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The Cowardly & the Courageous

Learning to choose discomfort in a comfortable world

I love conversation. Real, full conversation – sharing thoughts and ideas with people who may or may not agree, or who frame things in such a way that I can view them from an entirely different perspective. I don’t even really care what the subject is, because the subject is not the subject. The subject is the other person, really. What are they saying, and what are they trying to say? What are they not saying? Did they just conveniently ignore a question? Why? It’s this exploration of the people around us that make life worth living as far as I’m concerned.

Of course the content matters – but it seems to me the more those involved trust each other, the more invested they are in the relationship, the less conversation revolves around subjects that need a conclusion. Instead it becomes debate and ideas, dreams and fear. And what are those conversations really about? Aren’t they about understanding each other more deeply? Because most things outside of math and hard sciences aren’t a matter of yes/no, correct/incorrect; they are a matter of negotiation and consensus. And often, if we are successful, they are left uncomfortably open – no one right answer exists, even in consensus. This discomfort – this tension – is what makes us think, grow, change. It’s what makes us explore our thoughts, ideas, beliefs in different ways. Without tension, adjustment is simply unnecessary.

We’ve become so uncomfortable with discomfort in general however, that it seemed for a long time that we’d lost the ability to converse. We’ve gotten to the point that an amicable exchange between two friends could become an all-out battle in a matter of seconds. It’s easier to live on the ends of a spectrum - agreeable or completely at odds - than to live on that spectrum. Most of us, even the downtrodden among us, live in a relatively safe, comfortable society. There’s little, if anything, we have to really work or fight for. The vast majority of our work is to get ahead, not to survive, and that is a different dynamic entirely. By and large we have stores of food, cushioned shoes and all manner of pain killers that most of us are reliant on. Did you know chronic Ibuprofen use erodes your muscles, creating more discomfort and weakness? The antidote to which is simply dealing with the original discomfort rather than dosing it away. It seems to me we should think that way with much of the discomfort we face. 

So, what exactly is so bad about discomfort, tension and even a little fear? Do we even know? Those are the feelings and emotions that afford us the opportunity to be brave. Courage isn’t necessary without something to fear. Not all humans are capable of the same things, that’s what makes us need each other – but I believe we are all capable of courage. And courage is a choice. The more fear you feel, the more courage you show in facing that fear.

I sense a glimmer of hope on the horizon.

This year has been fraught with adversity, and few have escaped unscathed. And those that have, aren’t likely to go much longer without feeling the effects. We all sense a seismic shift coming for our country, and each day more and more people understand that they must speak their minds if they want to influence this shift. 

That’s not to say there’s any shortage of cowardice still among us – make no mistake, people cutting friends and family out of their lives because of a (respectful) difference of opinion are cowards. They may feel an indignant rage, they may feel it’s justified because the fate of the system hangs in the balance…but this rage is nothing more than masked fear. Fear is the only thing that will expose the cowardly and the courageous, and it takes courage to stand in front of someone and say “I vehemently disagree with you, I cannot change your mind, and I love you.”

Maybe that’s the lesson for us as a nation right now. We really have no choice but to feel significant discomfort right now. We can choose to mentally hide, and certainly many are choosing this. But more and more, people are speaking to each other again. And more importantly, we are listening to each other again. We are disagreeing, changing our minds, questioning validity. And though it’s painfully slow, we are re-learning how to do this and allow the tension to remain between friends, without allowing it to erode the love that also exists in that space. In all of the darkness we are facing in this moment, this is a joyous thing to witness.

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