At the time of this writing, I am at home recuperating from surgery which required multiple entry wounds in the abdomen. The pain afterwards was at a magnitude I had never experienced. Now a few days out, the pain is lessening each day.
While watching an episode of 60 Minutes, I happened to see a segment on a federal judge whose family was attacked by a man irate at one of her legal rulings. The gunman disguised himself as a Fed Ex delivery person and started shooting as soon as the front door opened. The son was killed, her husband shot multiple times in the abdomen. Looking down at my own abdominal wounds, I couldn’t stop thinking about how different our experiences were. If we imagine for a moment that our wounds were equal, our experience of pain is likely very different. I chose to have this surgery, and the procedure to remove a cancerous prostate may indeed save my life. I went to great lengths to see the surgeon who did the procedure and had excellent care afterward. The doctor and staff told me exactly what to expect in the trajectory of the pain and they seem to be right on target.
This reveals a principle in the experience of pain called “perceived injustice”. In my case, I chose to endure this journey, one that I knew would be painful but would have positive outcomes. Through the fault (and ill intentions) of someone else, the husband of the federal judge will be in pain for likely far longer than someone like myself, even if our wounds were equal. The wounds may be equal, but the meaning behind them very different.
Perceived injustice is a multifaceted principle, but one of the ways it can commonly surface is with whiplash. If car A is distracted and runs into car B who is sitting at a stop light, the occupant of car B is far more likely to suffer injury. While the pain, doctor visits, and multiple calls to insurance companies fall to the people in Car B, the accident is the fault of the driver of car A. That sense of injustice makes the experience of pain worse.
The larger principle? It isn’t just what you feel, it is what you think it means. For the husband of the judge, his scars will forever remind him of the senseless death of his son. I can’t imagine that kind of pain.