How comfortable is your comfort zone?
What gets you out of your comfort zone? A middle-of the night phone call? A flat tire? A new job? Countless things can yank us out of a comfort zone. But first, just what is a comfort zone? What does one look like? Well, a comfort zone can, of course, be many things:
A person – when you’re with that person you feel safe, serene and comfortable;
A chair – perhaps an old recliner is your comfort zone – the place where you feel the safest;
Your home – you walk in, kick off your shoes and keep the world at bay;
Your car – You’re by yourself listening to music – or the quiet – and just reveling in being with yourself;
Perhaps your comfort zone is not being within shouting distance of a conservative or shouting distance of a liberal;
Perhaps your comfort zone isn’t a place or a thing at all but simply a state of mind – the state where you feel at peace, at harmony, wrapped in warmth and comfort.
Going back to the original question, what happens when, for whatever reason, you’re dragged un-ceremoniously out of a comfort zone? But our own personal comfort zones are not anywhere near societal comfort zones, right? Well I don’t know.
What causes a breakdown in your comfort? Is it a bad dinner at a restaurant? Is it the high price of fuel? Is it the high interest rate on a MasterCard? Is it the low interest rate on savings? Or is it when you exit the freeway? As you get to the end of the exit ramp and will have to stop and wait for the light to turn green you see a person who may have not showered in a few days or weeks. Their hair is matted and long, the clothes are dirty and stained; their shoes have holes so large you can see them from your car. Is being parked next to this person while you wait for a light to change and seeing a sign they’re holding what pulls you from your comfort zone?
It’s not personal…or is it?
I may have just left a classroom where the time had gone wonderfully well. Something was dis-cussed and the room was illuminated. The class ran with it and wrote all sorts of papers that pushed their understanding and creativity to the limits. And now it’s evening and I’m tired from teaching and grading papers, and having meetings, and writing a newspaper column, and working on a book. I’m tired but exhil-arated. I’m feeling great – the day went well and all is wonderful with the world.
Dark is settling, a Corinne Bailey Rae CD is playing, and I can’t wait to get home and hug the kids. I get off the freeway and as I approach the end of the ramp I see that person with a sign. I know that mine will be the car parked next to that person with a sign. I do not want to feel “Ah, gee, not tonight” but I might.
I can’t help but remember something my grandmother said to me when I was with her in a car and something similar happened. She said “Ah the person just wants the money to buy whiskey.” I remember even then thinking “so what?” If a person so needs something to stand out here for hours begging for change from strangers – and take the abuse from some drivers that comes with that – then they probably really need it.
But I didn’t say anything to her and somehow some of her discomfort zone apparently seeped into me. Doesn’t come out often, but occasionally it might.
I was with a friend when we were in this same position getting off a freeway and he said, “Oh not again. I give to the Red Cross, I donate blood, I recycle, I vote, I don’t drive a gas hog. Come on, how much?”
People asking for help in situations like that really take us out of our comfort zones in a hurry. Maybe it’s because we’re face-to-face with another human being and one who may not be quite as pretty or clean or as heart-warming as one of Jerry’s kids. Or, do Jerry’s kids yank you from your comfort zone too? According to the National Alliance to End Homelessness, there are over 670,000 individuals who are homeless on any given night in the U.S. There are 131,000 homeless veterans. And while it may help keep us in our comfort zone to think that most of those individuals are homeless because they are lazy, or simply don’t want to work, we know that the reality is that people are homeless for many reasons. Some are homeless because of abusive marriages and they’ve gone into hiding, or because they were thrown out of their house with nothing, or are running sacred from horrendous situations. Some are mentally ill, and some are too young to escape horrific situations. The reality may be too gruesome for some of us to think about – it’s too far out of our comfort zone.
So what do we do? How can we get beyond our comfort zones? Well first you have to recognize that it exists. Then you have to see the need to break out of it – and there’s always that need – for the person, for the human race or simply yourself. Then you have to want to break out of it. You have to want to feel a little edgy. You have to know that to help move a world means being a little less comfortable.