If It Hurts, It Means You’re Alive

My tough-minded imaginary friend reminds me often, “If it hurts, it means you’re alive.” He is right. I have never experienced growth in any category that didn’t hurt. The high school growth spurt, achieving fitness goals, admitting my mistakes, deepening the intimate character of my marriage, or taking on bigger responsibilities at work.

Maybe it is the modern middle class malady of America post WWII that our culture has elevated comfort as the telos (i.e. purpose, goal) of our lives. There is a certain irony that in our comfort seeking we cause ourselves and others a lot of discomfort. So in reality, we create and endure all sorts of pain to attain some kind of discrete comfort.

I cannot help but think about the cautionary tale of Pixar’s Wall-E. Wall-E shows us that thoughtless consumption is dangerous for our own persons, society, and planet. When society stops asking questions and falls into a level of thoughtlessness we serve the status quo and, in the case of Wall-e, nurtured what became a saccharin cess pool of comfort. On the flip side thoughtfulness is painful. Thoughtfulness in action means reflecting, reflecting means asking questions, and questions hold the potentiality of undoing the status quo.

The romantic side of asking questions is discovery, adventure, and curiosity. The realistic side of asking questions is a headache, uncertainty, and anxiety.

Wall-E, the robot, through a spark of curiosity grows beyond his finite programming and in that becomes the most human character. His growth becomes the catalyst to a series of events that wreak havoc on the status quo ultimately leading to merely biological humans rediscovering their transcendent teleological nature.

Christian Smith says it well:

Essential to grasp is the ineradicably teleological character of human personal life. Being a person is not about stasis or equilibrium. It is about going somewhere, pursuing an end. Life must entail personal growth, unfolding, and development that moves in right directions (and so also has the potential to move in wrong directions). For human persons, existence is not a happening to simply take in, but an active journey, a movement toward a proper destination. That inherently implies that the present, the status quo, where one is now, is not good enough, not the right place, not the final destination. One needs to move, to change, to get somewhere. To stay put would be to stagnate, to fail to realize one’s true end. One has to get on the roads of life, to move toward the goal, to achieve a purpose that is presently unfulfilled.

Smith, Christian (2015-03-23). To Flourish or Destruct: A Personalist Theory of Human Goods, Motivations, Failure, and Evil (p. 206). University of Chicago Press. Kindle Edition.

What Is Your Origin Story, and Does It Matter?

Every hero or leader has an origin story. Why do we care about where someone came from? Sometimes we simply have a sense of curiosity about someone we meet. Often the interest in someone’s origin is to help us understand her present behavior or how she achieved so much. We believe that if we learn where she came from, who her family was, what she experienced then we would understand her.

If we were to be honest, the origin stories we most care about are the individuals who have achieved greatness or notoriety. Those who stand out the most make us want to learn their stories. How did they become who they are today? Why do they do what they do? We think we want to understand them, but really we are trying to understand our story better.

The latest neuroscience research has only confirmed what we already knew about humans. We love a good story. But it is more than love; we need a good story. We are wired to infer a causal relationship between everything we experience. The more stories we consume, the better we get at communicating a story of our lives. (StoryCorps is a great place to start to consuming profound stories of normal people.)

In the paragraph above, I deliberately wrote a story of our lives not the story of our lives. Do you know how many books have been written on the life of Lincoln, Jesus, Hitler, etc? We are still trying to understand these influential people and so we keep writing and we keep reading. Similar to the cooking challenges we watch on TV, the chefs are given the same ingredients and are asked to make something unique, we are always gathering the disparate ingredients of our lives and trying to make it cohere into something meaningful.

Just like the most interesting super heroes and villains, you and I have origin stories. An origin story is simply your answer to the following question: How do you make sense of how you have arrived to this day? Origin stories are interesting because they are driven and defined by a future event. The arc is defined and the story plays out. The hook in the story is the desire to discover and understand the how and why of the character. It is not to discover the plot. It is to fill in the blanks. It is to make the inexplicable accessible.