Creative Suffering by Paul Tournier

I’ve gone for an oldie again: a 30-year old book by Genevan doctor Paul Tournier. He’s a bit exasperating at times, because he lets himself get side-tracked and thinks laterally. But he has a great deal of experience through listening to countless patients and has acquired a lot of wisdom. Tournier made a name for himself through the book La médecine de la personne (1940), in which he takes a holistic approach to treating illness, recognising earlier than most the supremely important interplay of body, psyche, environment, counselling, etc. in the process of recovery or degeneration of a malady.

The main points of Creative Suffering:

  • Most of the great thinkers and movers of history suffered in various ways in their childhood (esp. being orphaned, but also other losses like injury, death of a loved one, etc.)
  • Suffering is experienced as frustration if we react to it with fatalistic resignation, or more positively as deprivation if we take it as a challenge to launch into something new
  • Mechanistic processes nearly always result in degeneration, decay, whereas spiritual and inter-personal forces tend to lead to growth, multiplication, fruit
  • As even in the realms of biology and technology, unexpected and undesirable mutations or ‘noise’ can trigger positive new developments, so can pain or loss – in itself neither sought nor good – spur someone into new insights or achievements.

Tournier presents his propositions very sensitively, because he understands the pain involved. But he insists that it is the sufferer who has to find the courage to make the best of his/her loss. We can at best support him/her by attentive sympathy – or sympathetic attention; our ability to help is very limited.

The book is long since out of print, but it’s worth digging out an old copy of one of Paul Tournier’s books; they’re refreshingly ‘different’.

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