COLM O'REGAN: The comfort zone is such a nice place

The comfort zone gets a lot of bad press. Why? The comfort zone is such a nice place. It fits us perfectly, says Colm O'Regan.

There’s a cupboard with Chocolate Hobnobs or German supermarket equivalent Hocolate Chobnobs, and a bag of crisps that are big enough to be described as ‘catering scale’ but because they’re kettle-cooked there is less stigma about eating a whole packet.

I don’t know what’s so wrong with that. But every so often, just when we’re at our most settled and cosy, society or peer pressure or some other force compels us to go out and be uncomfortable.

Maybe it’s an impulse buried deep in our DNA, an evolutionary imperative forces us to wearily take off our slippers and put on our non-comfort-zone steel toecap boots, go out into the murk and try something new.

Maybe prehistoric man was sitting down on a promontory outside his cave, peacefully watching a tribal deathmatch on the flood plain below, nibbling his favourite raw rodent, playing with a square wheel, fine and happy for himself.

But somewhere an idea bubbled up from his cells to try and cook food with fire and take the corners off that that square wheel. And all at once he was flustering over fuel and ignition and working out how to stop this rudimentary trolley from rolling into a ravine.

If anyone wants to see me outside my comfort zone over the course of an entire weekend, the Kilkenomics festival is a good place to start. A portmanteau of Kilkenny, Comedy and Economics, Kilkenomics was ‘omicsing’ before it was cool.

It combines very smart people with entire sentences of qualifications after their name discussing economics with comedians trying to ask the simple obvious questions.

In a way we’re all trying to be a bit like Bill O’Herlihy. The basic premise is that the dismal science of economics is actually interesting. It should be called (to paraphrase Bob McDonald from the childrens’ Science TV show Wonderstruck) Why Things Are The Way They Are And Why They’re Not Something Else (And What Could Be Done To Make Them Different).

This is the eighth year of the festival. There’s something about economics and November that always seems to throw up some sort of intrigue. The first year in 2010 was the year of the bailout. There was a whiff of cordite in the air.

The Government was in denial. Someone saw a mysterious Hungarian going around the Department of Finance.

Over the subsequent years, there were Greek defaults, Cypriot bail-ins, Greeks leaving the euro, pre Brexit, pre Trump, post Brexit, the shell-shock after Trump, and this year it’s probably the impending collapse of civilisation.

Throughout all of these years I was up on a stage, desperately thinking of what question to ask a person whose brain was visibly bigger than mine, hoping the audience didn’t hear the sound of my mind turning.

Out of my comfort zone, displaying my ignorance like I was going to school in my pyjamas but as long as I didn’t get in the way, audiences went away having learned a bit and I came away realising how little I knew.

Also it’s a place where you might find out ideas before they become common currency. Literally. I was hearing about and ignoring bitcoin five years ago at Kilkenomics.

Bitcoin is a cryptocurrency. Cryptocurrency is a sort of a… and then my throat dries, my voice reverts to 15-year-old schoolboy broken and I’m out of my depth. Anyway, it was once obscure but I would say now we are a gnat-hair away from it featuring on Liveline.

And the venues are either cosy pubs or comfy theatres, so either way someone will be in their comfort zone. But it probably won’t be me.

Colm O’Regan will be at Kilkenomics along with a host of people who know what they’re talking about in Kilkenny, Nov 9 to 12


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