After several decades of observing my fellow Americans, I would like to urge them to do something that from appearances seems to be a horrible, heinous, torturous thing:
I don’t mean that we should all put stones in our shoes, and wear 3-piece suits or full Victorian corsets and hoop-skirts. Americans in general, though, have gone far, FAR to the other end of the spectrum. Comfort seems to rule over all else, and it’s commonplace to see people in public wearing pajama pants, or jogging suits, or ragged shorts and tank-tops…all in the name of being comfortable.
And I think we should stop it. The human race has never advanced because we were comfortable. Most inventions were made to fix some sort of discomfort. Most explorations were done because of some kind of discomfort – whether metaphorical or psychological or philosophical. But nobody’s ever said to themselves, “Hm, everything around me is perfect – couldn’t imagine anything better. Think I’ll go sail across an ocean.” Comfortable begets complacent. Complacency begets stagnation. Stagnation begets death.
Be uncomfortable in your dress habits. This is big. Back before WWII, men didn’t go out without a tie, jacket and hat. Women wore dresses and did their hair. Americans looked NICE back then.
Today…well, look at People of Wal-Mart to get an idea of how we leave house…or trailer. If you would ask someone on the street why they decided to leave the house and go downtown wearing too-tight pink sweatpants and a t-shirt that proudly exclaims “Harley Davidson” and has a picture of an eagle fucking a Sherman tank…they’d scowl at you and tell you to fuck off…they’re comfortable. Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness, that sort of thing.
But seriously, how many people do you see in a day that are painful to look at? In their choice to be comfortable above all else…they make the people around them Uncomfortable, and stomp on THEIR right to the Pursuit of Happiness. So if the ratio is (and I’m pulling this out of my rectum) one person comfortable to 10 people uncomfortable…multiply that 1:10 ratio by EVERYONE walking around “comfortable,” and it equals EVERYONE is actually 9 times more uncomfortaIble than if we just dressed decently before leaving the house.
So maybe that makes math-heads wince, but my point is that we should endure a little bit of discomfort in order to make the public world around us a happier place.
Be a little bit uncomfortable in your environment. I think a lot of people only breathe real, unfiltered, unconditioned outside air for about three minutes per day. The rest of the time they’re indoors or in a car, in a perfect 75 degrees with 45% humidity, with no smells that aren’t provided by Glade or Febreeze.
I live in Florida, so I’ll grant right up front that there’s some extreme heat here in the summer, and a need for air conditioning. Before this I lived in Michigan, with extreme winter and need for heat. Again, I’m not talking about extreme discomfort, or situations that could cause frostbite or heatstroke. But…I’m appalled when I drive to work, and it’s a pleasant 75 degrees, and every car around me has the windows closed and the air conditioning (or heat) on. Yes, I can tell, because I can hear their compressors clicking on and off…because I have my car windows open.
Also, people run their house climate control year-round. I walk the dog every night, and year-round I hear the outside units turn on, conditioning the air in the house. When it’s 90; when it’s 70; when it’s muggy and when it’s not. Nobody seems to just open their house windows anymore. I remember that being one of the joys of spring – when the snow went away and the temps warmed up, opening the windows and feeling the warm, fresh spring air blow through the house, carrying the scent of flowers and the sound of chirping birds through the living room. Now? Nope. 75F. 45%. Glade.
And to combine the two – I take a short walk around the parking lot at lunch time to decompress and refocus. I usually walk past two or three people who have taken their lunch out to their cars, and are sitting in their car, engine running, windows closed, air conditioning on. On hot days they make the parking lot even hotter. On cool days…why not open the windows and shut off the car? How desperate are people to simultaneously get away from work, yet not risk discomfort?
Speaking of work…be uncomfortable in your job. Not “I can’t do this I’m gonna get fired” uncomfortable. Be “this is a challenge” uncomfortable. When you get comfortable and complacent in your job, you stop advancing. Maybe if you’re the CFO of a Fortune 1000 company, comfortable is good, but otherwise you probably could use a bigger paycheck. Come to think of it, that CFO shouldn’t get too comfortable either – because comfortable and complacent leads to more mistakes that could be costly and dangerous, depending on your profession.
Stay just a little uncomfortable. Volunteer for projects that you need to learn just a little bit about to be able to do them. Step up to the department newsletter or something. Mix things up a little. Keep that little flutter in your chest that you get when you’re on unsteady ground at work. Don’t become one of the “it’s never been like that before; why can’t it be like it always was; that’s not my job” people.
Be uncomfortable in your diet. I know “meat and potato” people. I know people who always order the same thing in a restaurant, because “I know I’ll aways like it.” I know people who throw a holy fit when something shows up in a dinner dish, like peas, or tarragon, or whatever. Variety is the spice of life – LITERALLY when it comes to eating.
I freaking LOVE Puerto Rican food. Pollo con Arroz is amazing, and red beans’n rice are heavely. I didn’t know any of this until we moved to Florida and we tried a Puerto Rican restaurant for the first time. I love coleslaw on my BBQ pork sandwich. Same reason…because I tried it instead of picking it off my sandwich with an “ew” and an “I don’t LIKE it” before I tried it.
Basically, you will never know that you like a variety of food – and eating will never be more than just a chore – unless you step out of your comfort zone and try something. Sure, you’ll taste some things that taste like a shit-grenade exploded in your mouth…and you’ll always have that story to share.
For that matter, be a little uncomfortable in your hobbies. Watching TV and surfing the internet aren’t really hobbies…they’re laziness. Pick a hobby, one that you’ll need to learn something to do. One that takes a little physical exertion, or dexterity or something. I rebuild old bicycles. I had no idea how to do that before I started to do it. It’s fun, and I get to use my hands, and in the end I have a cool bicycle to ride. When a hobby gets old…find a new one, and keep learning. Sometimes hobbies turn into discoveries that push the boundaries of human experience. Dropbox.com started that way – the founder needed to access a thumbdrive from across town, and created the initial code because of that initial personal need.
We didn’t land on the Moon because we’re comfortable. Nor did we discover electricity, or invent radio, or cure polio, or fly across the Atlantic, or invent the Model T out of comfort. Be a little bit uncomfortable, people, for the good of us all.