Another Concept that Hobbles Good Intentions
Do you remember when I stated my intention, right here in this space, to go to a Black Lives Matter demonstration? Well, I put it off so long that I missed them altogether in my town. I was afraid to be in a crowd of people because of COVID-19, and because of the possibility of being teargassed, pepper-sprayed, hit with a rubber bullet, beaten, or trampled. I realized I could mitigate those possibilities by going during the day. But it was so hot. And I had work appointments.
Having missed the demonstrations, I made a new intention: go to a City Council meeting. That’s where change would happen, right? But I imagined going and it being long and boring. I imagined speaking up during the meeting and flushed with embarrassment at even the thought of it. I saw myself standing alone, at a microphone that would amplify every wobble in my voice, and saying something to the City Council that would annoy the members so much that it would actually set back, rather than advance, the Black Lives Matter cause. I would betray myself as naïve and ignorant of the history of racism and anti-racist action in my town. I was afraid to be ridiculous, so, once more, I stayed home.
A fear of discomfort has hobbled my good intentions for taking these particular antiracist actions – the get-out-of-your-head-and-off-the-couch kind of actions.
This isn’t the first time a fear of discomfort has stopped me from following through on worthy action.
It shows up in my work, holding me back from taking risks because I might be rejected, ignored, or look like a fool. It has stopped me from trying, lest I fail to achieve what I intended, or start something I couldn’t finish, or become confused or lost, or have it take longer or be harder than I think it ought.
It shows up in diet and fitness, where I prefer to eat whatever I want, which avoids the discomfort of saying no to myself, and to be sedentary, which avoids the effort and mess of a workout.
Fear of discomfort has stood between me and who I want to become. Now that my eyes have been opened to racism, I want to be antiracist, and here is this concept once more stopping me at the start.
Enough. Time to do The Work and dismantle the concept that it is bad to be uncomfortable and create a replacement concept that actually helps me to be a better person.
I invite you to do The Work along with me. Right now, recall a time in your life when your fear of discomfort prevented you from following through. The situation I’m anchoring The Work in is the first time I consciously backed out of antiracist action by failing to go to a demonstration.
It was a Saturday night. I found out that my daughter’s boyfriend was going, and I considered driving him there and staying. But I did not, because I feared discomfort.
It’s bad to be uncomfortable. Is it true? Yes. Obviously. All living creatures avoid it. It’s one of the instincts that keeps us alive.
Can I be certain it’s bad? Is it absolutely true? No. Not absolutely. I think of other discomforts: childbirth; staying up all night in college to write a big essay; the pain of being in conflict. These things are temporary and serve a bigger purpose. Also, they showed me my strength; the next time I needed to dig deep, I remembered these accomplishments. They were also moments of intimacy and connection with others; hardship bound us to each other.
How do you react, what happens, when you believe the thought that it’s bad to be uncomfortable? I do nothing. I treat myself as fragile and weak and at the same time more important than this important cause. I feel bad, and then I just want to distract myself with a TV show. I feel alone.
I notice I create the very circumstance — discomfort — that my thought is trying to protect me from.
Who would you be without the thought? I would feel part of something bigger than myself. I remember the uncomfortable joy of getting up in the night for my children, or to comfort a laboring woman, or for early morning formation runs when I was in the Navy. I feel the feeling of elevation in my chest. I feel excited.
Turn the thought around.
It’s not bad to be uncomfortable. What is the evidence that this turnaround is as true as or truer than the original thought? As this Work has shown me, discomfort is sometimes necessary to accomplish worthy things. Discomfort can be good in that it can create powerful connections between people. Discomfort can even be sublime, as in the case of childbirth and other feats of endurance.
It’s bad to be comfortable. Evidence? Oh, my gosh: my comfort is the problem, isn’t it? As a white person, I have been too comfortable in my privilege. Racism hasn’t hurt me personally, so I ignored it and stayed in my bubble. I recall the quote by Edmund Burke: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good [people] to do nothing.”
Insight is vital to change, but insight without action fades fast. So, in coaching, the next question we often ask is, “What do you feel inspired to do now?” My answer is, I am starting by copying down these turnarounds onto sticky notes and placing them on my computer and bathroom mirror. I will say them aloud to myself every time I encounter them and when I feel myself withdrawing from something because of that old fear of discomfort.
It doesn’t sound like much, but tiny steps, taken consistently, add up to big change.
How about you? What do you feel inspired to do now?