Change Your Thinking, Change Your World

Over the past few weeks I’ve had my tone and communication approach mentioned or alluded to on several occasions.  As a human, my defenses wanted to go up, and they did to an extent, but I tried my best to take notice and examine the way I speak and interact with people, whether in person or on social media.

A couple of years ago I was invited to contribute to a blog with the goal of sharing in a kind but firm manner about the issues surrounding racial issues, privilege, and the way these topics contribute to a lot of negative events and divides in the United States.  I remember one of my editor’s critiquing me on my tone in a particular piece, essentially reminding me that “you get more flies with honey than with lemons.”

Due to my health circumstances, my primary mode of communication over the past two years has been technological and through social media.  It can be easy to get into word battles, forgetting the person on the other end of the conversation is more than that one point you’re arguing and, more than that, they are also human with a soul and feelings.  Therefore, with all the synchronistic reminders about how I come across to people, I am making a deliberate effort to check my words, speak kindly (but firmly, when necessary), but to also remain true to what I believe, even on hard issues.

A few mornings ago I entered into a conversation with a family member about a political meme they shared.  I care about this person a lot, and I want to facilitate good conversation when we speak because our relationship goes far beyond a Facebook chat.  We were able to have a constructive, cordial, and engaged discussion that ended on a very positive note.  Additionally, it left me considering what I had said, how I had said it, and if there was more I could have added to improve on what I’d said.

Like most people, I think, I continued mulling over certain aspects of what we’d said, trying to think of what my next response would have been, had we continued the discussion—which ultimately began addressing freedoms that we have in the United States, whether real, perceived, or mythical, particularly regarding money and how we spend it.

For instance, how many people are actually able to campaign to become politicians compared to those who would like to based solely on financial ability?  And would campaign spending limits fix this?  I know in the United Kingdom there are spending limits for referendum votes, like for Brexit (I don’t know if they limit candidate campaign spending).  I took the perspective that spending limits would make a positive impact on our political system because it would take some of the power away from the 1% and large corporations and give it back to “the people.”  My family member took the position that if we start to limit freedom in one area there is the danger it will spread into other areas, too.

I understand that concern.  I appreciate and value the freedoms that I have because of my citizenship, race, gender (in Western culture, because even with the hurdles I may face as a woman, other parts of the world are significantly worse), socioeconomic status, etc.  But, what happens to people who don’t have those same privileges?  I am by no means a wealthy person, but all of my needs are met.  Could I go out, campaign for office, and get elected?  Maybe at a local level (which is where we really need to invest our energy, by the way!), but without the right connections to people with money and influence, I would be hard pressed to go to a higher level.

The conversation flowed from the political curtailing of spending to the personal ability to spend, and whether or not either one of us would like someone telling us how we could spend our money if we were one of the lucky few to be exorbitantly wealthy.  Shortly after, busyness of the day caused our conversation to close, but I continued pondering the question and different factors over the course of the next few days (hence this blog post).

I agree that there is a potential danger to limiting freedoms, because when one is sacrificed, it’s that much easier to continue removing others one at a time.  In fact, I would argue we are already at that place, but it’s been done in such a way that many people don’t see it—for instance, the Presidential Alert that most cell phones in the U.S. received last week.  Those alerts mean the government has accessed all of our cell phone numbers from our cell phone companies and can reach and/or surveil us that much more easily.

Remember Edward Snowden?  He’s in Russia because he called out the NSA for illegal collection of data on Americans.  If that doesn’t mean anything to you, watch this great episode from John Oliver as he explains why that should massively freak all of us out!

Moving on…

So, while I get the concern (fear) of the slippery-slope of losing freedom, I have to jump to a different perspective from which to see the concept of spending and money (the semi-original topic).  The “American Dream (myth)”, while perhaps originally rooted in the idea of leaving someplace for a better life, has historically set up the majority of Americans (even today) to believe that anyone can do anything if they work hard enough, and what I earn is mine to use as I please without concern for anyone else (I recognize it’s a very black and white statement for a complex issue, but I’m trying to not write a book.  Feel free to email if you want to discuss further.)

