Tag Archives: discomfort

Not choosing hate

Our environments have a huge impact on us. We’re affected psychologically by what we encounter, and pathways our brains form develop in response to that. Bits of our DNA switch on and off in response to our environments. How and where we choose to spend our time is therefore an important consideration.

The media we each consume is very much part of the experience that shapes us. It’s also one of the bits we get a real choice in. What works for one person might not work for another and that’s all part of the glorious diversity of being human. However, when it comes to hate watching/reading I think there are questions to ask. 

It’s evident over on Twitter that there are a lot of people watching the Harry and Megan series on Netflix precisely so that they can be angry about it. I’ve only spent a few minutes looking at this because I try to balance having some idea what’s going on against not being overwhelmed by horrible things. I dip into news sources cautiously. It is really easy – especially on a site like Twitter – to end up scrolling through a lot of hatred and bile. It’s important to remember that we don’t have to know every awful detail and sometimes it is a good idea to look away.

Social media and the internet allow limitless opportunity to engage with people we don’t like, content that infuriates us and ideas we hate. While it’s good to encounter diverse opinions, letting things you hate become a significant part of your environment isn’t good. But it clearly is attractive.

Anger is a powerful emotion. Feeling like you have the moral high ground can be intoxicating. Seeking out things you hate can be a way of bolstering self righteousness and there can be a feel-good aspect to that for a while. But not for long, because exposing yourself to stuff you hate in order to feel superior to it takes far more than it gives. I’ve made that mistake a few times and I do not like where it takes me. It’s all too easy to get into without noticing what the impact is.

There are of course many other reasons for seeking out discomforting things. The need to know, and to understand sends people looking at things they loathe in order to make sense of them. I know not to watch any Jordan Peterson videos thanks to people who have done so and talked about it. Some social movements cannot safely be ignored. Sometimes, to protect our people, our communities we have to wade in and deal with the haters. Sometimes, fear of what’s coming will have you staring into the void, hoping to dodge whatever horror it spits out next.

As with most things, I think reflection is key. Noticing patterns of behaviour and what the consequences are. Checking in with yourself over whatever you’re doing with your time. Being alert to what nourishes you, and what doesn’t, what’s necessary and what isn’t. If you have the privilege to be able to pick your fights, then pick carefully.

Art and comfort

It’s the challenging art that gets taken most seriously. Literary fiction is difficult, and may be uncomfortable. Anything that is mostly written to make you feel good, is usually deemed frivolous. It’s the same with film, with music and all other creative forms. If it requires effort then it is ‘good art’ and if it is easy then what you have is low brow, trivial and unimportant. It is my considered opinion that this is useless thinking.

Good art should discomfort the comfortable. This is a useful idea and it is well worth creating things that get under the radar and challenge people who mostly have things all their own way. But the flip side of this is that good art should also comfort the uncomfortable – and right now that’s most of us. The vast majority of us are one or two paychecks at best from total disaster. We’re dealing with a pandemic, with loss of liberty, fear of our political leaders and the horror of climate chaos. There are a great many of us right now who urgently need not to be challenged any more than we already are.

Good art does not have to make everyone uncomfortable. Comforting people is a good thing. Joy is a good thing. A happy ending isn’t somehow less meaningful than a harsh one, and right now may be the more imaginative stretch. We need hope, and ideas and a sense that it is worth keeping trying. Wherever you find that, is valid.

Beauty is not trivial. Bringing beauty into the world for its own sake is a good and worthy activity, and just as virtuous as challenging people. Happiness is not trivial, and most people could do with a good deal more of it.

Anyone who has enough emotional resilience that they can afford to be knocked around by things they engage with recreationally, clearly has plenty of privilege. They should totally get on with whatever painful education they feel they need. Anyone whose personal situation means they need to grapple with the hard stuff for processing, for catharsis, for understanding how they got where they are – should be free to do that on whatever terms they like. But if you don’t have the emotional resources to be heartbroken over art on top of everything else, don’t internalise any weird judgements over that. Delight is valid too.

And right now, hope feels considerably more radical than despair.

Seeking discomfort

One of the hardest things to do is wilfully challenge the ways in which you are comfortable. Yesterday’s blog – Seeking comfort brought up a comment about white poverty in the southern states of America, “Why do people so often assume that to be white means to have a privileged life?” I’ve been in this conversation quite a few times before. It makes people uncomfortable.

