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Exploring discomfort

A theme I created for myself this year is exploring discomfort. This is why I went to CAPS during first semester despite never having been to therapy before. This is why I rushed an SLG despite having social anxiety. This is why I am joining Project Wild despite not knowing if I will make the best leader for incoming freshmen. Exploring discomfort means doing things I know I will initially dislike, maybe even hate, but understand that they will force me to overcome whatever negative emotion these situations inspire. I am not trying to not be uncomfortable; I am just acknowledging that I am uncomfortable and continuing with situations anyway. 

Exploring discomfort is not natural. It is not something that people wake up in the morning and bound out of bed for. It’s more like pulling the covers back over your head until you absolutely have to get up and let your feet touch the cold floor. But exploring discomfort is incredibly productive. I’ve had many positive experiences that I wouldn’t have otherwise because I chose to act in the face of discomfort. I’ve taken care of lifelong mental health issues that I hadn’t ever addressed for the first time this year. I joined an SLG and am the most socially fulfilled I ever have been in my life. 

Before coming to Duke, I did not explore discomfort. I hid from anything that made me feel what I deemed unnecessarily anxious. I also never dealt with some problems in my life, which was really unhealthy. You can hop and skirt around things that make you anxious, but the anxiety is always going to be there until you let it wash over you. I think a lot of other people are stuck in a cycle of avoiding things that make them uncomfortable. 

Many students at Duke are studying various subjects simply because they will yield high paying jobs. Some people’s passions and talents align with high salaries, but for others they are funneled into a career path that may not appeal to them simply because their interests would not result in monetary wealth. Everyone has heard of the 40-year-old banker who drives to the office one day and realizes he is deeply unhappy with his job and has lied to himself for years. 51 percent of Americans don’t feel engaged at their jobs. 

This could be due to the structure of jobs, but a large component of the dissatisfaction is that people are not in careers that interest them. At Duke, we have the privilege to explore what intellectually excites us. Setting oneself up for decades of unhappiness to avoid a year or two of discomfort surrounding major and careers choices isn’t a fulfilling decision. It is harder to be willing to drop Comp Sci for English than follow along with what is a higher status major, but in the end it’s more productive.

Exploring discomfort can also relate to racial tensions. White America does not want to think about what it feels like to be a minority. I am not a minority, and I don’t pretend to understand what that feels like. But there are concrete statistics which show it can be a very negative experience. In 2016, the average value of white families was over $700,000 more than the average wealth of black or Hispanic families. One in three black men will go to prison in their lifetime, and people of color make up 60 percent of the prison population, while only 30 percent of the total population.

Most people have been exposed to enough media and personal accounts from people of minorities to grasp that their treatment is not always ethical and often hurtful. Some white people have been in situations where they are a minority, and it is not comfortable to feel like an outsider. But most white people have the privilege of being in settings where there are others who are of the same race and culture around them. We don’t have to think about what it’s like to be looked down on for our skin color and upbringing all the time. White people choose not to think about this because it is uncomfortable, and we have the luxury of being forced to.

There are numerous other areas where our culture chooses not to explore discomfort and resultantly fails to resolve significant problems. The same things could be said for LGBTQ rights or the rights of women, racial minorities or non-binary genders. The way people interact with consumerism and purchasing ethical products stems from an unwillingness to put in the extra effort to realize one’s actions are hurtful. Many environmental issues similarly extend from our culture’s propensity to pick comfort over what will enact positive change. On a personal level, many people don’t take care of themselves and are trapped with mental health problems or just negative mindsets. Perhaps these choices are not even conscious, but they compound to create debilitating issues both in people’s personal lives and systemized problems throughout American culture. 

What is comfortable in the short run is often detrimental in the long run. Exploring discomfort, rather than shying away from ideas or situations that make us uneasy, is the only way we can fix many of the painful, destructive problems now plaguing our country.

Camille Wilder is a Trinity first-year. Her column usually runs on alternate Wednesdays.


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