No, this isn’t about the somewhat popular diet by the same name, or even about the perennial favorite of some–the erogenous zone. It is about something far more important–the comfort zone. We all have one, and most struggle mightily to spend all of their lives there. For many people this becomes an all-consuming obsession. The fear of being out of one’s comfort zone is surely a satanically abetted anxiety.
Most people are vaguely aware that they have a comfort zone. They become acutely aware of it when they are confronted with an anxiety provoking situation and are temporarily pushed out of that zone. It could be something as simple as meeting new people, traveling somewhere unfamiliar, or trying to wrap one’s mind around a new idea. However, this journey away from the comfort zone doesn’t have to be to a foreign country or a total paradigm shift–it may be only a couple miles from home to an unfamiliar part of town or in a simple encounter with an other.
We older Americans from northern and western European backgrounds have a comfort zone around our body space. We don’t stand too close to others when we talk and we generally don’t touch others unless they’re close friends or family members. I was startled recently when someone I had just met touched my arm to make a point while we were speaking. His touching my arm was okay, but it did startle me a bit and I worried that I showed a discernible reaction. I was made aware of the North American personal space comfort zone by my mentor and speech professor, Dr. Edgar Garrett. I took Public Speaking and Semantics from Dr. Garrett. In the Public Speaking class he called a student up in front and proceeded to stand inches away as he spoke to this young lady. She kept edging away from him and he kept moving closer. It was funny to watch but it was clear that she was uncomfortable. He then made the point that the mores of other cultures, particularly Latin American, permitted a much closer bodily comfort zone. I have observed this to be true in my somewhat limited experience with other cultures: Latin, Arab and African.
I believe it was Jean Paul Sartre who had the famous quote about Hell being other people. The Hell found in others certainly appears to be true for many; this becomes apparent when one observes the lengths that some people go in trying to control others. They are not just content to erect and enforce boundaries to protect their egos (and thus avoid Sartre’s Hell), they actually strive to make a slave out of the other person. This is most vividly apparent in families and the work place–over controlling spouses and parents and micro-managing bosses account for most of the misery I see in my practice. Sadly, I observe this every bit as much in my Christian counseling clients as in my secular clients.
What stretches me, and many others, is real emotional and physical intimacy. Some go to great lengths to avoid the threat of intimacy. One of the intimacy-challenged’s favorite ploys is to start an argument–nothing like a good fight to create some distance. Around a year ago I was dating someone intimacy-challenged–or as Pia Melody puts it: “love avoidant.” As I grew warmer, she got frightened, and when this poor lady sees me now she gets the “deer-in-the-headlights” look and heads swiftly in the other direction. It’s okay now but it hurt for a while.
It is a fear of being outside one’s comfort zone that causes people to go to any length to control one another. That fear, and the accompanying need for power and control, is the great corrupter of all relationships and accounts for most of the misery on this planet. Folks with other belief systems, cultures and skin tones are particularly challenging to some people’s comfort zones. The need to control others for our own nefarious and selfish needs is the ultimate evil. After all, murder and wars are just more extreme measures of control.
The sad fact is that many Christians appear to have missed the point that Jesus came to set us free (John 8:36). The enemy keeps reminding us folks what a scary, unpredictable world it is, and how the biggest threat to our comfort zones (and fragile egos) is other people and their behavior. I wrote a book about Satan and his tricks. He manifests himself thru the little voice in our thoughts–the one that tells us that we can love people even better if we first just make prisoners out of them.