Imagine a friendly new couple moves into the house next door. As a neighborly gesture, you invite them over for a small “welcome party” with a few other couples… before learning that your new neighbors are white supremacists. Uncomfortable, right?
To be clear, you’re not a racist, and their beliefs disgust you. Isn’t that enough? I mean, you’re not confrontational and they are going to be your neighbors. Isn’t it enough that you quietly (silently) disagree? Isn’t it enough that you’re not a racist?
No. Not being a racist is not good enough.
It’s uncomfortable to confront tough issues and have hard conversations. But until we learn how to be comfortable being uncomfortable, the status quo wins and social change will have to wait another day.
Even if among our ingroup, we acknowledge that racism is wrong, it’s uncomfortable to stand up and advocate against policies and attitudes that ignore our own privilege and perpetuate inequality for others. Especially when it’s the neighbor next door, the man at church, the woman in your book club or the teacher at school who would much rather not think about all the ugliness and be grateful they aren’t the targets of prejudice, discrimination, and hate.
But, growth and evolution always come with discomfort – even when the change is necessary and expected outcome is welcome. Discomfort is directly proportional to personal growth. And social change will never happen without personal growth.
The one thing you learn is when you can step out of your comfort zone and be uncomfortable, you see what you’re made of and who you are.
I’m not suggesting white people apologize for being white. We have not choice in being born white, just as others had no choice in being born black or brown. What I am suggesting is that we all have the choice to be part of a long-overdue change.
Ignoring people who normalize antagonistic behavior toward people of a particular race or class is not okay. Pretending people aren’t treated badly just because it happens outside the safety of your comfortable white bubble is wrong. Shaking your head at another social injustice as you wait for all of the commotion to die down so you can get back to your life is as harmful as the social injustice.
Not being racist is not enough if we are to evolve into a society that values all of us. Not being a bigot is not enough if we are to live meaningful lives grounded in convictions worth fighting for. The time for passive observation is over. It’s time for each of us to elevate our sense of agency, identify our own uncomfortable path of personal growth, and start to have the hard conversations with people in our own spheres of influence.
How uncomfortable are you willing to get to stand up against racism, bigotry, homophobia, xenophobia, or any form of discrimination or prejudice? Perhaps it’s time for all of us to get a little more comfortable with being uncomfortable.
If you want to live a meaningfully better life, you’re going to have to make the dangerous choice to dissent. A life lived meaningfully isn’t denominated by digital friends, designer logos, or wads of paper notes. It’s denominated by what you’ve lived, what it’s worth to you, and what that’s worth to humanity. The question you must answer isn’t how to get ahead. It’s how to go somewhere that matters.