Privilege is relative, and not an absolute condition, you can have privilege in some ways and be massively disadvantaged in others. You can be dirt poor and better off than someone else who is dirt poor and of a minority religion, sexual identity or racial background. It’s not that white privilege means we white people all have it easy, it means there are people who, by dint of skin colour, have it harder than us. In just the same way, having straight privilege, or male privilege, or cis privilege or being mentally and physically well does mean you live a charmed life. It means you have a certain set of advantages that you may be taking for granted.

If you’ve never looked at how your life may advantage you in some ways, it tends to be an uncomfortable process. If you are invested in the idea of your disadvantage, it can be really uncomfortable looking at how realistic this is. There’s a lot of difference between being poor in a peaceful country that has a social safety net and being poor in a famine or a war zone. And of course there are some vocal young men out there on social media keen to get across the idea that middle class straight white boys are the most persecuted minority in the world. If you think being able to flag up how persecuted you are creates some kind of social advantage, of course you’ll want to persuade people you are the ‘real’ victim. That kind of behaviour can only come from a place of not understanding what it means to be disadvantaged.

Having our stories challenged is never comfortable. We all exist in contexts that involve other people, culture, history… we are all still implicated in what colonialism has done around the world and what capitalism does, and the exploitation and abuse these things involve. It isn’t comfortable. It’s much more comfortable to pretend you don’t benefit from the things you benefit from. It’s much easier not to look at how you fit in the bigger picture.

Being able to resist such discomfort by refusing to engage with it, is the biggest privilege there is. Being able to deny your position in your culture and history is a place of power. Those who are trapped by culture and history don’t get to pretend it isn’t happening to them and have that be an effective solution.

Willingness to be uncomfortable is necessary for change. If we aren’t willing to be uncomfortable, we won’t work for fairness, or justice or equality. And if we’re making other people uncomfortable, it’s important to ask are we doing that by doubling down on what’s already hard for them, or are we doing it by pointing out where things might be better for them than they’ve acknowledged. If people are living in a state of discomfort, the right answer is to try and ease that where we can. If people are comfortable and oblivious to how much they have – they urgently need to feel uncomfortable. Most of us fall somewhere in between, advantaged in some ways and disadvantaged in others and better off when we can see how that works.

Seeking comfort

Our soft mammal bodies crave comfort. Climate crisis is going to give us a hard time on that score as we struggle with extremes of heat and cold, drought and rain. Those who have least will be hurt most by this. Those who have most will wack on the air con, or the heater and add to the problems.

Some people lack for comfort because they don’t have enough food, or can’t afford enough. Protein and good quality fats are expensive. Our bodies don’t always seem able to tell the difference between the comfort of sufficiency, and the kind of excess that will bring discomfort. We did not evolve to deal with routine excess.

Rest is one of the most important comforts available to us, and hard to come by. Rest requires quiet, space and time in which to do very little and feel ok about that. We’re encouraged to have hectic ‘modern’ lifestyles that deprive us of rest, and then to seek comfort other places – by buying something. A sofa, alcohol, junk food, holidays… None of the things we buy when we are trying to offset insufficient rest will give us the comfort we need.

Emotional comfort goes to those who have most and are most conventional. To be straight and white, middle class, financially secure, well educated, and home owning represents a selection of comforts that may be invisible to the person who has them. To be queer, poor, working insecure jobs and living in insecure conditions is to be much less comfortable. Many of these things intersect with each other to make things worse. Add in ethnicity, and the stresses and vulnerabilities this involves in any white-dominated society, and there’s a lot to contend with.

We seek comfort, all of us. For those of us who are systemically kept outside the comfort zones, this can be hard going, or impossible. For those who have too much comfort, this can lead to lack of empathy and understanding for those who have less. It can result in feelings of having deserved to be comfortable and being entitled to be comfortable. Thus when the uncomfortable make themselves seen and heard, the comfortable often feel threatened by this.

Too much comfort can make a life stagnant and unsatisfying – we do all need some challenges and opportunities to grow and learn. Too little comfort is a problem on a whole different scale. To live a life with no padding, no insulation against setback, much less disaster, is hard. Every day. To face only challenges and seldom know respite is emotionally exhausting. To fight against people who have too much and don’t understand what their comfort means, or what it means not to have that, is relentless.

Those with the most, and with the greatest sense of entitlement are also those with the most power, and they tend to reinforce the status quo – not always consciously. If everything supports your comfort and ease, it must be really tempting to see that as the natural order of things, and to see those who have less as less deserving, even if you never consciously think in those terms. It’s not comfortable asking how your comfort relates to the discomfort of others. When you have the power to maintain your comfort at someone else’s expense, it’s very easy not to look at how that works.

