Wednesday, 8 May 2013

Comfort-seeking

Just when did it get to be a faux-pas to make people "uncomfortable"? I keep reading about unfortunate people who've been made "uncomfortable" by some seemingly routine occurrence and I wonder why this fleeting squeamishness is taken so seriously.

Why is it suddenly so necessary to feel "comfortable", to be spared any sense of embarrassment, of awkwardness, of bewilderment? Why are such quite natural reactions seen as unthinkable?

Feeling uncomfortable is a normal everyday experience, a way of adjusting to new situations. If you never feel uncomfortable, you're never going to learn anything about yourself or about the world. You'll be stuck forever in an over-protected bubble.

A Michigan mother has complained that passages in Anne Frank's diary made her daughter feel "uncomfortable" because they were "pornographic" and "inappropriate". The passages in question were simply descriptions of a young girl's body.

If her daughter didn't know much about her body, then yes, what Anne Frank wrote probably did make her uncomfortable. But the result was that she learnt things and was better informed.

There's nothing wrong with feeling uncomfortable. If on the other hand you're feeling offended, or belittled, or mocked, that's different. That's a genuine attack on your self-esteem and your dignity that needs challenging.

But let's not elevate a bit of functional awkwardness into a major psychic trauma that calls for kid gloves in all directions. In fact we should encourage a daily diet of occasional discomfort just as we encourage the regular consumption of high-fibre foods.

It's good for you, dammit, just stop making such a fuss!

16 comments:

Jenny Woolf said...

I'm more shocked that this mother should bother about her daughter's "discomfort" about body descriptions when she should have been feeling a darn sight more than "uncomfortable" to consider Anne Frank's situation and fate.

On the whole I agree with you, although I have to say I get a bit fed up with people who seem to enjoy making others uncomfortable. I suppose the answer is to strike a balance, (as is usually the case)

Nick said...

Jenny: Absolutely. Did Anne Frank's dreadful entrapment just pass the mother by? A very warped sense of priorities.

Oh yes, I agree entirely about people who actually get pleasure out of other people's discomfort. Which comes under the heading of belittling (and bullying), I guess.

Bijoux said...

People are wack when it comes to their kids. Seriously. And yes, I would hope that Anne Frank's diary makes us all uncomfortable. What a horrific time in history.

Nick said...

Bijoux: True. Parents can lose all sense of proportion sometimes, imagining all sorts of horrific scenarios their kids might succumb to. Indeed, every word of her diary ought to be uncomfortable reading for anyone who's been spared such a terrible experience.

Liz said...

Don't tell me: the Michigan mother was trying to sue the publishers!

Nick said...

Liz: It wouldn't surprise me in the least!

Z said...

She doesn't know the meaning of the word 'pornographic,' either.

Nick said...

Z: She certainly doesn't. How can a prosaic description of a young girl's body parts be in any way sexually titillating? She has a rather odd way of looking at things.

Wisewebwoman said...

Of course for some people, their insularity would prevent them from seeking out historical facts and "abstinence only" would be their preferred birth control method along with the earth being a couple of thousand years old. Etc.
She would come from this school of thought I would think.
And we all need to be uncomfortable. This would ensure change.
XO
WWW

Rummuser said...

Leave alone being uncomfortable, some of these worthies would like to spread their discomfort to perfectly comfortable people. I recently posted about a fellow who I had to ask to get out of my house for doing precisely that.

Nick said...

www: If only abstinence actually worked! But of course like most resolutions, it usually fails sooner or later.

Ramana: Very true. They would like everyone to be equally "uncomfortable" about something that most people have no problem with.

Secret Agent Woman said...

That's absurd, of course. The discomfort should come from the idea of people being exterminated, and it's an appropriate feeling. (I would say though, that the sort of hostile work environment of entrenched sexism or racism or homophobia produces discomfort that SHOULD be addressed.)

Nick said...

Agent: I think on reflection I should have distinguished between different types of discomfort in different settings. I was being a bit broad-brush (not for the first time). The sort of systematic attempt to make people uncomfortable that you mention can never be acceptable.

Nick said...

I should have clearly separated the personal discomfort that comes from adjusting to something novel or unfamiliar, and the social discomfort that comes from being undermined or undervalued by others. Though I did mention being "offended or belittled or mocked".

Jay at The Depp Effect said...

Good heavens above - she was made 'uncomfortable' by Anne Franks diary ... well yes, anyone would be. But then I read that it was because it contains inappropriate or pornographic passages. What??

The best I can imagine is that it is classic displacement because she couldn't wrap her head around Anne Frank's dreadful predicament. If she was really uncomfortable about the descriptions of a young girl's body, then something is seriously wrong and needs addressing.

You're right. Feelings of discomfort are there for a reason and can provide valuable lessons. You cannot - and should not - legislate against them or refuse to acknowledge them.

Nick said...

Jay: Yes, it could be displacement, I guess. But more likely it's just extreme prudishness about the human body and the slightest hint of sex.