*Moment of Silence*
Let’s take a moment of silence. For the 9 who lost their lives in Dayton, Ohio and the 22 who lost their lives in El Paso, Texas over one weekend.
What We Avoid: The Alpha Male
“I don’t really like dealing with alpha males. I have 2 out of 4 of them on my team. Because I’m not an alpha male, it’s hard for me to deal with them. I just usually shut down and get really frustrated. Then they say, ‘Oh why are you in a bad mood?’” My male client who happened to be in Texas –not El Paso thank goodness—was relaying what he wanted to work on during our session. I couldn’t help but wonder if others had been as forthcoming as my client, would we have any carnage to reckon with at all after this past weekend? I mean, would we be able to better deal with alpha males like the shooters? Or would we just steer clear of them, stepping aside so they could purchase yet another gun?
What We Have Become: How We Treat the Other
With fresh updates of the number of victims coming from CNN just two days after the weekend massacres on the TV screen, at a Peet’s Coffee and tea, I lined up eagerly awaiting my SFO routine: picking up a soy matcha latte before boarding my flight. “What is this? Is there soy in this? Just tell me what this is. Is there soy in this? I JUST WANT TO KNOW WHAT THIS IS? IS THERE SOY IN THIS?!” The Caucasian man’s voice escalated with each question he repeated. The Filipino staff looked inquisitively at each other and repeated that there was indeed no soy milk in his coffee. I was mortified. When did it become ok to talk to someone like this? Was it ok because they were Filipino? If they looked more like him, would he have treated them with more respect?
What We Justify: Blame -> Complain -> Justification
It’s mental illness. It’s video games. It’s our 2nd amendment right. It’s hunting. It’s the NRA. And the list goes on. We are in the endless cycle of looking for someone—anyone to blame. Then we complain about them, and we justify what they did. Then the vicious cycle begins again. We blame/complain/justify a certain leader’s complicit hate speech towards certain minority groups as the reason behind the gun violence; yet it is what we do when we talk about the very same leader. We use the same hate speech to talk about him that we abhor. I know, that’s a hard one to hear. Just take a moment to let that sink in.
What We Need To Move Forward: Avoidance -> Survival -> Growth
Ok, so we avoid certain alpha males like the plague. I mean, who wouldn’t?! Some of us even survive them or put up with them. We nod our heads, roll our eyes, fold our arms as we listen to them drone on. The harder thing is to look within and figure out what it is we can do to help them. Here’s a great story a friend of mine told me recently. She would take her dog out along the same road every morning. Every morning she would notice how people would litter. She would then blame the people who did it, complain about it and them to friends, and justify not doing anything about it because she wasn’t the one at fault. One day, she realized how judgmental she had been and that all of that BCJ (blame/complain/justification) wasn’t going to pick up that trash. So she started bringing not just her dog out, but a trash bag as well. She posted pics of her new-found trash collecting activity on Instagram. Her neighbors saw the post, got inspired and realized that they too had been judgmental and in BCJ mode. They started picking up trash along the same road as well. That’s the thing about growth mode: growth begets growth.
What We Need To Understand: They Are Us
At a retreat in California by the beach, I first learned about the theory of oneness: basically you are me and I am you. As a child, I had grown up super empathetic. I would look at homeless people and think: that could be me. Well, the theory of oneness takes that statement to a whole new level: it’s not that could be me, it’s that is me. Let that sink in for a second or take a few minutes. Yeah, it’s easier when you have the calm waves of the ocean rolling in like I did on retreat. So the shooters are us. Certain leaders are us. Yup, that’s right. We are all one.
What Friendship Benches Can Do For Us—All of US
I watched a story in the news about how a group of thoughtful citizens in New York who wanted to replicate a program that had been created in Zimbabwe: All you have to do is invite people to just sit and talk with you on a bench. No payment necessary, no judgments, no stigma. You had an unbiased ear to listen to you. As someone who has researched happiness and survived a 2-year bout with depression, I can tell you this much: as humans we crave connection—real life physical connection—not the how-many-likes-can-I-get-on-social-media kind of connection. Happiness is really just that simple. So next time you see an Alpha Male, why not invite him to sit on a bench with you?
