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

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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.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Let’s Take Ownership, We Did This to Miley

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So I have, like many of you, read all the critical statements that many have been made about Miley Cyrus’ performance at the VMAs this past weekend.  Yes, I saw the performance. Yes, I was not pleased nor was I entertained. But the truth is Miley Cyrus does not owe me anything.  I am not a tween, I am not her agent, I am not her parent and I am not her personal friend.  In fact, I am inconsequential when it comes to making decisions on how she will perform and what she chooses to do or say through her music.

But that is the problem.

I actually owe her.  I owe her because I am a person and consumer in this society.

I have been, like many of you, a passive consumer of her music. I turned the radio up when “Party in the USA” came on in the car and sang along.  In fact, when I am at the grocery store in the checkout aisle, I always check out her new hairstyle and come across articles about her personal life.  I heard about her as Hannah Montana and her crazed tween following. I think she is talented, smart and ambitious. In fact, I found her 2009 song, “The Climb”, to be so deep and insightful for a girl her age.  I saw and enjoyed all her positive contributions to my day. But like a passive consumer, I continued to see her positive contributions slowly transform into negative manifestations of  the pressure the music industry  was placing on her and did nothing about it. The first time I noticed this, is when she was performing for a kids show and dancing on a pole to her “Party in The USA” song.  At that time I thought to myself, “It has begun.”  Well, I should have done more than just reflected in private.

I am inviting young adults and mothers to stand up for our girls. It is really easy to knock someone when they are down. But attacking Miley Cyrus, Lindsey Lohan, Britney Spears and all other girls trapped in this music industry pressure is not the answer.  Miley Cyrus was a budding young talent who has been now degraded as an artist and the young intelligent woman that she is – on our watch.

I registered my four year old for a theater class this week. As I signed the registration form, I thought about how happy she will be learning new skills and exploring her talents. Our living room has been her stage for four years now.  I see Miley as that four year old. The young girl who loved performances, entertaining her family, talented and budding with skills. I can only imagine the vision and images she had for herself as a little kid. Herself on stage, surrounded by kids and adults who appreciated her.

I am sure, she never imagined herself half naked, with her body parts at the submission of her male counterpart’s penis in front of millions of people. When and how did this happen? Everybody hesitates in pointing fingers and corporate giants, but everyone is pointing to Miley. Wrong.

The VMAs spent millions of dollars in putting on a good show, with detailed rehearsals, the music industry including the producers, the agents, her co-male adult performers all knew what was about to take place.  And yes, the consumers who applauded, swayed and then just gossiped.  We are all to blame, both as passive consumers and those who profited from her.

Yes, Justin Timberlake is correct “It’s the VMAs. You know what I mean, like, it’s not the Grammys,” he said. “We’re talking about Madonna in a wedding dress humping the stage, we’re talking about Britney doing a striptease. This cycle is not uncommon.”  

We, as a society, have seen this cycle again and again and have accepted it. 

The predictable cycle is this: Get a young talented girl, develop her skills, fill her with pride, confidence and ambition. Appreciate her, make money off her and when she comes of age – put her in her place, let her fall from grace. Continue making money off her.

How many times are we going to see manifestations of our moral downfalls displayed back to us on the large screen before we realize we are all connected?  Before we realize that the dignity, respect and honor of every individual is our responsibility?

We allow young girls to fall from grace, we allow women to be treated like sex objects in the music industry and we feel we have the right to criticize the same young girls that need us the most.  

So what do we do? How do we prevent another future Miley from having to suffer this humiliation ( the totality of which she may not even comprehend right now)? We say something the minute we see it.

We write a letters, send tweets and reach out to heads of any consumer driven industry in this case music, to share our disapproval of not how Miley behaved, but rather how the adults around her let her perform for extra zeros in their paychecks.  We call on the male artists and elder artists to be bold, courageous and lead in their reactions when this happens so the next Miley can have a backbone behind her, not a slew of convenient critics.

We need to take responsibility of how we take our role as consumers and start demanding respect for our dollars. We have the power to demand better for others and ourselves.  Behind every corporation there is a person and in every consumer there is a moral compass. Let us reach for what we know as correct as a collective people not just our wallets. After all, what we choose to consume is also  a reflection of who we are.  Let us take a pause when we see an artist fall and do more than pity or criticize her.  Instead, let us show the artist what we think of her.  What we know she has the capacity to achieve. Greatness.   That is HER Place.

