Jennifer Michael Hecht — Suicide, and Hope for Our Future Selves
March 27, 2014

"Your staying alive means so much more than you really know or that anyone is aware of at this moment."

Philosopher, historian, and poet Jennifer Michael Hecht has traced how Western civilization has at times demonized those who commit suicide, at times celebrated it as a moral freedom. She proposes a reframed cultural conversation, based not on morality or rights but on our essential need for each other.

Photo by Spencer Platt / Getty Images


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Selected Readings

Poems and Prose on Suicide

Read excerpts from Jennifer Michael Hecht's book, Stay: A History of Suicide and the Philosophies Against It, the original essay that she wrote following the suicide of a friend, and a few poems she read for us.

» On Camus and The Myth of Sisyphus
» "On Suicide"
» "No Hemlock Rock"
» "Men Wept"
» Conclusion from Stay

Pertinent Posts from the On Being Blog

Author and poet Jennifer Michael Hecht on suicide, resilience, and community. She says, "We have secret web-like connections to each other. Sometimes when you can't see what's important about you other people can." Join the conversation here.

A simple phrase quoted at a rural elementary school has us contemplating its meanings.

The Zen abbot walks a live audience through this guided meditation on encountering grief. Download and share with your friends and family.

If you could stand in someone else's shoes... Hear what they hear. See what they see. Feel what they feel. Would you treat them differently? A video that speaks to the connections we all need.

"Complicated grief" - a yearning for a lost loved one so intense that it strips a person of other desires. And dealing with it may mean retelling the details of a loved one's death and listening to it again and again.

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On Being always makes me think. If I were younger I'd be on your door step begging for a job. I have been in many a dark holes and have struggled with how to find a way out. This program helped me rule out suicide, at least for now. I know it would hurt a lot of people but I've struggled with depression for so long that it's often felt like the only way out. I'm good, I'm okay.

Hey. I'm glad you are out there somewhere. We're in the same boat. I think it's a big boat and the passengers do not know each other very well. However, it is nice to know I'm not alone because of people like you and its really nice to have a great On Being team to some time guide our ship in the right direction. Let's hang in there together. All the best.

We love you

Thank you for providing this. I enjoyed listening to Jennifer Michael Hecht.

i love the work you are doing...but find this page is so chaotic that i dont think it helps your excellent work... to get so much up visually makes nothing reallly have value.... just a thought.

i rarely click thru things even tho i interested--poartly becuaes there is too much time to get to each article... you get there and it is yet another click and wait... with all the hi tech i am sure you can think this thru with more grace... maybe younger folks love the jumble...!!! best and thank you.

Suicide is a greater killer than car accidents among our young people? I had no idea. I am so glad to see in the first comment that the listener has given suicide a second thought. I do hope that this person decides to stay with us. They have something to contribute, even if it is not apparent to them at this moment. How does the line gets darkest just before the dawn. I have found this to be true. Somedays clouds, somedays sunshine, somedays partly cloudy. We all have dark times when things just don't make sense...sometimes extended periods. I do find it difficult to understand how anyone could get though a dark time without some type of faith though. It seems that there were many undertones of faith in Jennifer's comments. I believe that the Psalms and Proverbs of the Bible can provide a good foundation to help us understand how to navigate the deep waters. Also, just watching the movie "Its a Wonder Life" once or twice a year is a good reminder of the void that would be created if we decide to "check out" before our time. This topic is a serious matter. For those of us that are parents, we need to keep the lines of communication open with our kids. Talk about good things, not just about how screwed up the world is. More than anyting, we should listen...really listen. Not continue to tap way on the key board with the occasional fake nod of acknowledgement. Life is hard and we all need someone just to listen to us occasionally. Also, focus on the good things helps as well. Appreciation and gratitude for what we have can help give us a different perspective. Not just the fleeting material stuff, but the friendships, our pets, the ability to see, hear, talk, walk...the list goes on. I am inspired by people that find a way to see the joy in things even when thay have lost something very dear to them. Ever received a smile from a person in a wheel chair? That is an inspiration! Never give up. You are here for a reason. And stay away from 24 hour news channels...that will make anyone want to jump.

Some major depressions lead to psychosis which, by its definition, is not rational, and therefore reasoning or pleading cannot be effective and at that time, protective, psychiatric locked ward admissions are essential. We must realize reasoning by or with the suicidal person will not be effective.

