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Are you in pain? If so, are you reactive or responsive to it?

1,587 words

You either react to pain. Or respond to the need causing the pain. Which do you usually do? React? Or respond?


To react or respond?

Emotions convey the duration of your needs. Some of it voluntary and some not.


You see something flung in your direction. You react. You automatically duck. It turns out to be a wad of paper, missing you by a meter or more. Your friend, the tosser, laughs. You laugh along without thinking.

You have little to no control for how long your body reports the need. Or how long it takes your body to pick up on the results of your actions. In between, you’re afforded a quick reaction or a drawn-out response.

When your safety is immediately threatened, you react.

When the situation calls for some reflective decision-making, you respond.

Life is chocked full of each kind of circumstance. Moral decisions run thick with this question of reacting or responding.

To relieve pain or resolve needs?

Reactive to relieve pain

If unemployed, your standard path out of the pain is to win the job.

If sued, your standard path out of the pain is to win the case.

If facing critical government action, or inaction, your standard path out of the pain is to win at the ballot box.

You’re faced with binary options. Win-lose. Black-and-white thinking. Little if any thought for the needs on the other side. All or nothing. You stay focused on relieving pain, with little thought of its source.

Responsive to resolve needs

If overworked, you’re looking to delegate some functions while applying the Pareto principle on what can be left undone.

If dragged through arbitration, you focus on details you must keep and whatever minutia you can let go.

If negotiating a political solution, you favor what’s essential for your base while ready to slide on lesser matters.

You shift from generalizing to specifics. More toward win-win. You take stock of the needs on all sides. You focus on resolving needs, at the root of the pain.

To rely on rules or on principles?


You go along with opposing norms. Employer-employee. Accuser-accused. Liberal-conservative. The more you’re in economic, judicial or political pain, the more these seem to capture what is real.

You latch onto their comforting generalizations. You follow their simple rules, to win support. You find others of the same tribe. Together sharing the same pain, you oppose the other side for relief.

When steeped in pain, these binary norms come in handy. It keeps things relatively simple. Your mind is already overloaded with other things. The simplicity helps get things done.

Binary norms also tend to perpetuate the underlying problems behind all this pain. Generalizing rarely gets to specifics. The needs themselves remain mostly underserved.


You transcend opposing norms. You see beyond simplified binaries like employer-employee, accuser-accused, liberal-conservative.

You sense the needs within each. You realize conflict remains fueled when locked into a struggle that lets these needs remain underserved.

You seek to resolve specific needs. You endure the pain long enough to get to its source. You patiently suffer.

But if the pain doesn’t go down quick enough, you may find it hard to focus. The pain may overwhelm you. Binary options offering relief become more attractive. Rinse and repeat.

What is your “conventionality orientation”?

Or perhaps you don’t cycle back and forth. You likely orient to one more than the other. You settle into a pattern that fits your personality.

If you’re cisconventionally orientated

You aspire to higher ideals like “love thy neighbor” but they don’t pay your bills. You’ve endured what can be called the “misconventional effect”—waiting for higher principles to resolve needs, but results are so slow in coming that your find yourself overwhelmed in function-limiting pain.

You latch onto what’s pragmatic. You do what you must to pay your bills. You take sides in a court battle.

You see one political side clearly in the right, while the other must be wrong. Your relief from pain counts on it.

You align with the given conventions for the situation. You’re reactive. You get things done. You are cisconventional.

You likely remain there. Unless reflective on how it isn’t working for you. Unless overwhelmed by the dysconventional effect.

If you’re transconventionally orientated

Perhaps you’ve tried following these norms but they don’t resolve your needs. You encounter what can be called the “dysconventional effect”—tired of following divisive norms that don’t resolve the root of all this pain.

You see beyond the generalized differences between employer and employee, between accuser and accused, and beyond liberal and conservative. You taste your own entrepreneurial potential to serve some marketable need.

You feel the needs impacted on both sides of a court case. You appreciate something of substance on both sides of the political aisle.

You transcend the contentious conventions for the situation. You’re responsive. You get to the core. You are transconventional.

You likely remain there. Unless overwhelmed with pain to avoid. Unless overwhelmed by the misconventional effect.