As I end this piece, I think back to “The Climb”, when Miley sings:

I can almost see it.

That dream I’m dreaming, but

There’s a voice inside my head saying

You’ll never reach it

Every step I’m takin’

Every move I make

Feels lost with no direction,

My faith is shakin’

But I, I gotta keep tryin’

Gotta keep my head held high

We should all help her to keep her head held up high.

Lastly, let us support our positive artists that lift us.  Here is a salute to all the supporters. I came across this song that I thought was perfect for this situation.

Healing After Boston

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bm

 

I wrote this piece right after the Boston Marathon Bombings,  now as the anniversary has approached. I hope it gives some healing and perspective.

 

Just like all of you, I sat shocked looking at the footage.

Each explosion caused a slight jerk to my body as I stared in disbelief.  In fact, I saw majority of the footage on my phone because I did not want my three year old to watch it with me.

Unfortunately she heard the screaming and the explosions and tried to take the phone from my hand as she knew it was footage worth seeing. I pretended I was watching a trailer for a movie. I kept saying as I walked away from her “Aww, I am just watching a movie commercial baby.” Luckily she got distracted with playing with my exercise resistance bands that were lying nearby. She did not notice my shock or my tears.

There are a lot of images that keep playing in my mind. The tired runner who is shocked and looks to his left, or the one that falls to the ground. The bright yellow jackets, bystanders running to pull the fences off, or the smoke climbing higher and higher.

It has been two days since the blast and I am still shaken over.

I went to my gym today for a workout and had to see the images at least five times on three different tv sets.  The images are far, far from ever being a memory. We are indeed a people grieving.

It has been a tough past year. Sandy Hook and now, The Boston Marathon.  Two loving, inspiring and beautiful parts of our world (pre-schools and physically challenging celebrations) have been stolen and tied to horrific feelings of grief.

The truth is, after Sandy Hook I did not know how I was going to recover. How I was ever going to not think of those children every time I drove by an elementary school. Or, worse how I could breath after I dropped my own daughter to preschool.  After the Boston bombings I actually kept my daughter home from school for a day. I had a vivid nightmare the night of the bombings ( a violent car collision), probably fueled by the images all day and decided to keep her close to my heart. Probably not rational, but it is what my heart needed to feel safe, to heal.

Facebook has also made the images of these tragedies come closer to our lives. Seeing the pictures of the ones who pass away, their loved ones, their candid photos, all make you fall deeper into grief for their loved ones. Their hurt becomes a people’s collective hurt.

So how do we move forward? How do we move to a place where these tragedies are no longer a topic majority of our week.

As I see the sadness in the eyes of the journalists and the people around me, I gave this question a lot of thought. How do we heal?

Then I realized my question at its core, is incomplete.

The question cannot be answered without also asking, “What does this all mean?”

A vague question – yes.

An all encompassing truth seeking inquiry fueled by grief – yes.

After all it is moments of helplessness, sadness, exhaustion in spirit that we seek a bigger and better understanding of the circumstances we pretend play to be masters of.

These tragedies have led me to this question. What is the big picture? What is the reason I am witnessing these tragedies and not actually a victim?  I strongly believe this question as we watch as observers must be asked AND we cannot take our joy we have now for granted.

We can go on to debate for years whom is responsible, why and investigate every detail. These are all very important steps. In fact, I feel the media feels that the public needs questions answered so their grief may be contained. The media shared that there was a young man with Saudi descent guarded at the hospital as a suspect after the bombings. His whole place was in a matter of minutes searched and his roommate bombarded with media questions to the point where his roommate was in tears.  It turned out, the Saudi suspect had no involvement and was just a college kid who was a victim in the bombings and running towards the chaos looking for help. Instead he was tackled and handcuffed and put in a hospital bed because he fit a description the police thought may be to blame.  Fear and anger will cloud rational thought, and even our own standards of integrity.

Now, we have seen a few images, heard about a shootout and even a man hunt. One can assume, that any individual who resembles these wanted individuals in the least, much like the Saudi college student, will have a difficult time moving in public. After all, a people who are hurt and angry can even turn on themselves. The media feels the more information that is shared, regardless of its veracity will help us.