This (predominantly) American mentality has created a selfish society that values personal, monetary worth over the good of humanity.  Of course, many who read that sentence will think, “Not me!  I give _____ amount to such-and-such a charity or religious organization,” or “I gave that homeless person $5 last week,” and while those are good things, it misses the core problem: that while giving to those causes we consider “worthy”, in the very next breath we criticize those who are in need or policies that could help make the playing field more equal if we feel our personal income and accumulated possessions/finances are going to be threatened.

Before you start thinking, “She should move to Venezuela and see how she likes it” or “She’s such a socialist,” hear me out.  I am advocating for a change in how we view our freedom and how we view our fellow humans.

If, as my family member posed, I’d been born to a billionaire father, would I want someone telling me how I could spend my money?  My first reaction is, no.  I’d want to be able to spend and give as I saw fit.  However, when considered, we need to recognize that a better system could be structured if we separated the personal spending from the political.  The issue is that the 1% and the large corporations can use their money as personal investments in the political arena (buying products…or in this case politicians, policies, votes, etc.) to benefit themselves.  How does that help the 99% (who, incidentally, are often the biggest advocates for the absurdly wealthy to be given tax breaks and other benefits, rather than being expected to pay their due to our system, too)?

Ultimately, I see it boiling down to selfishness and greed brought on by the idea that no one deserves anything and should therefore have to work just as hard to get anywhere.  But that ideology ignores the cultural, economic, and systemic shifts that have taken place.  No longer can a college student work for a summer to pay for college.  No longer can someone walk into an office, drop off an application face-to-face, and practically be guaranteed the job.  No longer can (or could we ever?) receive quality healthcare without the risk of financial ruin.  No longer can you move out on your own and easily survive…or survive at all.  The list goes on…

How do we fix this?  We can start by reading, educating ourselves on what’s really happening behind the “curtain” of our political system, opening our hearts and minds to the plights of others, and viewing ourselves as a team.  I’m not advocating for “everyone gets one egg for their meal today.”  I’m advocating for a mentality shift that doesn’t equate “tuition free college” or “free healthcare” as an attack on our freedoms and bank accounts but as an investment into our society and future.  I’m pushing for the understanding that when we set up a system to succeed, even if it costs a little bit more from the people (tax dollars…that aren’t poured into the military industrial complex), that we will all be more successful and stable.

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Shakespeare and Leadership: The Power of Art

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**A belated post about a wonderful day that has evolved into an incredible blessing and opportunity in my life.**

One Friday in August I walked into my house with a huge smile on my face, excited to tell my husband all about my day at the American Shakespeare Center One-Day Leadership Program.  If a handful of my favorite things, including The Taming of the Shrew, could all be tossed into a “day creator”, that was that Friday.

It started by opening one of the ASC’s e-blasts (I learned months ago that it is beneficial to open theirs) back in July.  They announced the program, along with two scholarships being offered by the Community Foundation of the Blue Ridge.  I applied and found out the Monday before (also my first day of my seventh round of chemo shot treatments) that they had awarded one to me!

I was elated!  One of the burdens I’ve felt while fighting and recovering from cancer is the gap that it inevitably places on my resume.  This was an opportunity to stay relevant and learn about leadership in the workplace through the arts (an ideal hybridization)!  My one problem was navigating how to get my chemo shot and not miss the workshops, if possible.  After some conversations, and a wonderfully obliging nurse and pharmacist, we came up with a plan and it went like clockwork–I missed nothing!

The entire day, from start to finish, was amazing.  During the first session I considered how different professional development events are in 2018 compared to, say, the 90s.  For instance, we began our first workshop with a conversation about awareness of our bodies and meditation, which was followed by a body scan meditation.  In my opinion, workplaces that acknowledge and understand the importance of whole-person well-being are light years ahead of those that ignore it.

