I have been enjoying the turning of the colors of bright orange/red leaves on trees near my house. The fall season in California, has been punctuated by rainy and cold weather, returning to the pattern for November weather that was common before the 3-year drought in our region. However, in the past 5-10 years, the changes from periods of warm, sunny days to cold, dark days seem more abrupt. I notice the stark temperature changes, but it seems to take longer for me to remember that these changes also influence my mood and rhythm. My body wants to move slower, yearns to rest—almost like desire to hibernate.
During November and December on my family’s farm, I remember “cutting middles” out of the grape vines. This was a process that helped my dad prune the old growth so that over the year, the vines could produce new growth. The dawning of Fall reminds us of drawing inward, beginning to weather the dormancy which moves us through the Winter. Perhaps the end of daylight saving time further accentuates the light and mood change of these transitions.
I lost my mother this past month. She was 97 years old and we were blessed with her longevity and peaceful passing. My mother had been confined to her bed for about a year and was sleeping much of the time. It has been a long journey for my mother and my family. Her pace in life was definitely slower and she spent much of the time in her inner life during the past year or so.
It wasn’t until I had a child that I fully recognized the time and effort she focused upon caring and loving us. I remember how my mother was such an eager listener--to each of her five daughters and to her parents-in-law who lived right next door on the same farm property. From when I was a young child through undergraduate school, my mother would take the time to fully attend to the individual in her presence. My sisters often said, “I want a piece of mama.” My mother would immerse herself in us, engaging us by asking questions, acknowledging and validating us. Sometimes at a later date she might have made suggestions about our behavior or potential responses, but I don’t remember this occurring during that special time of focusing on us. At times my mother would remark “how slow she was” referring to unfinished chores or tasks. As I grew older I realized that she was making choices about what was the most important to her. And in the long run, I think this choice helped our development and gave us the opportunity to create a sense of self.
In an intuitive way, she worried about the health issues of all of her five daughters, and her parents-in-law. When the youngest sister went full-day to school, she returned to working outside of the house as a physical therapist and drove about 40 minutes away, sometimes through the low visibility tule fog, to work with children with cerebral palsy.
My mother, along with 110,000 other Japanese Americans, endured and lived through being incarcerated during WWII. I believe this was a major life event that influenced her conviction for social justice. She believed that patriotism included speaking up when any person or any group’s rights were encroached upon or abrogated.
Mom lived a life of kindness and compassion. I suspected that it might be some time before I would feel my mom’s presence. I lost my father in October of 2019, before the Pandemic. I hadn’t experienced sounds of my dad’s voice and image in my head immediately afterwards. It wasn’t until this past year that I heard him laugh in my thoughts. When my father passed, my family’s focus turned to continuing to care for my mother. Perhaps another reason memories of Dad weren’t activated sooner was due to the hunkering down at home and the absence of travelling or attending public gatherings. And yet, within a week or two after my mother’s death, I was happily surprised to experience my mother’s presence--to see her smile and be filled with her upbeat attitude.
During this season my son and nephew have each announced their engagements, friends are celebrating the birth of grandchildren, and clients and extended family experiencing or awaiting the birth of a new child. Nevertheless, Fall is often a somber time. It can be an opportunity to draw inward: to reflect, retreat, repair, refresh and move through transition. When in this state that the Fall season may trigger within us, I try to coach myself and my clients to honor the introspection, and ask oneself if the body is trying to reveal anything: maybe acceptance, a letting go or a time for self-care. I do find that through our transitions, we can honor a reverence for life, struggle and happiness.
Questions to reflect upon:
Is there a transition you are undergoing?
-What questions might it bring up for you?
-Are there barriers that are keeping you from accepting and understanding this transition?
-Is there something you are wanting to let go of, accept or acknowledge?
October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. October is also Hispanic/Latinx Heritage Month. This month, I want to highlight a domestic violence prevention program from Homeless Prenatal in San Francisco. Homeless Prenatal focuses on healthy babies, safe/stable housing, nurturing relationships and economic sustainability. They help families hone five protective factors: parental resilience, social connections, knowledge of parenting and child development, concrete support in times of need, social and emotional competence of children.
Healing, Strength and Resiliency
As part of my observance of Domestic Violence Awareness Month, I interviewed Sonia Batres, who works at Homeless Prenatal in San Francisco, which delivers advocacy support for affordable housing and services for expectant mothers by addressing the root causes of homelessness. There has been an increase of domestic violence during the Pandemic. Sonia disclosed additional challenges facing her organization in providing services to the women’s group she facilitates, “Construyendo Familias Fuertes, CFF,” Building Strong Families. CFF, is a support group for Spanish-speaking mothers who are survivors of domestic violence. Sonia shared that in the beginning of the Pandemic, "We couldn’t conduct groups, but then became trained in Zoom. In August of 2020, we began to meet virtually.”
In the beginning of the online group, it was difficult for Sonia’s clients to log in by the starting time. The women struggled with getting their children online for school, sometimes having only one computer for all of their children. The mothers were often sharing the devices with many other family members where more than one family may live together. They had no “private” rooms in their homes, making it difficult to participate in a confidential manner, which may be filled with background everyday living noise. Meanwhile, they continued to experience community violence in the streets of S.F., around the country and the world. Their lives became more unsafe. Amidst these challenges, CFF became a lifeline. Her clients now log-on before the start time, stay for three hours and they don’t want to leave the session. Sonia has created an environment where the mothers experience trust and acceptance. Sonia is feeling a bit uncomfortable in the sharing of this story because it is a community effort and she doesn’t want to take the sole credit for it. She is grateful for the trust that these women place in her and in their building of community. Sonia believes that these mothers are strong, resilient and willing to take steps to heal and thrive.
In Sonia’s words, “We had to get creative. We became experts on Zoom and started distributing food, and then June 2020, got funding to share food to families.
Meditation, karaoke, affirmations, are a part of our weekly program. We found a way to mark celebrations, such as Christmas, Mother’s Day and the Candle Vigil. For the Candle Vigil, we brought in a community person who offered a ritual to help with healing--to light a candle for those who have died, to light a candle for those children who have not made it and to honor people who are no longer with us. This helped us to recognize a different routine in our lives. We will also be participating along with Good Samaritan in their Mujeres Unidas ‘Si Se Puede Conference’ in October to mark Domestic Violence Awareness Month.
“The Si, Se Puede Celebration is for the community. Each participating organization will recognize two women who have experienced domestic violence and who are supporting the community in some fashion. The two representatives from Homeless Prenatal are thriving and planting seeds of hope for other women. Their message is ‘it is hard, but not impossible.’ Survivors have become facilitators in the group. They have become part of the advocacy we provide, including giving testimony at City Hall and talking with families and the community.”
Strength and Resiliency
Sonia shared with me the plight of many immigrants in this country. They have families who live here, but don’t have citizenship. There are about 11 million immigrants already here in the U.S., awaiting immigration reform and trying to obtain legal status. They have families, jobs, businesses, children attending schools. They provide services to our communities, pay taxes, and even are purchasing homes. Many immigrant families have served as essential workers during this Pandemic, working in the fields, restaurants, grocery stores, childcare, hospitals and medical facilities. Some of Sonia’s clients who don’t have citizenship three years after their families immigrated, and not for lack of trying. The work and services provided by immigrants help the economy in this country. Many of Sonia’s clients also send money regularly to their families in South America, which helps pay for things such as their families’ health care and also supports the economy in their home countries.
CFF of Homeless Prenatal started with 10 women online. Currently there are 45 to 50 women logging on each week. (CFF had 25 people participating in the support group before the Pandemic.) During the support group they answer questions such as: Where do you get food, where you get vaccinated, medical care, where do you get a restraining order, how do you get in to the shelter system, mental health issues for one’s entire family including looking for signs of anxiety and depression and where do you call to reach crisis lines that offer assistance in Spanish. Participants help share information to each other—food distributions sites, how to access to other services and support, which was critical, especially during the Pandemic. Construyendo Familias Fuertes has become a peer support group, where participants are not only helping each other, but growing in their own advocacy skills and community leadership.
Sonia wants us to recognize that addressing domestic violence is a community issue, where we work together with the legal system, healthcare, education, child protective services as well the police. One person or one organization can not do it on their own. The community must all work together with individuals and organizations collectively advocating for change. Sonia’s story reminds us that Sonia’s reminds us that “collective efforts help provide safe housing, health access, building of confidence, and movement towards economic security. When community persons can gain the trust of individuals, it helps the organizations’ goal to build community. When mothers get the emotional space and become ready, Homeless Prenatal and other supporting organizations are here to help them.”
Note: Sonia Batres, DV Services Community Engagement Coordinator at Homeless Prenatal in S.F. is a survivor, community health worker and mother. She received training from Homeless Prenatal in domestic violence prevention and it was part of her healing journey. Sonia believes that DV prevention is like a sea of hope, which engenders opportunities for her child and the next generations. She is grateful to Homeless Prenatal because they kept all of their workers during the Pandemic, and continued to support the staff’s emotional and physical health, giving sick time, and giving opportunity for them to care for their families suffering from Covid. She is proud to be working for Homeless Prenatal who provides community education and services and who have invested in the growth of their staff. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Questions to reflect upon:
During the Pandemic, what gave you strength?
Since the Pandemic what type of challenges have you faced? Have you built some resiliency in living through them?
Reading Sonia’s story at Homeless Prenatal, is there some kind of advocacy or healing which she inspires in you?
“Imagination, like memory, can transform lies to truths.” –Cristina Garcia, Latina Writer
We went from a Hot August to a hotter September. With record temperatures last week, as well as the possibility for rolling black-outs, the Asian American Movement Concert that I was scheduled to present on September 6 was postponed.
This past Sunday marked the anniversary of September 11, when four coordinated suicide attacks were carried out by militant Islamic forces on the U.S. It seems appropriate to take a moment to remember all of the persons who died and were hurt on that day, as well as to remember their families and loved ones. Thoughts also go out to towards Arab/Arab Americans and Muslims who became targeted through racist responses and systemic and unjust policies which infringe upon their civil liberties. I mention these conditions in order to underscore the notion that in our democracy, a single individual from a specific group is not responsible for all other individuals within that group.
With September marking the High Holy Days of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, this month’s “thoughts” are about remembering the Holocaust.
Insights about the Holocaust
I have always thought about September being the beginning of a new school year. For Jews this year, September is the beginning of new year. Rosh Hashanah, which begins at sunset, September 25 is a day of remembrance and appreciation of a day to reflect upon what’s happened in the previous year. For the Jewish people, this High Holy Day commemorates when God created the universe and the first human being. Rosh Hashanah begins a 10-day observance which culminates in Yom Kippur, a day of atonement and repentance. I was thinking of both of these holy days as I watched a segment on CBS Sunday Morning, 9/4/22, informing us about a film, “The U.S. and the Holocaust.” (The video will be aired on September 18, 2022 and is produced by Ken Burns, Lynn Novick and Sarah Botstein.) It examines how America failed European Jews during the holocaust. I recognized patterns of exclusion within the U.S. which are still happening today in our immigration policies. During post WWII, xenophobia, or the fear and hatred of things that are foreign, applied to the Jews.