But the truth is, they are wrong.  And we are wrong. We are wrong to assume that knowing every detail will make us feel better about the tragedy, make us forget about the ones who have died and lost loved ones.  You see, knowing the information will definitely help us be smarter and learn to be more secure. BUT it will not heal our hearts. And for a positive, loving people whose attributes are represented in our smallest of neighborhoods, we need our hearts to be healed after tragedy. We need to leave the space for grief while still remembering the loss with dignity.

For this ambitious need, we can only turn to a world bigger than our own. Whether you are religious, spiritual person or a person who believes in the infinite power of ourselves, we need to see lessons in our grief and learn from our collective tragedies in order to rebuild an optimistic environment for our children. For a positive spirit can conquer mountains.

So what conclusion have I come to?

For now, I feel deep in my heart, The tragedies I witness from afar are also teaching me very important lessons. All of them, pointing to me. Calling on me to be responsible for my world, as small or large that may be.

1)    Compassion – As I saw the people falling to their feet, screaming in fear, I did not care who they were. My heart ached for them. My desire was to run towards them. If I could I would.  I know that this feeling, of natural compassion brimming is given to us all for a purpose. It is not an emotion that we should ignore.

We are given compassion so we may transcend our differences.  A universal tool so strong, that we may overlook what separates us in race, religion, community and instead help us put our efforts in rebuilding. How many tragedies have we seen locally and globally that we have separated ourselves from? What if we allowed our compassion to override our other limiting cognitive faculties and follow the inspiration to help in some way.  Have we as a people harnessed the power of compassion that is so easily available to us?

2)    Empathy –Empathy is the ability to feel what another is feeling in a situation. In a nutshell, it is a tool to help us become more emotionally intelligent. Though I do not know the father who lost his daughter at Sandy Hook, or the father who lost his son at the Marathon ; I feel their pain for them whenever they cross my mind. My throat gets choked up.  What If I used this empathy to do more?  What if I gained perspective in my personal conflicts and those that I see taking place globally. What if I took the empathy to realize that no father anywhere should every cry on the grave of his child. And as a person, a community member, a family member and a friend my empathy should drive me to make sure that no father ever has to. In the same spirit, I empathize with the young Saudi college kid well, and understand how difficult it must be when you are in a hospital bed guarded by people who find you guilty because of you physical appearance. What you stand for, who you are and what you morality is irrelevant to those searching for an enemy.

3)    Gratitude – This lesson does not need much explaining. I should hug the ones I love tighter, and get closer to the ones I like. We are all here for a short, short time and our departure may not come with a warning.

4)    Ownership – This one by far is the hardest to do through anger and grief.

Nonetheless, it is the most important. We must begin to take ownership of our lives, our communities and our failings. Now, we do not know who is responsible for the Boston bombings for sure, and we as a people may never actually know. But, like I stated earlier – I feel it would not help us heal in the long run anyway.

Rather, we should also focus on what we do know about these tragedies. Both involve rage, anger. Someone or some party has in both cases let their rage out of control and hurt the hearts and lives of many.

Why I have to ask myself, have we allowed the space for such rage to exist within or world. We have abundant resources, abundant sources of intelligence, but we still have allowed situations to create rage. In a time of technology and resources why have we not been able to cooperate and recognize the OTHER. Whomever he or she may be. I use the word OTHER as an individual who has separated from us. What in our communities have gone wrong?  Columbine, Sandy Hook, Boston Bombings, London Bombings – all the perpetrators motivated by different reasons all had one thing in common – Rage and Alienation. Somehow, the angry, vengeful tendencies in societies overpowered the compassionate and rational components and took control of these individuals. If we believe that hate and deep anger is learned, including how to deal with these emotions,  are we at a place where we can look at ourselves? No, perhaps not yet. The wounds too fresh I agree. But I also know we should get there, because we have seen tragedies before. For without understanding for our own morality and perceptions, we cannot hope to have perspective about others and the sources of their rage so we may curtail its impact on innocence.

This is how I have chosen to heal.  To take the tears of those who have actually suffered loss and use them to motivate me to make my little world better. To allow my lessons from grief to result in a more responsible, compassionate, empathetic global citizen and replace the isolated angry revenge seeking fearful version of myself that may arise from tragedies.  And to always bow my head in my hands in gratitude for what I have so I can help others have the same – security and joy.

