It is okay for people to be uncomfortable
Several years ago, I became interested in Celtic spirituality. If you’ve been receiving my email for a while, you may remember I offered an online discussion group exploring specific practices using a book called The Soul’s Slow Ripening by Christine Valters Painter. About 20 people signed up for the first call, and by the end of the book, there were five of us still showing up each month. I think that is a pretty average attrition rate for online groups. I'm not taking it personally.
Our little group decided to keep going, and we are now on our third book. It’s been a great journey and the first real friendships I have made in the online space. And hopefully, one day, we'll meet in person.
One of the things I’ve enjoyed about the group is the opportunity to talk about all sorts of spiritual ideas and practices without worrying about judging or offending anyone. On our last Zoom call, we discussed the ‘after-life.’’ (Digression: Is the word 'after-life' even the best word to use to talk about a realm outside of time?) We talked bout reincarnation and past lives and different beliefs and views shared by the women in the group.
There were a few times when I could feel myself being stretched by some of the ideas. I checked in with myself to find the source of the discomfort. I wasn't uncomfortable with the conversation, but I was worried someone else might be. I had to remind myself that this group was a safe space for us to hear different voices. My role in this group is to host a space to talk about our spirituality and how it informs our lives. My discomfort was rooted in people-pleasing and the fear of people getting upset.
I spent many years in a system where I was held responsible for how other people felt. I know if you haven't been involved in a church, it might sound strange to you, but in my experience in church leadership roles, I was always getting shit if someone else was upset. (Also I couldn't have even used the word shit without upsetting someone.)
You may have had a similar experience in a dysfunctional family where you were held responsible for someone else's issue. Maybe you were told not to make a big deal about something good that happened to you because your brother or sister would be jealous. These flawed ways of relating to each other can become internalized. Check-in with yourself next time you feel uncomfortable in a conversation. Are you feeling uncomfortable, or are you worried someone else isn't happy?
Here's the truth, our job isn't to make sure other people are comfortable. We need to create safe spaces where people with differing views and opinions can have conversations and even admit they aren't comfortable or disagree. Those types of communities are going to help us all learn to listen and respect a diversity of opinions and see each other as friends, not foes.
On my mind:
📚 Reading: I don't think I mentioned How to be Fine: What we learned by living the rules of 50 self-h