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BLOOD ON OUR HANDS

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Blood on our hands

Extremists and The Internet

Every single one of us.

We are a generation of Google. A generation with the convenience of political history, geography and global history at our fingertips.

We are a generation of Youtube. A generation that can see with ease and without restriction in most cases a window to the rest of the world’s pain, perspective, starvation and misery.

We are a generation of Facebook. A generation that can send messages and connect with global audiences and persuade the change of social norms in a matter of seconds.

We are a generation of Twitter. A generation that can take two seconds to write a statement comprised of 5 words and bring attention to change makers without ever having any connection to them.

We are a generation of the smartphone, the notebook, the ipad, a generation of couch political pundit convenience.

 AND

This is what we did in the last few months.

We helped the Internet to discuss its attempt to temporarily break while we consumed the exploitation of female assets through the ambition of a reality star.

We contributed to e-commerce shopping sites to crash on Black Friday.

We helped people retain their celebrity status by watching videos with no substance – 20 million views in 2 days.

We made shows that show us gore, conflict and fictional mythical warfare global hits by watching them again and again and again.

We had tailgates, super bowl parties, tuned in every Sunday, Monday and Thursday – did our lineups and hid in fantasies.

We threw more parties, decorated more cakes, saw more movies, consumed beyond gluttony and changed the channel when we saw something uncomfortable.

BUT

Moderation is the key to joy. So what if we enjoy the unnecessary, the insignificant sometimes?

No problem at all,

BUT

We are not moderates.

We are extremists – in everything.

We spend minutes, hours, days consuming information that does not better ourselves or humanity.

SO

We tolerated the manifestation of institutionalized racism and, changed the channel.

We witnessed the choking of Garner, the police actions in Ferguson – but they were no match for the number of views compared to pop culture.

We watched and shared pictures of Gaza, Syria and effected little to no change on foreign policy.

We saw the news on gun shootings of innocent children – and we never had a national conversation on how damaged these individuals were and that they came from “normal” neighborhoods.

We raised our hands in pride and put our hands on our hearts and never officially accepted that we are a culture of torture.

AND

We are physically sick – overwhelmed in obesity, diabetes and heart disease. We take and take and take.

We are mentally sick – and have increased our needs in anxiety pills, watched as suburban moms have taken to meth, heroin, cocaine – and locked up addicts instead of offenders.

TODAY

We sit on our laptops watching the mothers beat their chest in pain and sorrow mourning over their children in coffins in Peshawar. We see the line of bodies wrapped in white cloth lining the floor of the childrens’ school. Bloodied green uniforms, torn book bags, and dead bodies.

We do breath. We can breath and we breathe easily. We eat, breath, laugh, buy and sleep.

We will scroll down the news feeds, change the channel, do the last minute buy and watch the senseless Youtube video to check out the hype.

What did we use our eyes, minds, clicks for?

LOOK

Look at what consumes you, Look at your search history, Look at what algorithms have provided for you as news.

We are a generation of Google, Youtube, Facebook. Twitter, Smartphone, Notebook, Ipad, and we have have blood on our hands.

The thoughts and consuming activities of your minds can be traced, repeated and placed in an attractive video showing your history in the new world of information and social media.

No dear, you cannot wash this blood so easily.

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THE POLITICS OF BEING NICE

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THE POLITICS OF BEING NICE

This is written for all women who have ever wanted to be described as NICE.

“Sugar and Spice makes everything nice.”   If one was to look at the statement closely, it reads like a paradox. Sugar and Spice do not technically go together to make everything taste better. In fact sugar and spice cause symptoms of heartburn. Don’t worry, I am not writing a blog post on acid reflux – BUT I am writing about the personification of sugar. More specifically somebody that is sweet or dare I say nice.

Unlike food, as far as dispositions are concernedI would argue that sugar and spice do make everything better, because it is necessary. The spice – the attributes of honesty and setting boundaries balances our manifestations of nice. Unfortunately, I have seen that women have the hardest time with the spice attributes.

Have you noticed how mothers talk to young boys vs young girls, even as toddlers?  When they stop a girl from smacking their younger sibling with a ping pong racket or snatching a toy we hear,

“Sara, play nice”, When they stop a boy we hear “Adam! NO!”

Why is that? I would argue that as women we have been conditioned to have a nice demeanor while men are raised to see nice as a weakness.  I want to examine the dynamics of nice here so we can really see the unnecessary power it holds for many women and how many times it is misunderstood.  And hopefully, I can encourage you to replace your love for the word nice with better alternatives.

 

 

Let’s first flesh out the word nice itself.

 

Nice is defined as – pleasant; agreeable; satisfactory. The word is an adjective.

Technically, if one is nice – One is always pleasing, one always agrees and one is always satisfying the other.

Is that really what women should strive to be?  If we were to follow this description, we would never have any meaningful conversations, or honest exchangeof ideas that challenges our perspectives and analyzes our own flaws. In a nutshell if practiced, this definition can really halt us from growing.

