valued by those whose general approach is to cope with the world as it exists rather than demand that the world get better for our sakes. Longsuffering is related to patience but yet also distinct from it. Patience is the ability to maintain hope in that which is long in coming, but long suffering is the active endurance to that which is unpleasant and painful while maintaining a good attitude, not merely passively enduring but also resisting the negative effects of what one is enduring, which is by no means an easy thing.
Even for those of us who are not necessarily fond of stoicism as an idea tend to latch on to one of the main aspects of stoicism when it comes to the idea of suffering. Those of us who have had to endure a great deal of pain and suffering in life and think of ourselves as having done so well tend to adopt an attitude of stoic indifference to that pain. We recognize pain as a part of life that has to be endured, and even if it is not pleasant to deal with, it can bring a considerable amount of insight. Done well, we can gain a great deal of empathy for people when we suffer in common with them. We can recognize this world as a place full of suffering and loss that cannot command our ultimate loyalties. We can come to recognize the limitations of our physical existence and how it is temporary, and that however many decades we may have to deal with problems, our pain will not be forever, and so if we outlast it we can maintain a faith in there being a better world on the other side without the troubles that plague us so in this mortal coil.
There are at least two main threats, though, to the virtue of longsuffering. One of them is the neglect of the desirability or even the need to endure suffering and rather seeking the elimination of pain rather than the endurance of it. If one examines the shelves of stores, it is frequent that one comes across various means of reducing pain and suffering. Some of these are medicinal in nature, as one peruses the various non-prescription pain medications that seek to eliminate certain physical pains from one’s existence. Behind the counter in a pharmacy there are more serious and more restricted varieties of painkiller that again seek to reduce or eliminate pain from our lives. In other aisles, we can encounter various non-medicinal means of self-medication that similarly seek to reduce the pain of existence, and if our tastes run to illegal substances, a great deal of the appeal of many of those matters is the reduction of pain. The desire to avoid suffering in life prevents us from developing the virtue of longsuffering, since it is a virtue that can only be developed in the face of the pain and suffering that we desire to escape.
There is a yet more insidious threat to the virtue of longsuffering that exists in our lives, and one that we may not always consider. The virtue of longsuffering consists of a heroic endurance against the harmful effects of pain and suffering. Yet to the extent that we recognize that it is praiseworthy to endure pain, we can also be led into the mistaken belief that our infliction of pain and suffering and unpleasantness on others is performing a virtuous or meritorious act in that we are helping them to develop an often neglected virtue. When we see the world as a cruel place full of suffering, and when we see life as being often unpleasant and painful, we can be led in turn to be cruel to others and quick to inflict pain as a means of toughening people up that we might think of as sensitive and soft. This is a departure from the path of righteousness and a joining of the camp of the enemy. To the extent that we value truth as a virtue, we may find it necessary to cause some degree of discomfort to others through honesty, but the delight in causing others to feel uncomfortable are hurt is always an evil that we should resist. To the extent that the need to endure suffering in a world of pain and sorrow is necessary and may harden us, we must yet remain kind to those who endure this life alongside us. To deliberately inflict suffering with delight and pleasure is to depart from virtue altogether.