Going into a season of giving and consuming, and before we get to the part where we make grand plans about how to better ourselves, I have a mantra to ponder: BE HONEST. I don’t mean destroy the filter in your brain that tells you it might not be a good idea to say something. I mean look at the stories you’re telling yourself about your life. Stories that include “I can’t” or “I have to” are frequently not as true as they feel. This is related to the advice I’ve seen circulated to replace “I don’t have time” with “it’s not a priority”. This, too, can be uncomfortable. It’s uncomfortable because it makes us more responsible for our choices.
Most of us do a lot fo avoid discomfort, whether it’s conscious or not. Rationalizing is a common strategy our brains cook up. “It’s OK because. . . . “we tell ourselves and each other. And we believe it, and we support structures that let us continue to believe it. It lets us remain in comfortable status quo. Looking straight-on at some things is uncomfortable. We can learn to do this, but we must decide to do so. Uncomfortable is OK. Uncomfortable is necessary to get un-stuck. Getting un-stuck is necessary to create positive change. Learn this and get used to it.
You can practice experiencing discomfort and finding value through it in exercise, yoga, or meditation— all can be profoundly uncomfortable at times as they facilitate change. You can use this experience developed in personal practice to see honestly (when doing so might be uncomfortable), and to change when it’s needed. Maybe it’s about where you shop, or how you eat or exercise or sleep. Maybe it’s about your job or your relationships. These personal behaviors are embedded in our lives, but if we look deliberately, we can see them.
The acceptance of discomfort is a key lesson in understanding privilege and oppression. This lesson is a little harder to see for most of us, but it’s deeply important to living an ethical life. Seeing our own privilege honestly is profoundly uncomfortable. It forces us to understand that our unearned advantages are coming at someone else’s expense. We didn’t mean to, we didn’t even do it actively— and yet, we are complicit. For folks who think of themselves as good, as progressive, as generous, this is unsettling. But if we can’t see it, name it, and own it, how can we ever begin to dismantle it, to challenge it, to stop it? We need to be willing to feel that discomfort or else we remain comfortably dominant, while others are oppressed. Does your race, your class, your gender, your sexual orientation, your body, give you privilege? How does that feel?
I have lots of blind spots where I rationalize my behavior and choices. Some of them I have started to see, and fix. Some of them I have started to see, and not yet started to fix. And doubtless, I know, some of them I haven’t started to see.
An example: When I ask myself, truly, if I feel good about eating animals, the answer is no. I do not want another being to suffer, and I don’t want to contribute to environmental stress. I don’t need to for some other meaningful reason. So I don’t do it anymore. I ask myself about consuming other animal products, and similarly, I don’t feel good about it, so largely, I don’t, but I’m not perfect, and sometimes, for some “reason” or another, I still do. Why? I haven’t honestly fully integrated this choice into my life yet. I ask myself about wearing animal products. I don’t feel good about that either, and I’m slowly changing my behavior to be more in line with this value, but I haven’t changed as much as I want to change when I honestly ask myself how I feel about it. This is the work. It sounds simple, like you make a choice and flip a switch, but it’s not simple. Choices can always be examined, but they are rarely straightforward. Still, we can consider them.
As we roll into holidays and resolution season, where can you be more honest?