I Like My Comfort Zone Too Well

October 20, 2007
By Kayla Sheridan, Reno, NV

I like my comfort zone too well.

It’s a problem I’m aware of, if only on a liminal level, but that doesn’t seem to make it go away. I’m afraid that innocence is too much missed once it’s gone—an uncertainty that in itself is frightening. It feels so much safer to stay with those reliable ideas learned from childhood, the dependable truths that I know will never change. Until they do.

I have a distinct aversion to change.

I walked into first period on August the twenty-eighth not knowing that I already had a set paradigmatic view of the world, much less that it would be completely changed. At the beginning of the year, just the thought of such a transformation would have scared me. I knew roughly who I was, had an idea of what I believed. I was from the upper middle class; I felt I was a good person who made good choices. I treated others well, saw all races as equal, wanted to save the environment. I came into this classroom thinking that I would learn some history, get to know some dead guys, and then continue on with an unaltered life. I never thought I’d be so happy to be wrong.

Before this year, I would have proudly told any who asked that I was a democratic liberal, never knowing truly what it meant. I come from a family of democrats. My parents, die-hard liberals, raised me with the view that I should treat others how I wanted to be treated, and that conservatives were always wrong. Conversations about our beloved president were likely as not full with the words “idiot” and “disaster”. I was sure that I, too, was a liberal, but I never thought to question what it meant. I mean, being liberal meant hating the president, letting people make their own decisions, and giving money to charity, right?

From the moment I walked into R14, I have been forced to question my values. Different lessons and time periods have given me food for thought in various ways, some of them not particularly comfortable. I have cried out in anger at history’s injustices, exulted in the underdog’s triumphs, and been astounded at the determination of the human spirit. I sided with Luther during his heroic protest, I allied myself with the French peasants during the Revolution, and I found kindred spirits in the thinkers of the Romantic period. I, at one point or another, followed the teachings of Montesquieu, Voltaire, d’Holbach, Rousseau, Fourier, Marx, Wollstonecraft, Nietzsche…I had a different hero every day. I was sure that God wanted us to read the bible for ourselves—no, that he was deistic and distant—or, wait, that he didn’t exist at all—or maybe, that he was dead, killed by Christian laziness. I knew that the best we could hope for was a good monarch, yet I was positive the proletariat would rise up against the ruling class. Humans were governed by passion, and yet by reason, moved by instincts, or motivated by rearing and rationality. Conflicting ideas filled my mind, and I loved every minute of it. I’ve never been so unsure of anything, yet I’ve never been more fascinated, either.

As the year progressed, I began to see my shining, childlike ideals crumble under the combined fervor and cold logic of my peers. I realized that what I thought was right could be wrong, and that my opponents’ beliefs may actually be superior to mine. I began to take information with “a grain of salt” and always examine the “point of view” (McCartisms though they may be), something I had never done before. Life suddenly seemed much more complicated—where once I saw simple right and wrong was now a grey zone; morality was no longer easy. Making decisions and forming opinions became tasks filled with uncertainty—and there’s that terrible word again. But, suddenly, uncertainty wasn’t quite as scary as it had been. New ideas had come to take the place of the old, and my altered principles left room for doubt and ambiguity, made uncertainty safe.

Although my beliefs have been modified, I would still call myself a liberal, a fact that may be ironic considering my dislike for change. I believe in a free, democratic society, where the people as a collective whole make important decisions. All people deserve the same rights and opportunities, and I believe that our current governments are failing to provide these. As much as it goes against my general mindset on other issues, we badly need change. Learning of the revolutions that have occurred throughout history has only strengthened this belief in me. People rising up when change is necessary—that is true valor. These are the people that are fighting, and dying, for what they believe is right, even if that “right” goes against the government.

The sheer level of corruption in governments today sickens me. By corruption I mean not just the obvious Watergate-style dishonesty, but the half-truths, manipulations, and misinformation. The most important page of notes I took this year says in large letters, underlined, “You will get lied to.” The rest of the page is blank. Nothing we have learned this year has been truer. The amount of propaganda we see daily scares me, and I have grown a sort of disgust for even for nationalism. Nationalistic beliefs are just another way of gaining support for one’s country, of brainwashing the masses. Kindergarteners are made to say the pledge every day, and images of the American flag are printed on everything from paper napkins to bed sheets. The sheer level of patriotic propaganda in our country comes close to the Nazi “Fatherland” and the Russian “Motherland” we have learned to loathe. Are we so different from the evils we fight against?

Evil is relative. What may be right to one person could be wrong to another. We are a product of our upbringings and cultures, and none can be sure what is truly right, and what is not. Likewise, human nature cannot be dictated. Humans are neither inherently good nor intrinsically evil. We have traits that permit us to be one or the other, or both. We, as a species, can do terrible things to each other and to those around us. Yet, humans are amazingly, astonishingly open to and capable of compassion. We feel, and we empathize. This, in itself, is the beauty of the human race.

Humans are passionate creatures. We love, hate, desire, abhor, and fear. We are moved by our emotions and our passions, and they can motivate us to do both the terrible and the profoundly beautiful. Yet, human beings are infinitely capable of reason. While our desires move us, our rationality measures them and meters them out, keeping us balanced, and keeping us alive and sane. We are products both of our natures and thus our passions and of our reason and upbringing.

Above all, we are products of our cultures. Our governments, propaganda, upbringing, customs, and ultimately desire to be part of a larger whole make us who we are. I am an American, and while I may not be proud of the choices Americans have made, may dislike American values, may even pretend to be Canadian outside of the country, it’s a fact I cannot deny. I, like all others, have been formed by my culture, and my beliefs are nothing but products of my upbringing and teaching.

My beliefs have become, this year, a veritable hodge-podge of different ideas as well as my own philosophies. I have learned from the Protestants that religion is individual, realized from the philosophes that thinking and reason help us discover the world, gathered from the revolutionaries that we should never sacrifice our beliefs. I may have become a bit of an anachronism in my time—many of what I think now comes from what those hundreds of years ago thought. At the same time, I’ve kept many of my same beliefs. My ideas on religion, if anything, have only strengthened. I feel that religion, while a good thing in moderation, is used by those who desire power to manipulate people. As Marx states, religion is “the opiate of the masses.” I still feel that god is not an actual entity, but rather a force. It (not he) may be a motivator, but never an excuse for doing wrong. And my basic beliefs about right and wrong have not changed.

This year has taught me many things, about history, human nature, and myself. My beliefs still have not settled down, and they may still change. But I have learned to change, to grow, and to move outside where I’m comfortable. I’ve figured out how to handle change. Uncertainty, I’ve realized, is the best motivator for growth. Being unsure forces me to question, to seek, to find answers to those dilemmas that gnaw at my mind. I’ve also learned to hold myself accountable for mistakes I make, and likewise to credit myself for succeeding. I am my own person, and while I may not be sure who I am and what my beliefs are, I am secure in the fact that my convictions are my own. I may be enigmatic, I may be contradictory. You may not know me at all, but I’m beginning to know myself.

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