I hope this piece has helped you want to heal one day at a time. It’s a long a road, but perhaps one of the most important for a people who have more love to offer than fear and hurt.   I hope that we all will witness future tragedies as a personal extension of ourselves and allow our emotions to bring us all closer and connect us to the bigger picture.

Please feel free to share your thoughts on how you heal with me here.

Thanksgiving: Do we really understand what giving thanks means?

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Turkey leftovers in sandwich bags; cranberry sauce tossed out.  Pumpkin pie lovers have indulged to their heart’s delight, and the gorgeous fall color centerpiece is just another bunch of flowers under the kitchen window.  Family, good friends, belly aching laughs, great food and football. Every culture has their own spin on Thanksgiving when it comes to the menu, but the tradition of close friends and family reunions and the joy it brings is always the same.

I want to focus on the concept that has now become central to the holiday- gratitude. With all the cooking and decorating, it is easy to forget to practice gratitude. After all, during the holidays the word “Thanks” is everywhere, but so much so that it has virtually becomes useless.

Gratitude is to be appreciative of what one has and knowing that you do not need anything more.  Simple enough.  But for many, easier said than done. 

I have met many people who are swept into the wave of gratitude during such events but then as soon as daily routine takes over, they are back to being self-absorbed, pessimistic, stressed with life’s demands  and, basically, unhappy. If these words describe you, don’t feel bad. This state of being has become an epidemic.  Despite being one of the wealthiest nations on earth with large pools of natural resources, we still have thousands of people living with anxiety, depression and stress. The blame doesn’t entirely lie with you either.  We as a society have set up ourselves to fail at the task of remaining grateful.  Gratitude is a solution to cure these ills, I strongly believe that.

I always thought it was ironic that people flocked to grocery stores and home decorating stores to create the best menu and the prettiest table setting all in the name of gratitude,  and THEN we have all had enough food to transfer ourselves into elastic pants, its time for Black Friday!  So now all the gratitude filled stuffing and humble pie we ate around the family dinner table will be washed out with hundreds of items we don’t even need. Welcome to gratitude season – Consumer Consumption Style! 

Last year when the economy and the joblessness of our nation was forefront on our minds, I was shocked to see how long the lines were at Target and Best Buy. Trust me, the lines were not filled with people who needed bare essentials and were hurting for dollars. Instead, they were filled with people who were hurting for dollars but stilled needed to keep with the Joneses, the Kardashians, the Palins, Patels…or whatever. (The ones who really needed help were in shelters or stocking up for the coming winter.)  So in reality, how can one really be grateful? The whole societal norm is to snap out of that gratitude nonsense as soon as possible so we can get right back to consumption and debt.

Now, I know it seems I am writing this as just a commentary on how horrible consumer driven our culture has gotten and it seems we have no way out. That’s not the case.  I am writing this in the hope that all of you will shun the stress of giving in to this consumer driven culture and start to really be grateful for things you cannot buy over the counter. Then, I feel people will fall out of this depressing consuming epidemic.

Now, I am not saying you cannot like nice things or purchase items that make you happy.  I myself like nice things.  I too have my favorites in clothing, shoe and furniture stores. BUT here is the key. None of these items should identify a person or be a measure of their personal worth.

The truth is, everything we own are just things. They are expendable. All these items are lifeless To quote Bard Pitt in Fight Club “The things we own end up owning us.”

Instead of waiting in lines, shopping on the internet for hours, always trying to find the best deals…why are we not obsessed with the intangibles? Such as investing into a relationship, mending a friendship, connecting with our spiritual source or improving our character? Perhaps it is these that should be the objects of our culture’s obsession and our greater investment.

Time and time again, we have witnessed it is not things that actually save lives or help people in need. To the contrary, we have witnessed victims of natural disasters losing lifelong “things”, and seeing that it is the bravery, sincerity and care of the people around them that have helped them move along.

This past weekend I had the privilege to attend a memoriam event for my friend Amal’s sister whom has passed too soon. She was a young bride who was fighting her battle with cancer and very soon after she was married, she started to lose the battle and passed away. She was absolutely beautiful and always looked like a dignified fashionista every time I saw her. In addition, she was a very deep thinker and spiritual person.

