It is good to be uncomfortable

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.


About Nimue Brown

Druid, author, dreamer, folk enthusiast, parent, wife to the most amazing artist -Tom Brown. Drinker of coffee, maker of puddings. Exploring life as a Pagan, seeking good and meaningful ways to be, struggling with mental health issues and worried about many things. View all posts by Nimue Brown

15 responses to “It is good to be uncomfortable

  • Bish

    Learning a thing is a goodness. 🙂

    • Nimue Brown

      It is, and also learning not to then feel responsible for other people’s internal dramas and how they choose to let those out into the world. It’s all too easy to internalise such things, but of little use, because the person who is just aching for chance to be offended and get on the high horse doesn’t even have to be too fussy over what they pick to go off on one about… I shall master the fine art of not being there in the first place to get involved.

  • derynguest

    Reviews of work can easily cross personal boundaries and certainly feel threatening. I suspect you are being far more reasonable than your reviewer.

  • contemplativeinquiry

    It seems like the reviewer was majorly triggered and published the review reactively. If they had written this as a first draft, and held their point of tension, allowed a little time and distance … they might have asked themselves what kind of buttons were being pushed, what kind of challenges were being posed to their sense of spiritual identity & coherence. Then … something else, an interesting engagement might conceivably have occurred. Unfortunately our overall culture of communication – speed, inescapable involvement in judgement games (the Amazon 5 star system in this case), conspire against real relationship and exchange – and real critical appreciation – in favour of dramatized position taking. So it’s not just about one reviewer or review, though I imagine it must have been unpleasant feedback to receive.

    • Nimue Brown

      It gave me a bit of a moment, it would be fair to say. Thank you for this, and I think you’re very right in all that you’ve said here, nothing in our wider culture supports co-operative or more nuanced attempts at interaction.

  • biahelvetti

    Hm, firstly you should be mighty proud of yourself – you’ve taken a calm, mature and reflective approach to something most folks would have melted over. And everything you say above is true – well, not quite everything, I think you’re probably being a bit over-critical of yourself to be honest. I just popped over and read the review – and your admirable response. I think it’s fairly clear that you touched some nerves and the reviewer’s blood was boiling while they typed, it would have been far wiser -in my humble opinion – for them to reflect on the lines you yourself have before they responded. At the end of the day, a strong faith can take being questioned and truth can withstand scrutiny – I suspect this reviewer is not really as strong in their beliefs as they would like to think or else I can’t see why a difference of opinion would offend them and hurt so much? I have got the book, although haven’t got around to reading it all yet but, having read some of your other work, I find your style EXTREMELY tactful, gentle and accepting of other view points… so if anything, this review makes me more anxious to delve in again and see what it is I have missed! 😉 😀 x

  • crypticraven

    Having not read the book, that person’s negative review actually has made me want to read it even more now!

    While I am glad that you have used this as an opportunity to reflect upon your writing style and that you have responded in a wonderfully calm and measured way, I often find that many negative reviews online are written out of spite or without thought.

    So what if you were *supposedly* terse or insuated that religion isn’t all its cracked up to be. Big deal. People are entitled to their own opinions, just like that person is entitled to realise that the book might not be for them and put it down and move on to something else that matches their philosophy.

    I personally lean quite heavily towards an atheistic perspective and find people who say that I can’t be a druid without belief in the gods to be hugely offensive. How ironic given what that reviewer criticised you for doing! There are many pagan writers who I avoid because I know we come from very different places so reading their books would only make me grumpy which isn’t helpful to anyone.

    People are allowed to be uncomfortable or be offended but quite frankly, that isn’t really your problem. To quote Salman Rusdie (who I don’t always agree with but I think he makes a good point):

    “Nobody has the right to not be offended. That right doesn’t exist in any declaration I have ever read.

    If you are offended it is your problem, and frankly lots of things offend lots of people.

    I can walk into a bookshop and point out a number of books that I find very unattractive in what they say. But it doesn’t occur to me to burn the bookshop down. If you don’t like a book, read another book. If you start reading a book and you decide you don’t like it, nobody is telling you to finish it.