 

NICE – A Tool for people pleasing and an obstacle in setting boundaries

According to this definition nice becomes a tool to enable you to be satisfactory to the other. What is this a symptom of? Yes, the dreadful disease that takes over every woman starting as early as childhood – people pleasing. We all know too well what happens when women fall under the pressures of this. Women by nature want to always keep the peace. I am a big proponent of maintaining peace but not at the cost of our honesty and authenticity.

How many times have you made a decision in your life or maintained a relationship in order to satisfy what other people expect from you? Again and again, I have seen women not only base their friendships on other peoples’ expectations but also make decisions that harm them just so they can be considered nice.

Now one may see it is not such a big deal to behave this way. But I would argue it is indeed a small deal, but a small deal that grows into a personal habit. They habit of being nice ( agreeable, satisfactory) at the cost of your own emotional health. It starts out with one’s need to be nice in your personal relationships to in turn, be nice in every scenario, making it hard to set boundaries.

To give you an example how this habit can reach beyond your emotional health, I wanted to share something that alarmed me. I heard a radio interview of a police chief speaking about sexual assault recently. Do you know the number one reason why women were in danger? They would invite the intruder in. Either by physical entry or by conversation because they were afraid they would not come across as nice.

Now, I know this is a more dramatic scenario but this goes hand in hand with women not being able to set boundaries to protect their emotional health and physical health by constantly trying to be described as NICE and falling deeper into the practice of people pleasing.

 

POLITE  – It is different from being nice.

I believe that you can still keep the peace, maintain respect for another without having to become insincere.

As I have started coming into my phase as an adult woman, I have more and more appreciated the manners and rules of etiquette. Words and phrases that I found unnecessary and bothersome in my ear from my mother I have come to have great respect for. You see, being polite actually gives you the tools to set your boundaries with grace. It is completely different from being nice.  It allows you to speak your mind with very precise accurate words without speaking in half truths.  Let me give you an example of statements of a NICE person

“No, I really didn’t mean that- I am so sorry.”

“Oh I don’t really care about that, don’ t be silly.”

“Sure, no you are fine.”

“Really? I don’t remember saying that. Don’t worry about it”

Now, here are polite statements

“Thank you, I am full.”

“No Thank you,  Its not something I am interested in.

“Let me finish what I am saying please.”

Do you see the difference? The practice of being nice is about satisfying the other, while being polite is about speaking your mind.

 

EVERYBODY’S FRIEND IS NOBODY’S FRIEND

My mother used to say this to me and I never understood it till I became an adult. Now I understand what it meant. Someone who is always trying to be nice to everyone will always be in a position where they will be in a insincere conversation. It is impossible to be nice to everyone at an equal degree because people, agendas and loyalties differ.

Without judgment, I would say that many people like to fall in this category not realizing that it can really harm their credibility for trust. And they put themselves in compromising situations and conversations that may be considered backbiting. Now does that not mean I am advocating that you should not be friendly with everyone, but I think the best is for one to strive to be polite and thus have varying levels of friendship. This gives you the freedom to step away from conversations that you do not want to participate in and still maintain a relationship that is sincere while giving others the opportunity to be the best of themselves. If you do not arm yourself with these boundaries you will step into acting out a less graceful version of yourself. And yes, we have all been there.

 

I heard a very interesting description of nice recently.

“Nice is a decision one makes on how to handle a situation, it is not an attribute. Many people can manipulate you by showing you that they are nice.”

I agree with that.  We should admire qualities of politeness and respect others even when they are not satisfying us or agreeing with us.

In addition, I would encourage you to want to be described as something other than nice. As a generation of women that are multitasking, taking charge of our affairs and raising families we should throw out this literally powerless word when it comes to describing a person and replace it with words that actually mean something.

I would suggest “Fair, trustworthy, honest, patient, and yes polite.”

I would teach my children, especially girls that being described as fair and trustworthy puts you in category of being useful to others. People will approach you for help and you can assist them because they confide in your honesty. All relationships should be based on respect and honesty not on a superficial exchange of two people not wanting to offend the other.

So next time your daughter or niece is about to whack another kid, tell her “Sara! NO! Play gentle please.”

 

 

WHO WILL TELEVISION PICK NEXT AS ITS FEMALE ROLE MODEL?

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We are all looking for role models. Women – we need someone to inspire us, someone to show us that we can achieve our dreams, fight the good fight, and remind us every day the value of our worth as women.  More than ever, women are stepping out of their comfort zones and opening new businesses, taking risks and fighting for love in their personal relationships. They are being vocal about the media and its portrayal of women, about businesses that degrade them while still make money off them and finally realizing they have been and are the heart and soul of all our communities.

Women are everything and instead of downplaying any of their attributes, they are ready to tell the world about it. They are cooks, mothers, wives, daughters, domestic engineers, tear wipers, hand holders, motivators, teachers, businesswomen, professionals, athletes, leaders.

They are far more than what Real Housewives show the world, far more than what advertising agencies show us in Glamour or Cosmopolitan or even Redbook or Time.

They are the smartest consumer of multi- billion dollar industries around the globe. These ladies purchase dollars provide jobs, growth and sustainability to nations. Let us face it – women are ready to own their power.

