It’s okay to be uncomfortable

My partner and I have an agreement, and it involves me seeing a lot of movies that I really don’t want to see (but in exchange he accompanies me to Haunted Houses, which he hates). This week I found myself at yet another theater watching something I really would have rather watched at home. REALLY. It was the kind of movie where you feel uncomfortable with the content, but also with the laughter of those around you. I just wished I had a journal, a pause button, and a chance to google before deciding if a joke was funny or not. In short, it was a very uncomfortable 103 minutes.

But… that’s okay (and not just because it means next October I get to go to the haunted corn maze again). Sometimes uncomfortable is where you need to be.

In my life, there are not too many places that I go where I feel uncomfortable. I can generally set up my day to avoid things that make me squirm. This isn’t so for many people, and it’s a facet of my privilege that I live life this way.

I used to work for a First Nation. I could always feel the dread welling up in me whenever I knew I’d have to stop at the Gas Bar. At first I just thought it was because I worried that I didn’t belong there. I’m a sensitive person, and I felt that maybe my presence wouldn’t be welcomed in that space. That’s probably partially true, but I think the more relevant reason I didn’t like going there was that I wasn’t used to being a minority. It felt uncomfortable. When I finally put a name to my feeling I understood a little better what folks of color, and others who may be marginalized, might be feeling in situations where they are the minority. They enter those situations a lot more than I do. It was important for me to identify with that type of discomfort, and learn from it.

My discomfort in the movie was more closely related to the discomfort people seem to come across in Museums… the feeling of not being sure how you feel. Art can be controversial, it can be shocking, it performs all sorts of roles and functions. And it can be really uncomfortable not to know what it means, or how you’re supposed to feel about it.

I see that particular kind of discomfort when students look at artifacts from other cultures, or non-representational art for the first time. This discomfort illustrates a gap in our knowledge. It forces us to ask, “What does this mean?” So the discomfort really comes from a place of vulnerability. Not knowing, and not wanting to make a mistake.

During this movie, I sat there, wondering how to feel. Which is not exactly a fun experience, but certainly not a bad one. It forced me to wade around in my own thoughts. To dig through the files in my brain, and to swirl around the puddle of feelings to see if there was any sense I could make. This process, has led me to interesting conversations with my partner and friends. It’s let me to engage with ideas in my own mind, and with others. It’s helped me to grow.

Sometimes it’s alright to be uncomfortable, to let some silence hang in the air if no one seems to have the answer. To let kids grapple. To leave a question unanswered for a while. To put ourselves in positions that we’d be more comfortable avoiding. Ultimately, a little discomfort can lead to… lots of important things.

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