Historical examples: Peter & Paul

The Apostle Paul of the New Testament exemplifies a transconventional orientation.

He transcended oppositional categories. “There is neither Jew nor Greek, neither slave nor free, nor male and female” in the oneness of Christ (Gal. 3:28).

He moved beyond these provisional categories. He reached toward our deeper potential. He laid down a fresh liberating path. In other words, responsive to needs on all sides.

Like many who are transconventional, he was also a late comer to the scene. His radical message met resistance from within the movement. And his message was not always easy to understand.

Saint Peter of the New Testament exemplifies a cisconventional orientation.

He exuded self-confidence. He stood firm and remained reliable when the early movement needed to find its solid footing.

He served as a foundation for others to follow. In other words, reactive for those requiring decisive direction.

Like many who are cisconventional, he was also often impetuous. He maintained adherence to the given rules. He was prone to error.

Historical examples: Dr. King & Stokely Carmichael

Dr. Martin Luther King exemplifies a transconventional orientation.

He transcended the literal black-and-white oppositional category. “Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” To him, nonviolence was a foundational way of life.

“Hate is too great a burden to bear.” And, “Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” In other words, responsive to needs on all sides.

Like many who are transconventional, he saw moral responsibility transcending unjust laws. His radical message met resistance from within the movement. And his message was not always easy to understand.

Stokely Carmichael exemplifies a cisconventional orientation.

He saw the need to assert what he called “black power” to peel back generations of internalized racial shame. He exuded self-confidence.

He provided a viable alternative to those who strongly felt they no longer had a cheek to turn. He served as a foundation for others to follow. In other words, reactive for those suffering in pain.

Like many who are cisconventional, he was also more impetuous. To him, nonviolence was only one of many tactics. He connected with those daily enduring entrenched racism is a form of violence, who knew all too well how nonviolence is not the absence of violence. In taking this more pragmatic approach, be became more prone to error.

Others more transconventionally responsive than cisconventionally reactive

Others exhibiting transconventional responsiveness to needs on all sides includes

  • Socrates,

  • Jesus, and

  • Gandhi.

Socrates stepped back from the standard assumption that we can be certain of anything. “The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing.” He transcended the conventions of his day.

“I am not an Athenian, nor a Greek, but a citizen of the world.” Cutting against the status quo of might-makes-right, he willingly died by hemlock to preserve his imperishable integrity.

Jesus turned conventional wisdom on its head. “Love your enemies.” He kept being responsive to the needs of all. “It’s not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.”

His transconventional wisdom served as a grand balancer. “The self-exalted will be humbled, while the humbled will be exalted.” The needs of everyone has a place to go.

Gandhi transcended religious and political barriers to respond to overlooked needs. “The true measure of any society can be found in how it treats its most vulnerable members.”

He saw violence as temporarily reactive, while permanently damaging. “Whenever you are confronted with an opponent, conquer him with love.” And, “What barrier is there that love cannot break?”

Do you know anyone who is transconventionally responsive?

I count myself among the transconventional. No, I do not boast of being in the same league with them. I suspect most transconventional folks are lost to history.

They can’t help but cut against the grain. They must respond to overlooked needs, and pay the price.

The bulk of status quo norms favors being reactive. Being divisive—pitting one against another, for the sake of reactive relief from pain. Cisconventionality easily resists transconventional responsibility.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been compelled to respect all needs in a situation. Even if required to endure some pain for a while. Even while denounced as a fence-sitter. Because they’re reactive.

Thankfully, I remain in good company. No wrongful conviction can hold back the purpose for which I was born—to replace divisive hate with binding love. At whatever personal cost I must face.

Eventually, the reactive need us who are more responsive. As we need them, to get things done. Indeed, we all need each other. We need each other’s love.


Steph Turner is the founder of Value Relating, offering a viable alternative to stigmatizing psychotherapy, by inviting clients to speak their truth to power. Check how well you fit into conventional norms with this quiz.

Steph is a self-described transspirit, which is a kind of sacred misfit. By transcending conventional limits—gender norms, religious identities, political polarities, and more—Steph experiences a unique connection in life. And suspects others do as well. This blog shares that spirituality, and affirms others of a similar state of being.

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