In this reality, which women leaders are reminding us of this necessary truth?. Who are the real role models for us? Who are the ones that accept women for who they are and think higher of them in the media?

It seems the media is trying to figure it out as well. It’s the million dollar question. Every national television broadcasting channel is trying to find a perfect match for its over 20 million consumer base. They are offering exciting topics, new sets to persuade women consumers that they have what they need.

Oprah gave us a lifetime of conversations, a lifetime example of dreaming big and doing the work every day by coming into our living rooms. She recently launched OWN with her own vision and it seems believes what all women are slowly realizing – there is more to life. OWN has done an excellent job in elevating women’s vision of themselves.

Bravo wants to convince women that reality TV is what they need every day all the time and nationally syndicated channels are looking for a host to engage stay-at-home moms.

We saw Katie Couric, the intelligent professional connecting with women on topics that really matter. Unfortunately she wasn’t able to sustain her viewers and she will bid aideu in June.

Queen Latifah has also embraced television, as always she has broken barriers and brought her unique charm, power and wit to daytime and as a result we will see her on the air for another year.

This week, we found out the next casualty will be  Bethanny Frankel, a brilliant businesswoman who was hired for her frank, straight up talk but perhaps proved to be not a good model for the channels executives.

This week we also watched NBC’s next talk show host and tv personality Meredith Vieira embrace the Olympics as the first female head anchor for the Olympics. I applaud her as this is brilliant and long overdue.

Ellen has continued to be the voice of wit, sincere conversation and a great entertainer.

One thing is for sure, the media recognizes it needs women and that women need role models because women have A LOT on their plate. It is nice to have guidance to be able to balance it all.

But here is the truth, no marketing strategy can do an analysis and come up with the role model that is chosen based on demographics and market analysis. Surprising to television execs I am sure.

The reality is women are still not one dimensional. Even in 2014.

Do Jay Leno, Jimmy Fallon, Tom Brokaw etc. Steve Harvey fit into a one-dimensional audience?

Contrary to many marketing experts in the media women are not sitting in front of televisions for hours wanting to hear gossip, conflict and subpar television.

Women are busy, they are thinkers, multi-taskers and doers.

So yes, they will love Katie, get elevated with Oprah, talk frank with Bethanny, laugh with Queen Latifah and root for on Meredith, dance with Ellen and occasionally indulge in guilty pleasure through reality television.

In a nutshell, women need role models that remind them of themselves, the real self. The sooner broadcast channels realize the jackpot – substantive content that speaks to the intelligence and diversity of interests of women – the sooner we will have a role model that represents the value of the audience.

Women want to make their life better, grow their families and learn more every day.  We need to see a face of honesty not market based content that devalues our worth.

We hope as television execs are going through their rolodex in order to find the new face of women, they look for a face that looks like our mirrors and a bio that reads like the ones on our laptops – diverse, bold, witty, creative, inspiring, honest and a mix of personal and professional and intelligence.

Most of all, we hope that the media thinks more of women and chooses to show them as they are and should be, elevated and powerful.

 

 

I am my Valentine

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by Maaria Mozaffar

Love –   “An intense feeling of deep affection”

Today is Valentine’s Day!  A Day of chocolates, flowers , kisses, hugs, I am sorry, I love you, I need you, I am crazy about you, I appreciate you!

Today is when restaurant reservation waiting lists are long and babysitters are called. It always amazes me that even in our busy life with work meetings and family obligations we as a people take the time to stop love and live.  Nothing warms the heart  more than a love that is reassured.

BUT I really want to change our focus a bit on Valentines Day .

You see, this year  has been a great year for me !  This year I learned about being brave in my personal life, professional life, I took risks, had difficult conversations, made some personal goals and am going towards them everyday.  I made a commitment in 2014 to make my relationships stronger, more honest and value the ones I love even more.

So, this Valentines Day I want to take the time to love myself, nurture myself and thank myself for nothing also warms the heart than a self assured love for yourself.

Not sure if everyone will be getting gifts this season of love so I want to encourage all of you to take the day for yourself with me and get to the real heart of the word LOVE .Trust me I enjoy chocolates and flowers, but I also know that these things do not translate into “an intense feeling of deep affection “. The LOVE you feel when you have your child, or the thumping of your heart when you pray for your loved one to get well, the butterflies in your stomach when your love is returning home from a long trip = these are all manifestations of love one feels for your beloved. What about the person whom has been with you the longest? Do they get to feel that appreciation too?

Let’s face it. In the journey of love search,  we  are looking for that one person who says

“You Complete Me” and that one person that ideally “Completes You”

But here is reality and in my observations of the ups and down of life an undeniable truth. One human cannot complete the other. Honestly  we are already a perfect package. We are  accompanied  with emotions, intellect  ;  all the tools to have  joy, inspiration and focus. The journey is finding all those tools within us and making them work. Nobody knows you or can learn about you fully other than yourself. Remember all the times you were nervous about a new job, new project or new relationship? Who calmed your heart and talked you through it spilling over with positive thoughts to help you face your fears?

