Different kinds of pain summon different terms of art: hurt, suffering, ache, trauma, angst, wounds, damage. Pain is general and holds the others under its wings; hurt connotes something mild and often emotional; angst is the most diffuse and the most conducive to dismissal as something nebulous, sourceless, self-indulgent, and affected. Suffering is epic and serious; trauma implies a specific devastating event and often links to damage, its residue. While wounds open to the surface, damage happens to the infrastructure—often invisibly, irreversibly—and damage also carries the implication of lowered value. Wound implies en media res: The cause of injury is in the past but the healing isn’t done; we are seeing this situation in the present tense of its immediate aftermath. Wounds suggest sex and aperture: A wound marks the threshold between interior and exterior; it marks where a body has been penetrated. Wounds suggest that the skin has been opened—that privacy is violated in the making of the wound, a rift in the skin, and by the act of peering into it.
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Oliver Burkeman: “I believe the best CEOs are truly ‘Chief Emotions Officers’,” writes Chip Conley, early on in his book Emotional Equations: Simple Formulas To Help Your Life Work Better. This is an inauspicious start. Conley himself is “chief emotions officer” of an American hotel chain and thus joins those with similarly wannabe-edgy corporate titles – Sales Ninja, Social Media Rockstar, Chief Evangelist of Wow – in the section of my business card organizer labelled First Against The Wall When The Revolution Comes. Worse, his book promises to reduce the ambiguities of emotional life to a series of pithy mathematical equations, along the lines of “despair = suffering – meaning” and “curiosity = wonder + awe”. In short: Conley’s job title + my scepticism + some uncomfortable echoes of that “Blue Monday” claptrap about the formula for the most depressing day of the year = very low expectations indeed.
Yet a recalculation is in order, because it turns out the book, out now in the US and published in Britainin April, contains a valuable kernel of an idea. Conley was forced to confront his previously ignored emotional life when he lost a friend to suicide, then suffered seemingly work-induced heart failure; perhaps these experiences explain why his “emotional equations” are far less glib than the label implies. After Viktor Frankl’s Holocaust memoir, Man’s Search For Meaning, got him through a very dark period, Conley concluded that its message was “despair = suffering – meaning”, an elegant distillation of Frankl’s insight that extremes of anguish need not destroy the soul if a sense of purpose, and of choosing the meaning of one’s experiences, remains. (Admittedly, Nietzsche put it better: “He who has a why can bear with almost any how.”) Meanwhile “suffering = pain x resistance” arguably pinpoints the essence of Buddhism: pain may be unavoidable but suffering is optional, and it’s the product of struggling against pain.
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