Sunday, August 7, 2022


Bias in book selections and even book reviews hits home with this author.  We all identify with those most like us.  Susan Cain lays out much of her personal psyche and it resonates with me.  A previous book, "Quiet" was about introverts and I was pleased to read that I wasn't alone, nor as unimportant as I sometimes felt.

 With "Bitter-sweet" a few references to cellos hit home.  Until my son took violin lessons I had no particular interest in cello music, but a concert changed that.  Not an accident if one believes Susan.  Some of us (more than suspected) actually feel joy in sad music.

I apologize for all the use of "I" in the beginning, but this is really a confession.  Like you, I feel most comfortable with the familiar.  I maintain that it is in my best interest if more people can better understand people like me.  I do believe whatever side of the spectrum you land on, you will find merit in her book.

Of course I am not exactly like Susan Cain, in fact none of us are exactly like anyone else.  Still, we categorize people which can lead to misunderstandings, but sometimes we can understand ourselves better when another human describes the similarities.  If we look hard enough there are similarities with everyone and the search would make for a better world.

The title Bitter-sweet indicates that there is often a connection between sadness and joy.  She recounts the story of "Inside Out" (2015) which was planned as an animated drama of the importance of emotions.  As Peter Docter got into the topic he realized that humans need a balance of emotions after first rejecting sadness , but late in production discovered it was necessary.  The film was actually re scripted to reflect this new insight.  My daughter Heather had recommended this film often enough that we finally succumbed and watched it. 

Our mortality and suffering provide a source for sadness.  It isn't just our mortality and suffering, but that of others that results in much bereavement and regrets.  Everyone and everything has to die, but the author suggests that maybe living forever isn't ideal either using references to "Gilgamesh" and "The Flying Dutchman" to make her point.  Both Hinduism and Buddhism advocate the goal of life is to be free of rebirth.  

Charles Darwin is quoted:  "We are impelled to relieve the suffering of another in order that our own painful feelings may at the same time be relieved."

Susan  believes "...sorrow, longing and even mortality itself a unifying force, a pathway to love and that our greatest and most difficult task is learning how to walk it."

One of the sources of sadness is disappointment.  Alain de Botton points out that none of us are perfect and neither are our partners.  It is easy to focus on the faults of others, but we need to accept them for who they are and fix what is wrong with us and that is a life long project. 

Susan argues that as we all die, we all have something in common and pretending otherwise detracts from our ability to enjoy life.  Marcus Aurelius:  "You could leave life right now.  Let that determine what you do and say and think."

Finding meaning in life is what helps us to deal with suffering.  Dr. William Breitbart works with dying cancer patients to build a sense of meaning.  He quotes Friedrich Nietzsche:  "We who have a why to live can bear almost any how."

For many readers the contrast between sadness and joy is strange while for others it seems very natural.  Susan discusses many contrasting views as presented by philosophers, psychologists and others.  Readers will find views they have shared, but many will find new perspectives.  Well worth the effort.

An earlier blog is about her book on introverts which is worth reading whether you think you are one or not:

Another book reminded of by a Steve Paikin interview.

If you check out her website you can take a Bitter-sweet quiz,  listen to her TED talk and among other things get a playlist of Bitter-sweet music:

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