Sitting with your Discomfort

This phrase refers to a central part of the practice of dialogue - and arguably the most unsettling. Whereas like-minded conversation among agreeing parties confirms and reaffirms existing understandings, beliefs and convictions (see confirmation bias) - dialogue among disagreeing parties inevitably does the opposite. In other words, the experience of such dialogue can challenge, question or expose existing standpoints in profoundly unsettling ways.  When this happens, our human tendency is to push away, avoid and somehow get away from the discomfort.  Thus some will shut down a conversation - or walk away away entirely. One woman declared after a liberal-conservative dialogue course that she would never participate in anything like that again.*  

By contrast, “sitting with discomfort” reflects a willingness to not run or avoid or push away.  But instead, to stay, to open and sit with the conflicting ideas at play. Similar to “sitting with discomfort” in meditation practice, the idea is that by doing so - eventually we may experience movement and evolution in the conflict...if we watch long enough.  

QUESTIONS TO PLAY WITH:

- When was the last time that you personally ‘sat with your discomfort’ with another person during an active disagreement?  What was that like?  And what happened afterward?  

- In challenging conversations, what do you usually do?  What is your normal way of responding?  

- If it’s more (immediately) comfortable to avoid challenging feelings, why would anyone not want to just push away from them?  In other words, why would anyone be crazy enough to actually sit with unpleasant emotion?  

Conversation Catalysts: 

How might this apply to working with discomfort in conversation?  Mindfulness for Beginners.  Jon Kabat-Zinn

 

Contributors: 

Jacob Hess

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