Human dev is a good thing, isn’t it?

 

I recently heard the story behind this line:

“Finally, I had come to terms with a fundamental, hard-to-face fact of life. I understood that suffering and death are not exceptional conditions that afflict the unfortunate. They are the essential challenges around which every worthy life is built.”

Human development is a good thing, isn’t it? We want to grow, evolve, become better in our jobs and relationships.

It seems almost paradoxical, then, that development is often caused by intense despair, depression, and mental turmoil.

Why?

I started researching and ran into something interesting from Leeds Beckett University. Their human development research continues to turn up the same piece of data over and over again: “depression or despair are the most common trigger of transformational experiences.”

Most common. Not sometimes. Most.

Personal turmoil — from losing a parent, to experiencing a serious health crisis, to being fired from a job — is a key ingredient for human developmental.

Leeds dug deeper. They found that people who travel through tough times report a firmer sense of identity. They have a much clearer understanding of their own core values, reduced anxiety regarding death, fewer attachments to material goods, and a stronger feeling of connection with others. In short, they experienced a developmental leap.

They even have a name for these leaps: suffering-induced transformational experiences (SITEs).

These leaps can be large, or small, can last a week, or a year. But they always include suffering.

 

He called it Tinkering School. Where leaps take place.

Six years ago a friend of mine started a new type of school for kids. The school was built around a singular idea: getting hurt is ok.

He called it Tinkering School, and students used hammers, saws, and raw materials to create innovative projects.

“Tinkering” meant that kids were creating through trial and error, and they usually got decently beat up along the way. This, of course, caused an uproar from parents everywhere. Which is understandable, we want our kids to be safe.

But Tinkering School has confirmed what the researchers at Leeds have been discovering. By enduring suffering, our kids develop more far rapidly. And holistically.

Tinkering School creates a safe space where SITEs can take place.

By allowing our kids to suffer a little now, they are far better equipped to handle the suffering that was sure to come later.

The psych world is discovering the same phenomenon. Two researchers, Tedeschi and Calhoun, call it Post-Traumatic Growth, or PTG. They observed that humans experiencing hardship have “a qualitative increase in functioning across all domains.” They emphasize that it brings a new sense of competency and confidence in identity, a new sense of possibility, clearer life meaning, and increased personal development.

Developing without suffering is like 3G. It works. Kinda. But it sucks.

But when we suffer. When we find ourselves in a muddy street, sick and alone, our own human development is energized and accelerated.

We all are suffering. We suffer because of race, gender, sexual orientation, socio-economic stress. Because of parents, or kids. Or mistakes.

We don’t always see the suffering in others, but it’s there.

And it’s changing us.

For the better.

“Finally, I had come to terms with a fundamental, hard-to-face fact of life. I understood that suffering and death are not exceptional conditions that afflict the unfortunate. They are the essential challenges around which every worthy life is built.”

May we not embrace our suffering, but may we endure it. And then embrace the worthy life that follows.

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