Written by Chenoa Bradshaw
Chenoa Bradshaw argues that the willingness to experience discomfort is a necessary step towards healthy self-care.
I doubt anyone was comfortable when, in that gospel episode, Jesus entered the temple courts and overturned everything the sellers had spent time and money acquiring in order to turn a profit. It was business as usual until the unthinkable happened; a stranger damaged their property, messed with their livelihood and disrupted the status quo.
Whilst this passage itself is prophetic, it is not estranged from Jesus wanting equity for God’s people. Thousands of Jews went to the Temple for Passover including foreigners who travelled to Jerusalem for the festivities. Those foreigners would have had to exchange money and buy animals for their sacrifices and instead of this being done fairly, they were marginalised and taken advantage of making it difficult for them to engage in sacrifices, and subsequent worship of God.
In flipping over tables, Jesus had an objective: to restore the sanctity of the Temple and facilitate true worship. For that to be achieved the popular agenda had to be displaced; profit margins had to be ignored; and people had to be left to process their own discomfort, offence and confusion. Not once did Jesus ask if they were comfortable or apologise for that weight.
Being uncomfortable is not always a bad thing. Indeed, comfort and integrity seldom occupy the same space. Numerous world faiths establish integrity as a priority over comfort, but the problem is that while a person may live in pursuit of principles and try to prioritise integrity, concepts of integrity are often aligned with social norms.
Social norms are transient and employ a type of groupthink where the majority ingroup do not question their normalised ideas because they are comfortable with them; do not fear ostracism and therefore do not need to change. Ingroups often have members who haven’t given the group’s ascribed opinions much thought, but remain engaged so that they can access comfort, security and safety from exclusion.
The folks that sold goods in the Temple likely did so partially because ‘everyone was doing it’, but what happens when members of the popular ingroup feel threatened? What happens when those who have mostly lived a life of comfort are forced to become uncomfortable?
People, especially those conditioned by privilege and deference, are often more uncomfortable with the idea that they, or their actions, are being labelled as problematic than they are with the impact of their actions on others. Often, there is a deep-rooted need to remove and evade discomfort rather than ask ‘what could I learn from the discomfort and how do I need to change?’
It’s likely that some of those temple traders focused on the audacity of the deranged man who committed acts of criminal damage rather than examine what was problematic about their own actions. That need to preserve self-comfort is what makes objectivity and empathy impossible for some of us and can force the less brave to cling more tightly to their values; it makes projection, deflection and anger easy.
The biblical idea that one should be slow to anger, quick to listen and not do anything ‘bad’ when angry is pretty self-explanatory. However, a strange thing happens when these ideas are:
a) positioned alongside visuals of Jesus ransacking a temple, and
b) when these ideas are used examine and critique others rather than self
In May of 2020 something happened in Minneapolis that resulted in civil unrest. For many the event was not surprising but for some it was shocking and due to international lockdowns, they could not turn away.
On the 25th day of that month for roughly eight minutes, one man knelt on the neck of another. Despite the man who was pinned to the ground stating more than 20 times that he could not breathe properly; despite bystanders expressing concerns; and despite many other factors, the man doing the kneeling did not listen or adjust his posture.
That kneeling man wore a uniform and represented state authority. The man pinned to the ground represented the marginalised and even to the point of death, his voice was not affirmed nor validated.
This and subsequent events provoked global discussion and one facet I found intriguing were the ideas around anger that were repeatedly levied at the marginalised group represented by the man who died that day.
I have witnessed those who function from a place of privilege condemn the anger of those who feel they have been oppressed. Such logic will mean some will struggle to finish reading this article. Such logic is also arguably part of the comfort preservation mechanism. It doesn’t provide room for the idea that anger is a legitimate emotion that is not synonymous with hate and can be exercised in a healthy manner; it does not provide room for the truth about how oppression and the alleviation thereof functions.
Remember, it was from a place of righteous indignation and defined aim that Jesus flipped tables in the Temple. As uncomfortable as it may be to acknowledge, not all acts of civil unrest are bad and some are legitimate political tools.
It was interesting to see media coverage labelling the civil unrest as violent disturbances of the peace (i.e. riots). Perhaps a more fitting label would have been ‘violent actions taken against an established government as an act of refusal to acknowledge their authority’ due to the unjust treatment of specific demographics (i.e. revolt). I understand that some would filter this as a promotion of political revolts. Interestingly, that type of filtering may be part and parcel of discomfort displacement, where the onus for socially acceptable behaviour is demanded of those being marginalised and not of those doing the marginalising. It can also be likened to the phenomenon of mansplaining when it is done from a place of skewed comfort and privilege; it would be odd for a man to assume moral high ground and authority in how a woman should respond to misogyny knowing that he will never experience it and benefits from it regularly.
It’s important to acknowledge that whenever revolts or rebellions have happened historically, it has been after repeated attempts at utilising other tools to be heard. Historically, when average people resort to protests and rebellion (not riots) their voices have been invalidated persistently, much like the man who voiced over 20 times that he could not breathe. He was compliant with the authority of the law to the point of death. Hopefully, this is not something the status quo will continue to ask of the marginalised anywhere. Hopefully, we are not like the Temple traders who focused more on the disruption than the catalyst of their actions.
Indeed, there are times Jesus advocates for adherence to the law and other times he does not. I can only deduce that it is as per the maxim: an unjust law is no law at all. Either way, the driving point here is about the use of linguistics and how the use of language impacts the way discussion is shaped around the marginalised. Are they rioters who are closer to being animalistic or are they thinking, feeling, reasonable human beings protesting and rebelling against injustice? Framing them as the former continues and empowers the narrative of marginalisation. Framing them as the latter is an acknowledgement that something needs to change.
