Comfort while Uncomfortable

I’m sure it is not just a swimming thing; in fact, I think one of my psychologist friends says it too, and I don’t think she is a swimmer. Perhaps the hours of hydrostatic pops and bubbles during swim team practices have, by some alchemy, catalyzed this idea in my nervous system. That is, if you want to change, to move from where you are to where you want to be, “you’ve got to get comfortable being unconformable.”

I am a forty-one year-old lawyer,  wife, and mom of two young boys who swims because my knees won’t run any more—jerks— and my Masters coach, oblivious to my past-my-primeness, still barks this from the deck walls. “Amy, you will get better when you can figure out how to be comfortable being uncomfortable.” I’m glad he can’t hear me mumbling “‘eff off” under water.

If not knitted into my fibers in the pool, the need to learn how to be comfortable being uncomfortable, began to take root in law school where I’d find my groove making a legal argument in favor of one position only to have the professor stop me, mid-sentence, and have me argue the other side. Uncomfortable as hell. But it made me a better speaker and more honest thinker. Or maybe the equipoise developed slowly throughout a 16 year law practice holding space in difficult conversations with clients whom I believed were making bad decisions.

Equipoise amid discomfort is a small kind of courage.

Editing the Marketplace of Ideas

It is also a skill woefully lacking in the average U.S. media consumer— who also happens to be the average American voter. The skill is the same whether one is swimming laps, or reading long form journalism; we must learn how to be comfortable while being exposed to information, stories, and experiences that feel bad to us. In this new hyperconnected world where anyone can be an author, we consumers of information must also be editors.   We are the fact checkers.

To be an informed electorate, we must stick around when our blood pressure goes up and we can’t sit still in our chairs. Shake your head “no” if you need to, but keep your butt in the seat. Take a deep breath and open up the tiny door in your brain that lets you try on ideas without any obligation to purchase. All ideas come with free returns. If what you are reading feels false, go to a list of 5-10 reputable fact check sources and see if it holds up. I generally use two and go to third if I need a tie break.

To use a recent example, I am very uncomfortable listing to the Preside-Elect speak. It makes my skin itch and my face get red. Come to think of it, I could be mildly allergic to him. But I do it any way because I might be able to find places where he and I agree, places that will inform my civic responsibility. It is how I hold up my end of our great American social contract. And sometimes it sucks. That’s okay. I have lots of practice at enduring things that suck. I listen, I fact check, I sit in the uncomfortable messiness of it, hating it a lot, and see what comes bubbling up.

Our present age is a media feast on the scale of Game of Thrones— side boards piled high with dishes spiced and prepared for exacting tastes, wine for everyone, and also poison. Most of us select only from the dishes we like. Buffet style media consumption means that we do not have to bear the discomfort of watching Dan Rather or Peter Jennings or Brian Williams, or Lester Holt or Megyn Kelly, or Sean Hannady. Instead, feeling ridiculously self-satisfied, we read someone we agree with and compose a 140 character Nweet (nasty-tweet) about media bias, bad hair, or  name calling, e.g, “cuckservative,” “femi-nazi” “right-wing-nut-job.” We hijack a complex conversation with an oversimplified bumper sticker meme and run away to our living room where we can congratulate ourselves on our wit. This is not courage.

Then there is a somewhat new Dementor among polarized politicos flying about American streets sucking truthfulness from  media sources. This fantasy truth-eater, supposedly thrives in the dark corners of our open information age with rich sources such as the Open Records Acts, WikiLeaks, and Anonymous. Websites like Snopes.com, FactCheck.org, Politifact.org, and Open Secrets.org all provided thoroughly researched and peer reviewed information with a simple click. It is easier than it has ever been in the history of the written word to sort fact from fiction.

A friend of mine recently said she didn’t believe anything she reads, implying that all media is biased, untruthful. And while I disagree with her, I do think that if you have no basis of facts on which to operate, it is probably best not to vote. Stay home and paint your nails.

What furthers my friend’s incertitude is the newsification of iPhone photos and videos, Tweeted or Facebook Live, without any explanation or context, creating a viral soup of misinformation on par with armed forces propaganda: See Houston Protestors ; White man beaten by “black mob” for voting for Trump; Twenty-Somethings Making up News for Cash. There are dozens of these. Each just as false as the other.

Unwilling to do fact checks and desperate to get comfortable again, we grab our laptop and choose “better” news—without all that paradigm challenging and fact checking. Lefties run to Mother Jones, Huffington Post, Salon, Slate and MSNBC. The Right cuddles up and sucks its thumb at Red State, Resurgent, Breitbardt, Drudge and the Blaze.

What about books? Remember them? Large, heavy objects that prop doors open, kill spiders and camouflage scratched table tops. Books are the new wallpaper of interior design.  Of course, books also contain edited, fact-checked, indexed information. And you can get them free from your library! According to Smithsonian Magazine, 27% of Americans did not read a single book last year.

Instead, we feed ourselves rabbit pellets of unedited, echo-chamber, click bait. We are no longer arguing about the implications of facts, or about the effectiveness of economic, environmental, agricultural, educational, healthcare and social security policies. Instead, there is a subgroup of parthenogenesis humanoids who birth new tiny conservatives, liberals, or God help us, white nationalists without the messy intercourse of opposing views. We are building a world of click bait jellyfish voters.

The Call to the Arena

I put off creating this blog for some time, choosing instead long Facebook posts to elucidate a point. But I have to concede Facebook isn’t set up for the long form essay. It is for Joe Biden memes, baby pictures and cat videos. That said, I have a strong calling, to humbly try and tackle these issues in long form, citing my sources where I can, and inviting any intellectually honest feedback.  images

I am motivated by a great Republican, Theodore Roosevelt:

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.

I am stepping into the arena, inviting the mud, the dust, sweat and blood. This is my devotion to a thoughtful understanding of our world and it is worth the fall that will inevitably come. It is worth it to be brave.

In the coming days, this will be the space where I try to understand and tease out my own thinking in these disturbing times. There is nothing like writing to foster understanding. This is my headspace, lets hope I don’t get pelted with too many bricks. Welcome.

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