The edges are always places of fertility and possibility, and it is often when at the edge of the comfort zone that we do the most important things. Discomfort itself is a very good indicator of something important happening, and whatever else you do, is worth paying some heed to rather than trying to just ignore it or make it go away unquestioned. Yesterday, noticing a highly critical 1 star review for Spirituality without Structure gave me a very good opportunity to be uncomfortable.
I read the review, and my first response was to wonder if it was a fair criticism. I went back and spent much of the evening re-reading my own book – I wrote it a couple of years ago and my memory isn’t perfect. I attempted to re-read it with an eye to how it could cause so much hurt and offence. Do I berate people? Do I call readers blind, ignorant, arrogant and belittle at every turn? Well, I am terse, I realise, and when dealing with difficult subjects that may make my words more pointy than is intended. There are some style issues to consider for the future, so that’s useful to know.
I came away from my book with some ideas about who it would offend, because there are indeed people I go for with no punches pulled. I am pretty damning about those individuals who use religion as a way of controlling other people and getting power over them. I am really intolerant about the way genuine spiritual endeavour is so often subverted for political ends, for war, abuse of others, violence, empire building and the egos of the few. Religion is human, and some humans just want power over everyone and everything else. I don’t know if my reviewer feels that way, or had some other issue and I’m not going to give them a hard time based on imagining what was happening in their head. As they labelled me an atheist and I spend as much time picking holes in atheism as I do in anything else, I wonder if the reviewer simply misunderstood me.
As I worked through this process, I became ever more interested in the idea of how my reviewer was handling feeling uncomfortable – it’s the second time this week that I’ve had very hostile feedback from someone who took as an attack, words that were not meant to be attacking. But, I’ve been told before that I make people uncomfortable and that I shouldn’t be surprised if they lash back sometimes. Previously, I’d not been able to make sense of that as an idea, but a bit of a light came on yesterday.
Of course I could have read that review and got angry with the reviewer for being ‘mean’ to me, and saying things that weren’t (in my subjective opinion) fair or accurate. That anger would have been protective; its function to protect me from feeling uncomfortable. If we feel uncomfortable and can project that as meaning the other person is attacking us, we don’t have to look at anything on the inside. We don’t have to question whether we were right, or look at how we might seem from another angle. We don’t have to ask if we misread, or misrepresented, or anything else that demonstrates we were less than perfect.
The desire to be always comfortable is natural enough – comfort is nice. However, if you try and stay there all the time, you can only have stagnation, and you can’t allow yourself to know about anything you might be getting wrong. I take on big issues and my writing is terse, and I need to look at the relationship between those two things because I have no desire to bruise people who might, if given something just a bit warmer to work with, be more able to do something useful with it. I learn a thing. I also learn that I feel threatened by people not liking me, and it doesn’t matter how distant and unknown to me they are, my hackles still go up. There are reasons, human and historical, and I should look at that another time. I learn how easy it is, how comfort restoring to simply blame something on the outside for causing uncomfortableness, when really we’ve felt it on the inside and something must be going on there, too. On the whole, I would choose to know rather than push the opportunity away.