Most of you (on my email list/blog readers) are a lot like me. Midwesterners of Scandinavian descent. Let me ask you something. Do you know what lefse is? If you answered no, this particular post is not directed to you so much as it is to my fellow potato-farming brethren.
We Midwest Scandinavians like a little discomfort. Physical discomfort, that is. To us, a little pain is like an old friend. It’s the reason we keep our thermostats set to 60 in the dead of winter. It’s the reason I haven’t seen a doctor for this ache in my knee. The reason my dad didn’t admit he was pretty much deaf until he was in his 60s. A little struggle feels good. Discomfort keeps us honest and humble…or something.
Emotional discomfort, though? That’s something entirely different.
We Scandinavians don’t like to talk about our feelings. It probably has something to do with our Viking ancestors. Maybe they threw kids overboard into the icy waters for admitting they felt a weird sensation in their chest after getting picked last in gym class.
While running away from our feelings was likely an important part of survival back then, I think it’s the opposite today. If we want to survive in today’s world we have to deal with our feelings. Life is too complex. The information we process and issues we face. Racism and discrimination, for example. And if just saying that made you squirm a little then that’s what I’m talking about.
It’s why I’ve begun to think about being uncomfortable internally in the same way I’m comfortable being uncomfortable externally (it makes sense, you just might have to read it twice). If I treat my emotional discomfort the same as this pain in my knee, or like keeping the thermostat set to 60 in January, it prevents me from running off into the woods and living alone as a hermit. Essentially, it helps me engage in conversations — mostly just listening — where I feel ignorant and am afraid of looking stupid or even worse, racist or un “woke” and all that stuff.
Why do this? Because it’s the first step for me to get to the next step. And that step might lead to another step, which leads to more steps. One step might be me posting on my blog about Scandinavians and racism (you think my Midwest self really wanted to do this?).
If you’re feeling like me, you might try thinking about that mess in your chest and brain a little differently. Here, practice by watching this short video. I love the title, because it tells you right out of the gate to expect to feel awkward inside. Let that be a sign you’re on the right track.
Watch the video here:
Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man