The greatest gift may be a little discomfort



As I walked through Portland recently, I found myself feeling annoyed as the sixth "homeless" person asked me for money. No, "annoy" is the wrong word. What I felt was discomfort. I want to help, but I don't want to get scammed - again. I don't want to walk by as if this human being has not spoken to me, but it feels uncomfortable to make eye contact unless I'm going to cough up the goods - "the goods," of course, being money, not compassion or good will or kindness.

That got me thinking about all the other things that cause me discomfort. (Be gentle with me. I'm being honest here.)

  • Time with my father-in-law, who barely spoke to me when he was well and now, with dementia, says even less.

  • Navigating rooms of people I don't know or, worse yet, "networking."

  • Not knowing what to say to not-quite-friends who have suffered loss or are sick or going through a hard time.

  • Breaking routines, like coffee in the morning or popping on the Today show first thing in the day.

  • Feeling indebted to anyone, in any way.

The list goes on, but you get the idea. I have become pretty adept at avoiding these situations without anyone catching on.

But you know what? I catch on. I'm the loser here. Every time comfort wins, I lose. I lose the chance to connect with another human being, to feel something new, to hear a new story, and to feel that rush of energy that comes with breaking old habits and allowing vulnerability to win over protectiveness.

At its core, this is the debate that is raging in US politics these days. Fear makes us uncomfortable. And that discomfort makes us want to build walls, real and imagined. Discomfort makes us want to hurt someone else before they can hurt us. Discomfort makes us pull in, tighten up, avoid risk and justify bad behavior.

And every time comfort wins, we all lose. We miss the chance to enrich our lives with fascinating people and stories that lift us up. We miss the chance to feel something new. (Compassion? Courage? Love?) And we miss the chance to feel that rush of energy that comes when we act in truly inspired ways in the world.

This holiday season, I choose to choose. Choose compassion... courage... love. Even choose discomfort. I think I'll go get my father-in law on Christmas morning so I can listen to whatever he cares to say - or simply ride in silence. I think I'll look strangers in the eye, send a note to not-quite-friends in pain, and not have to make things perfect for Christmas dinner.

This is the invitation of this amazing season, extended to each of us individually, as a nation, and as a global community of people who sometimes feel discomfort, but have the extraordinary capacity to choose what we do next.

This is, perhaps, the greatest gift: to feel a little discomfort - and choose each other anyway.