I learned that in 1938, a Gallup Poll revealed that 21% of Americans (in the U.S.) believed the U.S shouldn’t accept more Jews who were fleeing their countries. In April of 1939, after wide reporting of mass killings and thousands of people fleeing Germany and Poland, Fortune Magazine reported that 1 person in 10 in the U.S. believed that no more Jews should be allowed to enter our country. Then, as is still the case, there were quotas for how many persons from each country who could be admitted. The numbers differ by the country. The U.S. passport process was tedious, arduous and took a long time. Many Jews in Europe died before completing the process. To put this in perspective, Jews from Germany, Poland and all occupied countries had become stateless.
In case you might be interested in viewing the “U.S. and the Holocaust,” I understand that it will present:
-Controversies surrounding America's response to the Holocaust
-How are we still dealing with questions about refugees being welcomed into the United States
-Challenges of nativism, antisemitism, xenophobia and racism: Are these still in existence today? Are these concepts buried deeply and permanently in the past?
-What lessons might be learned from U.S. response to the mass extermination of Jews?
The Ken Burns video reminds us that antisemitism is still present, or perhaps technically more precise to say that it has always been present. In 1945, two-thirds of European Jews had been murdered. Although the U.S. had taken in record number of Jews, in 1945 only 5% of Americans wanted to let more Jewish refugees in. At a time when Americans were already aware of the gas chambers, concentration camps, and liberation of Jews, more than 1/3 of Americans believed the U.S. should allow fewer Jewish immigrants. This disease of xenophobia has replayed over and over again, with sentiments against Japanese, Asians, Mexicans, Central and South Americans, Muslims, Haitians, and Africans. There are times when fear rises higher for certain groups. Currently, anti-Asian and anti-immigration sentiments for people from Southern and Central America is rampant.
This past week I discovered that Ukraine is home to Jewish people. Some Jews were in the Ukraine before the Holocaust, and were forcibly evacuated and some of them returned after WWII. While watching PBS Newshour (on September 7, 2022), I heard that a number of Ukrainian Jews who were living in senior care homes have recently immigrated to Germany—quite a paradox. Through long ambulance trips from the Ukraine, these senior-citizen Jews are now residing in community with other Jews in Germany. They are grateful for their new home although many of them hope that they will be able to return to Ukraine.
In the 1990’s, I first became aware of structural antisemitism when I heard that the B’nai B’rith building in S.F. had 24-hour building security. It was not uncommon to have daily bomb threats. Whenever there is an increase of immigration of persons from groups that are considered to be “different,” xenophobia seems to rear its ugly head. It is horrifying to think that had the U.S opened its doors to more Jewish people during WWII, that xenophobia and antisemitism may have been higher than it was at the time. (Not that this is an excuse for this country not doing more to try to provide safety, statehood and a home for the Jewish people.) Antisemitism is alive and active today. We are aware of the increased bombings of Temples. During these High Holy Days, many Jews are discerning whether they will attend Temple, due to the fear of attacks.
As Jews celebrate Rosh Hashanah, perhaps we can all look forward to new beginnings such as Germany welcoming Jewish people into their country. Considering the Jewish observance of Yom Kippur, I wonder if use this Jewish New Year to reflect upon the act of atonement as a country: acknowledging unequal treatment, in becoming more welcoming of the Jewish people, in celebrating who they are and in learning their stories. My sister-in-law, who is Jewish and formerly taught at Berkeley High School, used to tell her students that they each have their own stories. She would remind them that where they come from contributes to who they are. My sister-in-law views the Jewish Holidays as a beginning of a New Year for all people of all races and religions to practice acceptance of all. She would tell her students that they need to remember their own histories—that “who you are and what you stand for is important and to never forget!” I believe my sister-in-law states a very important value that the Jewish people teach us--to remember the past so we don’t repeat it. Acknowledging our mistakes and trying to right our wrongs can help us heal and become a stronger people.
Questions to reflect upon:
Who are you? Where did you come from?
Reflecting during this current time of the Pandemic and the political climate of our times, what’s happened to you in the past year?
Thank you to Joan Horikoshi for reading and contributing to this "thoughts."
“Rosh Hashanah isn’t just about being new, it’s about a change,” Rabbi Eliyahu Hoffmann.
Hot August Morning
“Eight o’clock and the sun is out, the morning air is hot today,
and there is something I’d like to say, …
Check the skies for B-29’s that would not come today.
Hot August morning in Hiroshima, what more can I say.” -Peter Horikoshi
These are the beginning and closing words of the song, “Hot August Morning,” written by Peter Horikoshi and recorded on the album, Yokohama, California in 1977 and re-released on CD in 2016, yokohama.com. This past
week-end, I was out on our deck with my husband, Peter and Kyle Kashima practicing music for an upcoming concert about the Asian American movement. We were rehearsing this song, Hot August Morning, (see video) and although these words were written in the 70’s, they have application for today’s current environment. The last lines from the song, “Check the skies for B-29’s that would not come today, Hot August Morning in Hiroshima, what more can I say,” reverberated for me.
In Alameda, the sun was pretty warm and a navy plane flew over a couple of times. It sounded just like the Blue Angels practicing, as they do in October before their annual demonstration in San Francisco, each year. We later discovered that there was indeed a flyover for the anniversary of the first U.S. aircraft carrier that was built 100 years ago. The celebration was held on the Hornet ship, which is permanently docked in Alameda as a museum. The Hornet was active in many campaigns during WWII. The first atomic bomb ever used in combat was dropped with a B-29 by the U.S. on Japan during WWII. It felt synchronistic to be singing this song with the words recalling the warmth of an August day and the sounds of fighter jets.
The spoken introduction of Hot August Morning invokes the hot heat experienced in the Central Valley, close to where I grew up on farming lands. The words compare the temperature of Fresno with the August 6 day Peter experienced while attending a protest at the Lawrence Livermore Lab in Berkeley, California. At that time the Lab was still researching and testing nuclear energy. I began to think about how our planet is heating up and my hometown continues to experience much hotter summers, less availability to irrigation water and longer duration of sweltering temperatures. Watching current weather reports and listening to stories of catastrophic rain and floods, as well as increasing occurrences of droughts and uncontrollable fires throughout the world, I find it difficult to understand that many people do not believe that we living with dramatic climate change.
Hot August Morning paints the picture of the devastation caused by the dropping of the atomic bombs—“I feel the pain in you, Hiroshima, was it in vain?” The many civilians who were killed by the bomb, the contamination of the water and earth from the radioactive materials, as well as the horrific health effects which are still being felt today. Beyond the huge number of deaths from the blast itself, the bombs caused radioactive poisoning, water supply contamination, and many health issues including high rates of cancer for persons around the blast site. Other effects of the atomic bombs: American military persons from the U.S. who dropped the bomb were exposed to the mushroom clouds of radiation, as were military and persons from allied countries or territories watching the testing of the bombs from a distance.
Hot August Morning reminds us that a second bomb was deployed by the U.S. on Nagasaki. Many years ago, probably a few years after Hot August Morning was released, I was watching a program on television about Robert Oppenheimer, one of the persons considered to be a “father of the atomic bomb” for his participation with the Manhattan project. I believe the program was intended to honor Oppenheimer for the advancement in technology, and the successful creation and delivery of two different types of atomic bombs--one from uranium and the other from plutonium. When the first bomb was dropped the teams were ecstatic that the uranium bomb was successful. At this point in the film, it was acknowledged that some civilians were killed, yet the fact that 40,000 civilians died from a single bomb wasn’t mentioned. I was deeply struck how this story’s narrative depicted the curiosity of the Oppenheimer-led teams. Would the other type of bomb also be successful? The message I received was that the main reason for dropping the second bomb on Nagasaki was for testing purposes—the desire to see if how the plutonium bomb would work. It was at this point in my life when I began to severely question aspects of technological advancement—whether experimentation and success in the absence of the integration of values and ethics are wise for humankind and our planet.
Around the same time as viewing the Manhattan Project documentary, I attended a presentation with Michio Kaku, who was a graduate physics student at the time with the Lawrence Laboratory in Berkeley. (Michio Kaku went on to become a theoretical physicist and futurist and is a renown scientist who has the talent of explaining science in common language.) Michio Kaku was influenced by the work of Albert Einstein and wanted to complete Einstein’s unified theory. Interestingly enough Einstein was against the use of nuclear energy for military purposes.
While at the Lawrence Berkeley Lab as a PhD student, Kaku had wanted to study atomic energy and how it could be used peacefully. If I remember correctly, Kaku’s grandparents were from Hiroshima. After Kaku completed a high school science project on smashing atoms, Edward Teller, considered to be another “father of the atomic bomb” identified Kaku as his protégé. Through Kaku’s educational and life journey, Kaku decided that the proliferation of nuclear energy was inhumane had the capacity to cause unfathomable devastation. He strongly opposed nuclear warfare. Michio Kaku actively participated in the building of the global anti-nuclear weapons movement.
Towards the end of the song, the words pose, “In Nagasaki, as the war ended, they opened a wound that will never mend.” How do we heal from this wound? How do we learn from history?
Questions for reflection:
What lessons do you think the use of nuclear bombs in Japan have for us today, with such threats looming in Ukraine and Taiwan?
*See Asian Community Center in Sacramento, ACC Music Makers to register for the Concert on Asian American Movement on September 6, 2-3 pm. To access after the date, there will probably be a youtube video posted on this website sometime after the concert.
"We don't have to accept the dictatorship of high-tech. Human beings can make decisions about when and where to use high-tech, low-tech, intermediate-tech, or a mix of these, on the basis of what best develops people and communities and at the same time maintains the health of our ecosystem." -Grace Lee Boggs, Asian American Scholar
Being Discounted, Disrespected, Dismissed: How One is Rendered Invisible
In a recent conversation with my coaching collective, we landed on the topic of respect. I shared the concept of the three D’s—being Disrespected, Discounted and Dismissed. I had learned about this theme from a friend, who was listening to me process an issue which involved being discriminated against as an Asian woman.
My friend, who supervised primarily women, said he needed to keep in mind these three words of disrespect, discount and dismiss--to reflect upon if he was employing them and to transform his mindset and actions in order to be a better and more humane leader. They were powerful words that helped me to understand what I was feeling, and in their essence have helped me to articulate when my clients seem to be experiencing being invisible, unheard and disregarded.
The resonance these words hold cut through whether it be a personal dissing or one perpetuated upon another person due to systemic bias-- an action thwarted upon somebody due to gender, or being LGBTQIA, being a person of color, or being poor. These words cut through the lumping a person in to a group through systemic biases, which are often unconscious. It’s a type of “one upmanship” where a person can use either the personal relationship or the conscious or unconscious bias to feel power, control or just feel better about oneself at the expense of the other person.
Identifying these three D words brings the assault or injury to the foreground, and may help lift the burden for the person on the receiving end to move from “what I might have done wrong” to acknowledging the one upmanship and/or systemic biases within our culture. In the coaching realm, it is also important to help the client process how the client wishes to respond. And yet, it is amazing how much identifying one or more of the “D” words can help the client heal and move towards formulating a response action. These concepts go hand-in-hand and many issues can encompass one, two, or all three of them. I’ll share a little more about each of them.
