Sunday, December 28, 2014

More on Suffering and Belonging

Writing in the New Yorker, Maria Konokova goes over some of the social science about pain and the sense of belonging to a group:
One explanation for the finding is the classic one: that the value comes from dissonance reduction and the need to convince yourself that a painful exercise was worth it. Another theory, however, derives from something closer to the idea expressed by Emile Durkheim, writing in The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life, that pain, when it does not occur naturally, creates communal bonds in part because “suffering creates exceptional strength.” The willingness and ability to endure pain for some greater cause tells you something about yourself and your fellow sufferers. A club is more valuable to you if you and everyone else endured feats of extreme physical endurance to enter it. Indeed, a study of injury among corps de ballet members of the Royal Ballet and former dancers who had been injured enough to end their careers found that pain was seen as both essential and defining for a dancer. “Part of the discipline is to have pain,” one dancer observed. Another made an injury a point of pride: “I danced hard with a sprained ankle, on a sprain!” Because ballet is such a physically grueling sport, and injury such a common occurrence, it is itself almost a mark of dedication and commitment. If you are injured, you are training hard. If you dance through an injury, you are committed to your success. Pain becomes a signal of your suffering, which reveals your identity and your loyalty to the group. You love ballet in part because everyone in it gets hurt; you love temple more because everyone who reached it had to suffer so much.
As psychologist Brock Bastian puts it,
We tend to overvalue pleasure, but pain is a central part of what it means to be human and what makes us happy.

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