*Dedicated to the families + friends of those who lost their lives in Dayton, Ohio and El Paso, Texas. Our hearts are WITH you. We are you.*
IT ALL BEGINS WITH A CONVERSATION
Chatting WITH Sheri so easily first at my house and then in more of an "official" capacity on a FriYAYs WITH Kyla episode, I realized in my own life, I was not as progressive/open as my ego would like others to believe. I found myself stereotyping groups of people before even giving them the benefit of the doubt; in situations where I was outnumbered (by race, gender, etc), I would not voice my own opinion; I would be friendly to certain groups of people and not to others based solely on their outward appearance. And the list goes on.
Ok, so now what?
HOW CAN WE HAVE UNCOMFORTABLE CONVERSATIONS?
This is the question I asked Sheri in our FriYAYs WITH Kyla session. She had started her own group addressing issues surrounding the global racism she had experience in her own life, and as an inter-racial couple (her husband is a white Dutch man). I expected she would give me some concrete steps I would have to follow, I was bracing myself to write them down in my journal. Instead she simply replied in her always down-to-earth way, "Just don't call them uncomfortable." Whoa. It was the labeling that made the conversations scary, intimidating, and want you to run screaming in the other direction.
Hanging out with women recently, I have noticed some subtle microaggressions here and there. Some of the women had talked about how they had done additional exercise over the weekend. I know we are all supportive of each other, and not ill-intentioned, but somehow there were several subtle microaggressive comments that came out in response: "Oh, that's really intimidating!" or "Oh that is really annoying!" It made me think about labeling, about how I can be microaggressive AT myself and AT others, but also how we can create change around it. Just as much as Sheri says we don't have to call conversations around more challenging topics "uncomfortable" we also can create positive change around every day conversations. I found myself saying in response to what the other women were saying, "That's so inspiring!"
Do you remember when you were in elementary school or heck even as an adult, and you said or did something so you could fit in more? Belong more? (I'll just speak for myself here!) When I left Hong Kong at the age of 14 and started boarding school in California, I lost my British accent quick because that was what differentiated me from everyone else. I didn't know at the time, and every other time I have done something like that to fit in, but it was because I wanted to belong. It struck me that when we say or do something to fit in, we are not only NOT fitting in WITH ourselves, but often making other people feel bad in the process. Listening to Brené Brown recently, it further dawned on me when she said, "You don't have to belong to a group. You can belong to yourself." Whoa.
After the session WITH Sheri, we talked for another hour on having uncomfortable -> inspirational conversations. In full vulnerability, I admitted to her all of the times I had stereotyped people, I had thrown microaggressions AT people, how I had even done this AT my own husband's family. She responded by saying reassuringly, "You didn't know at the time. Now you know. So now you can create change around it." I told her about how I had noticed I didn't smile at darker skinned men. So last week at two different restaurants, sitting at tables next to first an Indian gentleman and then two African gentlemen, I found myself smiling WITH them. Sharing the story WITH Sheri, I could see how excited she was that her own INSPIRING conversation she started WITH me had created change just like that.
P.S. For a podcast addressing uncomfortable conversations, check out my friend Sara's new podcast: Dear White Women
*Dedicated + Inspired to people like Sheri + Sara who are creating change WITH one inspiring conversation at a time*
Dear Mr. Bowers,
Hello, my name is Kyla. You don't know me and I don't know you. I live in South Korea, but I have been to Pittsburgh once to visit my friend Katherine who is getting her Ph.D. at The University of Pittsburgh. Although it may seem that it would be impossible for us to have ever crossed paths: you someone from the trucking industry and me someone from the happiness coaching industry; but perhaps unbeknownst to either of us our paths crossed when I visited my friend Katherine in Pittsburgh in 2012? Perhaps our cars were on the same freeways, perhaps we visited the same grocery stores, perhaps we walked along the same sidewalks, and most of all, perhaps we are more connected than we ever know because we are both HUMAN?
I have dealt WITH an inner bully for most of my adult life: I never felt good enough. I got into Harvard where I met my friend Katherine, incidentally, and I still didn't feel good enough. I sought to fill my external cup with awards, accomplishments, global speaking gigs, and the like. When all along, my internally-validated cup was empty. No matter how much water I poured into my externally-driven cup, it would not overflow into my internally-validated cup. And so my inner bully raged on.