At the memoriam, Amal stated that her sister was known to be a shopaholic, she loved fashion and all its frills like all women do. As she was nearing her death however she changed her perspective, Realizing how fleeting life actually is, she started to see her “things” as a burden.  She wanted to give away as many things as possible. In fact, she  started giving away  her clothing to her family members and would smile when she saw others wearing them. The memoriam itself was an auction for charity of her most prized possessions in fashion and jewelry, some with price tags still on them.

She also had Amal write down her thoughts as she was nearing the inevitable ( as she could see the world differently than we could) and wanted to share her perspective with others after her passing.

One of the most powerful reflections shared with us ( and they were many) , and I will try to quote the best way I can as to not insult her gracious intent to share.

“ Nothing goes with you after death. Only your relationship with people and the connection you hold with your creator. Things are just things. They are absolutely nothing. This is all nothing”

Powerful indeed.

So… how do we really get there? How do we as individuals get to a place of gratitude to really relish in the blessings we have and minimize our bad days and our  self indulgent periods of ungratefulness? For myself, have a two-step approach that I try to practice.

  • Perspective: To have perspective is to understand and know that all troubles and sad moments are relative.  If you are experiencing a difficult hardship, know that somebody else is suffering more.  It is not enough to just know of these situations.  Allow them to come into your life. Allow yourself to meet people who have hardships and learn from them. Learn about how they are carrying on with pride, take mental notes on their strength, courage and veracity. And then look at your troubles and think about how the less fortunate would address the issues you have. More often then not, you will realize that the less fortunate, monetarily or circumstance wise, are far more brave, far more optimistic and hard working than you.  Perspective is a daily skill. The more you practice it, the more natural it becomes and the less stress and emptiness you will feel.
  •  Charity:  Now I do not mean charity of dollars, though, that is always an option. I mean, charity of love, care, and consideration to those in need.  Again, do not just acknowledge that people need charity, but instead seek people who need it, meet them,  and value them.  Learn about what you can do to make their life even a little bit easier. Sometimes it could be as simple as visiting someone sick you do not really know, or dropping by for a condolence for a person you are not close to. These are not actions of pity, these are actions you would want for someone to do for you.  Again, more often than not you will realize that people that need charity of any sort are far more superior as human beings than you are as far as humanity is concerned simply be enduring hardships that we cannot imagine. They are wealthy internally and I promise you it will give you a big serving of humble pie. Again, this is a skill we have to practice. When you a get a call that someone needs help do not just sigh in sadness, pick up the phone and see what you can do.  I believe if the call or situation that requires your help has crossed your path, there is deliberateness about it controlled by a much higher power. And remember that roles and circumstances can reserve at the drop of a hat.

For now, these are the two strategies that have helped me become more grateful in life.  Every day is a challenge and every day is an opportunity to practice gratitude.  It is indeed a shield against all the noise that society creates to convince us that we need more and want more. In the end, we already have everything we need, if we would just take the time to appreciate them.

I know I said would not go into the historic accuracy of this blessed holiday but now, it seems fitting. We all know that the original Thanksgiving actually involved a grand meal but indeed more taking than giving. Hence, why we pay such respect to Native Americans today. Perhaps that original spirit of taking has followed us so deeply as a culture today that it be fitting that we are lost in a pool of material consumption and debt. Why not take the step to truly rights the wrongs of our history in some small way the best way we can and embrace the word “thank you” again? Why not take a stand for something beautiful? Why not invest in practicing true gratitude?

As always, I wanted to give you something to listen to as you ponder your path towards gratitude today.  This has been one of my favorites. Enjoy!

Dare to Dream

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This past weekend, I was engrossed in a conversation with an acquaintance.  I was sharing some of my ideas for the coming year, and midway, she stopped me and said, “Wow, you really think big.”  My response was simple: “If you’re going to dream, why dream small?” 

Too often, the word “dreamer” is associated with negative connotations.  A dreamer, for many, is one who is not grounded in reality. In fact, a dreamer is perceived as escaping from reality altogether. The textbook definition is “one who escapes to a fantasy world; a habitual dreamer; a highly impractical person.”  And too often, being a dreamer is perceived as being “lofty”.  Lofty is often taken to mean not concrete or to be “in the clouds”.  However, the actual definition of lofty is “exalted, elevated, and affecting grandness.”

But if it wasn’t for “highly impractical” individuals, the world, as we know it, would be completely different.  We would think twice about seeing family and friends thousands of miles away if it weren’t for the lofty ambitions of the Wright brothers.  A college dropout wouldn’t have revolutionized technology as we understand it today.  Skyscrapers, space travel, how could we have had any of it if those pioneers stayed grounded in reality?   

