Why People Choose To Suffer Intentionally And Why Others Vilify Them

A Story Of People Who Push Their Limits To The Extreme And Thus Inspire Others

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This week’s piece is a 6-min read.

A few weeks ago in May, a Hungarian climber, Szilárd Suhajda, died on Mount Everest.

His body was not found yet, but as he was stranded on Everest above 8,000 m for days and the rescue teams couldn’t find him, undoubtedly, the worst scenario happened.

He aimed to become the first Hungarian to summit Everest without supplementary oxygen or personal sherpa support.

We don’t know yet if he reached it or not.

Source: Suhajda Szilárd / Facebook

But social media in Hungary exploded.

“He was a selfish prick who didn’t think of his wife and child, just pushing himself toward an unnecessary risk. Now, his child has to grow up without a dad.”

“The bravest thing would’ve been if he had stayed home with his family.”

“These risky achievements don’t make the world a better place.”

“Who cares if he was supposed to be the first Hungarian to summit without oxygen?! People have already done it before. It’s just an ego job.”

People even started comparing the passion for climbing with alcohol or drug addiction.

Many said that someone risking his life for such a passion is no better as a family man than an alcoholic.


It’s easy to judge without empathy. Without understanding one’s mind.

He was probably a bit selfish.

But people like him are the ones who move this world forward.

Pushing humankind's limits has always been why our world and individual lives are getting better, less dangered, and more comfortable.

It became so comfortable that we don’t have to fight to eat and survive.

We can get food delivered to our doorstep while lying on our couch.

We can do work in our beds with a laptop.

We can even start dating by swiping left and right on our phones while taking a dump on the toilet.

You see? We have a massive comfort.

Which is great.

But people seek discomfort. And they should do it.

While our life has been smoother for centuries, the human brain could not evolve quickly enough to cope with such comfort fully.

And we rarely have to step out of our comfort zone.

According to psychologist Bill Beswick, sport is the last field of our lives where we are forced to step out of that comfort zone.

It explains why many turn to sports, especially extreme forms of that like climbing, ultramarathon, or triathlon.

I recently watched the documentary Project Iceman.

It tells the story of Anders Hofman, a young Danish guy who did the first Ironman in Antarctica.

3.8 km swimming in ice water, 180 km cycling, and 42.2 km running in freezing cold.

Anders was working as a management consultant and hated the cold. He had a pretty regular life, but he had mental battles.

Source: Project Iceman

After completing only one Ironman, he challenged himself to something even extreme athletes didn’t attempt to do.

The movie is so freakin’ inspirational and deeply emotional.

But what struck me the most was a quote from James Lawrence, an Ironman athlete who did 50 Ironman races in 50 days within 50 U.S. states.

“Anders is giving people a gift.

He’s giving people the gift of hope.

And his willingness of suffer intentionally gives people the hope on the journey where they’re not suffering intentionally.

That’s the greatest gift you can give to anybody.”

James Lawrence in Project Iceman

The key message of the movie is that limitations are perceptions.

And through Anders’ intentional extreme suffering and such an accomplishment, he shows that we don’t push our limits enough.

I learned this as well through my previous Spartan Races.

Doing a tough 21K Spartan Beast with 30 obstacles without feeling well-trained for that level showed me how far I can go behind my perceived limits.

I miss that feeling.

I miss the hours of suffering, pain, and fighting with my ego.

Because I realized that those moments of intentional suffering give a chunk of meaning to life.

Those moments also help me fight when I suffer unintentionally due to my mental health.

Intentional suffering makes our lives more content.

Szilárd knew that.

By going up and above 8,000m mountains, fighting with a low level of oxygen during his summits, he wanted to live life to the fullest.

And he did that.

I am sure his widow will teach his son this: live life to the fullest, on your own terms.

So why did thousands of stranger laypeople break social media with their “expert” comments?

Because they fell for a cognitive bias called the Dunning-Kruger effect.

It means that people wrongly overestimate their knowledge in a specific area. It tends to occur due to a lack of self-awareness to assess their skills accurately.

As Hungarian psychologist Péter Popper said, the human mind aims to recognize and understand what happens around it, and if one cannot do so, it generates internal tension.

This leads to creating theories or using simple patterns to understand and interpret a phenomenon.

During Szilárd’s expedition, Hungarians followed his journey to the summit, and tension rose among ordinary people, especially after he went missing.

Laypeople are not trained to handle that tension, especially as they have no idea what might have happened in such an environment.

So they beat that tension off by turning to an easy way to do so: trying to interpret the situation by creating theories and following simple patterns.

And the result?

They know what Szilárd should have done.

They started to vilify him.

From the cushy couch or the office desk.

What should they have done instead?

Going out to do some sport that gives them the satisfaction of intentional suffering.

Or perhaps they should have done something else, and I’m just also falling for that cognitive bias…

Máté - The Mindful Guerilla

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