Why try to mitigate pain instead of rolling with the punches?

Recently I have been reading yet again about an esoteric subject-this time about how boxers deal with pain.

I was driven to this subject by my grandson who is very, very good at judo. Recently, he had to get his mouth stitched. Faced with my questioning and worry, he told me that his training includes coping with pain, and to an extent, even enjoying it because “judo is also about enduring pain, and even reaching a stage where it does not bother you all that much”.

I went on to read quite a bit about the brutal Thrilla in Manilla, as well as as what it feels like taking punches from the hardest of hitters (Tyson, Foreman, Marciano). I also read what it feels like during the month after you have been knocked out.

These were great reads, because of both the pride and “working through” that boxers experience as they absorb the punishment that they take with such grace and acceptance.

Of course, enduring pain should not become an ideology. I suffer from chronic back pain (my height and genetics) and I do not like it when told that I need to embrace pain instead of taking a Aleve.

While enduring pain is not an ideology, it sure is a necessity especially in organizations; unfortunately, OD does not give pain appropriate focus.

There are imho several reasons for our professions’ misguided attempts to mitigate pain:

  • There are built in conflicts between individual and the organizational needs that cannot be resolved. We are often hired to make that inevitable pain disappear.
  • Mutual dependencies in organizations are often unfulfilled, and are unfulfilled by design. (build fast and build cheap). We are often hired to pretend that teamwork is a cure for unfullfilled dependencies.
  • Technology enables people to communicate far faster than they can act, causing massive overload and burn out. OD has a whole tool kit to “apparently” improve communication, which often does not address the source of the pain-we cannot deal with so much information coming our way so fast.

And that is just the beginning of the list.

Attempts to mitigate the pain, also called wellness, engagement or some other fancy fad, try to plaster over the pain, deny it, and can worsen it. As a result, some OD interventions (stress management) are seen as bullshit, or a derivative thereof.

Pain has a function. Feel it, roll with the punches, and don’t make it go away.

It’s there for a reason. Look the reason with honesty and see what can be done. Don’t try to fool people with snake oil.

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4 thoughts on “Why try to mitigate pain instead of rolling with the punches?

  1. The other day I was explaining to a young student of psychology how the positive psychology movement has led people to deny pain than deal with it. That’s what is now labeled as toxic positivity by Susan David and others. On the one side those used to the positivity loop seal themselves from real confrontation. The threshold for pain is ridiculously low now in organisational life. The productisation of ‘fun’ and ‘wellness’ may short circuit real movement through anxiety.
    That’s also perhaps why Viktor Fankl asked for a statue of Responsibility, to complement the statue of Liberty.
    Hence competence in helping is going to why a pain function exists, as you say. Avoidance is not a growth strategy.

  2. In the 90s I worked for a major NGO in Chicago whose tech was stone age. When we finally got email, people 2 cubicles apart started sending emails instead of getting up & walking the 15 feet to talk.

  3. There’s a memorable line from the movie The Long Kiss Goodnight where assassin Samantha (played by Geena Davis) tells her daughter “Life is pain. Get used to it.”

    Yes, life is filled with pain. And we have to learn to deal with it.

    One of the lessons I learned in my OD journey is to identify “pain points” where the organization is hurting. Like an ache in the body, the pain point is signaling some underlying issue that needs attention.

  4. Thanks Alon,
    The other problem I see in our society is the emphasis on trauma to the point where everyone is walking around thinking they have are suffering a pathology caused by trauma. Life is indeed full of trauma, even ancestral trauma, but it is also counterbalanced by resilience and resourcefulness. Victor Frankl and Elie Wiesel are examples indeed.
    That is what my book on moving forward from trauma is about.
    Dr. Gita Arian Baack gitbaack.com

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