Been thinking a lot lately about the distinction between sitting with your discomfort and wallowing in it, and how unfortunately the distinction between the two when viewed from the outside is that the latter is often more satisfyingly performative than the former even though it's the less healthy or productive of the two.

Distinction between "I want you to not make your discomfort my responsibility" vs "I want to see and verify your discomfort".

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Which isn't a statement about motives: I think the concept that people do need to sit with their discomfort with e.g. their role in systemic oppression is a good and important one, that your responsibility is to grapple with the source of your discomfort instead of deflecting and externalizing it and making your discomfort the center of conversation. And that can be hard and, well, uncomfortable, but it's necessary and internal work to do.

But as part of a public dynamic, grappling internally with your discomfort and the causes of it is not much of a display. And that can lead to a bad situation where the necessary internal work is...unsatisfyingly internal. And so the desire to verify you're doing the work collapses down to wanting to verify your discomfort. Which gets into some bad social territory, a paradox of needing folks to decenter themselves but then pressuring them to center their discomfort for evaluation.

This is all a few steps into the weeds, of course; the flipside of criticism of these second-order dynamics is that they in turn can be weaponized by people who refuse to do any work, and use the notions of "virtue signaling" and bad-faith performativeness to short circuit any need to take responsibility or sit with their discomfort in the first place. Cf. the overt culture war defensiveness of right-wing media about Cancel Culture, etc.

So it's a hard problem and a mess all around.

@joshmillard I think a big part of the problem is the way that social media has flattened social spaces, removed boundaries, and made everything potentially a public performance. Which coincided with the decline of face-to-face community networks and groups.

So it's harder to cultivate social networks where you can do difficult work without exposing yourself to the economy of likes and reblogs.

@joshmillard hum not sure if this is along the same line of what you are talking about but when working with student peers or younger students, curate two phrases around these ideas

The first is "Lean into Discomfort, Lean into Each other"

The second is "Create a Brave Space", which involves learning to be vulnerable and admitting what you don't know, and in turn i suppose admitting you are uncomfortable and naming that

and maybe these ideas are useful for you to build on

@joshmillard of course, maybe the "naming" is part of internal work (rather than something that needs to be externally as you mentioned).

@pixouls I think those are both useful structures, totally. "Lean into discomfort" is a good framing for people who might find the idea of just sort of experiencing static discomfort overwhelming: treating it as a process, an exploration of self, instead of just "now think about what you've done" is a different framing that can be helpful.

Creating a brave space is a good process, but a much more narrow/specific one that requires more community and mutuality than the default situation.

@joshmillard yeah, i find brave space tricky too because it is a change of language as well. "safe space" is being popularized, but students are a lot less likely to have heard brave space before, let alone acknowledge it. Like "I'm supposed to be safe in a place I don't feel safe it, now I also have to feel brave too?" it can seem like a lot of work if there isn't already a sense of connection to the community. sometimes its not the most important thing to pose to our students at the time.


“Sitting with”, to me, means to neither stroke the flames nor squash them.

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