DRMacIver's Notebook

Surviving is good

Surviving is good

From Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke, page 578:

The ranks of dead and wounded stretched away upon all sides as far as the eye could see. Simply being alive at that moment seemed, in some indefinable way, ungentlemanly.

This is a classic example of survivor's guilt. In context, Strange and Captain Hadley-Bright have both survived the battle of Waterloo, but a lot of their comrades have not. This causes them to feel that their survival is, in some sense, inappropriate.

Survivor's guilt is obviously very relatable right now, what with the pandemic going on, but it's a broader phenomenon, and one that I think we need to be very careful of. If we let survivor's guilt overcome us then we will often let the suffering of others drag us back down, preventing survival. There was a good Twitter thread about this a while back.

Ultimately, surviving is good, and you should not feel guilty about doing good things. We want everyone to survive, and if we are to do that we need to get a handle on negative reactions to our own survival.