Moving throughout the day, we had the opportunity to hear excerpts from Shakespeare and discuss the way speech and body posture can communicate so much in any environment, but especially a professional one, where you want to be conscientious about what you convey to your colleagues.

One of the biggest components was preparing our statements based on something pertinent to our jobs/lives.  There was clear improvement from our first-draft presentations to our final presentations, after being critiqued by members of the education staff/ASC actors.  While only one day, I was able to see marked improvement in my fellow participants, and one even said he could see himself enjoying acting, though he had never before considered it.

Of course, my favorite part of the day (and the most unexpected) was getting to perform a short scene from The Taming of the Shrew.  One of, if not, my favorite play, it was a dream-come-true (that I didn’t know I had) to work on staging the scene and performing it on the Blackfriars’ stage.  We did not memorize the lines, but read from scripts prepared the way Shakespeare would have passed them out–with cue lines and then our specific lines, but not everyone’s.  This required unique collaboration, because we had to see what each person’s lines said to see what kind of stage direction we were given for acting and interacting with each other.  It is a complex and detailed process that only raises my respect for the actors at the American Shakespeare Center who work so hard to bring such incredible performances to their audiences.

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When it was all said and done, I was exhausted—but I made it, learned immensely, and felt more alive than I had in…months, at least.  I can’t get over how lucky I am to live in a town with such a powerhouse in the theatre world.  I mean, within walking distance from my house is the only replica of The Globe Theatre in the world—that’s pretty amazing.

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Being an enthusiastic, all-in kind of person, I immediately inquired about volunteering.  They said yes.  And, now I get to work on the most amazing project that is letting me use skill sets that have sat idle too long.  It feels wonderful to have a project to work on outside of my home, to contribute to something meaningful, that I care about, and from which I am genuinely learning, too.  (I’ll share more about that another time…maybe.)

I am grateful.  Though less than pleasant circumstances brought me to live in Staunton, it is a wonderful town with so much to offer in the way of arts and culture.

Now, because I can’t talk about all this Shakespeare and not share…PLEASE watch the video below and discover the brilliance and hilarity of Upstart Crow.  If you are a Shakespeare lover, you’ll find this series right up your alley.

First watch this…

Then watch this…

Let Us Choose Peace

fullsizeoutput_f64Grainy shot from my trip to China–an incredible experience!

Today is the International Day of Peace.  I was excited weeks ago when I read it in my calendar, especially because the healing writing group I am involved with meets today.

The concept of “international peace” is simultaneously a fantasy that seems attainable, while also being something we can never touch.  Over the past week, peace has been in my face—or rather, the lack of it.  My heart is filled with sorrow at the hardness of humans against other humans, for differences that should bring us together.  Instead our governments, many media sources, propaganda, and our own prejudices divide us.

Two days ago I listened to a podcast by The Corbett Report about the lies that started the war in Afghanistan.  Last night, my husband and I watched some more of a documentary we’ve been viewing about Israel and how the United States gives carte blanche loyalty to a country committing war crimes and crimes against humanity.  9/11 recently passed, and I was again reminded of the millions of people affected by the United States choosing (even possibly orchestrating the events) to go to war for geopolitical reasons (i.e. greed).

This week you may have seen a woman from CodePink interrupting a presentation on the Iran Missile Program.  She spoke clearly, even while they tried to deter her from speaking out in support of the citizens of Iran who are constantly being hurt by decisions made by the United States government.

Peace.  We all seek it.  We all desire it.  We want it…for ourselves.  However, how many of us want it for the people we perceive as our enemies?  I say perceive, because statistically speaking, you’re more likely to be stung by a bee and die than die from a terrorist attack.  I say perceive, because if you follow social media accounts of travelers in the Middle East (where so many westerners base their fear) you would see incredible hospitality, people having fun, the most delicious food you can imagine, and a culture that cares.

That is the difference between people and governments.