The truth is anyone who has created something knows that their saving grace was the dream itself.  It was not a magical cake walk, but it always started with a dream.

In the beginning, it starts with a vision.  A scene playing out in your mind’s eye.  You can feel it, you can smell it, you can grasp it.  Then, the scene visits you again and again. On the train, while watching TV, while in conversation about random topics. Somehow, you cannot shake the scene.  Then, comes the euphoric feeling that allows you to ponder: can this really happen?

Then, your dream slowly starts to take shape.  On any piece of paper you can get your hands on, you start jotting down ideas, thoughts, anything to get it all down.  As you see it come alive on paper, you are starting to believe.   This can happen. 

And then, you take the first step. You send that email. You make the call. You share your vision with a trusted friend.  You finally say it out loud. 

Now, you’re all in. 

You are no longer just dreaming. You have transitioned to making it a reality. The only thing you need now is courage, persistence and the ability to see obstacles as new creative ways to reach your destination.

This could be a personal dream, a professional one; it could be short term or long term.   It’s different for everyone.  But the relentless desire to accomplish something that turns into a realistic experience is the same. The euphoria is universal.

Many of you probably found this description familiar because you, yourself, have experienced it. Congratulations, you are a dreamer.  And you are on your way of implementing your new reality for yourself or have probably already succeeded.

However many of you, most likely the majority of you, I am afraid may not have related to the process I described at all. Your inability to relate means you have not dared to dream. You have ideas but you flick them away like an annoying fly. You see these ideas as distractions or, dare I say, lofty dreams.

I beg you to reconsider.

I know that everyone of us has a purpose. I also know that the two major obstacles in us fulfilling our purpose is the feeling of inadequate and fear of failure. Don’t give these obstacles life. Every person who has lived a fulfilling life has also faced these obstacles, but it is these they flicked away not their dreams. And every person has failed. Einstein and algebra?

I think it was best summed up by Joel Olsteen, who was being featured on an episode of Oprah’s Life Class as he described the real challenge.  The challenge is not the dream; it’s the courage to embrace it.

I feel especially for women, we give so much encouragement to our loved ones.  Yet, we leave little time for ourselves. We mask our fears as practical tendencies. But I am telling you, these are just excuses.

I want every one of us to dream.  I want everyone to go for what is destined for us. If there are circumstances in your way, change them.  I want you to fight for your dreams.    

Sometimes we need something to push us to reach our dreams.  For me, sometimes that’s music.  This song has been inspiring me for the past few months, I hope it can do the same for you.

Journey of A Triathlete : Are you a Super hero in hiding?

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“It is like life. You go through different stages and different challenges. You think you are prepared and you know how it will feel, BUT you have no idea. You do not have to win, you just have to cross the finish line smiling.”

That is what I tell people when they ask me about the triathlon and what it means to me.

Yes, the summer is almost here and so is “race season”. For triathletes and those intrigued by the physical challenge, race season starts for many in early April. It is the time of the year we dust off our bikes, get the courage to acclimate our bodies to cold temperatures in gyms or lakes and start timed runs again. Every time race season begins, I get little butterflies of excitement, and as uncomfortable as the few beginning minutes are, I am pumped to challenge my body to the next level.

For those of you who are unaware of what a triathlon is, let me give you a brief introduction.

The proper definition of a triathlon is “An athletic contest comprising of three consecutive events, usually swimming, bicycling, and distance running.”  The history of triathlons dates back to 1902 in France where a race consisted of running, swimming and canoeing.  I can assume that that race was predominantly raced my men.

I did my first triathlon two years ago, and after my first one, I committed to do one every year for the rest of my life absent any medical limitations. I immediately realized how valuable the experience was for me, not just as a person, but as a woman.

I have met many women in my life that have impressed me in different capacities. Women are exceptionally strong beings, after all they bear children! What bigger sign of physical and mental strength is there?  Unfortunately, I have also met women who are facing difficult challenges in their life and through facing these challenges sometimes forget their own strength. They forget they are amazing pillars of strength with the capacity to face anything and come out victorious while immersed in the most challenging of situations.

