By Lily Zheng (they/them)
During Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion workshops I facilitate, I've stopped saying the phrase, "you need to get comfortable with being uncomfortable." Instead, I tell people to "use your discomfort to learn."
It's a small shift, I know. But over the years I've found that people get stuck using the first framing to project their guilt and shame, rather than taking action to create justice.
I've seen "comfortable with being uncomfortable" used to justify inundating White audiences with an hours-long history of White supremacy, with no resolution at the ending. I've seen "comfortable with being uncomfortable" used to facilitate a "men's healing circle" that was more about self-flagellation than making amends.
DEI is not a confessionary. We're not here to go in circles around how much harm and pain privileged groups have caused marginalized groups. We're here to fix systems. We're here for justice.
Inflicting discomfort without follow-up breeds resentment and backlash. Discomfort as the end goal of DEI prevents progress. Don't get me wrong, I'm all for making folks uncomfortable—but only as a CATALYST for their learning, action, change, and accountability. We don't have the luxury to forget the second half.
About the Author
Lily Zheng (they/them) is a Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Strategist and Consultant who works with organizations around the world to create high-impact and sustainable change. Lily leverages organizational design, strategy, and culture to find novel solutions to systemic inequalities and is the author of Gender Ambiguity in the Workplace and The Ethical Sellout. To learn more about Lily's consulting approach or to book them for a speaking opportunity, visit lilyzheng.co.