Thank you for the show today. My father committed suicide a little over a year ago, and I am still going through the anger stage. It was very good to hear that I am not alone in my feelings. I really enjoyed hearing all the great information this morning! Thank you!

I tried killing myself twice while growing up. I have a theory about the undeveloped frontal cortex, which is probably irrelevant here. My parents never really spoke about my attempts; instead, they talked around it. I had no thoughts of what my death might have done to them; I just went on living my life. It wasn't until several years ago (decades after my own youth) when I read a blog post by a parent whose college freshman child had killed himself that I actually grasped the impact of suicide. Not thinking my life meant anything made it impossible to know the true consequences, but seeing the impact of someone else's suicide on someone else's parent really clarified the issue. Maybe that's the way to go in prevention.

No! No! No! No! Suicide is a moral right! Your life is your business. Not mine. How dare any decent moral code coerce (or worse, threaten) you into living if you don't want to!

On the other hand, if you have the legal and moral right to die, every day you don't die tells you something. The only restriction I would put on choice in dying is a legal waiting period . . . say, 3 days . . . and that should be relatively easy to waive.

Your decision to die is NOT a public matter. It is a private matter. And if we had the moral and legal right to die, maybe we would talk about it more . . . and do both the living and the dying better.

Nothing is a private matter. We are not isolated individuals; all people are connected to others, and all our actions affect others. So we always have to consider the effects of our actions on others. Without that, human life is impossible.

To say it's a private matter is like saying we have the right to deny the web of life. But that's absurd. Deny reality all you want. It doesn't change the facts of connectedness of all life on earth or the facts of the 600,000 years of evolution of the premier species. This creation supports and nurtures us even though we're largely unaware of that. If you don't know about this connectedness it's because you haven't opened your own heart to find the connection to the heart of this world. All of us have that. All of us are supported by the unconditional love that grows the trees. Let's get the bigger picture before it's too late.

I have always believed that Suicide is a prerequisite for life. Life does not begin until you consider taking it from yourself.

True! Yet my take... Life does not begin until you commit to it. Beauty, fear, ugliness, confusion, horror, bliss, disgust, exhaustion, hunger, love, humor, shame, rage, repose, foolishness, lust, all of it. Whatever will come. Maybe that's why suicide is a prerequisite, in a way, because when I finally turned away from it, the turning marked a commitment to whatever life is going to bring after all.

Wow. _/\_

Every Sunday morning I "worship" by lying in bed an extra hour absorbing your show on my clock radio. This morning's show brought me to tears. Recently (after suffering over a year) my 22 year old son was diagnosed with fibromyalgia. He is angry, depressed and frustrated. He often talks about dying and suicide. We have been to many doctors and are both frustrated by the lack of relief.
As he stands in front of me, tears running down his face, telling me how worthless and useless he feels and how much pain he is in, my words of love, empathy and support seem so small.

Your show gave me words. A very powerful gift. Thank you! Sam

Socrates makes the author's point far better than she realizes. He was not compelled to suicide by state; he was given a choice: exile or suicide. The choice of suicide over exile was precisely because we are connected and need each other and the moral choice is not to leave for ourselves and others.

Exile was the worst possible punishment.. he could not live a life worth living without the polis he has grown up in and in which he was a citizen. Suicide was preferable to exile exactly because we are connected and need each other.. which i believe is the author's point.

For me, I am in tuned with what is bring said here with Jennifer and Krista. I have definitely been in dark places and have learned to respect my future self. For me, I can appreciate pain as an impetus for growth even if our culture only pays lip service to it (if that). But there is a different and more important focus...... No one owes a decision to "stay or go" to anyone.... Really, not even God. If you have kids, you will definitely want to stay around and fight through any urges to leave the planet unnaturally. (In fact, if you have kids, there are a lot of responsibilities you should consider). But the notion that someone ought to stay for the sake of community???? Or because we need to have everyone communally involved in the living experience? That is just not right. We get choices. Self determination is critically important. If someone's pain is too much to bare, I respect their individual right to make a decision. If its my friend, will it piss me off? Hell yeah, but I just don't believe we are required to be communal. Sharing our private thoughts is only something we should do if we feel compelled. The fuzzy areas involve young people who are in pain and feel isolated. But there will always be pain in each and everyone or our lives.... Death is a part of life and should not be looked on with complete disdain. The idea that EVERYBODY has a responsibility to extend their life as long as possible, despite their emotional or physical condition is also very selfish.

