That’s Gonna Hurt

It has not been a great football season for my alma mater. One of the reasons is injuries. Sometimes people say, “He got hurt,” when they are talking about an injury that has taken someone out of the game. I always say to myself (which is something I am practicing),“The whole game hurts; that dude is injured.” There is a difference.

In the course of playing a college football game, players get hit a lot. Someone weighing 200-300 lbs. smashing into you at a full run has got to hurt. I am guessing at this as I never played football at any level, but I bet I’m not wrong. There is pain associated with getting smacked to the ground by a big dude (or several).

Sometimes the effect of the way someone steps or falls or gets hit results in an injury. Blown knees, messed up ankles, torn shoulders—the list is endless. An injury takes the player out of the game and may keep them out for a while. Injuries take time to heal. Injuries hurt, but hurt isn’t always an injury. There is a difference.

Like a game of football, our daily lives often result in us taking some hits. We can be misunderstood, not heard, devalued, underappreciated, overworked, or just mistreated. You can add as many things to this list as you like. All hits hurt. There is real pain associated with emotional hits.

Being in a community with other imperfect human beings almost guarantees that we will experience hurt. In a healthy community, we hope those hurts are accidental, not intentional, but they happen all the same. The point of football isn’t to hurt each other; it’s to score and keep the other team from scoring. In the pursuit of that goal, there is hurt and sometimes injury.

Likewise, as we pursue our organizational goals, there will be conflict and hurt. It’s not unhealthy to take a hit now and then. Sometimes a hit results in injury. What determines the health of our community is how we treat hurt and injury, which means we must be able to tell the difference.

An emotional hurt can be as simple as not getting our way or being slighted by another person. It can also be someone saying or doing something that makes me uncomfortable or leads to me feeling negative emotions. It is unpleasant. It leaves a sting. What it doesn’t do is incapacitate me unless I choose to let it.

Hurt needs to be shaken off. Rub some dirt on it and get back in the game. This is not about whether what happened was ok; it wasn’t. This is about how we respond to what happened. If football players left the field and sat on the sideline every time they got hit, the game would grind to a halt. Likewise, we will struggle to accomplish any worthwhile thing if we let small hurts slow us down.

Emotional injury (trauma) is another matter altogether. Emotional trauma is the result of events or experiences that leave us feeling deeply unsafe and often helpless. It can result from a single event or be part of an ongoing experience such as chronic abuse, bullying, discrimination, or humiliation. It is incapacitating.

Emotional trauma can’t be shaken off any more than a broken bone or a torn tendon. If you tear your ACL during a difficult play, you don’t get up and get back in the game. You go to the locker room. You get medical attention. You get treated. You do rehabilitative therapy. Then, once you are properly and completely healed, you get back in the game. Get the point?

When we get hurt, we need to suck it up and get back in the game. When we get injured, we need to raise our hand and get the help we need. You can’t shake off trauma; it must be processed and healed, and you can’t do that alone. A healthy community knows the difference between hurt and injury and treats each appropriately.

Life is gonna hurt. When it does, a healthy community helps you up, dusts you off, and sends you back in the game. Life shouldn’t be traumatic, but it often is. A healthy community is a safe place to raise your hand when you are down with an injury so you can get the help you need. A healthy community will cover for you, take your place on the line, and give you time to heal. A healthy leader creates a culture where you are encouraged to get back in the game if you’re only hurt but are given time to heal if you are injured, because that is The Bison Way.