There are two types of people in this world: those who frame everything in terms of binary opposition, those who enjoy ranting about people in the world, and those who are bad at counting.
But what I meant to say is that some people seem to really enjoy challenges, and some people don’t. I was thinking about this because last week a friend of mine suggested that a problem I was having was really an opportunity -- or as I like to call it, a "prob-portunity" -- because it was a challenge for me, and challenges are good. I was, perhaps, skeptical.
There are various types of challenges. I guess the first one I really heard referred to as a challenge was the "Physical Challenge" from the old game show "Double Dare." But this often seemed to involve having a bucket of slime dumped on your head, which perhaps predisposed me to think of challenges as something to be avoided.
Certainly, the language we use for challenge implies that it might best be avoided. If someone challenges you in court, or challenges your right to something, it means that someone wants to take away something that’s yours. A "challenger" is the person who is not the champion, and of course the most famous "Challenger" was a space shuttle that didn’t do very well at all, none of which entices me to seek out challenges.
And, for the sake of completeness, I may as well admit that in my youth I may have gone to a restaurant and ordered an enormous stack of meat between two buns known as the "Challenge Burger," which resulted in some unpleasant floor redecorating later that evening. So there is reason to avoid a challenge.
But I know challenges can be important. Unchallenged ideas are more likely to be bad ones, because challenging ideas lets you expose their weaknesses and form better ideas. Many ideas and beliefs, simply because they were traditional, were held for centuries in spite of being terrible and/or completely wrong. But then people came along and challenged them, and progress occurred. (For example, primitive man used to eat pizza with a fork.)
One of my general rules for life is "anyone who is afraid of and/or prohibits having their ideas challenged probably has ideas that aren’t good enough to withstand a challenge." This is an excellent rubric to remember whenever someone tells you that you should believe their ideas.
Challenge is also necessary for a good game. Most games are fun only insofar as they present a challenge, some sort of obstacle which you must overcome in order to succeed. Fun games can offer a creative challenge like charades, or a deductive challenge like Mastermind, or mental and physical challenges like Portal. If a game has no challenges, it becomes terrible, or as it is commonly referred to in the games industry, "Farmville."
And I suppose personal progress requires challenges as well. Most jobs that require a repetitive unchallenging task, regardless of whether it’s copying addresses or folding boxes, are not fulfilling. People tend to be the most engaged when they are challenged at just the right level to make things difficult for them but doable, so they can push themselves to succeed and feel a sense of accomplishment upon completion.
So challenges turn out to be important after all. But that being said, sometimes a challenge is still just going to feel like having a bucket of slime dumped on your head.
Seth Brown is a humor writer, the author of "It Happened In Rhode Island" and motivationally challenged. His work appears weekly in the Transcript, and weakly on RisingPun.com.