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Leah Perrault: We need to learn to be uncomfortable

By 
  • June 18, 2021

It has been a profoundly difficult few weeks to live in Treaty territory and the homeland of the Métis. To live in a land that welcomes people to safety but cannot guarantee it.

The discovery of 215 children in a grave confirmed what elders and family members have known and lived with for a long time. The murder of four Muslim family members across three generations leave a child to grieve. The rhetoric and buck-passing is rivalled only by the silence in its inadequacy. A generous friend asked how I am this week, and I said that I am deeply uncomfortable.

Several years ago, I was working with a group of people and we were intentionally trying to invite more diversity. As we welcomed new people, the conversations reflected the diversity of the participants. Things felt different for those of us who had gotten used to how it had been before. (Before, when we were all white, all Catholic, all born in Canada.)

I was reflecting on this shift with a new Indigenous members. I said that things were uncomfortable for some. And she said, with the characteristic honesty that I have come to love deeply, “Welcome to what it feels like for me all the time.” I am grateful to Tara and the many other friends and colleagues who have chosen to teach me when they might have rejected me and my ignorance.

Until Tara said that, I hadn’t really thought of myself as being invested in my own comfort. I hadn’t thought about how much I tried to protect others from being uncomfortable. And I found myself leading in a situation where it wasn’t going to be possible — or desirable — to keep everyone comfortable. I had to choose.

Here’s the thing about racism and injustice, truth and reconciliation: It is devastatingly uncomfortable for those willing to see it. More significantly, systemic oppression and injustice is a cause of trauma, violence and even death for the human beings targeted by it. Historically and presently, people are dying from racism. I choose my own discomfort, the destabilizing of the situations and systems that harm my neighbours and me.

As Catholics (and Christians more broadly), as the descendants of colonizers, we are generations late to the discomfort. It is a privilege to be welcomed to feel it now; reconciliation is so much more than we deserve. The cost of my comfort is that others are not only constantly uncomfortable but endangered by my (and our) comfort. So it is past time for us to learn to be uncomfortable, to take a walk to the edge of things when we have been used to having our own stories and experience at the centre of everything.

This story is not about me, and for as long as Christians of colonial descent do not see our role in it, the racism and injustice will not stop. It needs to end, so I will be learning about deconstructing systems of oppression for the rest of my life. I offer this list of some of the discomforts I have been learning:

  • To listen to how others see me, my Church and/or my ancestors without being defensive.
  • To stop protecting people from discomfort by stopping conversations, sidestepping conflict or disagreement, or trying to ignore things.
  • To sit in and learn about others’ religious rituals and spiritual traditions, especially when they are unfamiliar to me, offered in a language I do not speak, or present theological differences to my own religious and spiritual understandings and practices.
  • To speak up when people say things that actually are or might be perceived as racist, discriminatory, uninformed by data, or traumatic triggers to those who suffer.
  • To challenge the things that I have believed to be true and test them against others’ ways of understanding the world.
  • To allow those I have wounded to tell me what they need from me for healing.
  • To thank people who point out my errors and oversights, to ask for forgiveness, and to change my behaviour.
  • To give up my seat at the table to make room for others, and/or proceed with conversations about groups of people only when they are represented.
  • To pursue truth and reconciliation and healing even and especially when it is uncomfortable, inconvenient and disruptive for me.

Because the cost of my comfort is others’ suffering, I choose a different way. There is a list of resources on my website (www.leahperrault.com/cost-of-comfort), and I hope you will add your reading suggestions in comments.

May tears and heartache allow us to see those who have walked the path of grief before us. May discomfort drive us toward being good neighbours and allies to all those who suffer. May we all be agents of truth and reconciliation so that justice and healing can be our shared future.

(Perrault works in Catholic health care in Saskatchewan and writes and speaks about faith. Her website is leahperrault.com)

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