There is one school of thought which deems suicide to be the ultimate display of cowardice. No one is excused from the troubles of life, as disparate and unjust as the degrees to which they are inflicted on various people may seem. But if one takes the long view, it stands to reason, and to probability, that everybody gets to experience some elemental aspect of that great sadness during their time on earth. Courage, they say, lies in fighting through these downswings by hedging one’s bets and believing that there most likely will be a better time somewhere down the road.
One’s own person ought to be the ultimate symbol of property and ownership. Surely, then, willfully terminating its existence on the material plane should be an individual prerogative, too; and who is someone that doesn’t share that body and consciousness to criticize its unnatural and untimely destruction? But critics say that once man by his nature chooses to live in society and comes to form intimate bonds of blood, emotion, and obligation with members within that society, he signs away some aspect of that freedom with which he is born and with which he can die. Suicide by its abrupt and fatal nature unmakes that bond, and leaves a gaping hole in the social fabric before society has become acquainted with such a possibility and its repercussions. The victim of a suicide is never the person killing himself, but those with whom he had formed those intimate bonds in life. Seen in such a light, suicide becomes an act of paramount selfishness and disregard for one’s commitments to others.
Few reasonable people will express opposition to these sentiments, even while acknowledging that the phenomenon itself is in most cases a symbol of a greatly disturbed mental state, deserving of medical and humanistic consideration. An unsentimental and extremist position would call the event a periodic cleansing of the gene pool; that a person unappreciative enough of the chance at life – the immense biological lottery that it is – to end it so recklessly, is to be wished good riddance and not an instant too soon.
I endorse both stances at different times, depending chiefly on what the individual was about up till that fateful juncture. Accordingly, there is either indifference, or melancholy accompanied with relief for a troubled soul. But, in all cases, I also hold a grudging respect for the person committing suicide. Yes, there is cowardice and abdication of responsibility inherent in the act when one projects it out on to those contingent on the individual, but leave aside social considerations, and there is an almost incomprehensible bravery to be found in it, too. The unformed unknown remains our species’ greatest fear, and what is more unknown – but, paradoxically, also something which we’re familiar with throughout our life – than death itself? To chance ultimate dissolution, as a result of bad judgement or otherwise, deserves some credit when viewed from a dispassionate perspective. For even those who commit suicide for apparently pathetic reasons, with no lofty philosophical insight, do so with the innate knowledge that the act is a point of no return and that therein lies its true potency.