07/13/2010 02:44 pm ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

Is Our Attitude Toward Suffering 'Let Them Eat Cake?'

Prior to the French Revolution, Marie Antoinette, upon being informed that the people were suffering, said, "Let them eat cake," which at the time meant the crusts of bread. It seems to me that we as a nation are moving dangerously close to this attitude about the suffering of our people. It seems we are focused on everything but relieving this suffering.

Suffering to me is an indication that you are going in the wrong direction, you are resisting the natural flow of life and so an adjustment is in order. It is similar to the pain you feel when you put your hand in a flame. It is a message that you are doing something wrong, and you should pull your hand out of the flame. Leaving your hand in the flame will not deepen your learning; it will only destroy your hand. Likewise, continued suffering or a system that elevates suffering beyond a natural feedback system can also destroy individuals and society.

As more and more of the people of a country fall below the poverty line and cannot support their families, it is a message to the leaders of that country that they are moving in the wrong direction. There is a force that transcends and time connects us all instantly -- so one person's suffering affects all of us. We are our brother's keeper, like it or not. The challenge of "relieving the suffering of sentient beings" as the Buddhists commit to, is for all of us.

In a small village this is obvious and the tribe takes care of its own as a natural response to an individual suffering. But now we are organized into Nation States, it becomes more complex, and is beyond individual capability. Hence, our equivalent of the tribal elders must take responsibility to relieve suffering and build a healthy society.

As thought leaders, how do we encourage our leaders to take responsibility for this massive effort? Letting the people of your tribe or country work their own way out of suffering does not always work, and often creates deep levels of anger and resentment. I think we can see this building here in the USA.

I grew up as a farmer, and if you don't tend to your crops they wither and die. Each plant has a life force, as each person has, but that force can be diminished or destroyed if it is not nurtured, and its force will be magnified beyond imagination if is nurtured. Our people and the society we call The United States of America will respond in the same way. Again, what are your ideas.