When will we, as humans, stand up to the partisan politics that continue to wreak havoc on our WORLD?  My citizenship does not make me blind to the beauty and the atrocities around the globe.  I consider myself a citizen of the world.  I cherish what I have learned from my travels abroad and my chance meetings with internationals in the countries where I have resided.

Peace requires a change in our mentalities.  It requires us to remember and acknowledge the humanity in each one of us.  It forces me to remember the love I have for the person who says hateful things about other people I love.  It teaches me that through education peace has a greater chance of attainability because when people know something it can change their perspective.

Today, and every day, let’s choose peace—a peace that comes with well reasoned ideologies and process to create something better than we have ever experienced.  Something that goes beyond what we can fathom.  Think outside the box.  Imagine what can happen if we fight for peace and stop creating war!

Let us choose peace.

Our Minds Scare Them, So They Attack Our Bodies

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Photo by: Gabe Gomez NYC
(The brilliant women in my life who support me, love me, encourage me, and push me.)

How many of us have young girls in our lives who look up to us (women) as an example?  On my maternal side, I am one of fourteen granddaughters/great-granddaughters in my family (for scale, there are ten grandsons/great-grandsons).  On my paternal side, I’m one of four females and three males.  Of those eighteen, there are six under the age of ten.  When I interact with them, I have the opportunity to influence them.  The question is, what kind of influence will I choose?

In 2011 I read a blog based on an article that has stuck with me every since.  A Cup of Jo talked about the HuffPo article by Lisa Bloom dealing with how to appropriately talk with little girls.  It deals with the way people address them and what they place value on, whether consciously or unconsciously.

Stereotypically, what is the first thing you want to do when you see an adorable little girl in the cutest outfit?  You want to compliment the way she looks.  I’m with you!  My little cousins are beautiful—but, more than their beauty they are hilarious, intelligent, witty, and observant.  That’s why, from the time I read that article till today, I do my best to ask the young girls I encounter about their interests, school, books, outdoors, anything other than their attire.  It’s hard, though!  Habits are hard to break.

As Bloom put it, “What’s wrong with that? It’s our culture’s standard talking-to-little-girls icebreaker, isn’t it? And why not give them a sincere compliment to boost their self-esteem? Because they are so darling I just want to burst when I meet them, honestly.”

Here’s why it’s important to break the habit and start talking about things other than clothes and appearance: “Teaching girls that their appearance is the first thing you notice tells them that looks are more important than anything. It sets them up for dieting at age 5 and foundation at age 11 and boob jobs at 17 and Botox at 23. As our cultural imperative for girls to be hot 24/7 has become the new normal, American women have become increasingly unhappy. What’s missing? A life of meaning, a life of ideas and reading books and being valued for our thoughts and accomplishments.”

Imagine, then, the frustration I (and others) feel that as girls grow into young women they are still overwhelmed with the magnifying attention that is constantly placed on their clothing in settings where they are supposed to be growing as contributing human beings (like school, religious settings, clubs and organizations, volunteer situations, etc.).

Earlier today I read an article (one of how many?) dealing with a girl whose male history teacher berated her in front of the class about her clothing and her body shape/size.  It stated, “The teacher reportedly told Anderson she was in violation of the dress code and should be shopping at plus-sized stores. He then went on to lecture the mortified high school student in front of the entire class on how ‘smaller busted women could get away with more than larger busted women,’ the lawyer said in a statement.”

The girl’s mother addressed the issue on Facebook with the following. “I refuse to put my daughter in a situation where her self esteem is completely destroyed. She is there to learn. This whole time she was missing out on an education while we were all sitting in a room discussing her boobs. How often does this happen to your sons? Seems like another way to keep girls uneducated.”

How long are we going to continue allowing people’s and institution’s ideologies harass and abuse females?  How long will we allow the double standard and sole-focus regarding women’s appearances to be the main conversation?  When will say enough is enough?  This is why we need feminism.  This is why females have to support each other, because if we tear each other down, we have taken out our allies.  Our intelligence is not based on the head coverings or crop tops we choose to wear, it’s based on what is in our minds and hearts.