The Discomfort of (Positive) Change

I spend a lot of time and energy worrying about the negative changes that are happening and will worsen as climate change becomes a more serious part of our everyday lives. But I sometimes forget that making positive changes can hurt too–and that’s okay.

One of my goals living in France is to become better with the language. Having studied it for years, I’m better at filling out workbook pages than actually conversing comfortably, but there was a solid five-year gap between the last time I looked at my Bescherelle and getting on the plane to come here. I’m living with a British ex-pat family, too, so while I mostly speak French with the daughter after school, other than that, we’re all speaking English.

Meanwhile, I’m writing in English. Working on applications to graduate schools in English. Chatting friends in English. Reading in English. Even some of the friends I meet here are Anglophone, or at least more comfortable speaking English than speaking French. Although I’ve already caught myself thinking in French a few times, and I’ve started mixing up French and English spellings of very similar words (reimburse v. rembourser anyone? — I tried to write my mother about reimboursement), most transactions only require a solid grasp of Bonjour!oui, and merci au revoir! 

Improving language skills by going out in the world and making mistakes is deeply uncomfortable, especially to a perfectionist (hello). Traveling is also, often, an exercise in discomfort. There’s the financial discomfort when buying tickets, but there’s also sitting in the airport, getting lost in the rain, sleeping on someone’s floor, etc.

But these are inarguably good causes of discomfort, or at least the payoff is worthwhile. Even if I leave France and never have to speak French again, learning another language feels like cracking my brain open just a little wider, becoming just a little more conscientious about the limitations of my own native culture.

For a while, I’ve tried to weigh the discomfort with the results and ask is it worth it? It’s a fair question, but the scale isn’t easy to balance. Besides, I know that whatever I do next will be uncomfortable in some ways. Taking out loans, whether for grad school or to start a business or to buy a house, is uncomfortable. Learning how to do things also doesn’t happen through some painless process of osmosis.

Learning how to spin wool meant hours twisting my back until I figured out decent posture, and of course the mental frustration of trying to link cognitive understanding of the task with the physical skill. I’m still no expert, but I’ve gotten past the first really uncomfortable stage of the learning process.

Working towards a more sustainable future isn’t an easy process. On an individual level, that frequently calls for discomfort. While an increasing percentage of the American population is concerned about climate change, the dominant culture is not actively working towards sustainability. It’s always uncomfortable to be outspoken.

On a societal level, strategies of resilience are not necessarily going to be hunky-dory. The more we can do sooner, the better, but most likely some (more) people are going to need to move (out of low-lying areas or areas shifting climate dramatically). We’re going to need to deal with alternative means of transportation, both for ourselves and for the products we ship around the world and within the country.

To get Biblical for a minute (I’m reading The Year of Living Biblically by A. J. Jacobs), “Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road is easy that leads to destruction, and there are many who take it. For the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few who find it.” (Matthew 7:13-14)

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2 comments
  1. “What do you think?” I think that whether measured by a pound, dollar or franc, the true value of one’s thoughts are best defined by how they’re spent. 😉

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