Colleen's thoughts on writing, directing and coaching, and her unique take on life itself!

Thursday, November 09, 2006

The pain/life pecking order..

Is your pain "worse" than someone else's?

Is your life "more important" than someone else's.

I've discovered a couple of fascinating phenomena in our culture: a Pain Pecking Order and a Mine's A More Important Life-o-meter.

Here's how it works: people enduring certain types of physical or emotional pain see themselves as having "real," or "worse" pain than others - and then go on to discount the pain experienced by others.

So for example, if someone's house burns down, that person might see himself as experiencing a "7" on the Pain Pecking Order, while seeing someone else who loses a pet or breaks up with a longtime love coming in only at a "3." Or maybe a "4" if they had the pet for longer than five years.

Say what?

Dismissing the other person's pain as "less than" theirs shows a shocking lack of understanding, empathy or compassion. It's as if they have created a pain caste system.

Some believe they have a higher class of pain. Seriously.

Do we believe folks who suffered in Katrina have it worse than people who suffered in identical natural disasters in Mexico or Pakistan?

If we see ourselves as "better than" "greater than" others, perhaps it would stand to reason we'd experience our pain as somehow worse and more worthy of empathy, compassion and perhaps even sympathy, at the expense of others.

It reminds me of when I was in the midst of undergoing excruciating chemotherapy for a number of months. I felt as if literally every cell in my body was filled with screaming, piercing torture, but I continued to overcome it with work that I love and actually experienced being happy because the rest of my life was so blessed.

Well, my best friend John wrote a long, heart-rending story about how he had been cheated out of a competition win that everyone who witnessed the event agreed that he had won fair and square.

Only the judge, who was .. um, how do you say in English .. "close" to the winner, picked that person instead. The audience clearly saw what happened - something unfair. John was nothing less than devastated. He worked so hard; his heart was broken over this injustice.

My heart went out to him and I wrote him a rapid message of condolence, support and compassion. I told him I didn't have time to write as much as I wanted to because I was off to my chemo session but would resume my thoughts when I returned.

When I got back, pretty wiped out, I read his response to mine. He wrote how sorry he was that he had even bothered me with his problems because of what I was going through. That his pain was essentially so miniscule compared to what I was experiencing that he felt rather sheepish complaining to me!

Say, WHAT?

I told him: John, there is no such thing as comparitive pain. Pain is pain. It doesn't matter if you've been cheated out of an honor by some duplicitous judge, left at the alter by some dog or dogette, dumped by the love of your life, suffered through the loss of your pet snake, evicted from your home, stopped drinking if you're an alcoholic or going through chemotherapy.

Pain is pain and I need you to keep telling me when you are hurting - as I shall. That is what friendship is all about. I want to be there for you as I always have - and respond in the most supportive way I can, no matter what I'm enduring.

Your pain is no less excruciating than mine when you are in the midst of experiencing it.

Even the time it takes to recover might be the same. If its owner is madly in love with his pet snake, "Stretch," and the python dies, he may not find any relief from his grief for years - the same amount of time it takes to recover from chemo.

Pain is pain.

What does hurt more is to have your particular pain discounted; being told that your pain can't be "that bad" in comparison to someone else's.

Women who have miscarried, people who have lost a favorite job or experienced the death of a dream -- folks in these situations are often told to "get over it" after a short period of time, while the pain continues to haunt them.

Likewise, when someone acts as if their life, their experiences are more important than yours, that someone is unintentionally creating more pain in those whose lives he's discounting.

Those other people are made to feel as if their lives don't matter "as much," that they are not a priority, and generally this is preceded with a type of neglect because the other person - and their life - is not considered "as important."

As I say, fascinating - and this theme would make a great script. A comedy.

Say, come to think of it, this is the premise of the hysterical British situation comedy Absolutely Fabulous, written by and starring Jennifer Saunders!

Meanwhile, if you are hurting right now; experiencing any pain, on any level, for *any* reason - even if others don't understand how badly you feel?

Group hug.



Join the circle. Move in tight. There ya go. We can all virtually be here for each other!



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