Sunday, May 18, 2014

Comfort Zones

Yesterday I wrote about class, and how I suspect we are not very good at crossing class boundaries.  This continues that train of thought.  Well, perhaps not train of thought  Think of it more like bumper cars all trying to go the same direction.  For a long time we were convinced that upward economic mobility was the American way, and that each generation would be better off than the one before.  It was the way to move from class to class, always upward.  That seems to be no longer true, at least according to the news reports than come across my desk.  As long as it was true, we didn’t have to think too much about class because we assumed that upward economic mobility was the conduit between classes, and we could all be in it. 

But if class is only partly a function of wealth, and if other things, such as social networks, cultural values, belief systems, myths about community, etc. that sociologist Suzanne Keller has written about, are even more determinant of class, then it may be harder to cross boundaries than we thought.  Without the heavy artillery of wealth to blast through walls that divide classes, what will open them up?  

I think the current emphasis on getting out of our comfort zones may be the answer.  Motivational speakers, personal coaches of one kind or another, corporate consultants, gurus of church growth and development all seem to think so.   It’s what they are selling these days, and they may be right for a change, but what does getting out of one’s comfort zone actually mean?

On the one hand, I think it means to challenge one’s self to do things in new, creative ways that may seem a bit alien and unpleasant in order to grow in knowledge, skill and success.  If we can no longer rely on upward economic mobility, are there other pathways to upward mobility, and, if there are, do we need to get out of our comfort zones to get on them?  Perhaps getting out of our comfort zones is the pathway.

What is my comfort zone?  If I find it so comfortable, why would I want to get out of it?  My wealthy right wing bigot acquaintance referred to in the last post figures that his comfort zone is the one everyone else ought to aspire to join, and he certainly sees no reason for him to leave it.  Do I feel the same way about my comfort zone, my enlightened, progressive, self righteous Christian comfort zone?

Do we have collective comfort zones that describe our communities, regions, and nation?  How can political decisions break away from collective comfort zones so that growth, in some new way of understanding growth, can take place?

I encourage everyone, including me, to challenge their personal comfort zones, not so much to achieve upward mobility, but to fight against atrophy, apathy, and ossification.  Maybe we can do the same thing with collective comfort zones.  Upward economic mobility really was a way to churn the society, keeping it lively, innovative and forward looking.  Political decisions relied on it as much as individuals did.  If we cannot rely on it anymore, it is incumbent on us to find other ways to do the same, and a new myth, as it were, of each generation willing to leave its comfort zone may be the ideal answer.  Otherwise we face the probability of becoming a people content to live off the memory of who we used to be while existing within increasingly impermeable class boundaries  that make an interdependent, harmonious community hard to attain.  Think sixth century Rome for example.  


It should be an easy thing for those of us who are Christian to lead the way.  The incarnational theology that is the meat of a Christian life should impel us to venture forth with courage into new places, among new people, pursing new ways.  It should, but we have proven ourselves adept at praying that we may show forth in our lives what we profess by our faith without actually doing it.  Why is that?  We like our comfort zones.  Maybe that’s why God, in God’s wisdom, has created a world in which we can so easily be yanked out of them by circumstances beyond our control.  Maybe we need to metaphorically march around in the desert for forty years every now and then just to get us back on the right track.  I hate that idea.  I like my comfort zone as much as you like yours.

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