I asked a friend to share a story about being discounted. In her own words:
“I had to end a friendship, a long and significant friendship, after my friend got involved with a man who brought out the worst in her. In the past, there had been occasions when she could be dismissive and even rude, but I just let it go because we had things in common and could really enjoy each other’s company. But little by little her cutting remarks became more frequent, and eventually they cut right through the material of our relationship. She was saying things you wouldn’t say to a friend or to anyone who meant something to you. She had her PhD by that time, and I think that had something to do with it too. She moved into the administration of a university, and after all, I only had a Master’s Degree, so I think that degree, her job, her boyfriend (who she knew I didn’t think much of), I think all of that led to her needing to discount me in any way she could. She’d scold me suddenly saying I talked too loudly, or she’d criticize the color of my nail polish. It got so that I didn’t know where the next jab was coming from, and finally I had to say literally, ‘I’m not taking this from you anymore.’ It was really hard to do. But I knew that I wasn’t looking forward to spending time with her anymore.
“Honestly, I thought that after she got over my being that frank and honest with her, she’d realize that I wouldn’t have broken with her without a good reason. I thought I might get a letter or a call from her that would exhibit some reflection, so that maybe we could reweave the relationship. But it never came and years have passed. I still feel badly about it. But you know, standing up for yourself with a friend is much harder than standing up for yourself against a stranger or an enemy. And in my experience, the friend doesn’t give you credit for standing up for yourself against them. You have to walk away feeling sure of yourself. It feels like a gamble, but if you are gambling on yourself, you will feel proud of yourself in the end.”
It can be difficult to come up with an example that fits into any one of these D-words. Perhaps actions have become a pattern of response and the story doesn’t necessarily surface all of the other instances that support the pattern. Or some behaviors could be generated by another or multiple reasons, including a combination of these D-words. When working for the University of California Cooperative Extension, I remember volunteering to enlist speakers from throughout universities and community agencies to speak at our State Youth Development conference. The core committee had identified a few names of persons to contact and wanted to maintain the selection of the keynote. The rest was up to me. One of the core committee members was in charge of putting together a program. When I sent her the completed line-up of names with their submitted biographies, she said to create the content of the program and send it to her secretary. She was clear that she wasn’t going to do it. I wanted the speakers to get a good write-up, so I relented. Although I had not planned to place so much additional time in with this job, I took pride in it. I communicated with each speaker and drafted and/or asked for brief descriptions of their talk and how it related to youth development, and sent a draft to each of the speakers before finalizing it. It was an enjoyable follow-up process to get to know the speakers better, for them to be comfortable with how they were being presented, as well as to help conference attendees to have a better idea of the presentations.
During the ending ceremony, the core organizers of the conference were announced making it appear that “all of the persons who helped make the conference happen,” were acknowledged. I knew that the core committee persons, who had been the same group from the one or two previous conferences, were quite proud of innovating this annual event. I anticipated that they would take primary credit for the event. But when the publicity person was announced as assembling the speakers and putting together all of the program and the flier for the event, I realized that although I didn’t feel the need to be identified as the person who did almost all of the speaker work, it bothered me that someone else was taking credit for the work. Interestingly enough, when each of the core committee members got up to say something and take a bow, none of them corrected this error. A community person, one of the presenters, who held a PHD, came up to me immediately afterwards, and said that he was surprised that I didn’t receive kudos. He said he was waiting to clap for me. I had worked with him in getting the necessary bio from him and had helped him to construct his outline for presentation. I didn’t say much, because I was kind of in disbelief at the moment. I learned from this instance that it is important to identify one’s own contributions, especially with promotion and advancement processes with the University.
Both of the two previous stories are individual ones. Sometimes our stories can be layered with systemic prejudice, as well. Here's an instance which reflects racism, a time when a friend of mine felt disrespected at his neighborhood coffee shop: "When I moved into the predominately white Temescal neighborhood in Oakland about five years ago, I discovered a small storefront coffee shop that was only a few doors down from my home. The baristas were nice, and I patronized the store often, always ordering the same drink: an 8oz decaf oat milk mocha. About four months ago, I walked over one afternoon to order my usual. The barista, a young woman in her early 20s, took my order and was going to make my drink when the other barista, a young white man in his early to mid-20s, and who I had never seen before, stepped up and very rudely told me that they only offer my drink in a 12 oz cup. When I politely told him that I live in the neighborhood and had been ordering the same drink for the last five years, he said that they have never served my drink in an 8 oz cup, that I didn't know what I was talking about, and that if I didn't want the 12 oz mocha, I could just leave. So, I said OK and left. I no longer patronize that business."
Another story comes to mind with regard to being disrespected. I had a client, an African American woman, who created and led programs, that had young people working with youth--boys, girls and non-binary persons. They were building leaders and youth who would stop the legacy of domestic violence in our communities. They modeled how to be antibiased, non-violent and healthy, especially with regards to their relationship with girls and women. They allowed the young adults to create positive social interactions and learning opportunities for youth. During a camp, one young adult leader, an African American male, had gone out during either his break time or the evening, and made a poor decision. I can’t remember exactly the exact “incident” that occurred but I think it was something like he went to a nearby store and purchased some alcohol. He exercised poor judgment, especially as a leader. The top administrator of the organization, a White woman, decided that the young adult leader should be summarily dismissed. The administrator had begun steps to oust the young man, without consulting my client, whose program it was.
My client talked with the young leader and also separately with her boss. She wanted to gain clarity on what had happened, and how the young man’s decision placed the entire program in jeopardy. With her boss, my client explained that this could be a learning opportunity, especially because the young man was quite good with the youth, had been responsible in the past and had good promise for leadership and continued growth. My client wanted this young man to be respected for who he was, what he was contributing and to be given the same type of respect which an adult often receives in hopes of the individual becoming a better employee and leader. All people make mistakes and we cannot expect young adults to all of a sudden “know” how to act as responsible “adults.” In recounting the story, it seems to me that this administrator not only disrespected the young adult, but my client as well.
Have you ever worked with or been in relationship with someone who you felt was listening to your input, but then as soon as you strayed from the idea that the other person was referring to, cut you off? It has taken me years to identify when this is happening, I think in part because I strive to listen and to be open to hearing different perspectives. I may not be the best listener, but have worked at getting better in hopes of understanding the other person’s focus and experiences. I remember one time where I had felt like the other person was listening, but realized that that person seemed to listen only as long as I went in the same direction. If I began to explain how I viewed the situation, I experienced different blocking techniques from the other person, such as “I don’t have time,” “You’re giving too much detail,” or even “I don’t want to hear that, just tell me if you’re going to get on board.” In situations where I have been the recipient of one of these D-words, I feel like the wind is knocked out of me, even if I have had experience(s) in being disregarded by this person previously. When one is the target of any of the D-words, I think it feels deeply personal.
I had an African American client who worked tirelessly for her organization, willing to take on extra projects where she represented the organization and worked collaboratively with other agencies. My client was spearheading a task force of community organizations, the county and city and was the primary writer of their proposal. It had been accepted by the entire team of many partners and they had received funding and were already implementing the project. When her new supervisor, who was White joined the organization, this supervisor repeatedly mentioned that my client’s writing needed help and kept pressuring my client to rewrite the proposal. This really triggered my client, saying she had a Master’s Degree and didn’t understand why her supervisor would undermine her work when the team members respected not only her writing, but the way in which she contributed to the joint project. My client was being dismissed and probably discounted and disrespected, all at the same time.
I believe that we have experienced another instance of being dismissed recently with the Supreme Court striking down Roe v Wade. The Court sided against the “historical” precedent of Roe v Wade and went against the majority opinion of the people in this country. It is amazing at how so many other countries give women this health decision of reproductive rights, yet our country has taken this extremely personal decision away. It is a “supreme” example of being dismissed, disrespected and discounted in our society. It is an issue of control.
Have you been discounted, disrespected or dismissed? Please feel free to share your story (stories) with me.
Questions to reflect upon:
Can you think of a time when you’ve been discounted, disrespected or dismissed? How did you feel? Do you still carry a resonance of that experience with you?
What kinds of responses or defenses have you developed? How successful have they been?
“You may trod me in the very dirt / but still, like dust, I’ll rise.” -Maya Angelou, Black Poet
Happy LGBTQIA Month! Jason Galisatus, former ED, writes to us about Pride. He shares some interesting trends about changing attitudes, which makes me hopeful that Generation Z, the most ethnically and racially diverse generation in history, will lead us into a future that is more equitable, inclusive and accepting of differences. Thank you, Jason reminds us, of how important telling one’s story is😊
Celebrating this month, I’ve come across a source which provides useful language and has given me some tips for being an ally to LGBTQ. Written for youth, it is a great tool for adults, too.
Visibility and Truth: Unpacking the “Why” of Pride
With acceptance of LGBTQ people at a record high level in the United States, it’s easy to take for granted the need for Pride.
Practically every major corporate brand express, at least on its face, a welcoming attitude towards LGBTQ employees and customers. LGBTQ characters feature prominently in uncountable numbers of television shows and movies. And once-hot button political issues like marriage equality are all but resolved, one could hardly be blamed for asking, “why is Pride even necessary in 2022?”
Let me first dispense with my strawman premise; we still have a long way to go. The war has not yet been won.
Conversion therapy, proven destructive and ineffective, remains fully legal in nearly half the states in the union. Reported fatal incidents against transgender people hit a record high in 2020 since the Human Rights Campaign began tracking such statistics. Basic needs such as housing and healthcare remain out of reach for many LGBTQ people, especially low-income people of color. And of course, we can hardly forget that a radically conservative majority in the Supreme Court threatens to unravel the legal frameworks protecting LGBTQ people with the stroke of a pen.
But, as far as public opinion is concerned, the gains the LGBTQ community have made are undeniable.
A prevailing theory, championed by the first openly gay man elected to office in the United States Harvey Milk, is that as more LGBTQ Americans take the brave step of coming out, more and more heterosexuals personally know someone who is LGBTQ. By putting human faces to a once-abstract issue defined by theology and Red Scare-era associations of queer people and Communism, it becomes harder to hate those you know personally.
This theory, dubbed “contact theory” by academics, was confirmed in a 2018 study, which found that having at least one gay or lesbian acquaintance makes them more accepting of gay people in general. According to the author, “coming out works as a strategy for changing minds.”
In fact, in 2016 Pew Research found that a full 87% of Americans know someone who is gay or lesbian. Gallup in February of this year that a record 7.1% of Americans identify as LGBTQ. Perhaps more striking, about 21% of Gen Z— those born between 1997-2003— identify as LGBTQ, placing into question Alfred Kinsey’s long-held theory
that 10% of world population is LGBTQ.
If true, contact theory explains why acceptance of LGBTQ people has increased five-fold between 1973 and 2016. As a public relations professional, I am astounded by these vast swings in public opinion. People in my profession can only dream to shift public opinion by that large of a degree. No finely crafted message nor slick political advertisement can replace the power of personal connection.
Other examples of radically changing beliefs over time certainly do exist. In 2021, another Gallup survey found that nearly half of all United States reported using cannabis; over 50 years ago only 4% of United States adults reported having tried cannabis. According to Pew Research, support for legalizing cannabis increased from 12% to 67% in 2019. Evidence also suggests the same phenomenon affects American’s views of abortion— those who personally know someone who has had an abortion (59% in 2019) are more likely to support legalization.
