Moments that Change My Life 2: Getting Out of My Comfort Zone

I always believe that discomfort is the key of learning. I’ve started believing this since I was in college, studying cognitive psychology. In that class, I learned that when new information is absorbed by our brain, we try to match the information with the schema that we’ve had. The new information may fit well, or we need to adjust our schemas to receive the information, integrating it with the knowledge we’ve had. And this process causes change. This process causes discomfort. This is called cognitive dissonance.

I believe that this cognitive dissonance is actually good, which makes me think that the whole discomfort feeling may actually be the sign of change and improvements. Getting more and more aware of ourselves, sometimes it is inevitable to feel that change and learning is not fun because of this uncomfortable feeling, which makes people not willing to learn. Working in an education setting, I see a lot of students with great potential, but lack of the ability to feel uncomfortable, the humility, and the curiosity. The first one I’ve discussed in the previous paragraph. The second one, humility, is a very interesting topic.

The know-it-all person. With the height of technology use and wide access of information, our generation is very susceptible to be the know-it-all people. Without critical thinking ability and humility, I think everyone may eventually stop learning. Why? Because they think that they know everything. I truly believe that another aspect that can support one’s improvement and learning is humility; knowing that we don’t know everything. I’d discussed this too in one of my writing: And arrogance is a very dangerous thing for students that hinders them from actually learning. I saw this a lot, especially with the more advanced and intelligent students. Being humble doesn’t only mean that we seek for further knowledge, but also that we are open to feedback and other people’s perspectives.

The second aspect leads to the third one, which is curiosity. I think curiosity is human nature. Everyone is born with curiosity and the ability to explore the world. One thing, back to square one again; is that one may diminish his curiosity because he is not willing to be uncomfortable. Trial and error requires someone to fail, which is not fun! Getting to know new people may exhaust us, which may also not fun! And all those “negative” consequences of trying new things sometimes prevent us from learning and from improving ourselves.

Getting out of my comfort zone is actually the key of my learning. I don’t know with other people, but I am always aware that learning and improving are not always fun. I try to think the challenges as something that can increase my capacity, and when I fail, better try next time. I am also very aware that getting out of the comfort zone is not easy. I need to push myself to do it, even if it is only online courses or trying new food recipe. However, the biggest opportunity to get out of my comfort zone was when I had to live far away from home, alone. “Merantau”, Indonesian people said. It has become a philosophy for some Indonesian people, which actually teaches a lot of life lessons.

How do I feel right now? Am I comfortable enough that I stop learning? Hmmm… maybe I am too used to this environment that I am living in? I don’t know. I still feel that I have a little bit room to explore, but maybe not for long. Maybe I need to find another area to pursue? Maybe I need to get out of my comfort zone, soon.


Moments that Change My Life 1: Thinking about Others

When asked about a moment that changes my life or myself, I would answer it with a super short story when I was in high school. At that time, I was a 10th grader in my high school. My schoolmates (who I did not really know at that time) and I joined this leadership activity. During the course of that program, we were given several demanding tasks that required us to collaborate with each other. I was not the way I am now. I had very limited exposure to such activity and I would even say that my leadership and collaborative skills are 0.

One of the tasks given to us was that we had to wear a red ribbon on our school uniform. We agreed about the size of the ribbon, etc. We were also given other tasks, which consume my time at home so that I forgot to prepare my ribbon. On the next morning when I arrived at school, I remembered that I had to wear a ribbon. I panicked. Then, I met this friend of mine whom at that time I didn’t even know her name. I think she realized that I forgot to bring my ribbon and she happened to have a spare ribbon. She just gave it to me like that, saving me from punishments that will be given by our seniors if we didn’t wear one.

I always remember that moment because for me, it changes the way I approach life and the way I think. I was a very individualistic person. I couldn’t care much about other people. That moment when I friend gave me this ribbon made me think how a person can think about other people and be unselfish. What she did didn’t benefit her, but she did it anyway. From that moment on, I always try and try to think about other people’s position, condition, and perspective. Then, I try to do whatever I can to help others. What my friend did was merely giving a ribbon, maybe an extra one when she made it for herself. It didn’t take a lot of effort. And I now believe that kindness shouldn’t always take a lot of effort.

