I have found being uncomfortable to be one of the greatest teachers in life.
When I was a teenager I read a book about Ryan White – Ryan White My Own Story. He was a teenager, who had hemophilia and contracted HIV/AIDS via a transfusion. This was back in the earlier stages of awareness/knowledge about HIV/AIDS and there were still a lot of biases, assumptions, and stigma surrounding it.
It struck me while reading his story that had he gone to my school we would have likely had some classes together. It also struck me that while I was horrified by how poorly he was treated by classmates, teachers, and his community in general that I don’t know if I would have treated him much better. Would I have been actively violent or mean towards him…no I wouldn’t have, that’s just not me. But, would I have been willing to sit next to him at lunch, would I have asked to borrow one of his pencils if I needed one, would I have even been willing to shake hands with him…back then…no I wouldn’t have been comfortable with any of that.
That was one of the hardest books I’ve ever read, because I was forced to realize some things about myself that I did not like. I had to talk myself into continue to read the book every day (man the tears I cried reading that book!). I’m glad I did though, because to this day the feeling that book made me feel about myself and my own judgments and thoughts regarding certain types of people, beliefs, and life decisions has really helped me to take a step back before judging. Or, when I have passed judgment it helps me evaluate myself and why I feel or think what I do, and determine if I’m the one that needs to make an adjustment. “Remember Ryan White” is something that runs through my mind to this day as a reminder to check my behavior, thoughts, and opinions.
I haven’t read another book that stuck me that forcefully until this last week. I just finished reading Jodi Picoult’s Small Great Things, and it took me back to those old feelings. Small Great Things is a really good book in a really hard, harsh way. It’s honest and unflinching telling of two sides to a tragic story made me angry, and sad, and sick…really sick to my stomach. There were times I had to take a deep breath to even pick it up and continue reading it. Makes you want to read it right? But, I think you should (it’s based on a true event)!
Once again I was forced to acknowledge some things that were uncomfortable about life in general, and my roll (even if unintentional) in some of the inequalities experienced by others. There are a lot of issues covered in this book…issues that a lot of people have either never had to think about, or on the flip side have very strong opinions about. It was uncomfortable how eye opening the story was. It is uncomfortable to realize that at birth I was born into a more or less privileged situation than others, and that fact alone contributes to a never ending cycle that I don’t support but am part of non-the-less.
This book got me to thinking about all the heated debates that take place these days about different issues. There is very little agreement anymore it seems. Maybe if more people were willing to take an uncomfortable look at the other side, and try to see things from the uncomfortable other side of the argument then maybe steps towards a middle ground could be reached. It’s really uncomfortable to realize that even if we aren’t wrong that doesn’t mean we are totally right either.
Be willing to be uncomfortable with yourself and your views and beliefs. It doesn’t necessarily mean you will change your mind or do things any differently…it may mean that you are even more confident and secure in what you believe and how you live you life. That’s not a bad thing. There is so much to learn from being uncomfortable.