When we are pressed into an uncomfortable or uncontrollable situation, there are numerous ways we can react to whom or what is pushing us out of our comfort zone. It is human nature to react to the situation immediately if we feel threatened, or if we’re just flat-out scared. If we have a little more time, we make quick, mini calculations in our head as to what is the best way to respond to the situation. In less threatening situations, those calculations usually go to the tune of, “I know the best comeback to that” or “I’ll counter their point with this.” However, what do we do when we have no comeback? When our own thoughts and opinions could — God forbid — be wrong?

For some, being wrong is one of those annoying feelings that agitates for some time, then the feeling subsides and they move on. Others, however, try to understand why they were wrong and put themselves in the shoes of their challenger. In most situations, rarely is there a right or wrong answer or someone who is right or wrong (as Game of Thrones teaches us). But there is a way one can improve oneself to be better: consciousness.

This is the idea of being aware of your surroundings, feelings and perceptions — essentially yourself and what’s going on around you. Consciousness is a tricky thing because it forces you to be aware of numerous situations, individuals and conditions that are constantly changing, regardless of whether you have any control over them.

As we grow and understand more about the world and those around us, we’re taught to be conscious of ourselves, and of others. Yet consciousness isn’t something you can force upon someone. You can’t walk up to a stranger on the street and tell them, “You need to be more conscious of those in that building across the street!” I doubt that person would take that advice and, say, decide to bring doughnuts to a bunch of strangers the next morning.

But we can learn consciousness through experiences and situations that impact us. These do not have to be negative experiences, of course. Reading a new book that opens your eyes to a new world, having a deep conversation with a friend that challenges your thinking or even coming to that self-realization that you aren’t always right can not only change how we view our own opinions and values, but can also help us see others’ perceptions, opinions and values as not being right or wrong, but just being.

Having attended a predominately white grade school and high school, I learned from an early age that something separated me from a majority of those around me, whether I understood why at the time or not. As an African-American male, I’ve had my own personal struggles with accepting who I am in America, but those same experiences have substantially added to my consciousness, for which I am thankful. Obviously, no one enjoys being discriminated against or called a racial slur, yet I, as with many who have faced that same kind of negativity, have used those moments to try to understand those who clearly don’t share similarities with myself.

I’m not here to say minorities or any other group are more conscious than anyone. Like everyone else, my experiences are my own. However, I am saying we all possess consciousness. The differences lie in the level of our consciousness, and how we mold our lives based on that level of consciousness. In today’s world — which resembles a sitcom — practically every day we see someone or a group emerging to separate people from another. To combat the negativity and hate we all see, I believe we collectively need to increase our level of consciousness. Instead of disregarding all that one says as trash, try to understand why they are that way and how their experiences could influence what they are saying. In a lot of cases, that will also take extreme patience, something we all need. However, coming out of those situations, we may just change someone’s thinking, which can help that person see our perceptions as well.

Hateful rhetoric and hateful people don’t have a place in our community, but I like to think that those who perpetuate hate are the minority in our society. Understanding these people is quite hard, but I believe their minds can be opened to new understandings as well — they just take more time. In the meantime, step out of your comfort zone by having a conversation that challenges your thinking with someone different than you; you never know, you may end up getting doughnuts out of it.

Ethan Barham, a Contributing Writer for the Voice, can be reached for comment at EBarham18@wooster.edu.