Parsing the Difference

I’ve been thinking about pain and suffering. What an introductory line!! Nothing is quite as depressing as morning thoughts of pain and suffering.

Things are not that bad. At least not yet. Yes, I do have some pain, and yes, I do have something that might fall into the category of suffering. This is not the reason for my thoughts.

It just occurred to me that the two terms are different- but people, and professions, are mixing the words as if they are interchangeable. I think they are different, and something is lost when they are used inappropriately.

I feel pain in my foot. I should take my shoes and socks off to investigate. I should remove the pebble, or dress the blister, and continue on. Pain is meant to be a signal that something is wrong.

The fastest nerve impulse travels about 250 mph. That means a burned fingertip will still have some damage before you can tell your finger to move off the hot surface. 250 mph from finger to brain, 250 mph from brain to finger to get it to move. Any sightseeing along the way will result in a bigger blister.

(As an aside, why is it that food that is too hot to hold, is apparently okay to pop in the mouth? The dampness does next to nothing in decreasing the heat. I am resolved to break the idiocy. If it is too hot to hold, drop it on the floor!)

So, pain is good! It gives us warning. One bad impact of leprosy is the lack of feeling in body tissue. Hands and feet were damaged by fire without being aware. Now that we have microwaves, we have removed one source of danger. But we could accidentally lean on hot surfaces, or not feel a bad blister on our feet.

Diabetes can also have that same effect. Nerves are damaged by high sugar, and feet and hands lose some sensation. Interestingly diabetes can also cause neuropathy which results in constant pain of pins and needles. Not a warning pain, it is a suffering.

Pain in the back might be a warning to cease activity before more damage occurs. Pain, as painful as it is, is actually a good thing, because mostly it is a short-term thing. I know that this doesn’t sound truthful. However, if you actually chart all painful responses you will find that short-term pain vastly out numbers the longer lasting variety.

Just one of the reasons that the opioid problem exists is that we are tired of pain, short or long term. Unfortunately, using opioids doesn’t just target chronic pain, we lose our warning signals, and at the same time we gain an addiction.

So where does suffering begin? Is there a benefit to suffering?

The word is loaded. When I think of suffering, I can’t help thinking about the community’s reaction. People suffer from natural disasters, people sense this and react to make it better. Groups of people suffer from disease, doctors and researchers find treatment to reduce the suffering.

Suffering is something you do while you are alive. In some cases, the pain is suffered, but the living is undiminished. I know far too many migraine sufferers that still lead productive lives. Chronic pain is not fun, and it cannot be ignored. It is just there, but people find a way to live along side of it.

Mostly, I’ve been thinking of the physical world of pain and suffering. The mental/emotional/spiritual world of pain and suffering has different rules and boundaries. Having experience with techniques in the physical world doesn’t always relate to success in other realms.

I must admit that I have yet to be challenged significantly in those areas. Although, perhaps there is a sort of “leprosy of the soul” that blocks my ability to assess mental/emotional/spiritual pain, without being a complete sociopath.

This thought process has gotten a lot darker than I intended.

All I wanted was to be clear when I was dealing with pain, and when I was living with suffering. I’m good with both.

About johndiestler

Retired community college professor of graphic design, multimedia and photography, and chair of the fine arts and media department.
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