TALKING WITH YOUR EGO
Most of our deepest fears are ego-driven, Mr. Bowers. For example, take the fact that most people fear public speaking more than death. Crazy right? Well, if we were to unpack that a little, we could figure out what is actually at the bottom of this fear. Why do we fear public speaking? Because we fear judgment. Why do we fear judgment? Because we want to be accepted. Why do we want to be accepted? Because we come from a long line of hunters and gatherers. When one person was ousted from the tribe, what was the likelihood that he/she would survive through the night by him/herself? Yeah, that signaled death.
Don't let your ego talk AT you.
TALKING WITH OTHERS
Last night I watched two men talk about one of the men's sons and how he had cancer at the age of 3. One of the men visibly teared up, the other one loosely acknowledged it. And you never really even knew what had happened because it was all shrouded in vague language. It was Michael Buble and James Corden on Carpool Karaoke. Buble's son had been diagnosed with liver cancer at the age of 3. He is still undergoing treatment. I get it, sometimes it's hard to say things out loud, like "My son has cancer," or "I hate Jewish people," but that is how change is created.
Have an uncomfortable conversation WITH someone.
SEVERE AT COMMUNICATION
You know how some people's worlds are separated into black and white? While others see more grey? Well, to me my world is separated by WITH and AT communication. I see everything through that lens. Allow me to explain. If you have a WITH conversation WITH yourself to try to figure out where the anger is really coming from and you respond to it, rather than react to it, you will be a lot less stressed out. As I mentioned earlier have comfortable or uncomfortable conversations WITH others who are different from you, you will GROW and become a better person. When all of this breaks down, stress occurs, and we humans cannot think clearly. We fall back on our limbic systems (which don't allow us to creatively problem solve) and we do what we have done in the past. We fall back into negative behavioral and/or thought patterns. We all do it. Then we talk AT ourselves: that inner bully comes out, and then it really comes out to others AT others.
A WITH TOOL: EMPATHY
I can deeply empathize WITH you. The government took everything my grandparents had away from them, and during WWII, they were placed in an internment camp. My uncle was born in an internment camp, my grandfather would carry ice-cream in his hands back for his children, and my grandmother once had a gun pointed at her. My mom never trusted people, least of all people who were darker than us. I ended up marrying a Mexican-American man who was the first in his family to go to college and grad school. Growing up, both my parents were quite negative, so I knew nothing different. You'll be happy to hear, my husband is one of the most positive people I know, and despite everything he has overcome in his life, he remains positive and has helped every single person in my family see the positive in the negative.
What do you think your story of struggle is Mr. Bowers?
We all have a story of struggle. It ends WITH you WITHin you, not WITH others.
Mr. Bowers, if you have read this far, allow me another paragraph. It is this WITH communication that would have allowed you to deeply empathize WITH the people in the Tree of Life Synagogue. Let's bring you back to Saturday morning. Imagine the tables had been reversed and you had been in the synagogue. You would have wished to communicate WITH the shooter, right? Explain WITH the shooter that even though you are different, even though your religions and ideologies are different, even though you may seem different on the outside (like you and me) that we are all humans, and therefore inextricably linked.
If you have gotten to the end of this letter WITH me, I am grateful that you have been able to understand just how important communicating WITH vs AT is and how much it can truly change not just your own life, but the lives of the humans you communicate WITH.
Wishing you WITH Success,
Over Thai dinner before our karaoke outing with other boot campers, my bootcamp instructor locked eyes with me, and said,
"If you ever need reminding of how awesome you are, just let me know. I will always be here to remind you."
It was said with the same intensity in which she pushed me and my fellow boot campers when we were struggling with that final sit-up, burpee, or just talking too much instead of working out (!).
A WEEK EARLIER...
Over Indian lunch with my bootcamp class, the almost-cool fall breeze was lightly lingering, "What's going on, kiddo?" my bootcamp instructor inquired with a note of concern in her voice.
I tried to hide what was going on with me by avoiding eye contact throughout class earlier. My logic was if I just avoided what was happening, it would eventually go away. I knew perfectly well, it wouldn't. I was in the AVOIDANCE phase of the AVOIDANCE ->SURVIVAL -> GROWTH paradigm.