As I said, I try and try to be a better version of myself. Sometimes I forgot, sometimes I slip. Recently, I was reminded again of how I should not be selfish. So I work as a school counselor in a private school in Jakarta. There’s this new regulation from the government that will give a certain amount of money in monthly basis for private school teachers. I knew this as I saw a colleague opening a document about this matter. Then, in a Whatsapp Group, another person shared the document. I knew this, but I disregarded it. What I thought at that moment was that “ah… maybe I am not qualified. I don’t want the extra load that I have to do to obtain that”. A few days later, a friend also talked about this, sharing the information that she knows to me about this endowment fund. Again, I simply thought that it is unimportant for me.

Can you see what’s wrong in the way I think about this matter?

Yes, I only think about myself. I didn’t care that maybe my other fellow teachers may need it. I didn’t think that probably there are teachers who really really deserve this endowment fund. And when this matter was blown up because most of my colleagues are informed about the fund when it is too late, causing a rather chaotic situation; just then that I realized “maaaan… what did I do?”. The answer is: I didn’t. I didn’t do anything because I was so self-centred that I didn’t think about other people. What I could have done was so simple, as simple as sharing the information that I knew.

As usual, what I do after this kind of thing happen is to think of what I could have done better. And I realize that I have been so busy with myself that I care less about other people around me. This situation reminds me that I have to reflect and evaluate. I have to practice my belief to not only think about myself, to not being selfish.

Humanising Human

As education means to nourish (Gingell & Winch, 2008), one question comes into my mind: Who does it nourish? The players in education are people, human beings. And human beings, at least in my opinion, should be treated as human. However, as education nowadays is seen as a tool in globalised world – mostly seen from the economic point of view (Ball, 2006), people are regarded to be economic-, instead of human-being in education. Look at the statements mentioned by government officials, such as Indonesian vice president, Boediono (2012) who wrote that the purpose of education is to produce people who are competent in the workplace so that the national income can be increased.

In order to meet the demand from the government as a response of globalisation in economic sense, schools as the most common educational institution act as human factories. In a movie called Waiting for Superman (2010), I saw a clear description of students, categorised and directed towards different path of education in order to meet the workforce and business demand based on their test scores and intelligence. It seems like students, human beings, are treated as objects that can be controlled and moved around.

In another explanation, Freire (2008) proposed the concept of banking education which treats students as containers of knowledge. Education in this perspective seems to act as bank that deposits knowledge. How weird is that? Education which supposed to be controlled by human in general acts as if it is human and students – the human beings – are treated as if they are some kind of jars – non living things. Of course education in reality is controlled by human but only those who have power but nonetheless those people hide behind the ‘innocence’ of education. Then again, one can conclude from this point of view that education is used by people in power to oppress young people as what Freire (1996) suggested. It is a tool for the government to oppress citizens in order to achieve better economic performance which again benefits certain groups of people.

In my opinion, education should be used to humanise human. Education can be used as a tool to liberate people from globalised world’s ‘slavery’ to be fully capable human beings. Students, young people, or people in general should be the owner of globalised world, not the workers in it. I believe that it is the ideal condition as it is explained in the Koran that humans are the ones who inherit the world. The word inherit contains a sense of ownership, control, and power over the object. In order to do this – humanising human – Freire (1973) suggested that education should make people aware that they have the power to face challenges of the world.

One can see a sense of human empowerment in the process of humanising human. People need not to be passive which dehumanising, the lowest form of defence mechanism believed in critical psychology. Instead, they need to be reflective, a restless act to pursue knowledge through invention (Freire, 1973) so that they can act appropriately. Education should be able to empower people or students maybe, and make them capable of being truly humans in the era of globalisation now. Education need to humanise human if not re-humanise human at this point.

May 28, 2013