In our modern world, discomfort is considered a terrible thing. If not terrible, at least a thing of the past. Dishwashers, washing machines, computers, remote controls—yes, they add convenience, but also a level of comfort our forefathers did not enjoy.
Pain of any kind thwarts happiness, we tend to reason, and so anything that compromises our ability to feel good must be bad (who hasn’t seen a commercial for a pain reliever?) But that’s also particularly true for our careers. Success feels great, not lousy! Such a view, however, is in the eye of the beholder. And it may blind us to unforeseen opportunities.
“Suffering from the world”
Artists throughout history have consistently courted suffering, instinctively if not consciously, to produce works that explore the darker recesses of the human condition. This was done, in part, because pain is a reality of life for everybody in some form at some time. Pain is something everybody can relate to. And pain makes a person very present. For such artists, to ameliorate or to deny pain would be to block the creative muses, that which drives them to explore and express. In fact, Germans have a term for this melancholia, “Weltschmerz”, which means “suffering from the world.” Writers, from Lord Byron to Kurt Vonnegut, have used the term to describe the psychological pain encountered along life’s roller-coaster journey. It was not to be avoided: it was to be understood, investigated, employed.
When it comes to movies, box office receipts bear witness to the fact that we are drawn to brooding superheroes; the gleeful ones just don’t possess the adequate level of gravitas required to save the world or revolutionize it. (Think “Batman Begins”.) And while we may not want to feel anguish of any kind, we don’t mind seeing it in others, from the safety and comfort of the cinema or one’s own dreamy couch, if it evokes a profound revelation, or flashes of insight. When the pain can be viewed from a distance, one can more easily discern the value of the struggle. Yes, there is value.