"Well...it's just my book. I am terrified that no one will buy it... I guess I feel paralyzed by fear."
On the one hand it was such a relief to blurt everything out to these women I deeply respected, but then I worried what they would think of me and what I had just blurted out. I was doubly relieved when a barrage of concerned and thoughtful suggestions came flowing out like the fall breeze:
"You could hire a graphic designer for your book cover..."
"Don't worry, you have us! We will buy your book!"
"Have you had anyone read a draft? I am happy to buy one and read it!"
"It's just a small obstacle, you can overcome it!"
"If you just change one person's life, if just one person reads your book, and has their life changed then you've done something..."
Everything they were saying was true. It was hard to believe that I had just sort of started bootcamp on a whim the previous year, but each week, I grew closer to these women. One woman even began bringing me back little gifts with "HAPPY" on them whenever she came back from the U.S. Other women would make sure I had a ride (as I was the only one without a car), check in on me when I wasn't at bootcamp, and were just super supportive of my burgeoning coaching business.
Back at the Thai restaurant, "Coaches need coaches. I see how you are with everyone, Kyla. You give so much," my own bootcamp COACH continued. Hearing her say that, and looking into her deeply concerned eyes, made me want to cry. I truly respected her so much--not just as a coach, but as a woman, former marine corps vet, mother, wife, and all-around human-being.
BELONGING, MATTERING, AND SAFETY
I recently read the book Power Your Tribe. 3 things the author mentions that every corporate tribe needs to thrive: belonging, mattering, and safety. These past few weeks, I have felt deeply that these 3 things could extend to any community--corporate or not. Without belonging, mattering, and safety, we can't reveal our true selves.
After one of my Happiness Workshops last week, as we went around sharing our true selves, one of the participants found a mentor in another participant: they were both minorities in some way. Later I heard they exchanged stories at Dunkin' Donuts. If they had never felt comfortable enough to reveal their true selves, they would have never found belonging, mattering and safety with each other and the community of our workshop.
Research shows that when we carry around emotional burdens, they become physical burdens. I get it. During one of my workshops, I had revealed many of my own emotional burdens to the workshop participants. After that particular workshop, there was a line of people just waiting to reveal theirs to me: PTSD from surviving a car accident, a rape survivor, a parent's death, and the list goes on.
It is no wonder that participants in that research on emotional burdens -> physical burdens, would look at a hill and think it is steeper than it really is when they were carrying around heavy emotional burdens.
THE SECRET (TO LIVING LONGER)
Turns out, it ain't good air quality and exercise. In her TED Talk, Susan Pinker talks about the top two predictors of longevity: 1) Social Integration and 2) Close relationships. Social integration is all about the quality of the relationships you have throughout your day: Made me think about my fruit lady who makes her husband deliver my fruit and always gives me free ripened bananas knowing I use them to bake; or the guy who works at the glasses shop who gives me free contact lenses whenever I buy a box or two. Close relationships pertain to the people you can call when you're in a pinch: I immediately thought of how a friend of mine was in a pinch in the U.S. a few months ago, and I called one of the amazing ladies from my community who immediately came to our aid.
"If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together."
I am a huge fan of Shola Richards. He is a fellow overcomer of workplace bullying. He just came out with his second book Go Together. He talks about this concept of Ubuntu in his book: there's a legend of these kids in an African village. A man tells them that when he says "GO!" they will all run towards the tree where he has candy hanging (think piñata but more rustic style). Legend has it, the kids didn't try to out run each other, but instead, they ran TOGETHER holding hands. When questioned by the man, the kids said that it wouldn't be the same if one kid got all the candy.
In this world that is increasingly divisive, I am that much more grateful to be part of a community that embraces this concept of UBUNTU.
At another bootcamp lunch, I was talking to two newcomers:
"This community of women is truly exceptional. They are mothers, wives, daughters; they are talented and gifted fementrepreneurs; they give back to their communities, they donate. And some of the humblest, most generous giving women I have ever come across. All in one community."
*Dedicated to + Inspired by my Songdo Sisters: Thank you for supporting me, encouraging me, being my mirrors. I am eternally grateful to be a part of this incredible UBUNTU community.*
Happiness coach, Theta Healer®, author, WITH Warrior in Chief <3