Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Comforts and Zones

When I was in Tajikistan, there was a lot of talk among my fellow Habitat volunteers about "comfort zones." I suppose the general understanding was that Tajikistan is pretty far out of most people's comfort zones. It wasn't any one person; several people on the trip used that phrase several times. As I reflect on this, I think: why do we hang out in our comfort zones, anyway?

I mean just in general. Who ever said we're entitled to this so-called comfort zone? Whether or not you are salivating to travel the world, as I am, I would also apply this statement to life. Movies, let's say. Or books. Why not read something you wouldn't normally pick up? Why not, for example, start a project where you discover a new author for each letter of the alphabet, or go to the independent/arthouse movie theater to see what's there instead of paying $12 for some entirely predictable slam-bang blockbuster? Why not try that new Ethiopian restaurant? Why not take the bus to work one day a week instead of being petrified to leave your car at home just that once? Et cetera.

The funny thing is, I was more "comfortable" in Tajikistan than you might think. That's another reason why I am fascinated by the phrase "comfort zone." It reflects a mentality of certain things being good/known/familiar, here in one's little corner of the Earth, where you can vegetate your whole life without ever having to live in a different state or even city (those people horrify me) and where you always know what to expect. Boo! Hiss!

Tajikistan is just one example. Although frankly, I dug it there, mudslides included. And by the way? I went hiking, and even rustled up a happy hour. I guess some of us make our own comfort zones, because the comfort zone is obviously mental, not physical. So why does far-flung travel scare people so much? Why are there people who never go on vacation except to visit relatives? Beats me.

But it's funny to me that we are so proud of ourselves when we "step out of our comfort zones." First of all, because of the psychological buzzwordness of it -- we all kind of mentally pat ourselves on the back when we talk about these things in this post-psychobabble era, as if by identifying our comfort zone we have solved something about ourselves. I think we have only just named the problem.

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