Arguments against suicide always fall short for me. What I seldom see addressed in the suicide discussion is the most important point that we were all born into a world we didn’t ask for. Either we have the freedom to leave this world that we were pulled into or this life is a trap. One of those must be true. Tell me which.
The worst I hear is when suicidal people are guilt-tripped and labeled selfish. The selfishness of people who want to leave the life they never requested is not greater than the selfishness of people who demand that they stay. The condemnation of the selfishness of the suicide is a terrible hypocrisy. Remove the log from your own eye.
Another ridiculous argument I hear usually goes something like this: “Man A wants to kill himself. Man B has it harder than A, but B remains alive. Therefore A should remain alive.” False. B’s persistence does not compel A’s persistence. It could instead be true that B should kill himself too and would be foolish not to.
The only instance I can think of where I’d say someone is obliged to remain alive is a parent who created a new dependent life. The parent should first see that the dependency is addressed before the suicide occurs. I would add that the creation of that unrequested life in the first place was a presumptuous act indeed.
Camus did speak of this a lot in his book, but many words do not an argument make. For those that fear death it may be convenient to imagine Sisyphus happy, but the convenience of the idea does not compel the truth of it.
Speaking personally, I think about suicide a lot. I’m a single 45-year old man who currently has a comfortable life but a tortured past clawing out of the twisted reality that my family and the Catholic Church brainwashed into me in my youth. I never had kids primarily because I don’t believe in bringing new life into a life I don’t believe in myself. And this crazy modern world is another reason I don’t want to have kids. Frankly, I distrust in the integrity of the persuasion made against suicide by mothers who need to believe that the life they nurture was worth creating.
I remain alive mostly because of the inertia of the chemical processes that comprise me. I still have the revulsion of being a corpse that evolution programmed into me. And I’m a bit afraid that death wouldn’t remove my susceptibility to feel pain before it removes my ability to correct it. Another thing that keeps me going is the idea that life is fairly brief compared to the vast eternity of time and it will soon be all over anyway. There’s no need to hasten an exit that could come soon enough.
If I tell you I want to die, will you tell me I underestimate what I mean to others? First, I’m not sure I do underestimate it. And second, why should I care? I’ve spent plenty of time in this life giving without getting in return that I no longer owe it to anyone to stay. The world has gotten more than enough from me. People who really cared would understand and let me go.
Will you tell me I underestimate what the future holds for me? I’m 45 and I’ve done and considered much and I’ve seen the remarkable consistency in my life and it’s already half over. I’ve come to understand things quite well. I think I do have a pretty good I idea what the future will hold. It will hold same it always has, but now more tired and old.
If you genuinely like your own life, then fine. If you want to request that I “stay” you can. Don’t think I’m obliged to honor the request, though. A person like me isn’t going to be convinced by hypocrisy or poor reasoning.

I heartily agree with you, sir. Well said. People like us need to speak up in the face of absurdity more often. Thank you.

I've been thinking about something you said, that "we are all born into a world we didn't ask for." I am not convinced that somewhere along the way, as the cells are dividing inside the amniotic fluid of a warm mother's body, that is the case. Are you sure that you accidentally, by some twist of random fate, happened upon this world? What if something else was the case - that you did, in fact, kick and fight your way onto this planet, pushing and shoving others aside to occupy the vessel you now occupy?

I guess I am a believer in a collective soul, too, and sometimes, when I think of death, I wonder if the remnants of my spirit will remain intact, or dissipate into the realm to then fill a potato somewhere in Idaho. Or a horse. Maybe even a bird. And, while I'm at it, why not all of these?

Mary George, as I understand conception my father’s sperm that carried half my DNA did function to fight its way up a stream against some resistance to fertilize my mother’s egg. And then the molecular engines inside the egg followed their programming to assimilate the sperm to complete my DNA. Then more molecular engines caused the cell with my DNA to replicate to 2 cells, 4 cells… etc. Eventually some of these cells specialized to form my brain. The sugars and oils in the brain caused the brain engine to start running. This caused my awareness and sensations and thoughts to emerge. I would say this emergence of awareness is when “I” began. So my consciousness and free will (to the extent I have free will) did not precede my existence but rather followed afterwards. As such I don’t think my existence is a choice I was capable of making.

