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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.