The last twelve weeks have been tough for many, but the last two have felt particularly… uncomfortable. At times scary. Definitely challenging. Everything in the news has felt like a tsunami of valid emotion including rage, anxiety, blame and shame.
On the one hand, we’re still being told to do less. And on the other – globally – we’re feeling an urgent need to do more. There’s a profound sense that the whole of the human race is being forced to take a long, hard look at ourselves. Whether it’s action around climate change, women’s rights or tackling racism, there is a growing movement justifiably saying enough is enough.
I often say that it’s ok to feel what you feel; that we just do what we can, with what we have, from where we are. And that it’s more important to strive for progress than perfection; I genuinely believe all of this. But sometimes, that may come across as trite – as if none of what’s happening in the world touches me.
So in a display of authenticity and genuine humility, I wanted to share with you that last week – with all my training and practicing daily what I teach (including limiting my social media and news intake) – everything that’s happening in the world got to me. I felt overwhelmed. I cried.
And that’s ok.
Crying is good for you. As Charlotte Brontë said, “since birth it has always been a sign that you are alive”. It’s a symbol of being present in this world, even when it’s difficult. And it’s what we do with how we feel that makes a difference.
In this week’s Mojo, I decided I would evidence hopefully how I walk the walk. It’s a (long) insight into how I handled a situation where I found myself realising I needed to take action, having been hit by an unexpected wave of emotion.
I’m not doing this in an arbitrary way, to suggest I have it all figured out and definitely not to make it all about me, but as an offering of a strategy whatever your challenge is right now, in case it helps.
In essence, it’s a strategy that looks like this:
create space for reflection
acknowledge what can be done
say what needs to be said (including apologies)
identify healthy action,
and set compassionate goals with a plan.
In last week’s Mojo, I didn’t talk about or say the name of George Floyd and I should have done; I’m genuinely sorry for that. In truth, I didn’t know what to say or do to show that I am firmly committed to tackling all forms of racism. I wanted to take time so I could be guided about what I needed to do from now on. Then I recognised, being worried about what to say is not the issue here, but passing the responsibility onto someone else to educate me, is.
So, after more reflection, and knowing that actions speak louder than words, I made a mojo-driven plan that looked something like this:
I picked up my copy of “Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race”. I read articles like this one by Tolani Shoneye explaining why, although some don’t mind it, the term “people of colour” can make Black people feel invisible. And this one by Lori L. Tharps explains the importance of capitalising the letter B.
I looked up how to talk to children about racism. I listened to one of my favourite poets on Twitter, Jaspreet Kaur, talk about insidious prejudice, and why she’s not a “tick box”.
I thought about ways to be a better ally. I saw and shared some of the incredible artwork that was trending on Twitter under the hashtag #DrawingWhileBlack. I read brilliant examples of workplace leadership and humility like this one; I publicly called out another for a lack of empathy, and what looked like unconscious bias.
I understood already that being a voice that says that “all lives matter” isn’t what we need right now, and that for the U.K. this isn’t just about what’s happening in the U.S. I sat quietly and humbly listened, to why, if all lives had mattered up until now, we would not still be seeing the inequalities that have been there all along.
I acknowledge there was a need to do this much, much sooner, and I am sorry for that too. I’m owning all of it. That time at school, when I think I said something so offensive as “I don’t see colour” to a Black person, or any time I said something I thought was well-meaning or good intentioned which I see now was so hurtful, and was clearly a sheer lack of sagacity. Even this week I reached out to a Black friend thinking I was showing support, only to realise that they need me to take action, they don’t need “love” texts. As Charlie Morley said in a recent video, I am “a product of, and have benefited from, a system that allowed me to benefit from the colour of my skin.“ I see it. And I will change it.
I have taken time to educate myself, and know I mustn’t – and won’t – stop there; there is more to be done. I recognise it’s not just about diversity, or inclusion: it’s about belonging.
As a woman, I get that; women understand what it’s like not to have a seat at the table. But I also understand white privilege, and know that although we may have shared experiences as women, it’s not that simple.
As someone who follows a Buddhist way of life, a tradition that is often seen as passive, I know now that I can follow the dharma and be a peaceful and engaged activist, because Racial Justice is Everyone’s Work.
Sometimes ‘doing’, is just as important as ‘being’ but without burning yourself out – as Valarie Kaur says, to breathe and push is an act of Revolutionary Love. (Watch her inspirational video below).
Whenever we are challenged in ways we didn’t expect, we can feel powerless or ashamed, outraged or ineffective; it can take its toll on our mental health. It’s ok when we recognise we’re not ok, or we’ve fallen short; that happens. The key is cultivating our resilience, seeing our early warning signs, and knowing how and when to enable the compassionate change we need. I often quote Maya Angelou and she explains so appropriately in the quote below, we do this in small ways first.
“I would encourage us to try our best to develop courage. It’s the most important of all the virtues, because without courage, you can’t practice any other virtue consistently. You can be anything erratically — kind, fair, true, generous, all that. But to be that thing time after time, you need courage. We need to develop courage, and we need to develop it in small ways first. Because we wouldn’t go and say, ‘I’ll pick up this 100-pound weight’ without knowing our capacity. So we need to say, ‘Oh, I’ll start by picking up a five-pound weight, then a 10-pound weight, then a 25-pound, and sooner or later I’ll be able to pick up a 100-pound weight.’ And I think that’s true with courage. You develop a little courage, so that if you decide, ‘I will not stay in rooms where women are belittled; I will not stay in company where races, no matter who they are, are belittled; I will not take it; I will not sit around and accept dehumanizing other human beings’ — if you decide to do that in small ways, and you continue to do it — finally you realize you’ve got so much courage. Imagine it — you’ve got so much courage that people want to be around you. They get a feeling that they will be protected in your company.” ~ Maya Angelou
This week, set the intention to Do What You Can. If you feel you need to challenge someone, even if your voice shakes, here’s a video I’ve shared before that might help. If you need to own something that wasn’t helpful, take a deep breath and offer your apology when the time feels right, and demonstrate your learning. And if something that’s challenging you right now needs to be dealt with, have a think about how to create a plan of healthy action. If the challenge is managing the unknown or uncertainty, you might think about creating a Not Knowing Plan.
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Copyright Delphi Ellis 2020