You mentioned your belief in a collective soul. I think you’re implying that something non-physical about me preceded my life and so chose it. I have no sense that this is true so I don’t believe in it. While I can’t tangibly refute an intangible idea like an eternal soul, the fact of its intangibility means that it’s merely guessed at, so the idea doesn’t carry much weight with me. It sounds to me like an idea that’s often believed in because it works for some people. As I mentioned before, I don’t believe the convenience of an idea compels the truth of it.

Middle Aged Guy:

Ideas here are seldom proposed for the sake of convenience, and the hammer certainly cannot come down conclusively with such plump, vigorous subjects like ensoulment or death no matter how expertly we dissect. These are rather heady, elusive and subjective matter, better left to those esoteric few who claim to own the turf. So for the rest of us deliberating outside the courtroom, taking on the question of Camus – this time head on, in the context of today’s rising rate of suicide – is an opportunity to encourage dialogue and understanding.

Ensoulment, as I mentioned earlier, and you mirrored, is very much a mystery. Cameras inside a mother’s uterus at six months show eyes blinking, thumbs being sucked, and twins touching each other’s faces, holding each other’s hands. This tell me that these yet unborn are thinking and feeling human beings. As a mother who gave birth to four babies, each of whom cried immediately when born, I know what I felt: a huge wave of empathy after giving birth, holding this wailing little thing, holding him close with congratulations and welcome and joy because he had made the journey, had struggled hard to get here, and victory was his. All that crying did him good, too; he needed to expand his lungs, get the fluid out and begin to breathe. Whether or not he is crying with the sheer joy of making it here, or wailing because he’s mad as hell and hated coming out through such a tight, distressing chamber - “God help me, where am I going?” - is anyone’s guess.

Because here you are, kid: life is going to shuffle the cards and deal you days of such crap you wonder why, why, why, even get out of bed. Because the bills aren’t going to be paid. Your favorite aunt is dying of cancer and your Dad was just diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. The taxes are overdue and you forgot to call your divorce attorney back yesterday and the refrigerator is leaking water. The dog barfed on the rug again. Your favorite pair of pants tore and someone who you thought was a really good friend turned out to care less about you. Oh. And you have to close your business and look for a new job. Is this what our days are designed to be like? Hell, yes. Sometimes they’re just a goddamn mess and there’s no better place to be than under the covers.

So some other day you get out of bed. Again. Get the slippers on and make the coffee. Look at the funny email a new friend sent. Skip the world news today and say a quick prayer for Syria and Crimea. Check your account balance. Count the days til the mortgage is due. Listen to the birds sing and stare a minute too long at that surprising aberration of mud brown underneath the maple. Purple crocus. Stunning. Then go upstairs and shower, scrub your head hard as you ponder the day, decide to get a newspaper and re-read the job listings at the diner. Consider asking your wonderful sister for another hand-out. Decide to make a pot of chili for dinner and let it simmer on the stove for a few hours. Smell that cumin and peppers and those spicy, hot jalapenos. (Who needs scented candles?) Play chase with that cute, bad dog and take her for a walk. Scrub the shower and do the laundry. Sit on the couch with the tv off and read a good book. Put a piece of Italian chocolate into your cheek.

Maybe it would feel incredibly cool, moist and quiet getting dirty, fat and round, growing under the blue sky in some potato field in Idaho. I’m not convinced that aspiring to anything of the like would be preposterous. For now, I just try to live my days with the headaches and stress, sleepless, dejected and tired, knowing there are things in this world – people, especially – that will make some of these days good.

Mary George, this site and this world is full of ideas that are proposed for convenience rather than honesty. Your dismissal of that fact is one of them. I am here in this silly world because of the arrogance of people like you who presumed to drag me here. I or anyone else has every right to leave the world without criticism. Your long expositions of teardrops and daffodils don’t change that.

No one presumed to have dragged you here. Yet if this is your conviction, with which you then extrapolate to “a silly world” of “arrogance,” well, it seems you are now caught in your own web, glum and stuck with circuitous replies that oddly voice the same, self-serving “convenience” that you attribute to others. It appears this discourse carries as much weight as a feather on a pond.

