This is an issue that comes up particularly around teaching, and it’s a fascinating ethical minefield. Most people do their best learning and growing when they’re at the edge of their comfort zones. Sometimes, breaking out of the comfort zone is absolutely necessary. Consent is also a super-important thing in all aspects of life. Teaching creates power imbalances and stepping up as a teacher is pretty much an assertion that you might have a better idea what a person needs than they do.
All of this creates a lot of opportunity for predators to thrive. You don’t have to be a Pagan long to run into stories about teachers who said that sex was wholly necessary for a rite, or who violated other boundaries. There are all kinds of ways in which teaching can cause distress, and cheerfully shoving people out of their comfort zones isn’t reliably in their interests. It can be alarming, terrifying and counter-productive.
If the teaching is good, then you’ll feel supported when you’re at the edges of your comfort zone, and able to step back at need. You know you won’t be told off, humiliated or rejected if you do need to say no. If you’re invited to enter a ritual or other activity where you don’t know in advance what to expect, you should be able to talk about your own boundaries and needs. And that won’t be normal. It might make sense for an initiation to plunge you into the unknown a bit, but to be pushed that way all the time isn’t good or healthy.
To teach well, you have to be willing to shoulder responsibility, and to make decisions for the people who you are teaching – how fast to take them into something, and what to advise them, in particular. These are issues whenever anything is taught. How do you keep an eye on where the student is in relation to their own comfort zone? How do you handle problems? How willing are you to put their needs ahead of your ego?
It takes considerable confidence to look at another person and make judgements about what they most need. Good teaching and leadership alike can really depend on this. So often, to grow we need someone else to guide us beyond what we’re familiar with. It takes a lot of trust to have that work, and when that trust is misplaced, it causes a lot of damage.