What takeaways can this offer those trying to influence public in opinion in support of their cause?
First, as tempting as it is for policy wonks and the people doing the work on a day-to-day to beat the public over the head with facts and data, personalizing an issue is key to success. Voters support real people, not abstract issues. When voters feel that an issue affects them personally— or those around them personally—they respond. This is why storytelling remains a powerful tool of persuasion. Transforming an issue from an abstract one into one with which voters come face-to-face is critical for success.
Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, at a more individual level it is critical to be visible, proud and authentic in life and in the workplace. Breaking down taboos around issues like poverty, mental health, and reproductive healthcare are vital for affecting change.
To be sure, contact theory is not a panacea for every social woe. Americans are increasingly divided and insulated in their informational bubbles on social media or their cable news station of choice. Personal connection, however, can help break through these artificial barriers, and reach hearts and minds.
Pride remain relevant as ever. Brave LGBTQ people who have come out have led the way and serve as inspirational examples to all. Pride teaches us to dispense with shame, to live visibly and proudly, and in so doing change the fabric of public opinion.
Note: Jason Galisatus is an Account Director at Singer Associates, a leading public affairs firm based in San Francisco. Views are his own. He can be reached at email@example.com
Questions to reflect upon:
How have your attitudes and perspectives about LGTQ people and issues changed over time? Can you point to why they change? Is it related to meeting or knowing LGBTQ people or finding out that people you know are LGBTQ?
How can you help friends or relatives understand why Pride is still needed?
“Deviance is whatever is condemned by the community. Most societies try to get rid of their deviants. Most cultures have burned and beaten their homosexuals and others who deviate from the sexual common. The queer are the mirror reflecting the heterosexual tribe’s fear: being different, being other and therefore lesser, therefore sub-human, in-human, non-human.” –Gloria Anzaldua, Latinx Writer
Asian American, Native Hawaiian, Pacific Islander Heritage Month
Happy Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month, which some people are now referring to as Asian American, Native Hawaiian, Pacific Islander (AANHPI) Month. This posting, I’m presenting some information about Asian Pacific Islanders and including a focus on the Stop AAPI Hate movement. There are twenty different cultures that comprise the Asian category of 22 million people. AAPI’s come from unique histories, cultures, languages and experiences with different patterns of immigration-with some persons ancestors entering this country in the early 1800’s. (While a small number of Chinese immigrants arrived as early as 1815, a large wave of Chinese immigrants came during the 1850s.)1 According to the Pew Research Center, AAPI’s are projected to be largest immigrant group, surpassing Hispanics by 2055, and reaching 46 million by 2060.2
Hate crimes towards Asians in the past couple of years, with an uptick of 149% between 2019 and 2020. Yet it is difficult to reconcile this with an overall decline of hate crimes during the same period. Paradoxically, the number of hate crimes is undoubtedly far greater than this because these incidents are likely to be underreported within the Asian community. Fear of reprisal, language barriers, being unaware of how or where to report it, not wanting to bring attention to self, family or community and citizenship status contribute to a reluctance to come forward. Stop AAPI, at SF State University was created specifically to gather data, providing a safe space while advocating for public policy change. The Asian American Studies Department initiated this program as a response to the rise in public displays of racism during the Pandemic. Their work and community-based approach and relationship building with Asian communities have helped to allow for more accurate reporting: Report an Incident - Stop AAPI Hate.
Some other interesting facts about the AAPI community from the Pew Research Center: Nearly one-half of all Asian Americans live in the West, with 24% in the South, 19% in the Northeast and 12% in the Midwest. Six out of 10 Asian Americans were born in another country. A large number of Asian Americans live in multigenerational households (27%), with Asians who are immigrants (29%) only slightly more likely than U.S. born (23%) to live in multiple generations under one roof. In measures of economics, although Asian Americans seem to do well, there is a wide range of disparity between the different cultural groups with 10% of
Asians living in poverty, as compared with 13% of all Americans. Mongolians had the highest poverty rate for Asian Americans, or 25%. Asian Americans have had higher rates of completing college, with more than 50% of Asians, 25 years and older holding Bachelor’s degree, compared with 33% of the U.S. population. Interesting enough, this statistic doesn’t vary much between foreign or U.S. born.
Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders encompass a broad grouping of people from diverse cultures. At the beginning of this coaching blog, I mentioned that AANHPI is also being used in referring to the ethnic grouping for Asian Americans as a category. When reviewing demographics, identifying Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders, we can improve capacity to serve these specific communities that struggle from living with lower income and less access to opportunities. In many ways, Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders’ issues are more similar to those of Native Americans than with the broader Asian American grouping on census information that is often used research and funding. Nevertheless, even with recent data from the Pew Research Center, that groups information from persons that came to the U.S. from 20 different origin countries in the East, South East Asian and Indian subcontinent, it is not identified by Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander. However, the PEW Center is a very good source of facts about Asian Americans and I’m learning new information from their fact sheets and publications. (See Resources below.)
Hate crimes against Asian Americans spiked during the Pandemic, although there have always been verbal and physical assaults perpetrated against Asian Americans. In its “Policy Recommendations to Address AAPI Hate,”
Stop AAPI Hate, has recommended two major policy recommendations to the State of California: 1) create public health policies which prevent hate in public spaces and to 2) respond to hate when it occurs in businesses. These policies must engender public health and gender-based approaches which address the street harassment of AAPI women and other vulnerable communities. The framework must define street harassment and how it affects individual mobility, freedom of safety and movement, as well as physical and mental well-being and create strategies which identify multiyear, multifaceted public education campaigns. Hate crimes at businesses are primarily incidents perpetrated by other customers. Therefore, Stop AAPI Hate suggests new policies require businesses, such as public transportation systems, to provide training which engenders understanding and the provision of services which maintain spaces free from bias-harassment and discrimination, even if committed by other customers. I look forward to seeing policies that help educate the general public about harassment and hate. It seems to me that these recommendations are specific to the type of hate crimes committed against Asian Americans, yet are also cognizant of the need for public health policies that strengthen the civil rights of all vulnerable communities.
May this Asian American, Native Hawaiian, Pacific Islander Heritage Month help us appreciate and honor our AANHPI communities, even if is merely by learning more about any one of the many communities in your neighborhood, county or state.
Questions to reflect upon:
Do you have any AANHPI friend, colleagues, neighbors? If yes, how much do you know of their immigration histories and childhood experiences? What kinds of questions might you ask them to find out about their family histories?
Do you know if your AANHPI friends, colleagues, neighbors have experienced or know of someone who has experienced hate incidences over the past couple of years? Have they been able to share their stories and begin to heal from them?
1 Information from Dr. Michael Omi, Asian American Studies, UC Berkeley in conversation, May 6, 2022.
2 Budiman, A, Ruiz, N, "Key Facts about Asian Americans, a Diverse and Growing population," Pew Research Center, April 29, 2021.
3 Dr. Omi also mentioned that the word, AANHPI, collapses two distinct Census racial categories (from the 1997 Statistical Directive 15), namely "Asian American" and "Native Hawaiian and Other Paciric Islander." When the "NH and Other PI" category was being debated, Guamanians/Chamorros wanted their name included as well.
“’Asian American’ is and has always been a political identity rooted in anti-imperialism and solidarity with Black and Indigenous peoples across the globe.” -Yellow Power: The Origins of Asian America, Densho.
1. From the Pew Research Center:
2. AAPI Data — great source of survey data:
3. From the US Census:
“’Asian American’ is and has always been a political identity rooted in anti-imperialism and solidarity with Black and Indigenous peoples across the globe.” -Yellow Power: The Origins of Asian America, Densho.
I’ve asked Chris Kubo, head the youth taiko group with Ballico School in California to be a guest writer. Ballico is a diverse town and having Chris write about the arts group during “Celebrate Diversity Month” seems appropriate. In reading Chris’ “thoughts,” I have learned more about the cultural history of Ballico School, where I attended the 5th through 8th grades. I hadn’t realized that Ballico School began as one which was primarily Japanese American. Chris believes that it was not a segregated school, however, I do remember my dad saying that they started Ballico for the Cortez community as Japanese Americans began to move to this community. Mr. Abiko, a newspaper owner in San Francisco, had purchased the land and encouraged Japanese laborers to move there. Throughout my childhood I had noticed strong Japanese American parent participation within the schools, as well as through the initiation and leadership of sports within the summer community programs. The secretary of the school was Japanese American as was the head cook. Interestingly enough, when my mother went to speak with the principal of the school to mention that the city of the school district where she worked was holding a “career fair,” all of the Ballico upper grades went on a field trip to visit it. My mom was surprised that something she had said was listened to and acted upon so very quickly. This was in a time when most parents were reluctant to speak with the administration. I know I have benefitted from this mindset of “belonging” and it gave me confidence to strive to develop leadership skills.
Taiko is a part of the school curriculum at Ballico School. Arts education can enhance the development of different parts of the brain and also build community and respect for culture and the arts. Engaging in the arts can help us discover and share our own stories.
I first saw the Ballico Taiko while attending the Japanese American Cortez community’s celebration of “Obon,” where ancestors are remembered and the public joins in with the dancing. During the program, I was struck seeing Latinx Asian and White students seriously, passionately and proudly playing Japanese drums. Art, at its best evokes an emotional response. I felt moved and especially touched by such diverse participation. The students also danced, as did many of their family members. The drummers and their families knew the dances better than I did! It was evident that this annual event, which was formerly observed by the Japanese American population has helped the larger community to grow and to become a more vibrant and inclusive community.
Building a Foundation for Diversity and Inclusion
Ballico is a tiny rural community in the northern part of Merced County, almost in Stanislaus County. On a clear day, you can see Half Dome in Yosemite from parts of our area. In the neighboring community of Cortez, just three miles north of Ballico, is a Japanese American settlement that started in 1919 with 17 families. As the years and generations passed, there are fewer Japanese Americans living here, but our community remains intact.
At Ballico School, established in 1924, a photo of the students at Ballico that year were predominantly Japanese American with a few European American students. Now our students are about 50% European American, with about 40% + Latinx, and less than 10% African American, Asian American. The majority of the parents are in agriculture related occupations or living on farms.
My husband, Dan, attended Ballico School with his siblings and cousins, as well as his father and his father’s siblings. In the school photo from 1924, my father-in-law is the one in the front row with the scowled face when he was 10 years-old. Our children all attended Ballico School and, now, we hope that our granddaughter will attend Ballico as well.
Dan and I met at San Jose State University and worked together in establishing an Asian American Studies program at the University and then moved onto implementing our studies to be in the community and work in the community. As we became acquainted with the Japantown community in San Jose, we developed a deep appreciation for the support from the church organizations and the elders in the community. Despite our appearance (long hair, jeans, etc.), they accepted us into their churches and homes to help develop programs that would benefit the community. We pounded mochi, served soup, and entertained at community gatherings. Then we decided to go “home,” return to our roots, and be a part of our historic community.