MAG - your words really resonate with me. Thank you for being so eloquent and thoughtful. I wasn't able to come to grips with my beliefs that cohesively, and you have done an amazing job articulating my feelings exactly. I wish you well.

the socrates and hemlock story is totally irrelevant, yet you mention it several times.

On some deep level I understand that suicide is not an option for me, but at the same time there are moments where it looks like a way out from the weightiness of the trials and tribulations of life. Several months of unemployment resulting in complete bankruptcy, caring for an elderly parent who neglected me as a child, and a seeming impossible journey into the world of being an artist all converge to make life feel more like something to be endured than celebrated. We need to teach our children survival skills, so that when the hardships of life surface (and they inevitably will) they have some degree of coping mechanism. To my mind, that's what community is all about. We all need to feel like we belong-

Please don't determine for all what you feel for our own life. Contrary to societal belief, certain kinds of people feel repulsed when continually reminded they must "belong". Belong to what? Being common and average and like everyone else? This is not a personal thing so don't take offense...... I understand that most people are brainwashed into thinking if they don't want to belong, they must be evil, anti-social, and perhaps this leads them to thinking they ought to die. All I ask is to make room for individual perspectives .... the world over.

It’s hard not to talk about suicide without beckoning Camus. The age-old question that underlies the theme “Is life worth living?” has been repeated throughout literature, because life imitates art. However, as I’ve aged a bit now, and have visited that premise on several occasions now as a female writer, I have come to the conclusion – and my last protagonist illustrates this – that the timeless question has been historically addressed by men, for men. Indeed, women who commit suicide do so at one-quarter the rate of men, despite the ironic twist that we suffer from depression at twice the rate.

Allow me the opportunity to project through my current pregnant character: she has a Darwinian and physiological predisposition, like most women, to pro-create. Her genetic profile has been adjusted and fine-tuned to persevere, to struggle, survive and transform for the sake of her newborn. She cannot indulge herself with the question “Is life worth living?” It isn’t in her vocabulary.

It seems to me there is something awry in proposing this discussion with equal footing for men and women. Given the ironic statistics, the math just doesn’t work. Some elusive elements of gender-related factoring could well be worth finding and examining, to open the discussion wider for men and women, selectively, who leave those of us behind wondering what we didn’t see, and how we might have helped – if said help was able to have prevented such loss.

I'm not sure where to begin. Although I think that people who are suffering in any way merit our concern and help, it seems quite selfish to hang on to anyone who is in constant pain, whether mental or physical or in cases where one is threatened with a loss of all dignity. I remembering hearing a father talk about a son who suffered daily and I heard in his writing his reluctance to let him go but his desire to see the suffering of his son stop no matter the cost to himself. To my way of thinking, that is love. Perhaps it's time for a discussion of Jojo Moyes' book "Me Before You."

I chose early on to not kill myself because of what it would do to others. Never have I received from anyone the same kind of love and consideration. Furthermore, in our society, which treats money and wealth as god almighty, it doesn't help to hear constantly how little value you have...even to the point that if you are poor you don't deserve to have a refrigerator.

It is also very lonely to not be able to talk about one's desire to die. It is unacceptable and not safe. Even the comments on a recent article about suicide, there was an expression of vitriol against these "losers." Our society does not want to hear about any pain or misery you might have, especially if there is no cure for it. No one wants to listen, even if it does help a little, if they have to hear the same thing day after day. I know it's hard because I do that for others. But there is a paucity of people out there who care enough to do even that.

Until we have a society that can value people, I for one think we need to start by taking the stigma away from suicide. We need to honor the courage it takes to face death. We need to be available to find out why one wants to die; to be willing to listen at length; to offer help; to understand from their point of view.

And finally, we need to be able to offer continued sustenance, if not help in the form of relief, to those who suffer if they are going to be able to make a healthy choice to live. I just don't see that happening any time soon in our society.

I listen Onbeing each Thursday. Hope for our Future Selves is the first program I've listened to three times. Coming from an island (West Indian) Caribbean perspective, I've absorbed this as more fundamentally a continental dilemma; meaning, the birthing American mythos of the buccaneering individual who can go forth, thrive and do it alone. Jennifer Michael Heft, offers a refreshing counter point for the communal self.