 And in the journey of love search we are also looking for someone to make us happy.

But here is another reality, life throws curve balls. Yes, there are moments in which you just cannot be happy, simply because that is not the emotion called for in certain situations. This is not a bad thing, for those not so pleasant emotions are necessary for our growth. No person will come and replace that emotion with “happy”. But you will find the inner strength to strategize, plan and help you face pain. You probably already have opened the doors to joy so many times when you could have chosen fear.

And, of course we not only look for someone to not only complete us, make us happy, but also to make us feel safe.

Another reality, and unfortunately, one of the hardest lessons one has to learn. Would you not agree that  no human can protect another completely? Yes, curve balls again. There are situations that will come your way in which only your resolve will help you , safety is not guaranteed by your relationship with your beloved.

In my mediation practice, I have had the honor to meet women who have sometimes been betrayed by their lovers, husbands. Through the painful discussions and self discovery that these mediation sessions take you through the result is always the same : people realize that they shortchanged themselves when they convinced themselves that others loved them. But they also realize they shortchanged themselves by not valuing their heart. If you believe and know that YOU do love yourself, you will never allow your heart to be shortchanged. Its a good organ , pumping blood, beating for others and facing the unbearable – thank it sometimes.

 The truth is the most important person you CAN love , the person who CAN most protect you by caring for your health and life choices, the person that CAN make you the most happy by always having a limitless source of happy when required, the person who CAN complete you because he or she is so dedicated to your growth, your victories is YOU.

You, see not matter what, in the end its just your heart and you. People will come and go some by choice and some not. If you are able to lean on your own heart for growth and strength, its love is limitless. After all, we all want to give love. We cannot if we do not nurture the source first. I am lucky to have a husband I love. But I know I could not love him the way I do unless I love myself.

This Valentines Day I am celebrating my beloved but I am ALSO celebrating

my heart

my working body

my resolve

my  dedication

my courage

You have to believe me. Come what may, people may hurt you through their words and actions – but you will be alright.

My daughter who is four came home this week saying that a boy in the hallway called her “The ugliest girl he has ever seen.” She really did not know what it meant, and perhaps the other kid did not either. Apparently she was clowning around and the boy did not know how to respond so he chose the word UGLY.

Tempted to say a lot of things to protect her heart, I paused.

I simply told her that many people sometimes say things that are mean. This is not the first, and probably not the last. She just laughed and ran off.

Later she handed me a Valentines Day Card she made for me and her father. I embraced her. Then she showed me a third card – a Valentines Day for herself. In which she wrote her own name and her own message “ I love you”.

I realized at that moment – our hearts love us so naturally.I believe it comes from a undeniable source of our higher power, God given. This voice I feel has been the whispers in my heart all my life. So If I recognize myself I will recognize the source. Somehow we forget the sense and value of ourselves as we grow and let others define our worth either by their kindness or cruelty.

I carried her into my arms and kissed her so she knew how proud I was of her, but honestly I think she knew how proud she already was of herself – and this is all I hope she ever needs to know.

What I Would Tell My Children About Nelson Mandela

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Mandela

What would I tell my four-year-old daughter about Nelson Mandela, in a time when she lives in a country where we have an African-American President?  What would I tell her, when she lives in a country where she has the responsibility as a citizen to live in a diverse community, practice tolerance and engage with people different from herself? What would I tell my daughter, who will have the right to vote as a woman, a right to access, accommodation, property and the American Dream? What would I tell my daughter about Nelson Mandela that could possibly come close to framing in the most approximate accurate words the gift that he was? How would I do it when she lives in some way the world of the “haves” and not in the “have nots”?

Well, after much searching, I realized that I would be doing a disservice to Mandela if I painted a rosy picture of his journey, considering her own comfort as an American and her future role as a citizen towards the oppressive social dynamics that Mandela fought against. I have come to the conclusion that the best way to educate my children about Mandela is to speak about the thorny times and the perpetuation of the dreaded racial dynamics that are still at play today here and abroad. I should educate her not on just the points of history in his life she will be able to search on Google, but rather what those points on the timeline tell us about ourselves, as a people of collective conscience. The times that do not have Nobel Peace prizes, global acclaim and thousands of applauses for Nelson Mandela.  The times when he was alone, victimized and deliberately outcast by the so-called forces of good. And, yes, I must deliberately introduce her to the “have nots”, to those that deserve a better life but are suffering due to the color of their skin, on our watch in 2013, in our cities.

Nelson Mandela was removed from the terrorist list from the United States State Department in 2008. Let me say it again: 2008.

