Leaving the Rut of the Familiar and the Comfortable

A little over a year ago, I stepped out of a rut that I didn’t realize I was in to begin with. I am only now seeing it for what it was, and I am not sure I have a name for the rut yet. What pushed me to take this step was the US presidential election. I started with a a strong feeling that social media contributed to the mess that the United States had gotten into.  It felt to me that polarized citizens were talking about each other in front of each other in that hateful way that social media allows for. Without eye contact, without physical presence, the dialogue becomes dehumanized, often disrespectful and sometimes outright violent. I wanted no part of it anymore. I wanted to connect with fellow humans in a real way, not in a virtual way, and not just the humans who think like me or look like me. I wanted to connect, even in the smallest way, with everyone I came across.

I started small on the day after the election. I decided to make eye contact with everyone I saw while I was out and about. This was not easy that day, because like so many of my like-minded friends, I felt shattered. As I was walking down my street, I saw a man who I made assumptions about, based on how he was dressed, what his car looked like, the music he was playing from his car, and so on. My assumption was that he’d voted for Trump and was about to gloat after sizing me up the way I’d sized him up. What happened instead took me by surprise. He looked tenderly into my eyes and asked gently, “How are you doing?” I felt as if he actually cared about my well-being. All discombobulated, I said, “I’m okay,” and walked on. Things weren’t what I’d assumed, no matter who this man had voted for, and this changed things for me. In that moment, this stranger and I had unexpectedly connected to each other with our humanity.

Since that day, I continue to try to make eye contact with everyone, and that has led to conversations and new friendships with people who previously had never crossed my radar. In our community, there are many people who are from other countries around the world, and there are many native Spanish speakers who have to work a lot harder than me to have a conversation in English. I’d love to learn all the languages, but I decided to try to learn Spanish. In doing so, the rut that I spoke of earlier was revealed even more. Learning a new language as an adult is painfully difficult for me. Trying to speak that new language with another person is even more so. As a native English speaker, I have never been anywhere where people don’t speak at least a little bit of English, so I never had to try to get by in a different language. I grew up learning German, but as a child when I went to visit my mom’s tiny farm town in Germany, everyone wanted to practice their English. As an adult I’ve been to a few other countries, and everyone in those countries has spoken enough English for me not to have to push past my language comfort zone. Yet here in the US, the people I’ve met from other countries have to constantly try to speak a second language in order to do anything.

While it has been a convenient privilege for me to navigate in a world that caters to my language and culture, this convenience has deepened the rut I’m talking about. This rut keeps me locked in the familiar, and keeps me from pushing myself to connect with others in a deep and satisfying way. My rut was comfortable and functional, but I could not stretch past its confines, nor could I truly see anyone but the others who are in the same rut. To step out of this rut is to go into a vast, unfamiliar world full of new people, new rules, and endless potential.  It is to see a world that was once two-dimensional transform into one that is multi-dimensional. It isn’t familiar and in order to navigate this new world, I have to be willing to have my ignorance and blind spots revealed. Sometimes, I look and feel silly when I try to speak Spanish, or try to connect with anyone who is much different than who I used to connect with. I am sure I sound like a two year old. I know that in my attempts to reach out, I might say things that seem inappropriate, or sound stupid. I am sure that my ignorance, once hidden in my own depths, has bubbled up to the surface for all to see. It is a vulnerable place to be. But I feel something like muscles developing every time I try to go beyond what I know. I also feel a thrill when what was once invisible to me becomes visible and visceral. When I connect with others’ humanity, there is a shared sense of joy and understanding that is released into a world that desperately needs it.

What this has led to is a deep feeling that I know very little of all that there is to know, and an equally deep hunger to learn and learn more, to connect more and more. It has been difficult to think of what to write about on this blog, because up until now, I have written here as if I know something and that I am here to share that knowledge. I am no longer comfortable writing in this way. We all have pieces of a puzzle, and every single one of us has something to share. I wish that social media always reflected this, because there is great potential for it to be a place where everyone could share their perspective and build a true picture of the world, revealing to each of us just what it is we can still learn. Instead, for me anyway, social media tended to keep me in a rut where it felt like I was connecting with others, but in reality I was not stretching myself or even connecting because the others I was connecting with all had the same views as I did, spoken in my language.

If I continue to write on this blog, it will be more as an exploration. If I still have any readers, I invite all of you to share in the comment section whatever this or any post inspires, what your perspective is, even if it is in opposition to, or very different from mine.  For this particular post, I have questions.  What is your rut that keeps you from stretching past what you know? What keeps you in that rut? What is it like in your rut?  What do you imagine is beyond it? What keeps you from connecting to others who might help you out of the rut?  For those of you who have gotten out of a rut of any sort, what did you do to get out of it? What did you discover when you got out of your comfort zone? What was it like for the world to see you trying to learn something you did not know? While the rut I spoke of here involves connection and humanity, there are other ruts to dig out of and other ways to discover and reach full potential. It seems that if you pick just one, you activate the others. What do you choose?

Share if you are inspired.