Within the Japanese American community in San Jose, a taiko group was starting around the same time Dan and I decided to return to Cortez. Although we wanted to become part of this group, learning taiko would be put on hold, as our return to the farm would involve all of our time and energy.
In 1990, Rev. Dave Matsumoto started a taiko program at the Buddhist Church of Stockton, of which Cortez is an affiliate. We were able to start playing in 1995. Our three younger children played taiko along with me and passed on the interest in taiko to their friends at Cortez as well as to Ballico School community. In 2003, four students, including our youngest son, played taiko at their eighth grade graduation at Ballico School. Two years later, three students, Jesus, Esmeralda, and Evette, approached me and asked if they could learn to play taiko to perform at their graduation. They worked diligently with me and played their hearts out at their graduation.
Taiko is a way to have a voice: it is animated and spirited. More than anything else, it is a vehicle of expression. At Ballico School, all students are encouraged to write a speech to enter the county speech festival as well as write an essay or poem to enter into the county writing festival. All students are encouraged to participate in sports and other activities as long as their grades are reasonable. Taiko is our music program for Transitional Kindergarten through second grade. It is considered a music and motion class which incorporates music with physical education. Towards the end of the school year, we hold a recital. For the third through eighth grade students, taiko is offered as an afterschool club. We have three levels: beginning, intermediate, and performers. We meet for practice together on Wednesday afternoons; warm up and drill together, then split into level groups with the performers helping the beginners and intermediates. The beginning and intermediate classes end after an hour, then the performing group continues for another hour to develop new skills, as well as prepare lessons for the next week. Additionally, we hold a weekly 30-minute session with Special Needs students.
When taiko developed in North America, it soon became a voice for Japanese Americans; a way to express ourselves with movement, voice, and sound. It was powerful and liberating! I wanted that power and liberation for our students; a way to express themselves. Regardless of who we are, taiko gave us the power to move and be heard. At our school, taiko is a means of empowerment.
In 2022, our group in Ballico is predominantly Latinx, with a handful of European Americans, no Asians. There are students whose parents were my students “back in the day.” There are families who have multiple children going through the program. We have an Ensemble group consisting of high school and college students who played with us in the past and want to continue. Although we meet online the majority of the time, and get together in-person occasionally.
Eleven members of our performing group attended and performed at the North American Taiko Conference held in Portland, Oregon in 2019. They were rather hesitant about performing, especially since half of them had attended a previous conference in San Diego and knew the magnitude of performing at such a venue. They worked diligently at designing heartfelt performance with the help of Kristy Oshiro, a professional taiko player and instructor. The Ballico Taiko played beautifully. Their song, Okagesamade (thanks to all who came before us), expressed gratitude to all who made our lives possible: the Native peoples, immigrants, and laborers. As their teacher, it is the okagesamade attitude that I would like our students to embody: appreciation of all of our forebearers while playing with exuberance and joy!
Note: Chris Kubo grew up in Japan, born to a Japanese American father and a Japanese mother. She attended DOD (Department of Defense) Schools through high school and came stateside to attend college. She met Dan Kubo at San Jose State University and worked as a student activist. In 1974, Chris moved with Dan to farm the family ranch. Chris raised five children, taught kindergarten through eighth grades as well as served as Resource Specialist at Ballico-Cressey School District for 30 years.
©Wendy C. Horikoshi and Chris Kubo, 2022, firstname.lastname@example.org
Please do not copy without permission, but feel free to pass this blog or website link with copyright.
Questions to reflect upon:
Have you ever participated in activities that are different from your own culture? How did that make you feel? What did you learn from it?
Have you participated in an activity from your own culture that you didn’t learn while growing up? How did that make you feel? Any learnings?
“Creativity is the antidote for violence and destruction. Art is our most human expression, our voice to communicate our stories, to challenge injustice and the misrepresentations of mainstream media, to expose harsh realities and engender even more powerful hope, a force to bring diverse peoples together, a tool to rebuild our communities, and a weapon to win this struggle for universal liberation.” -Climbing Poetree (Alixa and Naima), Black Artists
March is Women's History Month. I've asked Angelica Resendez if she might share her "thoughts" and she chose to write about self-care, an appropriate topic, especially as we reach the second anniversary of the Pandemic.
Women’s History Month: Self-Care
It’s 8:30 pm on a Monday, I’ve just spent countless hours in Teams meetings, and just finished playing catch-up on “work,” which these days means getting through some emails and hopefully, just hopefully, scratching off a thing or two from the to-do list. Lately, my life seems to be in “mark as unread” status. I’ll read an email, realize that it requires much more than a simple response, and then mark it unread for the day that I can get back to it. Sometimes, that day doesn’t come. It seems like more than ever, I’m just trying to keep up. Even personally, my laundry is marked as unread—it gets folded, but it doesn’t get put away. It’s just there, waiting for me to attend to it when the time comes around. I used to pride myself on having a clean inbox, on rarely missing timelines, on being two steps ahead. These days, I pride myself on being able to get through a day without losing my sh*&. These days, I pride myself on showing up, messy hair and all. Point is, that these days, self-care looks and feels a lot different.
When Wendy first reached out about contributing to her coaching “thoughts,” I was both flattered and curious. This would be my first experience contributing to a blog and I thought to myself, yes, I can channel some creativity and focus on self-care in honor of Women’s History Month. And then I realized I had left Wendy’s follow up email as marked as unread and ironically, I’m writing this after a really long day and eventful weekend at the very last minute. But I committed to this. I said yes.
As a woman of color who identifies as Latina and is the daughter of Mexican parents who emigrated to this country to WORK, this value has been instilled in me since I can remember. I have clear memories of my parents working multiple jobs and when they weren’t working to get paid, they were working to nurture our family, to clean and maintain our home, or to support extended family. Every Saturday morning we all worked to the sounds of cumbias and rancheras, (folklore genre of music). Given the month we’re in, I’ll focus on my mom. The term self-care was foreign to her and the mujeres that came before her. To take care of oneself would seem selfish, a bit weird, and unrealistic because there’s just no time for that. In my community, we take care of one another, even at the expense of self. Saying “no” is offensive, and boundaries, what are those!?! I learned early on about the value of hard work, family, and community. These are gifts that I know have made me into a good leader, a loving person, and also, a very tired woman. With the help of my therapist, loved ones, podcasts, and books, I’m working on unlearning some of these habits and embracing the “mark as unread” life.
This self-care stuff is a different type of work. It means turning the camera off on Teams and not feeling a type of way about doing so. It means taking a day off here and there, perhaps even intentionally scheduling a medical appointment during the workday. It means wearing soft pants with an elastic band. It also can look like walk and talks, connecting with a loved one, taking five deep breaths, declining a meeting, screaming into a pillow, and just laughing at the ridiculousness of it all. As a woman who leads an affordable housing program and manages a group of unique, complex individuals, it’s often easier for me to care for everyone else but myself because it feels good…until it doesn’t. There are so many stressors that the clients I serve are dealing with, stressors that my colleagues are experiencing, stressors that our society as a collective are dealing with especially in the last two years and I don’t know about you all, but it feels like we are all reaching our tipping point. And I wish I had something profound to say about self-care, and collective healing, and being able to navigate all this as a woman of color in a high-stress profession, but I really don’t. All I can share is that we gotta be easier on ourselves. Love ourselves like we love our clients, the work, the mission, our loved ones. Let’s be OK with leaving some things unread…it’ll still be there when you wake up tomorrow.
©Wendy C. Horikoshi and Angelica Resendez, 2022, email@example.com Please do not copy without permission, but feel free to pass this blog or website link with copyright.
Questions to reflect upon:
What are some items in your life that can be “marked as unread?” Are any of these tasks or requests that can be left for a while longer so that you can better take care of yourself?
Note: Angelica Resendez is a proud Bay Area native who has dedicated her life's work to social justice, community engagement, and societal impact. Angelica attributes her commitment to equity, inclusion, and all good things to her mom, who from a young age instilled in Angelica and her sisters the value of challenging the status quo, never forgetting where you come from, and giving back. Currently, Angelica oversees homeownership programming at Habitat for Humanity Greater San Francisco, an organization whose mission impacted Angelica's own family more than 30 years ago. In her free time, Angelica appreciates connecting with loved ones, getting a goodnight's rest, exploring the outdoors, and drinking good coffee. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“But there are no new ideas waiting in the wings to save us women, as human. There are only old and forgotten ones, new combinations, extrapolations and recognitions from within ourselves, along with the renewed courage to try them out.” -Adriana Lopez, Latinx Writer
February marks African American Heritage Month. I’ve asked Kad Smith, to write about Black History Month and to share some of his insights. I’ve always appreciated Kad’s analytical and people skills, his deep understanding of young people, as well as his commitment to building community. In pondering Kad’s “thoughts,” I wonder how each of us can use this month to commit ourselves to discover and learn about a more inclusive history of the U.S.
Black History Month 2022: Committing to Reflection
As I sat down to write this, I had just finished flipping through the pages of How Europe Underdeveloped Africa, by Walter Rodney, and became familiar with Rodney’s definition of “underdevelopment,” or not “developing” because of the country’s past, which continues to affect the present exploitation, and cements its socio-economic position in a hierarchical manner. Lately, I've been trying to broaden my awareness on the experiences of Black folks across the diaspora. Coincidentally, this month happens to be a symbolic one (within the US, Canada, and UK at least). It is a month that has been dedicated to remembering the histories of Black people. Growing up, I remember loosely how February would begin and I would be inundated with messages about what it has meant to be Black in this country and what it could mean for the future.
More specifically, I recall early childhood experiences where I was introduced to what I would claim to be a white-washed legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King. I now know that he was so much more than the palatable pacifist he's often made out to be. The palatable pacifist pairs neatly with stories of American progress and promise. It wasn't until my early adulthood that I learned of Dr. King's unadulterated legacy. A man who was gravely disliked by the American majority in the months before his passing –– due largely to his harsh criticisms of the war in Vietnam and his commitment to embarking on a poor people's campaign as an anti-capitalist –– had been presented to me year after year, February after February, as only a fraction of himself.
I have come to the conclusion that a great deal of America remains interested in only telling convenient and partial truths of Black History during this month, and during any month for that matter. This includes the Black history of our country and more broadly across the globe. I have accepted that to maintain the balance of things in our current social order, such as a racialized caste or an economic system that is fueled by racialized exploitation, partial truths must be delicately preserved and prophesized. The full truth would too clearly help us understand the roots of injustice, inequity, and inequality. For Black Americans, most of us at some point develop the capacity to decode and dissect the origin of these partial truths as we hope to survive and/or thrive within this country. Thinking back to historic moments as symbolic as the Emancipation Proclamation (and of course, many moments before then) the stories that we are enculturated to remember are riddled with partial truths. There is power to be gained in understanding the fuller truth of our histories, which is why I suspect there is such a concerted effort to deter the majority of the American populace from doing so. You can see that obstructionism playing out in real time today. Look no further than the current debates about "Critical Race Theory" in our educational systems. The bastardization of American History, and this underlying assumption that it should be recorded and consumed as if it were mythology, continues to deprive us of the historical analysis needed to identify a better future.