The manifestation of an unfortunate case of human nature at its worst is the need to protect one’s own interests over supporting truth.  I would tell my daughter that as she rises in her ambition and career, no matter what she does, to not forget the guiding principles she learns at home and from her heart. To speak for those who are speaking the difficult language of truth that is not popular. To support those that are on the ground in their limited means to make change with integrity. And to never doubt her truth, even if the majority tries to convince you that your truth without an official stamp of approval from the higher-ups is not valid. In 2008, Mandela had already served his time in prison calling for armed resistance, served as President of a nation, forgiven his oppressors, started a national reconciliation movement and introduced the policy of diplomatic and reconciliation internationally. He had already won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993. He argued for reconciliation in the Middle East crisis, resolution of Kashmir in the Indian Subcontinent and resolution of national African conflicts and East Timur in Indonesia. He was adored by the world and the global community but was considered a terrorist in the United States. Why did we wait so long to join the rest of the world? Perhaps we thought our interests did not match his spirit of reconciliation. I am not interested in debating the ethics of such decision here.

I would tell my daughter: In her struggles and passion for what is right, many will not join you. Like Mandela, I would tell her to keep going, for the power of your principles will always win people over. Your principles are all you have and one must always be critical of who is receiving an applause and who is not.

Contrary to popular belief, during Nelson Mandela’s life, the same groups he fought for had factions that spoke against him.

Even after Mandela gave him life to the cause, serving as president of South Africa, serving a long prison term – factions within South Africa started forming and accusing him of selling out against the same principles he was advocating for.  What is the lesson in this? That being committed to the struggle does not guarantee unanimous unlimited support from the same people you are advocating for.  At many points in your life, you will want people to understand your motives, to give you a vote of confidence when you make a bad decision based if not anything, on your original intent to always do good. Not so. People in masses much like people in isolation can be fickle. We as humans practice short-term memory, we forget the good very often when things start to look grey. However, what you will be judged on is how you deal with the complaints of your greyness, for they may be valid. Do you ignore it, shun it, or call it a lie? Or do you take a seat and give the criticism your ear? I recently read an article by Zakes MDA who knew Mandela from childhood and is the son of the co- founder of the ANC Youth Council, Ashbey MDA, titled “The Contradictions of Mandela”. In it, he writes about the dissenting opinions against Mandela through the years by his own people. One of the most important points he writes is about how Mandela handled the dissent.

He writes “When he was president, I often wrote about the emerging patronage system and crony capitalism. To his credit, when I wrote him a long letter outlining my concerns, he phoned me within a week and arranged a meeting between me and three of his senior cabinet ministers. Although nothing of substance came of the meeting, the very fact that Mandela listened attentively to the complaints of an ordinary citizen, and took them seriously enough to convene such a meeting, was extraordinary for any president.”

I would tell my daughter: Never think you have done enough good or reached a level of untouchable success that makes you unaccountable to others.

Today in 2013, in the United States we are still in the living in a world of social, economic and opportunity disparities divided on the lines of race. The African-American population makes up of over 75% of the nation’s prison system. Today in the United States inner-city schools are mostly run by the system of property taxes; and minorities have a graduation rate in these schools that are on average less than 20 %. Today in the United States, in the land of natural resources, in cities like Chicago and Detroit many African-Americans and Hispanics live in “food deserts”, where there is not an accessible grocery store that provides fresh produce. As a result, we have communities that have the highest rates of high blood pressure, heart disease, and diabetes.  I would tell my daughter, just like South Africa in which Nelson Mandela was elected President, we have an African-American President Barack Obama. But these leaders are one person, and many times due to global limitation- symbolic. But changes have to happen on the ground by us. We cannot rely on leaders to fix broken systems by themselves. It is my job, my daughter’s job, as she grows up to right a wrong, to deliberately seek out places where there is injustice in a spirit to resolve even if she is told she lives in a world of equality. She does not. And unless she rolls up her sleeves, she will not.

Nelson Mandela is a symbol of what is achievable. His life exemplifies the struggles it takes to speak your truth and how it can reach to isolation in prison or even among your own people.

Perhaps that is the most important thing I can teach my daughter about him: Speaking your truth and following your heart comes at a cost. It is lonely, but without the sacrifice of wanting to be with the majority, the underserved minorities whether as a people or a truth will never be heard. Speak your truth, even if you voice is the only one you ever hear in agreement.

A Close Look at Bullying

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They always say a bully now is nothing more than a kid who was a victim in his or her past. If this was true, we have a community of nameless and faceless victims who have reached a point where it is payback time.  If we are serious about curtailing bullies as a phenomenon and stop them from becoming a cultural norm for American school going children, then we have to take look at the adults raising them.

Adult bullying is a silent phenomenon we do not like to embrace. Simply because it is easier to focus on the children.  They are complicated immature individuals who will know better in the future. But what about the adult bullies now? When will they learn? Many have faced bullying in the work place or their personal lives, but very few really speak about it. But the truth is, the more we call out bullying for what it is instead of sugarcoating it, the more adult bullies will be forced to be held accountable and the more socially healthier children they will raise.

The Miami Dolphins case of Bullying vs. Locker Room Culture brought this phenomenon to light. As unfortunate the situation is, I am glad it brought adult bullying to the center stage. The details are simple: Miami Dolphin Jonathan Martin accused teammate Incognito for consistently bullying him off the field using words that disparaged him racially and physically. Incognito does not deny his statements but rather has filed a grievance against his suspension stating that his behavior was in line with locker room behavior. Now, a full-fledged NFL investigation is taking place with detailed interviews by attorneys. A quick media search shows you that most team members and employees of the NFL world agree that there is an unspoken locker room conduct that was never considered bullying…until now. So, yes, at this time a lot of people within the NFL are forced to reexamine what is “normal” conduct.

