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.