Regardless, Black History Month is indeed a time for many of us to unapologetically embark on a quest for truth. It is a time for reflection. How did we get here? Where are we hoping to go? I am confident that the spirit of the millions of Black ancestors who fought so hard to contribute to the possibility of a liberated future carries forth when we take the time to be intentional in our acts of remembrance. During this month, I set my intentions on revisiting the teachings of those who have significantly changed the course of my life. George Jackson, James Baldwin, bell hooks, Maya Angelou, Malcolm X, Angela Davis, Afeni and Tupac Shakur, are a few that come to mind. I also set my sights on studying something unfamiliar to me, hence the aforementioned Walter Rodney reading I am currently doing. This is not to say I do this only in February, but it carries a certain weight to it when there is communal energy to do the same across racialized identities.
Most of you reading this will agree with the statement that Black Lives Matter. This is undeniably true. But wrapped within that statement is that Black History Matters. If you take nothing else from what I've shared here, remember that this month presents a unique opportunity to commit yourself to embracing the history that we so desperately need to fully understand, if we want to play a part in changing the circumstances of our present and influencing the conditions that will create the future. Enjoy the learning, leverage the lessons, and keep fighting the good fight y'all.
©Wendy C. Horikoshi and Kad Smith, 2022, email@example.com Please do not copy without permission, but feel free to pass this blog or website link with copyright.
Questions to reflect upon:
How might you broaden your awareness of experiences of African Americans?
-What is one partial truth you might explore?
-How will you gain a fuller picture of American history which accurately includes Black experiences?
Note: Kad Smith has 14 years of relevant experience that led him to start Twelve26 Solutions. A native of West-Berkeley, CA, he is most passionate about changing the material conditions of BIPOC folks across the country. He spends a significant amount of his time focusing on civic engagement, political education, climate justice, and imagining the bridging of world-views across the globe. Kad worked as a Project Director at CompassPoint Nonprofit Services and is currently on their Teacher Team. Kad can be reached at Kad@twelve26solutions.com, (510) 318-3737.
“We need a moral prophetic minority of all colors who muster the courage to be impatient with evil and patient with people, and the courage to fight for social justice. In many instances we will be stepping out on nothing, hoping to land on something. That’s the history of black folks in the past and present and of those of us who value history and struggle. Our courage rests on a deep democratic vision of a better world that lures us and a blood-drenched hope that sustains us." –Cornel West, Black Scholar
“Yesterday is gone, but we must hold on to its anyway. Its meaning is the sense of our lives. We must be careful not to fictionalize and romanticize our stories. We must look at the beauty and the failures of our history with equal love and understanding." –Walter Mosley, Black Novelist
A New Year
Shinnen Omedeto-Happy New Year. Thank you for being my client this past year. Working with you has been a privilege and I am grateful for the opportunity.
I recently took a picture of a group of pelicans on the Alameda Estuary, a few blocks near my house/office. Throughout many days in December and close to time of the Winter Solstice, there were flocks of birds, many different kinds, many that don't usually come in large numbers at the same time. Pelicans, coots, gulls, egrets, sea gulls, ducks and geese surrounded the shoreline in both directions where I generally walk. On December 17, there was a convergence of these birds with many seals. Seals are a rare occurrence here, so I captured them on video. Occasionally a single seal can be spotted, and one needs to watch carefully as it usually bobs up and down through the water and then dives only to surface yards away. This particular day, over the distance of a mile walk in one direction, seals were swimming, with each of them remaining in the same vicinity. Apparently, herons were laying eggs and with the low tide, this resulted in the very special sighting of seals and birds searching for food.
Although the Winter Solstice comes once a year, this particular convergence of marine life does not. I'm hoping that this New Year will bring special and surprising moments in your work and in your personal life. Below are a couple of poems that I thought you might enjoy reading as we begin 2022. One speaks to me about focusing on continual growth and development, allowing oneself to blossom into one's full self. The other poem is an excerpt from Amanda Gorman, Poet Laureate, for the Presidential Inauguration of 2021, which I believe beckons us to collective growth in these difficult and challenging times.
“No Longer Waiting,” -Mary Anne Perrone
I am no longer waiting for a special occasion; I burn the best candles on ordinary days.
I am no longer waiting for the house to be clean; I fill it with people who understand that even dust is Sacred.
I am no longer waiting for everyone to understand me; It’s just not their task.
I am no longer waiting for the perfect children; my children have their own names that burn as brightly as any star.
I am no longer waiting for the other shoe to drop; It already did, and I survived.
I am no longer waiting for the time to be right; the time is always now.
I am no longer waiting for the mate who will complete me; I am grateful to be so warmly, tenderly held.
I am no longer waiting for a quiet moment; my heart can be stilled whenever it is called.
I am no longer waiting for the world to be at peace; I unclench my grasp and breathe peace in and out.
I am no longer waiting to do something great; being awake to carry my grain of sand is enough.
I am no longer waiting to be recognized; I know that I dance in a holy circle.
I am no longer waiting for Forgiveness. I believe, I believe.
Excerpts from "The Hill we Climb," -Amanda Gorman
When day comes, we ask ourselves, where can we find light in this never-ending shade? ...
We braved the belly of the beast.
We've learned that quiet isn't always the peace, and the norms and notions of what "just" isn't always justice.
And yet, the dawn is ours before we knew it.
Somehow we do it. ...
For there is always light, if only we're brave enough to see it.
If only we're brave enough to be it.
Thank you for sharing me some of your never-ending shade and for bringing light to my life.
Questions to reflect upon:
Within the past month or within the past few days, has your life brought any surprises? What is it like to observe or witness this?
What is one thing that you are grateful for?
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.” -Martin Luther King Jr.
“Faith is taking the first step even when you can't see the whole staircase.” -Martin Luther King, Jr
Closing of this Second Pandemic Year
Be Free.” -Debbie Allen in “Turning the Tables with Robin Roberts, 7/28/21
Debbie Allen, famous choreographer, dancer and producer said that this is what her mother always told her. Her mother’s words prepared her to withstand the declarations and mindset of persons who told her to “stay in their lane.” Allen seems to be living her life integrating this philosophy. Her philanthropic Debbie Allen Dance Company teaches young people about dance with the excellence and depth of background she feels is only available in other countries. Her Company not only mentors and guides students in dance and art--it aspires to enrich, inspire and transform their lives.
Allen’s attitude is a powerful notion that supports the premise that how we think about ourselves can greatly influence who we are. In that way it has universal meaning. It can also be inferred from the rest of her talk that as an African American woman, she will always be fighting for freedom. People do not come to the notion of individual freedom in a vacuum. For example, does freedom mean the right to not take the Covid vaccine even though it is a public health issue and affects the health of all other people in the community (and world)? Is freedom the right to demand that our organizations celebrate Christmas, even though many persons do not and may even be discriminated against due to their religion? Is freedom being able to have certain privileges as a result of one’s family, culture, sexual orientation, gender or class? It seems to me that until we understand and respect the many differences in our lives, and hold each individual with equal regard, it is difficult, perhaps impossible, to adequately expect freedom to be accessible for every individual.
In other words, we can’t assume that we all share the same starting point towards the journey to freedom. Perhaps this is one way in which the word, “trauma-informed” can help. I first became familiar with this word, trauma-informed, in working with women who are survivors of domestic violence. Over time, I am beginning to understand how this word can apply to Native people, African Americans, Latinx, Asians and immigrants and other people fleeing war, violence, and natural disasters. It is becoming patently clear how my Black brothers, sisters and siblings are not coming from the same starting point when it comes to running the race of equal opportunity. Even though many persons do not live in a society that provides the same advantages to everyone, they have risen and contribute to our society. Maya Angelou’s words, “I rise,” ring in my ears. Debbie Allen’s mother offered the advice, “Be true, be beautiful, be free,” with the knowledge that her daughter would face discrimination, and that as a Black woman may be told that she was striving too high. It also seems like Allen’s mother was grounding her with tools to be resilient, to focus on a path towards growth and development, while encouraging her to search with integrity for joy and happiness.
I believe that Allen’s mantra is fitting for the journey my clients walk in their coaching engagements. Clients share their strengths and hone their skills, while growing through the challenges they face. For many people of color, women, LGBQTIA, the poor, mentally/physically challenged, and persons who are not afforded opportunities as easily, coaching can help recognize that they don’t have to follow the societal message to “stay in their lanes.” For clients who are advantaged in sometimes “seemingly” obscure ways, culturally-aware coaching can help them understand how societal mindsets affect opportunity, self-confidence, relationships, growth and development in their staff, colleagues and themselves. By naming of the issues that block us, affording opportunities, respecting the history and dignity of each person, culturally-aware coaching can unlock powerful growth and contribution to our community and society. I believe all of my clients leave their coaching engagements hopeful of getting the best out of their teams, remembering the meaning of their work and focused on their priorities and plans they have developed to achieve their goals.
As we close this second Pandemic year, I want to acknowledge the isolation and challenges you may have faced and any losses you’ve experienced the past two years. In our current environment, difficulties may have been amplified. From the bottom of my heart, I thank each of you for sharing your stories with me. You enrich my life! Best to you as you enjoy any of the holidays you observe during this season. I wish you hope, joy and love as we move to a New Year!
Questions to reflect upon:
How might you follow Allen’s mother’s advice to “be true?”
What is beautiful in your life?
What might be a next step for you to “be free?”
Last month we highlighted empowerment to families of domestic violence (DV) and this month I’ve asked a leader in the DV community, Sharon Turner, to share some reflections about her life’s work with social justice, especially in communities of color. I had the privilege of working with her as a coach when she was the President of the Statewide Coalition on Domestic Violence and leader of a DV organization. Her perspectives and wisdom on community-building, dealing with privilege, and her way of making meaning within the socio-political constructs of our lives have profoundly touched me and deepened my understanding of racism and domestic violence in our country. Sharon began creating a pilgrimage to major landmarks of African American history, which is informed by her life experiences of working alongside civil rights activists. The Pandemic shut down further progression of this trip, but if/when she organizes it, I’ll put a word out on this site. (Please feel free to get in contact with Sharon or send message to her through me if you might be interested.)
Stringing Together Some Pearls of Belongings
Gratitude to Wendy for this invitation. There were so many times when I felt seen and validated during our coaching partnership. I am partly a coach today because of her influence. Through coaching I have found another way to offer and give to others the gift that was given to me.
Nowadays there seems to be a fair amount of buzz about the word “belonging” and how it applies to our individual and collective lives in this particular moment. Not too long ago I listened to a podcast about belonging and found myself getting more curious about:
• why is belonging showing up now?
• what does belonging have to teach us?
• how is belonging more than membership?
Here are some things that I’ve reflected upon and got from the podcast:
• When I think of the word belonging, words like connection, validation, being seen, community, acknowledgement come to mind.
• Throughout our lives we receive many messages from our families, various communities of which we are a part of, society, and social media about the status of our belonging (e.g., appropriate dress, language, rules of workplace culture, etc.) These messages of our “belonging status” serve to inform us whether we’re in, out and/or on the verge of being out.
• Our lives are shaped by these messages of inclusion or exclusion.
• Policies, laws, organizational practices, etc. are often shaped by who belongs and who doesn’t.
• Belonging is not based on a set of conditions
• Belonging is fundamental to our existence. Each of us has a profound need to belong to be accepted, to be seen no matter what. Belonging is existential. Belonging is our birthright.
