In my HuffPo blog post about participating on an Alternative Breaks trip over Spring Break (which was titled "Alternative Breaks: An Experience That Lasts Past Spring Break's End," a pretty appropriate title considering that I'm writing about it yet again), I brought up avoiding issues that make us uncomfortable, talking specifically about homelessness and poverty. And, before this trip, I never really shared my opinion on if and how we should help those less fortunate than us. Because such controversial topics where people have extremist views, ranging from refusing to donate even a quarter to dedicating their life to lessen the poverty rate, aren't things that we want to talk about for fear of causing conflict and starting heated arguments. Because these are the kinds of issues that I always feel like I never know enough about and never will. Because it probably makes us all at least a little uncomfortable to see someone who is could be so similar to us living a much more difficult life than we could ever imagine. Because homelessness and poverty are definitely problems to resolve in Tucson (where I attend college) yet the first time I ever volunteered at a homeless shelter was in New York. And, while I'm glad to finally be empowered and inspired to find a cause that I am truly passionate about, it makes me a little ashamed that it's taken me 20 twenty years to do so.
Last week, I started reading TC Boyle's The Tortilla Curtain (which I was assigned to read summer of 2012. I'm just casually two years late, NBD.) And, within thirty pages of the book, I had already put it down five times. It's a novel that's hard to read, not because it's poorly-written or overly wordy. (The story itself is deeply interesting and enlightening.) It's because it doesn't just brush the surface controversial problems and then move on, like so many of us do to avoid causing conflict or making decisions that feel too big for us. This novel goes in-depth into illegal immigration, environmental issues, and that oh-so familiar struggle of wanting to be a good person but still fighting personal prejudices and ignorance every single day. And, living in Arizona, I'm not unfamiliar to such issues, but I've never really solidified my own opinion or took the time to really research them. Because once again, it's one of those situations that are so physically close to me, yet I still haven't given it as much thought as it deserves. Because, as you've probably guessed, it's uncomfortable.
I've always been a big fan of those quotes that remind you to step outside your comfort zone. Up until I took this trip and picked up this book, I always thought these quotes were limited to trying new hobbies or going skydiving or traveling purely for my own enjoyment. I only thought of my comfort zone in terms of my adventures, my wants, my memories. A rather selfish way of thinking about these inspirational words. But lately, I've seen how my comfort zone has cut me off from being informed, from helping out with causes that matter, and from understanding why to volunteer. So, here's my goodbye to that comfort zone of thinking I'm a good person who really wants to help out others yet steers clear of any possible controversy that it is inevitable when dealing with these types of topics. Goodbye to feeling like I'll never be fully informed enough to form my own opinions. And, goodbye to avoiding issues that are both so pressing and so physically close to me just because they make me a little uncomfortable.