Comfort and discomfort

This weekend has brought a radical change of thinking for me, so I’m going to share it on the off-chance someone else finds it useful.

Triggering and panic attacks are big issues for me. Less of a problem than they used to be, but still things I have to navigate through. I know that people can trigger me in all innocence. They can do things that look like other things and panic me. My panic is not the measure of whether someone else is a good person or not. So, for years now, I’ve tried very hard to manage my reactions so that I don’t upset someone who has accidentally triggered me.

My experience of talking to people (usually, but not always men) who have triggered me is that many resent being asked to do differently and have expressed the idea that its unfair being held responsible for dealing with the consequences of something they didn’t cause. I’ve heard that and taken it onboard.

It means that much of my behaviour in response to panic and distress is about trying to keep other people comfortable. It’s not been about my comfort, or what I need to do to heal. Some of it is because I feel safer if I keep the men I’m dealing with comfortable. Thankfully the men I live with are not an issue on this score and are willing to hear, change and support. My safety is not dependant on their comfort. But in any other situation, if there’s a tension between my comfort and someone else’s, I tend to feel that asking for my issues to be heard is risky and may make things worse, not better.

This is where I’ve decided to make radical change. I never feel comfortable dealing with people who trigger me and expect me to deal with that. Even when they aren’t setting me off, I don’t feel safe and I am always on edge. I’m going to stop putting myself in those situations. I am not going to show up, or if I really can’t dodge it, I am going to get out at need. I’m going to stop investing energy in trying to make comfortable the people who make me uncomfortable.

If they call me a drama queen, or they say I am making it all about me, or being unfair to them, as has happened before in such situations, maybe I’ll just agree. And get out of the situation. I do not have to feel emotionally responsible. I do not have to feel obliged to comfort and reassure people who discomfort and unnerve me. I do not have to make their opinions the measure of whether my feelings or needs are even valid. It occurs to me that I don’t even have to get this right, or be fair or reasonable, that I can say no because I want to, and that I do not even need to justify it.

Druidry in Discomfort

It’s very easy to uphold your virtues and beliefs when life is comfortable and straightforward. In times of discomfort, it’s harder to get things right, but often also more important. This is a work in progress, so if you can add to it, or develop it, do pile in to the comments. They’re in order of consideration.

  1. Is this a ‘shit happens’ situation of random misfortune that I should not take personally and that does not reflect on my character in any way? In which case, deal with it as best I can and recognise everyone gets these.
  2. Am I uncomfortable because I’ve got something wrong? Am I trying to protect myself from having to deal with my shortcomings? Is the reason for discomfort something I need to square up to and deal with?
  3. Am I projecting something onto someone else? Is it something of mine, or am I casting them in a role or seeing similarities with historical patterns? Is that fair? If it is, I need to move away from them. If it isn’t, I either need to figure out how to adapt my responses, or ask them to consider changing so as to make me comfortable, having made clear the problem is me and not them. If they care about me, they will change, if it is too much hassle to be kind to me, they will not.
  4. Was it an honest mistake? Have they owned it as such and apologised? Let it go and move on, unless they keep making the same mistakes, in which case I should consider it might be deliberate malice not incompetence.
  5. Was an otherwise lovely person having an off day? If it’s a one off, consider pain, low blood sugar, illness, sleep deprivation, depression, or some other crap that had nothing to do with me. If I didn’t cause it, maybe I just need to be gentle with it and patient with them and ask about it when they are feeling better. If not taking it personally helps to improve things all round, it wasn’t personal and there is no need to feel hurt by it.
  6. From their perspective, would it all make sense? Is the problem my baggage and sensitivities? If so, consider explaining or consider letting it go. Consider trying to adjust to be more in line with their world if that way looks better.
  7. Could they be acting out of their own wounds and damaged history? Pain and fear can distort thinking and action in ways that don’t make immediate sense as such from the outside. Is this protective in some way? If it is, what are they protecting and what might I need to do to help them be more at ease, and do I need to ask about it?
  8. Are they acting out of a sense of entitlement? Self importance and posturing tend to go with this, along with total unwillingness to flex for anyone else’s comfort or need. Self important people are not compassionate unless trying to look good, all too often, and are too willing to use others to raise themselves. If there is repeated evidence of a sense of entitlement and self importance, walk away. These people are often working in these ways to protect their own fear and damage, but when it manifests this way, experience to date suggests that they won’t change. People willing to own their vulnerability can be supported in changing. People defending themselves through trying to look bigger than everyone else are simply not ready to change and are likely to cause harm.