Committing Reverse Suicide

After contemplating it for years, I’ve decided to commit reverse suicide.

And I don’t use the term lightly.

St. Basil's Cathedral on Red Square
St. Basil’s Cathedral on Red Square

I came to this decision while walking through Moscow, Russia at the beginning of this month. I had just met with a Russian publishing company that had expressed interest in translating my upcoming book. The book is about overcoming depression and suicidal thoughts by developing healthy relationships—by giving your life to others instead of taking it for yourself.

“It iz…interesting philosophy,” said one of the editors at the company. She shifted uncomfortably in her chair and looked at her colleague. Uh oh, I thought to myself. Here comes the rejection. “But it iz very different from ze books we normally publish.”

“Really?” I asked. “What kind of books do you normally publish?”

Her face brightened. “Well, for example, we have very popular book—very many people buy it. In zis book, ze author iz very strict. He says zat if you want to be successful you must treat people like machines. If you treat people like machines, zen you get whatever you want.”

I tried my hardest not to laugh. Was this book written by Stalin?!

“Ah, so two very different philosophies,” I said. They nodded, gave me a look that says ‘sorry’ in any language, and within ten minutes I was standing on the street outside their building to ponder what they had told me.

I suppose it is an interesting philosophy. The best way to live our lives is to give it away to others? Certainly, the idea runs contrary to our instincts. Who among us really, honestly wants surrender their lives to serving and loving others? Besides, if you treat people like machines, then you apparently get whatever you want. So isn’t it better to live for yourself?

No, it’s worse—far, far worse.

I learned this lesson the hard way. At the age of twenty, after years of living for myself (and treating others “like machines” to get whatever I wanted), I had become addicted, depressed, and incredibly lonely. Overwhelmed by these feelings, I tried to take my life. In this, I would have been successful had my father not found my unconscious body in the garage of our home.

In the subsequent months and years following my suicide attempt, my family and friends rallied around me. It was their love and support that lifted me out my own personal prison. Through their life-giving actions, I learned that the best way to live life is to give it away to others. If you give love and support to others, it not only helps them, but it also gives you a greater abundance of life. On the other hand, if you take life from others (by treating people “like machines”), it drains them of life and destroys your own. As author Neal A. Maxwell pointed out, “selfishness is really self-destruction in slow motion.”

World Suicide Rate
World Suicide Rate (the color red shows where it the highest).

Interestingly enough, Russia has the second highest suicide rate in the world, with the highest teen suicide rates in Europe. While there certainly are a lot of factors that contribute to this number—such as alcoholism, family issues, and economic pressures—I can’t help but wonder if one of those contributing factors is the “popular” belief that people should be treated like machines. After all, if a culture doesn’t value the individual lives that make up its society, why should the individual value their society and their own part in it?

I find those statistics both troubling and confusing. I’ve spent about a year and a half of my life in Russia and have befriended a lot of amazing and wonderful Russians—they are like family to me. Given what I believe about the value of life, how would I feel if they were treated like machines? To what extent do I treat myself and others like machines? What is my responsibility in all of this?

I pondered these questions as I walked through Red Square, the heart of Russia. I sat down on a patch of grass next to the Kremlin wall and watched hundreds of people—from all over the world—take photographs, laugh, eat ice cream, and spend time with family and friends.

As I sat there watching, I felt a familiar tug at my heartstrings. Instead of being overwhelmed with the loneliness that I felt before my suicide attempt, I was overwhelmed with gratitude for life—not just my life—but for the lives of others.

I have learned, first hand, the dangers of treating people like machines and trying to take my life for myself. But I have also learned, first hand, the joys of finding family in others and sharing my life with people.

And so, as I sat on that grassy knoll in Red Square, I decided to commit suicide in reverse: instead of taking my life, I’m going to live it and give it away to others. I will devote my life to things like suicide prevention, mental health awareness, and good causes that lift and inspire others. I will oppose philosophies that view others as machines and counter them with words that encourage the best in humanity.

In this endeavor I don’t expect to be perfect. In many ways, my efforts may just be a tiny drop in a very big ocean. But I’m alive because of the fact that when my father looked into the garage he didn’t see a machine. He saw his son and saved his life.

Because of this, I feel compelled to do whatever I can to reach beyond myself and lift the lives of others. Perhaps my resolution to committing reverse suicide will help reverse the rate of suicide.

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Seth Adam Smith

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