The Pain Footprint


We’re all hearing about carbon footprints. We may not be quite sure what they are. If approached on the street with a question, I doubt I’d be able to define “carbon footprint”.


Wikipedia says: “A measure of the total amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane (CH4) emissions of a defined population, system or activity, considering all relevant sources, sinks and storage within the spatial and temporal boundary of the population, system or activity of interest.”


That’s good enough for me.


At least we’re starting to keep track, to identify the greatest polluters, to say large carbon footprints cause harm.


We haven’t yet reached that point with what I’m hereby naming the “pain footprint”.


Just like polluters who produce a great deal of harmful emissions, some people produce a lot of pain.


You can identify them. Not by a glance, unless they’re infamous, but certainly by their actions. Those actions that result in harm, torment, injury, torture, even death.


The biggies can be ticked off automatically: Hitler, Mussolini, Stalin, Mao, etcetera. Their henchmen. The still incompletely identified men who committed atrocities and genocide around the globe; their younger brothers – in spirit – continue to do so.


Then there are the not-quite-world-stage pain producers like murderers, rapists, torturers. They include people who enslave others, who pimp out others, who cause terror in the minds of those who are subject to them. Who molest and beat others, who kidnap and hold them. They can include the shadowy man across the street, or the guy at your church. Your neighbor. Your colleague. Your child’s coach. Your friend. Your relative.


Then there are the pain producers who work only on the emotions. They don’t need to cause physical pain. They’re effective – intentionally or not – just as they are. You know them. They’re the liars, the gaslighters, the ignorers. The people who say one thing and do another. Who insult others, put them down, emotionally degrade them. The time was when taunts would be responded to with “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me”. What innocents we were! Naturally, painful words hurt – they’re processed by the brain in exactly the same way as a cut or burn. The brain treats them as identical. So should we.


Two recent names in the news emblemize people with a large pain footprint.


Jovan Belcher, a 25-year-old professional American football player who had vowed to fight against violence against women, pumped nine bullets into the body of his girlfriend Kassandra Perkins, three years younger than he – she had given birth to their 3-month-old baby – apparently because he disagreed with her perception that she needed a break from the constant needs of an infant, went out with girlfriends, and had a good time at a concert. The baby’s grandmother was caring for the infant, and in fact had travelled cross-country to help out in that way. She also witnessed the murder. Belcher then drove to his work, talked to his coaches, pulled out the same gun (a gun he had practiced with many times at a firing range) and shot himself in front of them.


Talk about a pain footprint!


Belcher’s girlfriend; his mother; the baby, who now will never know either of her parents; Belcher’s coaches; his fellow players; all the families and friends of the survivors – especially those who witnessed the murder or suicide at close range.


From the blood and sudden brutality of Jovan Belcher, let’s move to the quieter but painful world of David Petraeus. He didn’t kill anyone – not lately, that is. No one he knew died. Nor were they physically tortured, raped, forced into prostitution.


But he did kill. He killed trust, he killed respect. He annihilated the hearts and minds of people who cared for him, who even believed that he believed in his better self. He hurt his wife and children, the husband and children of Paula Broadwell, his friends and extended family, his colleagues and neighbors.


“I screwed up royally,” he wrote in a letter to a friend. Well, of course. When you consider yourself a king, there’s no other way to screw up.


That’s a lot of pain, General. A lot of pain spewed willy-nilly, pain that will not recede anytime soon, and for what? Those people who cared about you, they deserved better.


Your pain footprint is high. So was Jovan Belcher’s. If we were talking carbon footprint, you two would be prime offenders.


The thing about pain, it doesn’t evaporate. Like CO2 and CH4 emissions, it hangs around. People who hurt other people create a toxic environment as much as any smokestack. That’s why bad bosses in the workplace cause so much havoc. They’re hurting people.


Let’s start looking at people’s pain footprints as a way to begin measurements and evaluation.


That’s where we start.



1 Comment

Filed under Belcher, Brain, Mental health, Mental illness, Misogyny, Pain, Pain footprint, Petraeus, Rape, Rape is torture

One response to “The Pain Footprint

  1. Pam Clark

    Patrice this is an insightful analogy and eloquent description of pain and its toxicity. From the recognizable level of the “evil” dictator to the insidious erosion of daily commentary we may be receiving in the workplace or at home, your suggestion that we consider this more is an important step in moving away from pain towards nurture in our relationships.
    Thank you for sharing this!

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