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The Particularity of Pain

Pain is not objective.

Its presence and intensity can’t be gauged by using the same sort of universal standards we employ when determining how much water is in a glass or how much an object weighs.

Our only window into the realm of discomfort and distress is subjective experience.

If you say, “I am in pain”, I can only take your word for it. I may know what it’s like to experience my own version of pain, but I will never know what it’s like to experience pain AS YOU. My individual experience only allows me to understand what it means to experience pain AS THE PERSON THAT I AM.

Identifying with someone’s hardships, by relating their trials to similar experiences of our own, is not the same as actually living their life.

For instance, we both may know what it’s like to get fired from a job. Same problem, right? Not exactly!

Similar events, but very different problems.

I may know what it’s like to encounter the same pain-inducing phenomena as you, but I can’t have the experience of knowing what it’s like to endure that pain while simultaneously harboring YOUR thoughts, YOUR personal history, YOUR dreams, YOUR skills, YOUR fears, YOUR insecurities, YOUR disadvantages, YOUR advantages, YOUR maturity level, etc.

Challenges are universal, but pain is particular.

Evaluating the size of a person’s problem really isn’t possible without having first-hand knowledge of the pain that is being processed by the one who’s experiencing the problem.

When we’re tempted to take score of who has it easy and who doesn’t, it’s probably wiser, more compassionate, and less arrogant to just admit that none of us really know the FULL STORY of what anyone else is going through.


T.K. Coleman

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