As I contemplate experiences of discomfort and not being listened to, I remember attending a conference in 2016 where it was suggested that the voice of the communal church was a primary shaper of world culture. Therefore, the speaker posited, the church must use its voice on behalf of the voiceless to preserve and promote quality of life.
I, knowing how relevant factors of gender and race are to mortality and quality of life, posed a question around why the church seemed so active on issues like abortion and euthanasia but so quiet on issues concerning the preservation and quality of black lives. My group leader said he understood and was not quite sure why the church was not more vocal on the topic. The rest of the room looked severely uncomfortable with group members posing questions like ‘why was I promoting division?’ and ‘Is racism really an issue in England given that black people can vote’. I knew that I had disrupted the status quo and for roughly three years post conference I was treated rather poorly by some of my 2016 fellows.
I recall submitting an article about race and faith for consideration with points similar to those I have raised in this piece and was told the article was ‘an attack on anyone who didn’t hold the same perspective’ and that I needed to be ‘calmer and more reasonable’. Without realising of self reflection they played into the angry black woman narrative simply because, logic aside, I had made them uncomfortable.
Unfortunately, not being listened to, not being seen, and being actively diminished is not a new phenomenon for the African diasporic existence. Many have come to accept this as part and parcel of a multi-ethnic existence on a monocultural plane. But this isn’t healthy whether you fall on the side of the privileged or the oppressed.
There is a richness and wisdom that is lost when we refuse to challenge ourselves and instead train ourselves to not see, to diminish and disregard in the name of self-comfort. There is value that is lost when we refuse to sit with discomfort and acknowledge its presence and lessons; we rob ourselves of growth. Listening to understand is not the same as agreement and confronting some matters cannot be confined to an optics exercise.
The persistent act of prioritising one’s comfort at the expense of others is actually harmful to self. This does not mean that we must travel to the other end of the spectrum and become martyrs (neglecting self-care in order to care for others can lead to resentment, or worse, bitterness) but we should appreciate that self-care is communal.
It is in the chasm between being heard and not listened to, visible but not seen, that the concept of self-care emerged. Whilst self-care can look like bubble baths and a good book, in the 1950s self-care was a phrase reserved for the mental health field and described habits like movement and personal grooming as a means to empower autonomy and promote self-esteem.
Dynamics of class, gender and race have always been integral to self-care. So much so that in the 1970s, the Black Panther Party propagated the idea that one must prioritise health and well-being despite persistent, systemic racism. Prioritising health and wellbeing explicitly included community care.
Angela Davis stated in a recent interview that self-care “means we incorporate into our work as activists, ways of acknowledging and hopefully moving beyond trauma. It means a holistic approach.” She went on to say “It’s very dangerous not to recognise that as we struggle, we are attempting to precise the world to come. And the world to come, should be one in which we acknowledge collectivity and connections and relations and joy. And if we don’t start practising collective self-care now, there’s no way to imagine, much less reach a time of freedom.”
The truth is that self-care can indeed include facials and a glass of wine but it can also be therapy; prayer; a diet adjustment; an environmental shift; tears; laughter; a change in the company we keep; a change in attitude; a change in self talk; having the courage to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’; connection; holding space for vulnerability; being vulnerable; journaling; rest; confronting uncomfortable thoughts and feelings.
Aimaloghi Eromosele termed self-care as, “anything that gives you a way to reconnect with yourself and your community in meaningful, long-term ways that nurture our individual welfare and gives us the power to survive and continue to do the collective work.”
Let’s face it, if your community is healthy you will be supported to be healthy too. If it’s not, your efforts at selfcare – with or without the bubble bath – may be doomed to fail.
About Chenoa Bradshaw
Chenoa is a trained, BPS registered Behavioural Health Professional with a bachelor’s degree in Youth & Community Studies and a MSc in Psychology from the University of Greenwich, London.
Chenoa has over twenty years of international experience working to empower and impact positive change with young people who are considered hardest to reach. She has worked in prisons, schools, community projects and alternative education provision with young people and key stakeholders alike. She has had the privilege of being able to engage with a variety of audiences which helps in her noted skill to ‘communicate complicated ideas in a way that is palatable’ making invaluable contributions to curriculum, mediation, advocacy and best practice.
Chenoa has just finished a research piece that centres around the black male experience in education in the UK and is gearing towards a PHD in Educational Psychology. She is also working on a podcast that centres on the intersections and divergences of the diasporic experience; the relaunch of her bespoke crystal jewellery company Luvrokz Gemstones; as well as a writing her own book.
Cohen, A. (2020). Apologies and Moral Repair. Milton: Taylor & Francis Group.
Davis, A. (2018). Radical Self-Care: Angela Davis. Retrieved 12 January 2021, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q1cHoL4vaBs
Eromosele, A. (2020). There is No Self-Care without Community Care. Choicewords Blog, 1. Retrieved from https://urge.org/there-is-no-self-care-without-community-care/
Lorde, A., & Sanchez, S. (2017). A burst of light. Dover Publications.
Van Schoelandt, C. (2018). Moral accountability and social norms. Social Philosophy and Policy, 35(1), 217-236. https://doi.org/10.1017/s0265052518000067
 (Davis, Radical Self Care, 2018)
 (Eromosele, 2020)