A Crisis in Comfort

Diversity and inclusion practitioners are confronted with a real conundrum. People expect us to provide engaging experiences latent with emotionally loaded issues while creating a safe environment to share ideas and values. However, our unconscious brain is hardwired to prefer sameness. Our bias toward the familiar as safe and experiencing difference or change as threatening or dangerous is one of the major barriers to personal growth.

People lean on the status quo rather than questioning assumptions, seeking new challenges, or trying new approaches to problems. Even trailblazers have to dodge falling into banal routines that curb enthusiasm and creativity. Oftentimes, people opt to protect their pride and power over risking exposure of their vulnerabilities. We tend to ask for what we think others want to give instead of asking for what we really want out of fear or to avoid the appearance of being greedy, selfish, unintelligent, boorish, or inelegant.

We must be courage entrepreneurs; brave enough to engage in more than polite banter for diversity and inclusion work to be successful. Many practitioners call it developmental growth, growing edge, challenges, courage, or deficits. On the individual level, staying on your growing edge can be difficult despite our best efforts because it goes against our inclination to maintain the status quo. As an organization, change is made more difficult due to unconscious organizational patterns or biases that perpetuate sameness despite deliberate attempts to make modifications.

By stepping out of the risk-free comfort zone into the courage zone, courage entrepreneurs take the critical step toward making long lasting, meaningful change. The sole indication that change would be desirable may be the cognitive dissonance between how we view ourselves and how others view us. However, it may be difficult to know how to go about change. Our unconscious minds tend to dissuade us, avoid change, and recline into the comfort zone. In contrast, a person may leap into the terror or discomfort zone because uncontrollable events elicit overwhelming fear, vulnerability, and emotional paralysis. Under these circumstances, there are few acceptable reasons to make change or be open to cultural or any other differences. As a facilitator, I cannot expect anyone to risk making adjustments in their knowing, feeling, or behaving.

Transitioning from one’s comfort zone to their courage zone requires realizing that abiding change comes with time and develops over a series of consecutive steps. Real growth only happens in the courage zone that provides a safe container to venture out, take risks, challenge assumptions, be vulnerable, seek challenges, and stand against convention when the opportunities arise. People must also choose to find non-judgmental circumstances to test out new ideas, behaviors, and feelings. As courage entrepreneurs, we create our courage zone when we first choose to take the risk, find the circumstances to experience it, and spend time reflecting and celebrating the adventure with others.

Below share your story when you had to be a courage entrepreneur.

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Originally published at jelaniaustin.com on June 2, 2014.

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