Not surprisingly, most of her supporting cast on the argument are European sourced. I recently wrote and published on Medium a "manifesto poem" on the power of the individual Self, which may be a useful anthem on the unique sacredness of the individual to stay. This is contrasted with Entity - a manifesto poem on the communal Self - earlier published.

Wishing strength to everyone.

I was so grateful to hear this show today. 10 days ago I started putting the plan together to end it all. Thankfully already had a session with therapist scheduled. Will listen to the program again and start looking for Jennifer's book. Thank you so much for the help !

I lost a friend. He was not a poet, artist, painter. Like my close friends. He was just a regular guy. We were students together from grade school. He helped me get a job. He took a gun and killed himself. I've been told he was very inebriated when he did that. That was a long time ago, but it hurts, it really hurts. I'm a bi-polar depressive. I will live. I will not leave my children as a suicide, and I have to paint. Yes Jesus was a suicide. Camus saved my life.

I'm glad some people were helped by this program. Unfortunately, all I heard was one more person demanding that I go on, no matter how hard it is for me, because the rest of you NEED me. Swell. What about what I need? Everyone has their hand out for my help; who is there for me? When I say I've had enough, that will be it, and everyone else can find someone else to lean on. I'm tired of holding myself up, and the whole world besides. I do NOT owe anything to the rest of the human race; not unless they acknowledge that they owe ME something too. And they do not.

I was severely disappointed in the "Hope for Future Selves" show.

My first objection is that none of what I heard is new. During the years when I worked as a crisis interveniton volunteer, the connectedness of which Ms. Hecht spoke was an important facet of most conversations with people who were contemplating suicide. I fail to see her addition to what us amateurs were doing 20 years ago.

Second, she failed to display any grasp of the idea that not all suicides are alike. There is a world of difference between the case of (say) a 16 year old who is despondent because his girlfriend dumped him and a 65 year old who has no close relationships and who feels increasingly alienated from the world around himself. In the former, one can say with confidence that suicide is an unwise course of action. In the latter, a claim that suicide is unwise is difficult to make. Add in things such as poverty or illness, and such a claim becomes both absurd and cruel. A more sophisticated approach would be to leave the question of "to be or not to be" alone and to focus attention on when and by what means it is appropriate for an individual to end their life.

My beloved 29 year son died by suicide and your thoughts touched my heart. However, with your very public voice, may I ask that you do not use the terminology "committed suicide"? It is judgmental and antiquated in light of what we know of mental health and suicide. That term perpetuates the stigma associated with mental health issues and resulting suicide that keeps us from talking openly of this public health epidemic. When someone dies of any other disease we don't say "They committed cancer, etc." Our loved ones did not commit a crime but ended their lives out of perceived hopelessness and a mental pain that exceeded their human capacity to bear it. We need to come out of the darkness and say "died by suicide" instead. Thank you.
Janeen Norland; mother and field advocate for American Foundation for Suicide Prevention

The transcript and the audio don't match up. The podcast sounds like it starts in the middle of the piece.

It surprised me that your otherwise deeply moving and thoughtful discussion of suicide never once mentioned guns. How could that be when study after study shows that having a gun available multiplies the incidence of suicide by three? Certainly such heartbreaking data cry out for a discussion of gun legislation as well as of suicide hotlines.

I've recently been dealing with my own deep depression and thoughts on death. This interview has been incredibly helpful as a reminder that it's often impossible for me to see beyond my current feelings-- even when I think I am capable. Thank you.

I found Hecht's book incredibly frustrating to read. This interview was only slightly less frustrating to listen to. However, I am comforted slightly by some of the comments on this page. Hecht and her adoring fans completely miss the mark, but some of the criticisms here nail it.

Life as a human is largely about suffering. Anyone who doesn't realize that is not paying attention. As beautiful as some moments can be, the inevitable suffering remains. For someone who has suffered with guilt, regret, disappointment, and self awareness for decades, beginning when it all first developed in the childhood mind, suicide may be a sensible thing to contemplate. Suicide isn't always about the easy diagnosis of severe depression, PTSD, adolescent angst, etc. Sometimes, it is merely the result of being alive for too long.

I thought a lot of her context was that life IS difficult, and it IS full of suffering. You can use that framework to say, as you did: Life is full of suffering, and therefore I choose not to stay. What she is saying is; Life is full of suffering, and therefore, let's please help each other struggle through it together.

I appreciate the thoughtful response to my comments.