As a society, we have the greatest responsibility to raise a more generous, emotionally healthy and confident generation.  For such a task, reexamining one’s conduct is the least we could do. People do not like reexamining their assertions and beliefs. Adult bullying is no exception.  Perhaps for the simple reason that if we call ourselves bullies or our behavior bullying then we are accepting that we have some unresolved childhood issues.  For those who deny that adult bullying is a rare celebrity case, I would suggest a closer look.  It is happening in different situations, among different circles and your circle is probably no exception.   Here are a few examples I witnessed and learned about in the last two months, aside from the famous Miami Dolphins case.

I was at a checkout lane at a supermarket. The bagboy was a beautiful bright-eyed boy with a smile. He was well mannered and helpful and had Down syndrome. The lady on the register was a nice enough lady, who smiled at me while I was taking out my groceries in my cart.  While I was doing this, the bagboy asked the lady “My mom told me to check my check. Am I getting the right amount?”

“Yes, you are. What is your question? “ The lady asked him, and then smiled at a co-worker. The bagboy repeated himself.  The lady now laughing said, “Hmm, let me see the check. Yes, I told you, you got the right amount.”  Then she laughed at the employees across the supermarket and laughed, “What is he saying?!”  The bagboy was confused and said, “I have to ask somebody else.” He clearly did not understand. “Well then go and ask someone but first go get the cart, run, run, run!!”  The bagboy ran, and she laughed.  Now, mind you this all took place in front of me while I was emptying out my grocery cart.

As the bagboy ran, I asked her, “ Are you laughing at him?”

She replied with a smirk, “Yes.”  Without a second of hesitation.

“OK. Because he is somebody’s son.” I replied.  And she paused. The employee on the next register heard me and said, “Is something wrong?”

“Yes.” I replied.  “If you have an inside joke, you should share it in private. But honestly to make a joke based on someone not being able to understand you is horrible and disrespectful.”

The lady was clearly not appreciative of my remarks and said “I do respect him. I treat my children to be nice to everybody.”

And there it was. Denial. The “I do not bully or condone bullying.”

I do not share this story to share my graciousness in righting a wrong. I share it to show how easily this bullying was taking place in front of grown adults. We are at so many times, myself included, in denial of it.

I will say that the next time I went to the grocery store, the same lady excused herself to the next register. Yes, she got the message. Victory!

Group bullying is also not uncommon.  We have all witnessed situations where even adult women are victims of subtle acts of bullying. Whether it be in the form of isolating someone, aggressively attacking another person in public, or the worst ignoring them. I did a workshop with young girls on bullying and one thing they all related to is being ignored by a group of girls. Sometimes the most subtle of behaviors is hurtful. They witnessed girls addressing a group in conversation and not them, or eating lunch with each other and excluding one.  We have seen the disastrous effects of in-person bullying and cyber-bullying.  I am saddened by the many young teens who have made videos on YouTube while on the brink of suicide, due to the emotional torture.  The same children who were bullying these victims have parents. Were they in denial?

The other day, I was watching The View and the ladies were discussing a Facebook group where women get together and post pictures of what they call “ugly babies”. Yes, do not be shocked.  These are a group of mothers themselves. The reason why this Facebook page was discovered is because a mother who had a premature child found his picture on the page. The mother found out and was appalled. According to The View, the mothers responded by saying “It’s a free country.”  And we wonder how bullying is becoming a social norm in our schools?

I took my daughter trick or treating this past Halloween. She got lots of candy and had a blast. The best part of Halloween is seeing kids in their cute and creative costumes. This year was no exception. The kids looked adorable.  One stood out.

As I approached a house, I saw a young girl about 15 years old. She had glasses on, suspenders and a bow tie. At first, I thought she was a character from Harry Potter. As I got closer, I noticed the tape between her glasses and, of course, pens in her pocket.  This is 2013.  So, I was a little surprised. I asked her, “What are you?”  She smiled, “A nerd”. Awesome. We still think it is funny to make fun of other kids who are “smart”.   Then, came the best part.  She turned around and there was a sign on her that said, “KICK ME”.  Did I blame her? No, I blame the mom. I blame her for thinking in this time of a bullying phenomenon that it was cute to be dressed like a victim.

In my work, I have met many individuals looking to resolve the conflicts. I have seen bullying in the workplace (we legally call it discrimination), in schools, universities, and yes I have seen bullying by spouses. The truth is, we have many damaged adults raising children. And in many ways we are damaged ourselves. Yes, us. The ones who feel that bullies do not look, act or sound like us.

