Perhaps I’m alone in this, but there’s something about discomfort that I find so invigorating, so inspiring. As the years have gone by, Americans seem to have become so averse to discomfort that they will go to great lengths to avoid it altogether. Our language is sanitized to death so that we never have to even consider something unpleasant, and if we do, it’s given such a heinous new name that all meaning is lost.
An example: I have done transcription work for a number of years. I’m sent audio, I transcribe it verbatim and send it back. The audio could be from routine market research or medical research. In many medical research audio recordings I receive for transcription, both the moderator and the respondent (generally a doctor) will refer to “mortality events.” You know what that is, right? It’s death. Death is now referred to as a “mortality event.” Who is this for? Am I to believe in earnest that death was too harsh of a term for what it was, so we dulled the edges? It’s death, people die, that’s why we have the word.
This is precisely what I’m talking about. We devote so much energy towards making sure that no one ever hears anything they don’t want to hear. This is unfeasible and counterproductive. I’ve worried for quite some time that our collective sensitivity and penchant for outrage are actually not quite doing the work they purport to be doing. Simply put, we offend easy, but things aren’t necessarily better for it. Our ears are up, we’re listening for problems, but we’re less so eliminating the problems and more so covering them in a sheet so we don’t have to deal with them. In America, we have grave injustice, of that there can be no doubt. But coming from a journalism schooling background, the quest for truth is paramount.
What do we have to gain by cleansing our language of things that bring discomfort? We get only temporary satisfaction. We cannot ignore this, we cannot sanitize problems out of our lives. Yes, many subjects are upsetting, but we cannot let how they make us feel to allow us to sweep them under the rug because we never want to feel a certain way. I believe a great deal of this is due to the “good vibes” mentality. This has always irritated me to no end. I understand the basic concept that people want to be in a good mood, but “good vibes” is one of the least realistic mentalities I’ve ever seen. Yes, there’s a lot to be happy about, but there’s just as much to be unhappy over.
There’s nothing wrong with unhappiness. In fact, it’s a necessary part of life. There’s a balance between our happiness and unhappiness, our comfort and discomfort. To avoid discomfort entirely in hopes of achieving permanent bliss is a fool’s errand. By doing our damndest to make sure we’re never bummed out, angry, or uncomfortable, we’re shielding ourselves from reality. Staying in your bubble so that you don’t offend your delicate sensibilities is not the way real, meaningful progress is made. We have to talk about the things that make us uncomfortable. We have to talk about our flaws, our habits, our vices, our checkered pasts. We need to discuss it all.
We need to embrace our discomfort – it’s what makes us human. None of us are happy all the time, nor should we be. You need those lows to accent the highs. There’s such beauty in despair, it’s a real feeling. Sadness, that’s real. Anger, that’s real too. Use these feelings, don’t suppress them because you noticed your mind shifted towards something dark. Darkness is as much a part of our world as anything else. We gain nothing from ignoring it. A hypothetical question often came up when I was getting my BA in journalism: “If you were given the opportunity to interview David Duke, would you?” Shockingly to me, many said they would not. I, however, said that I would. Why ignore it? Sure, the head of the KKK is detestable, but he’s still a part of history. He’s a historic figure, albeit it on the wrong side of history. Ignoring him entirely isn’t the way to deal with the problem he represents.
And so, I’ll leave you with this. If ever our society is to move forward and learn from our mistakes, we have to learn to embrace discomfort, learn to bear the things that upset us. We need our minds clear to sort through things, and that does mean from time to time we’ll have to be uncomfortable. But the alternative, a sanitized “good vibes” façade – that’s not the way forward