The amnesia does not only happen to women facing difficult situations, but also to women who are facing daily tiring routines. All the errands, family responsibilities, professional and personal obligations can make any woman feel that she has nothing left to give. Quite honestly, she feels completely weak.

This is why I believe that triathlons are races designed to help a person remember their physical and mental strength. And more than anyone, I think women around the world have the most to gain from experiencing one.

Now, I know what all of you are thinking as you read this:  I, the author of this post was probably an athlete and triathlons are for athletes, so this blog post does not relate to you. Yes, I have been an athlete all my life. And yes I hate to break it to you, triathlons ARE for athletes.

But here is the question you have to ask yourself, “Are you an athlete?”

For those who have been playing sports and competing all their lives, this is a simple question to answer. For those who had knots in their stomach during gym class and anxiety when you were timed for your mile in junior high, the question is probably also easy to answer, a resounding “no”.

Well, I am going to challenge you to ask that question again and push yourself to say, “Yes!”

The definition of an athlete is “a person possessing the natural or acquired traits, such as strength, agility, and endurance,  that are necessary for physical exercise or sports, especially those performed in competitive contexts”.

Notice the definition states an athlete requires that you possess natural traits such as strength, agility and endurance.  Not that you have actually used them.

What if you were never given an opportunity to explore your natural traits? Perhaps your parents sent you straight to the chess club and debate club. Maybe the so-called “cool kids” in high school made sports and athletics an uninviting clique for you. Perhaps your parents never experienced the joy of physical activity. All these factors could have designed your personal experiences for you to actually believe that you are not an athlete. When, in reality maybe you always have been. You are a living, breathing daughter, wife, mother, grandmother running around for your family, jumping through obstacle courses and bouncy houses for your kids, developing great guns in your forearms as you carry your baby and cook at the same time.  Have you ever considered looking at yourself as a pretty good athlete??

When I started training for my first triathlon, I had running on my side since I’d been running track since I was 12. It had always been a passion for me, but swimming and biking were not a given for me. My swimming experience was hanging out with my friends at the pool, doing what I needed to do to pass with a satisfactory in gym class. Biking was even worse.  I thought I could bike but for some reason did not take into account that I had not been on a bike since I was 10.  I had lied to myself so badly about my biking and swimming skills that my husband said to me on our honeymoon, “Hey why are you holding on to me so tight, let go and enjoy the water!”  I did not have the heart to tell him that I could swim to survive for a short time but could not  tread water!  In addition to that, he had excitedly planned an early morning bike ride for us in Maui.  But I took one look at the mountain trail and finally confessed. 

I share this story because even athletes have fears and limitations. Did I mention I played rugby in college and surfed on the coast of Costa Rica? Yes, I could tackle someone down at the knees without fear, work a surf board

 (which I used to lean on to not drown)  and a paddle board, but could not make a bike move.

I needed to learn how to swim and bike correctly to be able to finish a triathlon. I had made the decision to complete a summer triathlon and train for it at my LIFETIME Fitness gym.  I confessed my aspiration to my trainer. I also told her I could not swim or bike, I just wanted to go for it.  The race was in June and it was already mid-April. You can imagine the look on her face. I was asking for a crash course. But because I believed in me, she believed in me.

She taught me to swim and helped me during my first swim in a lake.  She taught me bike mechanics and took me on long bike rides. My first bike ride without her was with my husband.  He made me ride along with him on a country road while he rode along with our daughter in our car. He would yell, “Change gears! Change gears!” as cars passed by us. All I remember is me yelling, “I can’t stand you right now!!!” Now, I laugh at all these experiences.

I share these stories to awaken and inspire the athlete in you. Would it not be great to add triathlete to your personal resume?  Would it not be great for your loved ones to be waiting for you at the finish line with pride? My first race I surprised my family by having their names on my shirt. The second race, I crossed the finish line with my daughter in my arms for the last 20 meters. These are memories that will last a lifetime and I honestly felt like a superhero.

Lastly, I reminded myself of my physical strength. I reminded myself of my resilience as a mother, a wife, a daughter, a sister, and as a woman.

 If every woman carried the knowledge of her own limitless strength, what else could they accomplish?

 I am about to do my third race this summer —-will you join me? Lifetime Fitness Sherox triathlons are all over the country, throughout the year.  Register now and awaken the triathlete in you!

http://www.racetothetoyotacup.com/events/events-detail.php?intResourceID=68