Pain as a Function of Building Character

Welcome to Part 2.

If you somehow missed Part 1, who cares. Just know that I had acne for awhile and that I think it made me more likable.

Pain is one of those things that grows sweeter with time, like bananas and the old.

It feels good to talk about the shitty days we’ve not only survived, but supposedly come out of wiser and stronger.

The Discovery Channel knows this.

Along with their usual catching-crabs-as-a-vehicle-for-absentee-fatherhood thing, the show Deadliest Catch also reserves an entire mini-series for captains to swap yarns about the biggest waves that almost orphaned their crews’ kids. And they really get a kick out of it.

Ooohhh-ho-ho man! Jenny nearly lost him that day!

Ooohhh-ho-ho man, Tyler and Sarah nearly lost him that day!

Sailors who survive their first few trips are called “seasoned,” but seasoned by what? A rope-slap to the face. A crab claw to the netherparts. A frostbitten ring finger that they maybe chopped off a little too hastily.

In other words, pain and suffering.

It’s hard to go a day without hearing or seeing mention of the Pain ==> Personal Growth concept.

If you’ve ever read the comic, Calvin and Hobbes, you’ve probably noticed the recurring motif of growth through pain.


Pain = labor. Growth = “building character”

Every 30 panels or so, Calvin’s dad denies Calvin’s request to make his life easier because he needs to “build character.”

But does pain really help anyone become a better person? Does it actually work?

To help answer that question, I’ve plotted a graph of suffering vs. growth, pictured below.

Now, this is interesting.

The more suffering, the more growth, right? Well, sort of.

With Superman we hit a point of diminishing returns. After Kypton’s explosion forces a husband and wife to adopt a spacebaby, Clark Kent grows up with an unflagging moral compass, which actually makes him an insufferable asshole. He does the right thing all the time, and it gets old very fast.

Despite his tragic and humble beginnings, he still comes off as the cop who would pull over other cops for speeding. Dude’s a wet blanket, planet or no planet.

Now, Batman gets pretty cool after his parents are tragically murdered. He stops being a reclusive dickhead billionaire and starts being a vigilante dickhead billionaire. Better.

And Bambi? Well, Bambi figures it out. After his mom dies, his dad takes him aside and give him the ole “You’re going to have to be the next ‘Great Prince of the Forest'” talk.

And you know what Bambi does? He becomes the next Great Prince of that Goddamned Forest.

And boy does he look good doing it.

Man alive, does he look good.


Not pictured: all that wet, wet deer puss.

You think Bambi would’ve landed GPOTF if he’d gotten brunch with his mom every Sunday? Absolutely not.

He would’ve been Duke of That Shrub Over There.


And who wants to be DOTSOT? Superman, that’s who, the f#@$ing narc.

My point is this. Bambi reached what we can refer to as “Peak Optimal Suffering” — just the right amount of pain to fuel positive change.

And there it is, folks. Ironclad proof that you really can enhance your personality through adversity.

But there have to be other ways, right?

Otherwise, how is it that all beautiful, fair-skinned children don’t grow up to become sociopaths? Or even worse, boring?

How do they develop tact or wit?

Do they have any motivation to better themselves if not to distract from their volcanic chins?

Well, if you’ve seen even one Miss America pageant, the answer is this: No.

It’s a big fat no.

Sometimes being hot is good enough to coast through middle school, high school, and all life itself.

As it turns out, some of our pore-less peers did grow up to be callous, boring, or rude.

Remember the guy from Pt. 1? The guy who asked me “Why don’t you wash your face?” in seventh grade? My “friend,” so defined in the interest of brevity?

You got it? You remember?

Good, because he didn’t have pimples or an ounce of social awareness. We were only in seventh grade when he asked me, “Why don’t you wash your face?” but at that age, pleading the Fifth on empathy isn’t really defensible. If you’re old enough to take suspiciously-long showers, you’re old enough to love thy neighbor. Ja’feel?

If ja’felt, follow the link to keep on trucking through my overanalyzed childhood as compare myself to Job and diagnose myself with a made-up illness. The Modern Leper (Pt. 3): Productphobia. If you’re averse to clicking, just scroll down.


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