How do we grow our tolerance for discomfort?

I read recently that if you want to get to the heart of something, ask the question “why?” five times.

So parenthood has been preparing me for something.

Photo by Evan Dennis on Unsplash



“I worked in group dialogue for years: often in dialogue to do with conflict and peace. That field of work — often called Narrative Medicine these days — has a lot of models for how to hold group discussions.

Group processes are always a certain exercise in looking at a singular thing — a single story, a single reason, a single purpose — and making them plural, even exploring some of the inner contradictions. Nothing is so simple as to be solely simple is an underlying premise when working with groups of people who have found themselves in need of facilitated discussion. 

One technique that I learnt was one that was attributed to a Japanese methodology. The way of discussing is simple. When someone says something of importance, ask the question why? five times; not as a cornering or an accusation, but as an exploration of some of the layers supporting what is important to them.” ~ Pádraig Ó Tuama

I’m kind of interested in the how, more than the why, at the moment. So, let’s ask HOW.

How do we do reconciliation?

Understand it’s a process, and it involves unpacking a lot of inherited racism.

How do we address/solve/eliminate racism?

Local athlete, and anti-racism and diversity consultant Anita Naidu in the Pique this week said, “get accustomed to feeling uncomfortable.”

“At the root of dismantling covert racism is White discomfort, which is at an all-time high since many people have never had to think about racial issues at such depth or for this long before or examine their role in it. So the best thing those who are committed to fighting racism can do is be willing to get really uncomfortable, because no matter how progressive, educated and international a community deems itself to be, those insidious forms of racism will be difficult to upend until that discomfort is welcomed.” ~ Anita Naidu

How do we deal with discomfort?

Build tolerance for the sensation.

How do we build tolerance?

If you’re an athlete, you’re used to the sensation of discomfort. Your goal (be faster, get to the top, clean this section) pulls you through the sensation, until you get to where you’re going, and then you puke. Or maybe not. Because you build stamina as you push through.

My fella is recovering from an injury. He’s working through the discomfort, in part by reminding himself that the discomfort is part of the healing. Getting reassurance from a physio, yes, this is part of the process. It won’t be like this forever.

I’ve been soothing my discomfort through the pandemic by trying to let go of the need to be right, to be sure, to be certain (ie let go of the shore, the floating dock, the fixed thing) and stepping into the flow, trusting that there’s a greater intelligence at play, that’s greater than me, greater than Bonnie Henry, greater than COVID-19, greater than anything I can really understand, and it’s love, and I can choose to grapple and wrestle and rationalize and resist, or I can choose to unlock myself, and just step into the flow of all-things, and I’ll recognize the feeling of going with it, because it feels like being in love. Even if it means letting go of the shore, and having no idea where it will lead.

How do we be okay with grey, movement, nuance… how do we cultivate that ability to flow beyond the familiar?

Through developing a deeper sense of connection.

How do we feel a deeper sense of connection (especially when in circuit breaker, stay back from people, don’t gather mode?)

By exploring what it means to be in relationship. (I don’t have to be in the physical presence of someone, to be in relationship with them.)

Photo by Timon Studler on Unsplash

We’re living in a time of discontinuity (says futurist Alex Steffen) and disruption.

My most succinct working definition of a “discontinuity” is a watershed moment, one where past experience loses its value as a guide to decision-making about the future. Discontinuity is a fact of our lives. It’s no longer a choice. Most of us are confused about when we are. ~ Alex Steffen

We’re going to need to get more adept at being uncomfortable and still being our best selves.

How do we best do this? Not alone. That’s my bet. Divided, we are conquered. This phrase keeps coming up for me, as a kind of nudge out of my comfort zone, into the messy process of community, of group, of trying to work out this stuff together, of putting myself out there, of hearing people share things that make me uncomfortable and realize that’s okay, that’s progress, that’s what we’re growing together – our tolerance.

How do we come together when there are so many things pulling us apart? (Starting with economic inequity. I can stall out so easily when I pigeon hole myself into this dichotomy: privileged white homeowner living on stolen land. It’s not inaccurate. But it’s not the most helpful lens.) I can’t fix structural racism single handedly. And I think it might be another colonial fantasy to assume that it’s on me, to come up with the solution. How do we approach these systems and remake them? In relationship with each other. How do we navigate that, when so many things, spoken and unspoken, pull us away from each other?

After I listened to this podcast with Ece Temelkuran, author of Together, I came away with the key word: dignity. By treating each other with dignity.

So, I come to the end of my five-times-how process, and is it a riddle or a trick, or a truth kernel at the heart of the question to start with: how do we do reconciliation? and arrive at: We start with dignity.

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