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Philosophy

Are We Too Comfortable?

When we ask someone if he would like to be uncomfortable and he would answer yes, we would probably raise an eyebrow. Except for David Goggins, no one in their right mind would want to be uncomfortable. Being uncomfortable gives us stress, anxiety, and all other kinds of negative emotions. And why in the world would we want to have negative emotions? However, this fear of being uncomfortable can have some negative side effects.

            Let us examine why it might be good to be uncomfortable sometimes. Let’s start with some examples. Imagine you work in a business, and you put in a lot of work. You stay late when it is asked of you, you give the best ideas for the business, etc. You believe that you should get a raise for your hard work. But you have to ask this raise from your boss, and he doesn’t really want to give you a raise. Putting yourself in this situation will be highly uncomfortable.

            Imagine you put in a lot of work into your relationship, but your boyfriend doesn’t really acknowledge this. He doesn’t even say thank you when you bring him a flower. You feel neglected. To solve this problem, you have to go into a discussion with him. This will also be highly uncomfortable because it could cause a fight. However, I believe that in both examples it is necessary to confront this problem and to be uncomfortable.

            Human beings like comfort because it gives us the sense of security. We don’t have to think about our safety when we’re comfortable. Comfortability is something which is a benefit to society. If we would be uncomfortable all the time, then we wouldn’t be making the progress that we’re making. We wouldn’t be able to write great literature or make amazing movies. The fact that I’m writing this means that in a way I am comfortable.

However, it isn’t good to feel comfortable all the time as well. Just as you can’t create great things without comfort, I do believe that you can’t create great things without discomfort. The process of working on something meaningful is highly discomfortable but necessary to produce the product. You might have to work late so your company can be beneficial. You might have to say no to a party with friends because you need to work on a deadline. Or you might have to forego immediate pleasure so you can have a meaningful relationship with your partner. All these things bring forth meaningful events or products, but you must put in the work that is uncomfortable. We could even argue that it is meaningful because it was uncomfortable to do!

Imagine getting your degree in your hand without having to study for it. You haven’t done anything, yet you still get your degree. Would you feel like you deserve it? Maybe you do, but would you feel like it meant anything to get it? I don’t think we would. It is the equivalent of a participation medal. You get a reward simply for being there. It literally means nothing. Why? Because it wasn’t hard to get. You didn’t have to put in the effort. The effort is what makes it meaningful when we achieve something. But the effort comes with discomfort.

Too much comfort can lead to a fear of losing that comfort. This fear can potentially be very dangerous. We might cling on to our comfort in the hope that the thing that is bringing us discomfort goes away. However, this never goes away, it just becomes hidden. We run away into our own echo chambers on YouTube or Facebook, so we only get the news and videos we want. The algorithms make sure that we can continue to watch the videos we want to watch and not those that might make us feel uncomfortable. We will be indoctrinating ourselves in a certain ideology because we are too afraid to look at something else.

A story that comes to mind is the story of Oblomov, written by Ivan Goncharov. Oblomov is a rich nobleman who lays in bed all the time. He blames anything but himself for his laziness. There is a letter on his shelf which he must read urgently, but every day he puts it off. Why? He is afraid of the confrontation it might bring. Yet, it is necessary that he reads it. Oblomovs life is devoid of meaning and all because of his fear of discomfort. He would rather not know what is happening in his life than to face it and the discomfort that goes along with it.

I see the impossibility of talking about politics without it becoming a personal fight as a symptom of this. Debating about politics with people that disagree with you is highly uncomfortable and many people take it personal when someone doesn’t agree with their political views. Why? Because that means that someone who they care about says that they might be wrong. Being wrong is highly uncomfortable, so to be comfortable we need to believe we are always right. We retreat into our own opinions. We only watch videos that tell us what we already know and believe to be right. We only talk to the same-minded people. But this results in utter stagnation. No progress but devolution.

Discomfort and progress go hand in hand. What do we do when we go to the gym? We lift weights, which makes our muscles tear up. We literally damage our body so that it can grow stronger. Nietzsche’s dictum: “what doesn’t kill me, makes me stronger” can be used here. We become better by overcoming obstacles and ourselves. We become more of ourselves by overcoming the self we are now. We are not our full potential at this moment. We are but a fraction of what we can be. But only through discomfort and saying yes to it, can we hope to become better.

Instead of retreating into our echo chambers. Instead of blaming other people for our faults. Instead of being afraid to face the unknown, we should want to courageously confront the discomfort. Rise above it and realize a new form of comfort which we can then rise above once more. That is one way of bringing meaning into your existence. Bearing the discomfort. So, when you feel afraid of doing something because you fear the consequences, go do it. It is a sign that it is important. Important things are fearful to do but give a lot of meaning when done. When you fear the opinion of others, say it. If you fear being laughed at because you’re wearing something special, wear it. Let the discomfort hit you but rise again stronger. Or as David Goggins would say: “Don’t be a bitch.”

I hope this made you uncomfortable. That would mean I have succeeded in my work.

By elenchusphilosophy

I'm a Philosophy student in Belgium, trying to talk and write about ideas of all kinds of sorts.

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