Over the past few months, I have been experiencing some pain in my right wrist. I ignored it for a while, figuring it would go away, as these things sometimes do. It didn’t, so eventually I decided to go and see a chiropractor; when his treatments didn’t help, he sent me to an office specializing in occupational therapy for hands. I have been going there twice a week and also doing some stretches at home every day. An important lesson I have learned in the process: discomfort is good, pain is not. Discomfort is an indication that I’m healing, improving my range of motion, getting better. Pain means something is wrong and I need to stop doing what I’m doing.
It’s not difficult to translate this into a metaphor for larger issues. If we are experiencing discomfort with
something (for example, using gender pronouns, or hearing that language we have been using marginalizes Black, Indigenous, and People of Color), we can remind ourselves that this discomfort is an indicator of progress, and we can learn to become gradually more comfortable with discomfort. If we are, on the other h and, aggrieved by reading stories about people’s suffering (whether as a result of wildfires, police brutality, or a broken healthcare system), this pain can – and should – become our driving force for compassionate action.
How can we tell the difference between discomfort and pain? By paying attention, or, to put it in another
way, deep listening – which happens to be our monthly theme for October.