• Membership is conditional. Belonging is non-negotiable. We belong.
• Belonging starts with SELF, i.e., comes from within oneself. It requires commitment to be on a journey of discovery and curiosity within yourself. Belonging is affirmation of who you are just as you are. It simply requires accepting the fact that you belong. There is nothing in this moment that you have to do to prove you’re worthy but simply accepting the fact that you belong. In this sense for me, belonging is a radical act of resistance and love for oneself.
Recently I heard a story about a Canadian filmmaker, who this year completed a six-year solo pilgrimage across the Trans Canada Trail, a distance of 16,000 miles spanning from the Pacific Ocean, to the Artic Ocean, to the Atlantic Ocean. As she reflected on her journey, she spoke about really learning that when things were the most fragile, when things fell apart, there was something that awakened inside of herself and that she felt more connected to this web of life than ever. She spoke of the fact that she never really felt lonely on the journey, not just because of the strangers she met, but because she felt a strong sense of connection and being linked to the web of all life forms, including herself.
As I heard the interview, I felt a stirring of affirmation within myself about being connected to this web of life. I realize now that the sensation that was being evoked was about belonging. Those moments in my life where a particular image or bubble that I had about belonging got burst, and an opportunity presented itself for me to belong.
Towards that end, I’m reminded of a story that I’ve probably told many a time but will tell it again today in the context of belonging, i.e., stringing together my Pearls of Belonging.
Many years ago, I went on a spiritual adventure to Tibet. I still can’t tell you why Tibet of all the places. All I can say about the decision was the thrill of being invited by my colleagues. And I could mark it down as another accomplishment. I now understand that because of who I am/was...i.e., African American, lower economic status, somewhat educated, having worked in many different countries around the world, but still perceiving and acting from a part of myself that says “not as good as” in that moment of asking and accepting I felt seen. I was trying to fit into a larger societal image of success.
Being in that part of the world came as a huge learning curve, not because I hadn’t traveled to several countries outside of the US, (where I actually spent a great majority of adult life until that year outside), but because I really felt like a stranger...and a guest. I was on a steep learning curve learning about Tibetan Buddhism, while learning about the history of its occupation, as well as the customs while learning about customs, and adjusting to being one of three women of color (two African American and one Asian) on the trip. Additionally, I wasn’t a practitioner until that trip. Probably most important, I was trying to fit in...belong to this unique adventurous group of travelers. While there were many mind stopping events that happened, I will share this one story that still serves as major teaching for me.
One of our first stops was in Lhasa. We were staying at the Holiday Inn, Lhasa. After breakfast one morning, I felt the need to get away from the constant chatter of the hotel guests and my fellow travelers, I needed to clear my mind and managed to slip alone outside into the courtyard.
I have always loved to wander into unknown territory and find my way back to where I started. Normally, I would have wandered off to acquaint myself with my new surroundings just to enjoy the thrill and accomplishment of getting lost, and finding my way back. However, our group had been told that we were not to go anywhere outside without a guide. Wanting to be a “good” guest, while simultaneously resisting authority, I tested the boundary and walked slowly at the “edges” of the courtyard.
As I was walking, I happened across a group of three Tibetan Women who were trying to sell turquoise. Out of respect and curiosity I stopped and listened to the women. I didn’t really want to buy anything, but it was a good chance to be with the “real people.” As I was deciding whether or not to purchase a stone, I realized that all three of the women were looking at me and gesturing as if they wanted to touch me. Although I was hesitant, I began to edge forward, thinking they would just touch my arms. I still don’t know how my eyes came to be closed but they were closed. I became aware that the touching had traveled from my arms to my face and I began to feel unsettled as they kept gesturing towards my teeth as if to feel them. A jumble of indescribable emotions ran through me and I could feel my body tighten and begin to move into pounce state while simultaneously having an urge to run, even though my feet were feeling like they were stuck in mud. I didn’t know what to do or say or if to open my eyes. Before I knew it or could stop their touching, I felt all of these hands on my hair. Sure enough, a danger signal went off in my head.
My body was poised for protection from rejection. Perhaps I was in a primal state of warfare. Inside of myself I felt myself shaking my head no...and coming up with excuses for why it felt so strange or spongy. However, no words were escaping my lips as I began to open my eyes in anticipation…
What I was expecting and what I saw was enough to momentarily give me pause because there was a subtle wordless shift in my body. As I slowly opened my eyes expecting to see quizzical looks or judgement or fear, I saw none of that. I saw eyes that were shaped into a knowing smile, I saw three faces gazing softly with pure wonder and dare I say adoration. I didn’t need to have words that said you belong or that you are meant to be here or that you have nothing to prove, or that you’re not a mistake. I just knew that something was different.
I have come to think of that experience as one of liberation and as one of how we’re meant to belong in this delicate web of human and natural systems called life. In that moment of seeing the wonder in the women's eyes, I now believe that I was blessed with an opportunity to simply accept my belonging, not as conditional, not as something I have to do or perform, but as a fact. Belonging starts with me and perhaps later I may do more.
Questions to reflect upon:
How would you define belonging?
What are some of your earliest memories where you knew that you belonged? What were the messages you received? In those moments, how did you know that you belonged?
What are some of the other messages that you received about belonging? How has your life been shaped by those messages?
What messages have you received that said “you don’t or will not belong if you do or don’t these things?” What were the rules that defined membership? How has your life been shaped by those messages?
What are the things that you have left behind so that you could belong?
How can belonging be a liberatory practice?
Note: Sharon Turner is a certified professional coach working with individuals and organizations committed to manifesting justice in communities, the workplace, and individual lives. She currently lives in Oakland, California. For more information see http://sharonlturnerthenextstep.com.
©Wendy C. Horikoshi and Sharon Turner, 2021, firstname.lastname@example.org Please do not copy without permission, but feel free to pass this blog or website link with copyright.
"One must view the world through the eye in one's heart rather than the eye ie one's head."
Empowerment to families of Domestic Violence
I feel fortunate to have coached many leaders serving non-profits who provide shelter, services and support to families of domestic violence. October being Domestic Violence (DV) Awareness month, I wanted to share about the work of a former client who heads up Nurturing Empowerment Worth Safety, (NEWS), Domestic Violence and Sexual Abuse Services in Napa as a sample of what many DV services across the nation provide. NEWS brings hope to families in crisis, serving all people: 12% identify as male, 76% as female, 60% as Latinx.* Their first shelter was established in 1981. Seventeen years later they created a larger shelter. As our society began to recognize DV as an issue, the Federal Homelessness Prevention & Rapid Re-Housing Bill of 2009 helped NEWS expand housing and self-sustainability services.
Domestic Violence staff services tend to be highly skilled in emergencies. After the 2014 earthquake, due to their agility in crisis intervention, Napa Valley Community Foundation funded NEWS as second responders. During the fiscal year 2020-2021 NEWS services increased 28%, which may be a result of increased need during the Pandemic but also the Napa Police changing their protocols. Like many of the DV shelters, NEWS strives to work closely with police to help survivors utilize DV services. DV services often provide the police with trauma aware education, training and protocols to help gain the trust of survivors and ways in which they can treat victims with dignity and respect.
“One in 15 children are exposed to intimate partner violence each year and 90% of these children are eyewitnesses to the violence,” writes Elizabeth Alfaro, NEWS, Kids Exposed to Trauma. NEWS focuses on sexual violence prevention, trying to teach the root causes of sexual violence and breaking the cycle of violence.
In 2018, NEWS opened Miner House, a modular unit to serve male and LGBTQ victims. NEWS and other DV services throughout the country focus on children and education by fostering wellness in children exposed to trauma.
“Unhealthy relationships impart the mental health of a student and this ultimate reflects in their ability to thrive in different areas of their lives,” writes Roxanna Plancato, School Social Worker, Wellness Program, Napa Unified School District. Boys and girls are provided education and support through NEWS outreach and prevention programs. I also remember learning about a program led by a different coaching client that served high school boys, helping them become leaders while promoting safe, respectful and responsible behavior. This seems like a highly effective strategy for changing the culture, as males are more often than not the perpetrators of sexual violence.
NEWS Housing Assistant Property Manager Michelle Sanchez, tell us that “The most meaningful thing you can do for a struggling family is to help stabilize their housing. It’s hard to work or take care of children or pay their rent when you don’t have stable housing.” Providing housing, safety, community, training and skills can be very empowering. One DV shelter I know runs a café as a non-profit business so that individuals learn skills which help with employment and employability.
Creativity and Leadership
In the strained economic times we are living, all non-profits are struggling to get their stories out there and to have stable funding for the important work they are doing. This takes creativity and leadership, as well as stamina and passion.
As I review Napa NEWS Annual Report, it is clear to me that they are exercising all of these qualities. Their partnership with the schools, the police, their clients, the community and their funders all point to a dream which the community is embracing together. I want to mention their fundraising campaign: “$40 for 40 years,” which seems catchy and future-oriented. I commend Napa NEWS and all of the DV organizations in our communities for their work in delivering services to keep people safe, extending a life-line and teaching us how to be more compassionate and caring. We owe them a debt of gratitude. I hope you will consider supporting and donating to local DV services, especially during this month.
I worked as a leadership coach for the Executive Director of NEWS several years ago. At that time, Tracy, a white woman, used her grant money from her leadership program to engage in an intensive language program living in Mexico because of Napa’s a large Latinx population. She wanted the total immersion experience to learn more about the culture. Before she went to Mexico, she practiced speaking during coffee and lunch breaks to Latinx staff members and to her delight, discovered things about them that she would have never known. She felt privileged that they would chat together and share their life stories. Tracy would share with me candidly; about the work she was doing in ethnic affinity groups during diversity trainings and how it was hard work, yet necessary to come to terms with her white privilege, white mindset and how these issues are embedded within our institutions.
When I spoke briefly with Tracy last week inquiring about diversity and equity issues, she responded, “We have more to do.” In Napa County where about 35% of the population is Latinx, about 80% of NEWS staff, two-thirds of the program managers are Latinx, however, among the four program directors, none are Latinx. All of NEW’ services, literature, website info and communication are available in Spanish. NEWS has some Latinx Board Members, including the Napa County Sheriff.
Tracy’s response of having more to do, can be a reminder of how much more we have to do to create services that are safe, accessible and culturally-responsive. NEWS’ commitment to providing trauma-informed services is extremely important, especially in times of crisis. Taking into consideration all our differences of class, color, gender, sexual orientation, and mental or physical ability is a continual journey, and we must be vigilant to help keep the advancements that have been made.
Tracy and Alejandra Mendieta-Bedolla, the Crisis Intervention Manager, share that in dealing with domestic violence there is no easy answer. Going to the police or going to a shelter isn’t going to take care of everything. Some persons call NEWS and ask why someone won’t know leave an abusive situation. For many individuals, issues of finance, health, relationship and age all factor in to their decision-making and it may sometimes take years for persons to take action. Fear can lead to isolation, yet the prospect of leaving can also amplify the thought of losing connection and social support. Alejandra has heard victims say they adore the husband’s parents and that they are wonderful people. It breaks their heart to be responsible for putting their partner’s child in jail, negatively affecting the husband’s entire family. Breaking emotional ties can be extremely difficult. Leaving a stranger is one thing, but the victim knows one’s partner for many other qualities. NEWS’ website has a specific area on their website that addresses questions about abuse. If you or someone you care about needs help or want to talk with someone, call the National Hotline, 1 800-799-SAFE (7233).