Her opinion sounds nice in theory, and the human potential for such widespread compassion may be there. But reality is a rude slap in the face. This is the world we happen to live in. And our priorities as a society are painfully clear.

When I grow too complacent in my delusions of knowledge and wisdom I listen to your show. On Monday morning I listened to your conversation with Jennifer Michael Hecht. On Tuesday morning I was extended the opportunity to share some of its wisdom with the members of my Toastmasters group in a speech followed by participatory dialogue as each member was given the opportunity to share the their opinions, thoughts and experience with suicide. Some members expressed that it was the most powerful meeting they had attended. A small step towards opening up dialogue, for sure, but indeed a step for which we all now owe you thanks.

I appreciate the fact that the name of this series is On Being, not On Doing. Western cultural emphasis on measurable achievement transforms a career in the service profession into a never-ending gristmill that overwhelms its most dedicated of recruits, resulting in role fatigue that frequently gives birth to suicidality,- as the statistics about suicide among therapeutic practitioners attests.

It was disheartening to listen to Ms. Hecht's insistence that being important in the lives of others is the standard which can transform my isolation into purpose. For many in the helping professions, being needed is itself the quicksand that sucks us down into the pit. If I had my way, it would be an OSHA violation for any mental health provider agency to attach a productivity quota to the work done by its clinical and medical staff. Good people are leaving the profession In order to avoid becoming a statistical death themselves.

I was suicidal as a teenager. Those same thoughts came back to me as i was an unemployed father of two, well into my thirties. I had enough perspective at that point to not act on anything, but it didn't make the impulse feel any less real. Yet at the time, I was grateful to know to share my depression with others, and i did pass through that season of my life.

I found this show to be so reasonable and encouraging. It makes me think of how i will approach the subject with my children as they get older. I am so glad that our society can speak about this openly. This topic was taboo for me as a kid. I won't pass those same taboos along to my children--i hope to converse with them on the topic.

A lot of the commenters who disagree with Ms. Hecht find something distasteful in her assertion that being needed is a sufficient reason to continue living. Those who feel that this is unfair may be struggling with the difficulty that is needing others. You are needed; you also need. If a person is beset by the imbalance of meeting the needs of others while feeling others aren't meeting their own needs, there is a problem. What this problem consists in is bound to vary, both in terms of perception and actuality; but what seems clear is that Ms. Hecht is being heard as saying that this particular problem of perceived or actual imbalance is never sufficient justification for suicide. I'm not sure i could say that suicide is never justified, especially since there are cases of extreme and unstoppable pain. But I think she may be right that an imbalance of needing others to being needed by others is never sufficient justification got suicide, no matter how great the imbalance. I'm trying to figure out why I feel this way, and I think it's because I'm uncomfortable with the idea that the need I have for you and that you have for me are things that exist in a market, especially a market in which poverty justifies nonparticipation. I don't think our need for each other works like that.

Like Krista said, our full expression of true love/appreciation is the whole of the matter. Body or not isn't the point.

Suicide does have its place in Nature.

And the excruciations caused by suicide are potent medecines for evolution.

Interview Raymond MoodyMD, Gary E R Schwartz PhD, etc.

To ‘On Being,’
Re: to the recent show with Jennifer Michael Hecht and her book, ‘Stay,’ I had some observations to share. Though a part time university philosophy instructor for 30 years, most of that time has been as a licensed behavioral health clinician in trauma. While I appreciate some points Jennifer offers, it would have helped some of us to acknowledge the nature of suicide in relation to those who suffer beyond the level of ‘impulse.’ For these people, there is pain that transcends the “need for each other.” Unfathomable, indescribable pain that one wants to escape at any cost, even of life. To ‘consider the impact on others!’ is a fairly tired and glib cliché in suicidology. To suggest that these people “choose” to feel this way, and to consider cheering up by perhaps ‘playing a video game’ as a distraction is a bit of an insult. Nothing romantic or philosophical about it; it just hurts that much.


Voices on the Radio

is a poet, philosopher, and historian. Her books include Stay: A History of Suicide and the Philosophies Against It, Doubt: A History, and Who Said.

Production Credits

Host/Executive Producer: Krista Tippett

Executive Editor: Trent Gilliss

Technical Director: Chris Heagle

Senior Producer: Lily Percy

Associate Producer: Mariah Helgeson