But one thing I have learned that bullying does not have to sound or look the same. It just hurts the same.  Until we can be honest with ourselves and stop gasping at the famous cases of bullying we see, the everyday lives of our children will not change. Bullying is happening among us around us every day. The truth is, until we stop teaching our children how to be popular or protected by putting others down, we will be raising victims or raising bullies. Our children become isolated and victims based on one dominant factor – what they think of themselves. We are the only ones who can tell them they are amazing.  I write this piece in honor of every child and every adult who was once bullied as a child. In honor of anyone who has cried in private or who felt alone, regardless of the environment. Our children can be so much, so great. The more we lift them, the more they will lift others.

As always, here is a song for inspiration.  My favorite words from the song are below. Say these words to your kids.  If we have failed them, perhaps they can change the world for us.

Be students
Be teachers
Be politicians
Be preachers

Be believers
Be leaders
Be astronauts
Be champions
Be true seekers

Be students
Be teachers
Be politicians
Be preachers

Be believers

Be leaders
Be astronauts
Be champions

Are You a Racist? Lessons Learned from the Miss America Pageant

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Miss America winner Nina Davuluri

 

“I am a post-racial person in a racial country.”   Who is with me?

A lot of people ask me why I have called my company The Skinless Project.

My usual response is simple: I wanted to create a company dedicated to women who are helping themselves reach their highest potential personally and professionally. Thus, I wanted to pick a name that spoke to the foundation of my belief about women – we are more than skin deep. What is most important is what lies beneath the skin. The heart, the mind, the dreams and yes, the soul.

In addition, I wanted to pick a name that also gave me the opportunity to work on issues affecting our communities:  That we should be seeing people for their interior not their ethnicity or race. For too many times, these hindrances have divided a people.

In the past, I have written about larger themes: gratitude, spiritual compass, dreaming big, grieving.  But I am thrilled to write about something specific and general this time, The Miss America Pageant and what it tells us about ourselves. Sometimes however, our reality and our deep thoughts that we are carrying around in private surfaces to such an extreme that a big wake up call smashes us on our heads.

In 2013, are we post racial? And more importantly, are you a racist? Are you teaching soft racism to your kids?

I know these questions make people uncomfortable and many of us go through our days not really digging deep inside ourselves to answer this question ourselves. But the truth is, I have learned by working intimately with and living next to a variety of people that the world is too amazing for us not to have these discussions. We are cheating ourselves and our children if we are not honest.

Enter Miss Nina Davuluri, Miss New York who was crowned the new Miss America this past Sunday. She is of Indian descent. Yes, black hair, brown eyes, dark skin and probably eats chutney and spicy biryani.   Stepping aside from my thoughts on having a competition dedicated to women’s external beauty, this discussion is about race and ethnicity and what we accept as American.  How beautiful this story is. A face of diversity representing exactly the beauty of this country – a melting pot of immigrants.

Of course, not everyone sees it this way.  Twitter and the internet were inundated with posts by people that do not see her as American. In fact they do not even see her as beautiful. She does not have the requisite blue eyes and blond hair to even be considered beautiful or American. The comments show an outrage from people who believe she does not represent America and even looks like a terrorist. Wonderful.

But this is strange. Other women have worn the crown that have not had blue eyes, blond hair.  In fact, in the early 1920’s, we saw a Native American Miss America. Through the years, we have seen a Jewish Miss America, a Puerto Rican Miss America, and more than one African-American Miss America.

 

Despite these facts, this feeling of not accepting diversity is not new.

“In fact, the pageant has a long history of excluding women of color from the running: During the 1930’s, there was a rule in the official handbook which stated that women competing in the pageant had to be “of good health and of the white race,” and up until the ’40s, contestants were forced to undergo a biological questionnaire to trace their ancestry. Most shockingly, African-American women weren’t actually permitted to compete until the ’70s—and it wasn’t until ’84 that Vanessa Williams became the first African-American woman to actually win the crown. ”  Complex.com

But this cannot be a surprise to us. The Civil Rights Act was only passed about 50 years ago. And of course, we witnessed the election of the first black president five years ago.

But that is just it. It is now 2013. Why should we be not surprised now? And I would ask you, if you are not surprised, then how would you describe America?  Tolerant? Accepting? Celebrating Diversity? Or the opposite – ignorant, intolerant, racist.

Unfortunately, like many of you, I have traveled enough of the world to know what others think of Americans. And yes, many times the words ignorant and racist come up. How could this be?  We welcome everyone.  Don’t we?

Well, let us dig deeper and unpack this a little, as women and as people.  Because what is more important than what the world thinks of us is what America thinks of itself.  Because if we are lying to ourselves, nothing will change ever. We will still be experiencing the beauty of the world at its minimum. Because after all the beauty of this world is what we learn from others and their diversity.

Now, we cannot all be Cornell West and dissect the academic notions of race to our practical lives, but we can try to change our own behavioral patterns.  Women, more than anyone, have an opportunity to make a change. Because we teach our kids values, we set the pace in our families of tolerance and yes, in many cases we are the ones who have taught them whatever prejudices they may hold. The change has to start right here, in our homes, in our lives.

Let’s start early – elementary school.

How many of your children have asked you about diversity and why others’ skin color is different from the way theirs is? I am sure many. I am assuming that the majority of us have answered the question the best way we can: there are many colors of people, they are all beautiful. It’s an answer we can all be proud of.

