By Tony Samson
ONLY in our country do we refer to toilets as “comfort rooms.” I can only surmise how that came about. Was it the relief expected from a visit there? Ask for directions where the comfort room is in North America and you get a quizzical look, unless the party being queried happens to be a compatriot.
Toilets have now been politicized (after sidewalks and schoolrooms) and turned into discomfort rooms. While the clearly female character in the eyewear ad seemed embarrassed at entering the men’s room by mistake due to poor eyesight, the social clarity of matching gender and assigned space is now up in the air, even for the clear-eyed.
True, even before the passage of the now much-discussed law, there was no problem with a janitress wandering into the men’s room even when it was occupied to clean up around the urinals. But could a janitor wander into the ladies’ room and expect the same nonchalant reaction?
“Comfort” is a modifier used for such nouns as rooms (toilet) and food (familiar home-cooking). In commerce, a “comfort letter” is designed to provide assurances that conditions for a deal will be met. Some years back, “comfort women”, as a victimized group, sparked the move for them to be indemnified to right a historical injustice. They got an apology instead.
In psychology, a “comfort zone” is defined as a mental state of well-being. When one is in his comfort zone, he confidently goes about his business. His assignments and disposition are aligned to give him a feeling of control, even mastery.
“Comfort zone” was originally a term in physics referring to temperature in an equilibrium state. The body neither sweats nor shivers when the temperature is between 28 to 30 degrees centigrade. This neither-hot-nor-cold condition (also known as the Goldilocks state in economics) provides comfort and safety.
Leaving one’s comfort zone is seldom a self-initiated move. Newton’s Law of Inertia, where a body at rest wants to stay in that state, applies to people. Thus, being forced out of a job’s comfort zone, after a long and secure tenure is sure to be a disturbing experience.
Even among birds, fledglings with newly acquired feathers need to be pushed out of their comfortable nest to try flying after just lying around and being fed worms lying down on a warm spot of interlocking twigs — open your mouth.
Being pushed out of a comfort zone, even by those who do not consider your well-being, can turn into a blessing in disguise. After a momentary sense of confusion, the new state (accompanied by a sense of falling) can lead to flight, or a loud thud being the last sound heard before losing consciousness.
Even for the comfortable, the state of not perspiring and not shivering can be boring. The goals in one’s early life may be simple. But eventually owning a new car and a home almost fully paid is only comforting after a while. The sense of well-being is temporary. Envy of one’s cohorts in school or work can set in — did they move up faster? Aren’t the rich envious of those who are richer?
The state of discomfort at what has already been achieved is referred to as a “mid-life crisis.” Usually, in one’s late forties after realizing childish dreams or accepting that they must be scaled down, sometimes craziness beckons. And wild things happen — he got into a franchise for a siomai cart business which failed, and then ran off with a masseuse.
Jumping off a bridge is not always the suicidal event it may seem at first — only an extreme sport (if there is a bungee rope attaching the body to a solid support that can bear a falling weight). Some mid-life crisis events are less risky — like training for a triathlon or joining a monastic cult.
The choice is not binary then — leaving or staying in the comfort zone. One can leave without having to cut off ties to sanity.
The equilibrium that a comfort zone offers may be unexciting. Still, the need to rest, recharge, take stock, and consolidate is part of being comfortable. Then it is off again to the risky outdoors where temperatures can change, usually to the very hot and sweaty. After straying a bit, the enticement of the comfort zone can be strong… but sometimes no longer available.
Tony Samson is Chairman and CEO, TOUCH xda.