Lessons From a Splinter

by Sebastian Slovin

I HATE SPLINTERS! Okay, that may sound a bit extreme. Let me just say that when I was a youngster there were few things I disliked more than getting a splinter. It wasn’t so much getting the splinter that was the issue; it was the process of removing it. I struggle with tweezers and needles and anything like that. Growing up, whenever I got a splinter (unless it was extremely easy to take out) my usual protocol was to leave it alone and ignore it. I would just go about my day like nothing happened. The problem was, as I’m sure you know, that ignoring a splinter doesn't typically work very well. Every time I put pressure on it, I was painfully reminded it was there. On occasion the splinter would come out on its own (I didn’t have a problem with those types of splinters) but most of the time it would get worse, leading to more pain.

I remember when I was in 3rd grade I was running outside and took a fall with a pencil in my pocket – not a good idea. The lead point stabbed into my thigh and broke off. At least it was my thigh, right? I pulled up my shorts to check it out. I wiped away the blood to find the lead too deep to easily pull out. In typical fashion, I didn’t do anything about it and just hoped that it would go away.  A few weeks later I ended up at the doctor’s office with an infected and very sore, red spot on my thigh. I sat there in agony as the doctor dug into my leg to try and get the lead out, which was now deep and covered with tissue.  It was a very unpleasant experience. I still have a little circular scar on my thigh reminding me of that time.

Clearly, my reason for not dealing with the lead right away wasn’t because I was lazy. It was because I wanted to avoid the pain of taking it out.  In hindsight it’s wild to think about how much more pain I ended up enduring by trying to ignore the situation. Logically, it makes more sense to deal with the few seconds, or minutes, of pain to address the root of the problem rather than ignoring it. Avoiding it doesn’t solve anything and it often brings ongoing pain. Relief is uncertain and the possibility of it getting worse lingers menacingly. The fear of dealing with and facing the pain can sometimes overpower the logic, as it did with me.

I have found this applies not just to splinters and physical injuries, but also with emotional pain or trauma. As difficult as it is to directly face the pain, ignoring it or running away doesn’t help in the long run. In fact, in the end it usually proves to be much more painful. I grew up not dealing with difficult things when they came my way and have seen the negative results of that sort of behavior over time. The effects of running away are so much worse than facing the pain and stepping into it. 

Now whenever I get a splinter, my perspective is different than when I was a youngster. I see the splinter not as a nuisance but as a great teacher. One that reminds me to tend to the root of the problem and to not run away.