Practice being uncomfortable? Why practice that??
This face? ☝🏽 That's a face experiencing and expressing discomfort.... Looks uncomfy, my friend..
It's hard not to see the rising levels of fear and discord in the United States. Learning to be uncomfortable is paramount if our goal is to really understand each other, support each other and fight for the dignity and respect of every person, not just rooting for the group we feel most comfortable with. Our own personal habits and practices feel like the “right way” to do things because they are familiar and soothing to our minds and our bodies, because this was what we learned.
Sometimes it doesn’t feel comfortable to learn difficult information, and we would rather push away that discomfort with a cheerful sentiment, or disregard it altogether, and sometimes we just shut our eyes to new information if we are able to, and move on in our lives rather than stay in a space of discomfort. Then, some of us make "controversial" art that highlights important topics through uncomfortable reckonings...
Who benefits from the practice of getting comfortable with discomfort?
I think everyone benefits from learning how to bear our own discomfort, but this post in this time is specifically addressing people like myself; white people who have been born into a comfortable life of opportunity, one where seeing racial disparities can be a choice - a choice to turn off the TV and turn back toward our own comfort. This is such a privilege.
I also realize not all white people are born into the same socioeconomic class, and some are born into absolute poverty. So while their skin color does not work against them, I acknowledge that not all white people are born into all of the intersections of privilege..
For many of us, being born into a white body in a white neighborhood going to white schools affords us a baseline of comfort - and this comfort is something that has been internalized as something we deserve on some level; and since it is simple to turn off the TV and not watch those things that don’t affect us, we have the choice to get involved - or not - in something that makes us uncomfortable.
In my opinion, when we choose to look away from the truths that make us uncomfortable, we are actively bolstering the systems that continue to devalue and harm those who do not have the option to look away.
This habit of choosing comfort over humanity must be looked at and taken apart if we are to be part of the changes that start to value the safety and comfort of Brown and Black bodies, not just white bodies. It’s not going to feel comfortable confronting systems that have kept white bodied people comfortable for a very long time, but discomfort is a very small price to pay to help turn the tides and create more safety for all bodies.
Luckily, there are so many opportunities for us to be uncomfortable every day, so here are a few that are simple to put into practice.
Practice feeling the actual sensations of discomfort in your own body. Maybe start with privately reading a new piece of information that you’re not feeling very comfortable with, and track the sensations you begin to feel in your body. Tune into your breathing rate, whether you start to feel heavy, dizzy, shaky, dry mouth etc.
Sensing the discomfort of your body lets you learn more about what really sets you off and triggers you - and hopefully by practicing feeling discomfort will allow you to realize when those sensations get really strong and hijack you. If you do find yourself triggered, try to observe afterward the way your body was reacting to your emotional response.
When I am caught up in an argument, my initial triggered response looks like bristling up, debating and getting hot headed - I literally feel myself start to get shaky, and I feel heat rising up my back and into the back of my head. My hands shake, my voice shakes and rises to a higher pitch, and if I had my wits about me in these moments, I would likely sense that my breathing is shallow.
It takes a lot of practice, but if we are willing to stay for a few minutes and observe our discomfort in less heated moments, we build resilience internally to learn more and more without the impulse to push away new information, not realizing why we are so opposed. The body is a very underutilized and very grounded way to practice feeling the discomfort we need to be able to feel in order to step out and help others who need us.
Commit to learn something about a topic that makes you uncomfortable; this is not the same as practicing feeling uncomfortable for the sake of understanding how discomfort manifests in your body, but it can feel really, really close. This is going a step further and being willing to withstand the difficult bodily sensations you know you’ll have when you welcome in new information that may contradict your own beliefs.
For me, this sometimes looks like earnestly trying to understand the political perspectives of those who believe differently from me. Admittedly, it’s hard for me to do. I struggle to understand how people can support cruel policies against people who don’t fall into the exact mold they hold in esteem…
But honestly, when I try to understand where they are coming from, I learn things about myself that I really needed to see. I sometimes learn that I am not so different; I too operate from biases that allow me to avoid situations that are uncomfortable. I too have utilized my privilege to turn away from some cruel realities inflicted by our leaders, feeling I can’t really do that much… But this leads me to the next suggestion for feeling uncomfortable.
Speak up - it really counts. Speaking up against cruelty, racism, sexism, domestic violence, child abuse, etc., is guaranteed discomfort; and we should all practice speaking up against these injustices every time. And most especially those of us who have the privilege not to speak up because we are personally unaffected. Practice speaking up.
This is huge, and hugely uncomfortable. There are many ways to do it though. You don’t have to shout out every injustice from your social media accounts. But when you hear Uncle Carl telling a racist joke, be sure to say something, whether you do it in private or public.
I realize how many eyes are rolling right now, knowing the reaction you’ll get when you call out Uncle Carl. Those reactions have worked to make us feel silly and ridiculous for not being racist or sexist or disparaging toward women, and they have worked because they make us so uncomfortable.
Good thing we have been practicing being uncomfortable!
I am no expert in social justice. I don’t understand the experiences that people of color have had to endure in my nation on a personal level. I am just a person who knows that it’s time to practice being uncomfortable. For the sake of pushing for the changes necessary to ensure more safety for my fellow humans who exist in Black or Brown bodies; for my fellow humans who exist in Trans bodies; for my fellow humans who exist in situations of constant unsafety and brutality.
I don’t claim to know all that I need to know about transforming inequality, but I do know that the learning is ongoing, and the lessons may be uncomfortable. And I am committed to doing the work of feeling and owning my own discomfort so that I can continue doing the work of learning what I need to learn to help create safety for all bodies.
Here’s to wishing you a little discomfort of your own!