Righteous Suffering

To become great, you must first become uncomfortable. 

This is not something that is palatable to the modern mindset, nor is it compatible with the modern way of life. The pleasure versus pain principle has been eradicated for the most part. No longer does a person have to be subjected to unwarranted pain that a few years ago would have been commonplace. Today, pain has been eliminated from the physical, social, and emotional realms through technological, medical, and other means. As a society, be reducing pain while seeking pleasure, something interesting has happened. We have compounded our pain because we are not seeking our full potential. 

Pain and discomfort in their rightful places are natural manifestations of growth. To get in better physical condition requires a period of time where physical discomfort is experienced by way of a physical training regimen. Sore muscles become a constant companion alongside a mental state that is duplicitous in nature. We know that what we are doing is what needs to be done for our benefit. But it hurts, and we want to quit. The long-term benefits may not outweigh the short-term alleviation of the hardship we are enduring. 

Pain is not only physical. Pain that accompanies growth may also take the form of mental, spiritual, and emotional hardship. To earn a college education, a person must dedicate years of their life to study and being exposed to ideas that are not only foreign to their own, but possibly offensive and life changing. It requires patience. It demands maintaining a vision that will not be realized in the short term. It mandates the tolerance of temporal discomfort. To become enlightened and intellectually strengthened, the student must endure a trial. It is painful, just not in the physical sense.

When a woman gives birth, the experience is a culmination of months of discomfort, sickness, and uncertainty. Morning sickness is a constant reminder that she bears a responsibility for a life that is growing inside of her. She may proceed through her daily affairs with both hope and dread. She prays for her newborn child to be whole, all the while knowing that her baby may be born with autism or physical ailments that will make the life of the child more difficult. As a mother, she bears this burden. And then, she physically gives birth to her child. This rite of passage for both mother and child is accompanied by physical anguish, fear, and anxiety. She endures pain that culminates in a joy that only a mother can understand. To get there though, a price had to be paid. The price was paid through a currency known as pain. 

Pain is a measuring rod. It tells us how much we are growing, if at all. It tells us if something is amiss in our bodies. It tells us if we are progressing from a physical or emotional trauma in a normal, positive fashion. 

The maximization of pleasure at the expense of pain and discomfort is not a new phenomenon. Utilitarian philosopher Jeremy Bentham is known for the hedonistic calculus, which states that a person seeks to maximize pleasure while avoiding pain and discomfort. The morality of an action or inaction could thus be justified as it correlates to the amount of pleasure that was produced from the act. 

When we look at the hedonistic calculus, a fascinating idea surfaces. By seeking to reduce pain by avoiding it, are we in reality causing ourselves more pain? Is the avoidance of pain and the seeking of only pleasure serving to make the attainment of pleasure much more elusive? Indeed, it has. 

As martial arts instructors, we have had the pleasure of seeing the pleasure versus pain principle at work in our own lives for many years. We keenly understand the sacrifice it takes to earn the right to wear the coveted black belt. We understand the uncertainty and anguish that borders the path to the goals a student has set for themselves. Quitting is always an option, and for many it becomes a default exit that alleviates the pain. Yet, by quitting, the pain is enhanced two-fold. The student in order to produce relief has now voluntarily labeled themselves a quitter. They have surrendered to their own weakness. Second, the pain of quitting cannot be relieved because the specter of what could have been is always in the back of the mind of the student. Once the path in martial arts or any difficult endeavor has begun, the student has no option. They must endure the temporary pain for a glory that is far off in the distance or quit in the short term and damn themselves to a pain that in reality can never be satiated. 

As a society, we have become far too comfortable. Why run three miles in the rain on a trail when we can run three miles on a treadmill in our dry basement? In truth, the same result will be achieved. However, the discomfort that is accompanied by the former will produce far greater results than the latter. The discomfort that is accompanied by running in the rain will temper the resolve of the person. It will allow them to tap into inner reserves of strength and courage. It will have put them in touch with their own nature as well as the nature that surrounds them. 

The greatest disservice a parent can do to a child is to remove all discomfort from their life. The greatest travesty a teacher can commit upon a student is to make their journey along a path easier. Pain is a teacher. When the pain subsides, the goal has been achieved. Or, sadly, the student has succumbed to the shame of quitting.

Do something challenging. Step outside of your comfort zone. The greatest talents and minds of human history have enhanced the lives of all of us by subjecting themselves to uncomfortable lives and states of being. The temporary discomfort that you may experience is only setting the stage for your greatness. If you desire to go to medical school, but don’t know if the time and hardship is worth it, consider the following: Are you depriving society of your greatness? Are you the one that has hidden within you the cure for cancer? Do you have an obligation to suffer intellectually so that those that can benefit from your greatness will no longer have to suffer physically? Think about it.

Our challenge, and invitation, to all of you that read these words is to engage in righteous suffering. Endure the temporary pain. By doing so, your fulfillment will last forever, and those around you in the farthest recesses of life will reap the benefits of your selfless efforts. By helping others, all benefit. It won’t be easy, but I promise you, it will be worth it. 

Allow us to help you along this path. Find us.


3 thoughts on “Righteous Suffering”

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