An interesting article in the Times debated, or better still explicated, the contention many athletic and competitive people make when they say they love exercising through the pain. It concludes that pain, as some describe it, is not really pain as our nervous system might describe it: One Runner’s Suffering Is Another’s Inspiration
Having trained and competed in a sport – tae kwon do – inspired by causing pain in others (but unmistakeably causes pain in the athlete trying to cause it to the other – ask any boxer) I know a little about the pain and pleasure of training. To be honest, I never incurred serious pain – unless you want to include getting kicked in the groin, having serious tendon and bone injuries, etc as serious pain – but I do know that euphoria that takes place AFTER it’s all over. Man, it’s great when class is over and you and your colleagues limp out of there like limp noodles all wet and droopy. What pleasure!
Honestly, tho, all athletes know of someone who actually did compete in serious if not life threatening pain, and what kind of reward must have been offered to make it possible for them to continue?
I would argue on a third definition as from the two in the article above: the pleasure of communal experience.
Much like laughter or the thrill of a last-second, game-winning goal, the joint sharing of that experience is often enough to drive athletes to work through the pain, and I do mean real pain. We see this in sport, we see it in the military (read “lone survivor” about the Navy SEALS team that fought its way to nearly-complete destruction in Afghanistan), and we even see it in business. Yes, in business, esp in fast-paced, hi-caliber team-decision making businesses, like marketing and advertising, where groups work together on projects often into the wee hours of the morning for days or weeks on end, suffering each others attitudes, ideas, idiosyncrasies, and personalities, if not eating behaviors and body odors, all for the common goal, the one they are all striving to accomplish in competition with inside or outside competitors. All enduring pain for the common pleasure of victory.
Now, is this truly pain? This is like asking if people with depression are really depressed. Mental pain, accompanied by physical discomfort, is pain, too. Is it equal to the pain of extreme hunger – see – Does Eating Give You Pleasure, Or Make You Anxious?
– to get a new perspective on that, anorexics, for example, don’t feel pleasure from food; they feel anxiety. Brain scans show it. Is it equal to the pain of having your leg blown off by a mine? How many acts of bravery and grit in battle are noted because of the extremity of physical damage to the perpetrator, all to be overcome, or discounted, for the pleasure, if you can call it that, of standing alongside one’s buddies and comrades during difficult times?
No, I would argue that pain is pain, and that sometimes, in certain circumstances, with certain people by your side, the pain you are willing to endure is not only real, it’s even enjoyable in a certain kind of way. It’s what makes us, as individuals and as a group of whatever sort, better.