Views expressed in the Executive Corner category may not reflect the official positions or thoughts of the Washington Association of Conservation Districts. We share various thoughts to help stimulate thinking and discussion within our conservation community.
As WACD’s Committee on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (CDEI) has been working together, I have learned that talking openly about these topics is not always comfortable. It can be, in fact, quite uncomfortable. But magic happens when we become less comfortable: “the only time you are actually growing is when you’re uncomfortable.”

There is plenty of content available on the web about growth and discomfort so I’m not going to pull much of that information into this post. You know how to find it.

While it may not feel like it in the moment, a little bit of discomfort goes a long way in terms of personal development. Sure, no one likes feeling uncomfortable, but it’s a big part of improving your performance, creativity and learning in the long run.<span class="su-quote-cite"><a href="https://www.forbes.com/sites/sujanpatel/2016/03/09/why-feeling-uncomfortable-is-the-key-to-success/?sh=7f44b15b1913" target="_blank">Why Feeling Uncomfortable Is The Key To Success</a></span>

Instead, I want to chat for a moment about what can be done to change how we feel about uncomfortable situations and knowledge.

Avoiding discomfort comes naturally – facing up to it is hard.<span class="su-quote-cite"><a href="https://www.worklifepsych.com/avoiding-discomfort-the-comfort-trap/" target="_blank">Avoiding discomfort: the “comfort trap”</a></span>

Discomfort touches all of us. It’s a part of everyday life. We can’t not experience it. It is unavoidable. So what can we do about it? From Avoiding discomfort: the “comfort trap”:

  1. Focus on the goal, not the discomfort
  2. Be clear on how you choose to live your values
  3. Seek out more discomfort
  4. Think about what you’re actually avoiding

I am a big fan of Brené Brown’s books and articles. She focuses on why you should allow yourself to be more vulnerable and open to the growth that follows. For a short read, try Daring to be Vulnerable with Brené Brown. For her books, check out her listing on Amazon. I particularly liked:

In the more specific DEI context, try this article: Why Inclusion Means Getting Comfortable With Discomfort. One of the takeaways is the need to reframe fear.

Discomfort will not harm us. Discomfort is temporary, and it can be overcome. Most of us don’t like it. But it won’t hurt.<span class="su-quote-cite"><a href="https://www.forbes.com/sites/ellevate/2020/12/30/why-inclusion-means-getting-comfortable-with-discomfort/" target="_blank">Why Inclusion Means Getting Comfortable With Discomfort</a></span>

And in relation to the work being done by the Committee on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, it’s important to recognize that discomfort is common. I would even say that if you are not feeling a bit uncomfortable, you probably aren’t digging into these topics deeply enough.

And I think that is my most important learning to date – that we, as leaders of social impact organizations (whether nonprofit or for-profit, large or small), need to get uncomfortable. We need to step outside of our comfort zones to truly listen and learn from different viewpoints, interrogate our own actions (not just what we think we do and believe, but the actions we are actually taking each day), ask questions about who’s voices are being represented in our work, and push ourselves beyond the tendency to “check the box” on diversity to reach towards broader goals of inclusion, equity, and social justice.<span class="su-quote-cite"><a href="https://centers.fuqua.duke.edu/case/2019/03/07/feeling-uncomfortable-first-reflections-on-our-dei-journey/" target="_blank">Feeling Uncomfortable: First Reflections on our DEI Journey</a></span>

Sometimes folks feel anger when talking about DEI. There is a huge range of personal experiences related to these topics. When this gap becomes evident, some people may feel frustrated or even angry.

We can’t undo the past. As awful as it might be, wishing it was not, cannot change it. There is a grieving process of coming to terms with what is, that lands you into the present. It may take many tears of grief but ultimately it comes to what is known as “radical acceptance” or accepting what is. It happened. It helps to acknowledge and validate that it happened. But it need not mean more. The past does not have the power to control you, or define you or your future. You can shift your attention away from reliving the past and start to look forward.<span class="su-quote-cite"><a href="https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/healing-sexual-trauma/202108/better-revenge-strategies-free-yourself-anger" target="_blank">Better than Revenge: Strategies to Free Yourself from Anger</a></span>
Tom Salzer
Tom Salzer

I’ve decided that I want to change one of my habits of resisting or avoiding that sense of being uncomfortable with a topic. Instead, I’m going to pause when I start feeling uncomfortable and tell myself that this is a good feeling because I’m about to learn something new. I might even share that openly, saying something like: “I’m beginning to feel uncomfortable so I know I’m learning something new!” Even if you don’t want to say that to others, you might try saying it to yourself and see if that changes how open you are to the new ideas and knowledge about to come your way.

Tom Salzer, WACD Executive Director

UPDATE August 9, 2021: One of my conservation friends also recommended this book about hidden biases: Blindspot: Hidden Biases of Good People