The miracle is not to fly in the air, or to walk on the water, but to walk on the earth.

~Chinese Proverb~

Aaron Swartz, suicide, and the dilemmas of being above average

January 16, 2013

It seems an injustice to say that Aaron Swartz’s legal troubles caused his suicide.

Swartz was familiar with depression and his legal problems no doubt caused enormous stress. Stress exacerbates depression, and severe depression is agony. There is no better word for the experience than agony. When you are inside the pain there seems no end to it other than death. 

Not knowing Aaron Swartz makes it impossible to speak for him, but in his honor we can consider a problem he likely understood.  

Children and adults who are highly talented, emotionally sensitive, or spiritually precocious are susceptible to existential depression, despair as a reaction to the realities of existence.  

People who contemplate, reflect, question, and analyze naturally bump up against issues of purpose, meaning, relationship, and death. They have a clear understanding of life as it is lived and simultaneously have a vision of life being lived better, and how to accomplish that. Yet, in the great scheme of things, how insignificant one person feels. 

There are children who grow up wondering why people, even those they love, say one thing and do something else. They wonder how it is possible to rationalize poisoning the environment, why ideas are more important than life, why humans have so much potential but live with mediocrity. There are children who feel the sadness our world generates, or know in their hearts the essential oneness of humanity.  

A young person who can think abstractly, is intuitive, or knows the language of emotions often has no where to share their thoughts. The adults they know may be unfamiliar with their thinking, fearful of it, or angry with it. Their peers may not relate to the concerns that occupy them so they have difficulty making friends, or must ignore their gifts to make friendships.  

There are enormous frustrations that can accompany being above average, and the frustration can over time turn into anger, a sense of powerlessness, and futility. The dilemma of having sensitivities that dwell on one side of the fence, while having to make a living on the senseless side of the fence, can cause people of any age to disintegrate into depression. Some individuals go back and forth between integration and disintegration throughout their lives. 

It is not elitist to acknowledge that some people are more intelligent, talented, or sensitive than others. Everyone knows it is a fact, and it is not something to fear. Many people who are gifted are also egalitarian, compassionate, generous, and though full of flaws they do not desire having power over others; quite the opposite.

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