    To read a 600-page novel and then say that it has deeply offended you: well, you have done a lot of work to be offended.”

    So if people give you grief about your work because of how they felt personally, take it with a pinch of salt. Or even a bucketload. People will always disagree with you. People will always disagree with me. That’s what makes life interesting! Hostile critiques don’t help.

    I look forward to reading your book and bravo for turning this in to a learning opportunity rather than letting it upset you. I’m not sure I could be so level-headed!

    • Nimue Brown

      it took me a while to work out how to be level headed about it, mind 🙂 But thank you for your words, you make a lot of very good points there. My own approach (as a survival technique as much as anything) has been to try and figure out how to get something useful out of situations that were designed to be less than useful. And I have found that going ‘oh, that’s interesting, thank you,’ is the best way of pissing off trolls, who tend to feed on the drama and misery they aim to cause. Can I recommend Alain du Botton’s Religion for atheists as being a very useful title? I know a few atheist Druids, it seems wholly workable to them, and to me, looking at it from the outside. I find angry fundamentalist atheists hard going – but I’d say the same of any strident fundamentalist, it tends to make for polarised conversations at best…

  • Christopher Blackwell

    We control very little of what happens to us in this life, nor can we. However we can achieve control over how we choose to react to what happens to us. That is a greater power than most people we now. We may get hurt but we can decide how long we will stay hurt. We have the choice to use our own pain to create compassion for other people’s hurt. I have never met a compassionate person who never had been hurt.

    We can take the bad things in life as a way of noticing how precious the little good things are that often we rarely notice.That was one of the more wonderful things about a year of Pancreatitis.

    We can joke about our disabilities and teach others to to be so afraid of the or let disabilities stop us fro living. Here in my desert outside I use a walker without wheels which I refer to as my walking walker. Outside I will ask kids how any legs does an insect have? When they answer six I will ask the how many do I have? I become an insect when I go outside.

    I have had five operations on my right eye and it no longer tracks the same as my left eye. That is not a problem looking long distance but it can create headaches reading with double vision. So my reading glasses are blacked out on the right side. I refer to them as my pirate glasses. As I often forget which gasses I have on, one ever knows which ones I will be wearing.

    I will ask about a person’s disability to get over it and get on to other things. I might mention one or two of my own. But it says I notice but that doesn’t affect my way of treating the person.

    I remember all the things about being each age in my life. I do it to be easier o the younger people. But there is another side while expressing a bit of the problems of that age I will also point out the advantage that goes with that age that is rarely mentioned. Some times that changes the feeling of the person being that age. I have always felt that we seem to have a shortage of encouragers in life.

    I never had the elder in my life. So I try to become the elder that I would like to have had. sees a worthy project for a old man. I rather enjoy being a old man, something I would never have expected possible when I was younger.

    • Nimue Brown

      A whole world of yes. You’ve stood quietly as an elder in my life for some years now, and I greatly value your presence and insight. Thank you for being there, and for sharing.

      • Christopher Blackwell

        It is one of the odd things about life that we never know the number of people that we affect. Thank you for the comment and I will continue to try to be worthy as an elder. Each of us has something worthy of giving back even if we are not aware of it.

        By the way I do check on your postings daily whether I post or not.

  • Catriona McDonald

    It was very interesting to read your response to this review, especially in light of the fact that it was that review which made me buy this book a few months ago. I’d have to agree with the “first-draft” analysis of some of the other posters. Some people (often including myself) do not respond to challenge well, which is why it’s good for us to get some practice.

  • lornasmithers

    Woooah… that is a ‘bad’ review. I saw your post on FB but only just got round to reading it. I guess the ‘good’ thing about it is it’s very clear that it’s written from the perspective of someone who’s insecure and not particularly good at handling critique or attempting to engage with other people’s standpoints. To be honest ‘bad’ reviews don’t tend to put me off books. In fact I’m usually more curious about books with a diversity of ratings and lengthy responses by people who have made an effort either way- shows they care, than books with 20 shiny 5 stars and facile two sentence reviews…

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