Now, here’s the real question: How many of your children are friends with children of different ethnicities and religions?  Not just classmates, but friends.

Now, many parents hesitate from forming such relationships under the rationale of “Other people have a different lifestyle. Eventually these friendships will die out so why make the extra effort to forge these relationships.”  Unfortunately, this is exactly why our children miss out. The reality is, you can have a friendship on your terms. We need to teach our children this early.

Do not underestimate a child’s ability to appreciate the differences and be attracted to the similarities. We forget this as we become adults ourselves.

Junior High/High School

Have you visited a high school during lunchtime? More importantly, do you remember lunchtime in high school? Who sat with who? Yes, you can say it. The Asians sat with the Asians, the African Americans sat with the African Americans, the Caucasians sat with the Caucasians, and so on.  This is the best illustration of what the younger generation believes and practices about diversity. Self-segregation at its best. However, it is not truly “self”-segregation for these high school students. They are too young. Instead, this is taught segregation by parents having or not having harmful and so called harmless discussions at home.

What have we done to our kids?

Many will respond  “ They should be with who they feel comfortable with.”

I would argue, that is exactly the problem. Like any relationship, it flourishes when you pass your comfort zone and find joy on the other side. The same applies here.  We can redefine what is comfortable for our kids and ourselves.  We can appreciate that all families love, care and share joy. They look different , they have different stories but emotions run the same in all of us. And many of us have the same interests. And we all know that many people who look like us can still hurt us , betray us. Therefore we should look for good people, not similar people.

The question is just how do we do that. Well here is the first step. You have to be deliberate about it.

As a teacher for our children we have to teach them how to embrace diversity. It does not just happen. We invite different ethnicities in our home, for playdates, for dinner. We do not need to be best friends with people but at least we are opening the world to our children. We travel if we can.  And if you can’t travel, you have dinner in a different ethnic neighborhood, or have a different cuisine. Small acts make a big impact for our families and ourselves.

The comments made to the new Miss America are derived from a taught practice. We need to start accepting this reality.

How many times jokingly have you made a comment about an ethnic or religious stereotype during dinner?  Harmless, right?  Wrong. Every time you make a harmless joke or stereotype under the guise of “But I have black friends…” You are setting up your children for failure in being an inclusive person in our society.  Every time you accept the high school lunch cafeteria settings as the “way it is”, you are allowing the thoughts of hate and racism to grow through deliberate apathy.  This is what Miss America taught us this week.  These hateful comments did not only hurt the celebration that Davuluri felt, but it has impacted every young Indian American in this country who has already seen the media reports.

Workplace

How many of us have invited our friends from work to our world ?  How many of us really connect with others and let them see what our life is about, with its diversity?

Again, we have a great excuse  “We don’t need to mix our personal lives with work.”  Yes, indeed.

But here is the question. When you do come across someone at work who looks similar to you and may belong to the same ethnicity, race or religion — have you become friends with them?  I think many of you have responded with a yes.  Let me be clear, I am not saying one should not be close to those who are like us. I am saying we should widen the definition of what we define as “like us” and recognize its variances and build relationships accordingly. This gives us and our children the ability to navigate our world with inclusion and joy – not fear and segregation.

College

Do you remember this utopia? When you were invincible? When you were going to be the next Bill Gates, Michael Jordan or Oprah? Your dreams were diverse and so were your interactions.  We forgot it. We decided as an adult we needed to gravitate to our own. Where we could have honest conversations without offending others.  But here is the punchline – your passionate discussions are incomplete. In fact, they are fluff without purpose. If you want to invest time to have meaningful discussions about the world, politics, anything, it is incomplete without the other perspective.  When our children witness this, they learn how to master this behavior: the public discussion and private discussion.

“I do think most Muslim-Americans are probably terrorists, I do think their women are oppressed, but I will not tell Saima, my co worker – she is great.”   Yes, many of us have had these discussions. This distance between people has manifested in everything we do, in our politics, in our social lives and more.

Let’s go back to that utopia that we created for ourselves in college. After all, the adults at work and in our neighborhoods are just older versions of the people that sat next to you in biology class, was your roommate in college or played basketball with you.

Our purpose should be to grow wiser about people and life, not more fearful and more distant. We have an opportunity to want better for ourselves and more importantly for the coming generations.  We have an opportunity to avoid another Miss America moment, an embarrassment.   The only way to protect your children from hate is to not preach it ourselves.  This was a wake up call.  Of course we know that there are racial disparities and discrimination.  But as individuals we need to take the reigns in our hands. Knowing is not enough. We need to start changing.  Miss Davuluri smiles and says “I have to move forward. I have always seen myself as American first. “  Beautiful, her parents have taught her to have a thick skin. However, I am sure after seeing the pain she hides, her parents had taught her that her reality made her skin irrelevant. Unfortunately, today they cannot.  Let’s change that.  Let us change one household at a time.

When my children grow up enough to question me about race in America, I will respond with the following,  “ We are a post racial family, period.”