We live in a society where “there’s an app for that!” speed is good and solutions are more valuable than problems. But we know that isn’t true. In our work, our homes and our communities we see (and if we are honest, we experience) unease and discomfort; often around important, complex situations which truly concern us.

I’ve had a number of experiences and conversations lately which have highlighted the value of sitting with discomfort. This might be as simple as resisting the urge to do something else when I’m not sure what to do or how to begin. It might be as profound as being prepared to be with someone who is in distress and risking feeling some of that distress myself.

My tendency is to rush in to make things tidy and “nice”. I’m learning to pause. Not as a negotiating tactic, but as a way of being alongside the person I am with and in the situation. I often don’t get it right, but when I do I find that the conversation has authenticity and space is created to think and respond more effectively. In contrast, a glib response or rushing to suggest a solution or give advice doesn’t honour the person who is sharing in discomfort.

Yesterday I attended a session on facilitation skills. One comment that struck me was when a colleague said that she had learned ask herself whether making an intervention as the facilitator was in the service of the group or to make herself feel better. Sometimes maintaining the discomfort is in the service of those we work with.

And sometimes there are no words. I recall a facebook message from an ESL teacher who has many students with family and friends in dire situations in their homelands. In the face of her students’ concerns she asked “what do I say?” It requires strength and courage to be alongside others but not to say anything when words are not enough.

I’m not advocating wallowing. Feeling uncomfortable or unease is part of changing, doing things differently or recognising the complexity of a situation. I’m learning to sit with it a while before making a more considered response.