Questions to reflect upon:
Why might it be hard for someone to leave an abusive relationship? What might you say or do to help a person in crisis?
Have you ever been in a difficult situation? What helped you resolve it? Have you had to make a difficult decision that you knew was a right one that helped you commit to making a change?
*Most of this information from this blog comes from Napa NEWS’ Annual Report 2020-21, available on their website. Thank you to Alejandra Mendieta-Bedolla for developing he questions to reflect upon and to both Alejandra and Tracy for sharing information and wisdom.
“The work of sexual violence prevention education is important because of the way it challenges pervasive myths and educates people about the root causes of sexual violence in order to promote culture change. They also help create environments where victims feel comfortable accessing resources and help without judgement and blame.” - Coach Baile, Sexual Assault Services with NEWS
I am very happy to present this month’s guest writer, Adriana Diaz, who has written about Hispanic Heritage Month. Adriana, a colleague from Prism, a culturally-aware coaching collective, shares “thoughts” on being Latina. Her words paint her rich cultural legacy and includes the story of how the Spanish first entered the Americas, connecting us with our Latinx, Raza, Hispanic heritage.
La Raza/Hispanic Heritage Month: What We Are and Who We Are
I’m a little envious of children growing up in a time when a month is set aside nationally to celebrate our race and our culture, even though we can’t seem to agree on what to call ourselves. Actually, that speaks to the great diversity within us-- all the colors and facets of our culture.
Where I grew up, I would say probably 85% of the local population was some form (Hispanic, Latino, Chicano) of our Raza. In fact, when the term, La Raza came to the foreground, I felt very proud that we had one word to unite us. To me the term Raza holds us together better than any of the more currently acceptable terms, which more frequently divide us. I consider us all part of the human race, nevertheless, the Spanish word Raza, meaning race, in my mind, speaks to an ancient and molecular essence that holds us together.
There’s a lot of ignorance and misinformation about those Spanish-speaking guys that came to the Western Hemisphere for the first time. In school we were taught that they were Europeans. They did fly the Spanish flag, so they are not incorrectly labeled as Spaniards, but they should not be defined as European Spaniards, nor thought of as the European Spaniards of today. The Spaniards that first came to the Americas were already a very diverse people, not much aware of Europe or its cultures. Many races and tribes of people had crossed and cultivated Iberia, that which became Spain and Portugal. It’s enormously important to know that from the year 711 until 1492, all of Iberia was an Islamic country called Al Andaluz. The southernmost region of Spain is still called Andalucía.
The year 1492, is the marker for Catholic victory over the last Islamic stronghold in the land mass that eventually became unified Spain, and it was the year that the victorious Catholic queen, Isabella, sent the first “conquistador” to claim even more territory and people for the Roman Catholic Church. Remember, they didn’t know they’d find gold, but they were pretty sure they’d find people. Even the first people that Columbus met did not have a lot of gold. Spaniards came to the western hemisphere as much to make a conquest for Roman Catholicism as for their flag. In those little ships they brought all of their diverse biology and cultures: their musical instruments, their swarthy complexions, their language, their animals, and even their physical characteristics. The fact that they intermarried with native people was also a continuation of what had already happened in Spain for centuries. This is something that did not happen with Northern European exploration in North America.
When I think of the “conquests” of Latin America, I never think of white people coming to the Americas for gold. Spaniards were a multi-racial people determined to proselytize, and create Catholics. Catholicism was the dominating force behind the conquest of Iberia, and the Americas. By the time of Spanish conquest in the Americas, thousands of Jews, Muslims, and others had already been tortured and burned in Spain for the sake of Roman Catholicism. Not many people realize that the Spanish Inquisition began in 1478 and it didn’t end until 1834.
If you are one of us, La Raza, you probably cannot know all the genetics of your being. I have a strange personal experience: I was raised Roman Catholic. But for some weird reason, I always felt Jewish. And through my life, without realizing it, many of my friends have been Jewish. I always have felt comfortable with Jewish people. For a long time, I didn’t know that many Jews had come in the Conquistadors’ little boats, escaping the Inquisition. Pockets of Jews across the Americas have been celebrating their religion beneath the veneer of Roman Catholicism since 1492. A couple of years ago through 23 and Me I received correspondence from a third cousin in Germany who is a practicing Orthodox Jew. He has taught me a good deal about our heritage dating back to Christ.
History seems so poorly taught in American schools, that I have had to put together this understanding about the New World over years of personal study. My research about the Islamic presence in the history and culture of Spain was triggered by the many times I’ve been mistaken as a Middle Eastern person, by Middle Easterners. My maternal family is from Andalucía. I’ve also been taken for Mexican and Argentine. Let’s face it, when “Hispanics” (I’m choosing one term for simplicity) are out in the general public, no one knows if we are Peruvian, Mexican, Cuban, Spanish, or Tunisian. Our beautiful diaspora is a tea that began steeping hundred of years ago. My skin color, the shape of my nose, my brown eyes and hair are evidence of that. And if you look at the now visible faces of La Raza in public life you see that the tea is still steeping.
What is America celebrating during Hispanic Heritage month? I doubt that most Americans know. I fear that Americans who have no personal sense of cultural or racial heritage file all designated celebrations under “Political Correctness”. To them, all the televised history and the reclaiming of courageous individuals is not interesting enough to watch, it may be considered for “Hispanics” or “the others.” The most important thing is that we know such programs can increase our understanding and the understanding of everyone. Whether we call ourselves Hispanic, Latino, Latinx, Chicano, or Raza we are learning that we are a glorious amalgamation of cultures, and that our people have contributed immensely to the world. Recently I watched a program on Public Television about an Indian musician who had approached a Spanish musician hoping to bring the two cultures together. They both recognized that the Romani people who brought Flamenco north to Iberia came from India. The music these two musicians are making together now is a beautiful cross-fertilization, a blending of rhythms and sounds that obviously have common roots.
I think Hispanic Heritage month is essentially a challenge, a way to push back against to the racism and discrimination the Raza has suffered and continues to endure in these post-modern times. I can’t imagine that there’s a single one of us that hasn’t felt the sting of it at some point.
As a child, I spent a lot of time with my paternal grandparents who were from Extremadura (Spanish province between Madrid and Portugal). I treasure my memories of them. Both my grandfathers spoke some English, my grandmothers did not. As if the language barrier were not enough, my paternal grandmother was profoundly deaf. We had to speak up for her, so the fact that we were Spanish-speakers was evident wherever we went. I must have been aware that people sometimes looked at us as we traveled on road trips every summer. I always presumed that we were admired, because to me my grandparents were amazing and courageous people. They left Spain as “indentured servants” and was actually called “bondage”. They sailed from Spain to Hawaii to work on sugar cane plantations in Hawaii. What great fortune, I thought, that these are my grandparents, and we speak Spanish as well as English. I felt sorry for people who didn’t speak Spanish. It seemed such a hardship.
I was lucky alright, but not exactly in the ways I thought. The pride I developed because of my grandparents became my fortress against epithets and hateful glances intended to diminish me and what I am. Some of those came even after Hispanic Heritage Month was declared, so I guess we still have work to do.
I began this piece by saying that I’m envious of young people growing up in a time when there is a national month designated for our culture. I’m not envious because I think children won’t hear epithets or insults, but because as a nation, we now have a month to bring us together and empower us in pushing against bigotry. We have a month to help us share a growing national consciousness and a greater sense of solidarity despite or because of the broad colors and textures of our diaspora.
My childhood experiences taught me a sense of pride in what I am before I even knew I needed to have pride in who I am. Multiple messages about modesty, consideration, respect for others, often teach us to put ourselves last, especially for girls. If we are honest, we know that our culture teaches girls to mother everyone and minimize personal physical, psychological and intellectual needs. Personal pride is something all children need to learn. For girls, striving for unconditional women’s dignity is often a campaign across cultural movements. For women, it’s often easier to stand up and speak out for our people than to stand up and speak out for ourselves. Women, especially, have a hard time with this. I’ve had to work on it all my life, in work and in personal situations.
Mine has been a life in the arts. I am a visual artist (a painter) and a writer. I became a life coach in 2000, and I marveled at how the tools I was learning in training were useful to my own process of individuation. I had already written a book about creativity (Freeing the Creative Spirit, HarperSan Francisco) but, having written such a guide for readers didn’t mean I had all the answers about the odyssey of my personal creative process.
Studying Art History, I felt proud to learn that some of the greatest painters in western art, were Spanish: Velazquez, Goya, Picasso, Tàpies (a Catalán). In my opinion Goya’s painting “The Third of May” is the first “third world” painting. That term has since been disused, but it is significant that in 1814 Goya opened the door for protest painting, a form of painting that still speaks for culturally or racially subjugated peoples around the world. The Third of May subject has become a tradition in Latin American art. In The Third of May, Goya illustrated the way institutions use their armies to torture, kill, and control their people with one of the most powerful and memorable images in western art.
I wish I could say that Goya’s genius somehow feeds my own painting. Intellectually and aesthetically, it is part of the foundation; energetically, it serves to push my brush. I suffer from always wanting more from my subconscious mind. I try to open the not conscious dimensions of being, to make that region available to my pencil, crayon, and brush. It is a region beyond what we know about ourselves, where the chemistry of “conquistadors” mixes with the dreams of a twenty-first century woman, and this ego--I hope to stand out of the way.
Question to reflect upon:
Thinking back over your life and the evolution of who you are, how did cultural or racial identity connect or counteract with your personal identity? What kind of fusion has occurred, and who are you now?
Note: Adriana Díaz is an author, teacher, visual artist, and certified life coach living in Oakland, California. Art has prepared her to be a life coach-- creating art can provide perspective and, like life, challenges us to grow and change to accomplish what makes us happy. Adriana’s first book Freeing the Creative Spirit has influenced the lives of artists around the globe; her more recently released novel, Tango Lessons is a suspenseful tale that takes place in Buenos Aires, Argentina. To see some of Adriana’s art go to the ACCI Gallery in Berkeley or go to https://Pinterest.com, search: Abstract Art – Adriana Diaz.
©Wendy C. Horikoshi and Adriana Diaz, 2021, email@example.com Please do not copy without permission, but feel free to pass this blog or website link with copyright.
*Hispanic Heritage Month is September 15-October 15.
“ ...it is not surprising that our debate with Spain should have been, and continues to be, so intense. For it is a debate with ourselves. And if out of our arguments with others we make politics, advised W. B. Yeats, out of our arguments with ourselves we make poetry. It is not always a well-rhymed or edifying poetry, but rather, at times an early dramatic, self-critical, even negative lyricism, as dark as a Goya engraving or as compassionately cruel as a Buñuel image.” The Buried Mirror, Carlos Fuentes, Mexican writer
I want to open this "thoughts" with a shout-out to Sunisa Lee, first Hmong American to medal in the Olympics, where she won a gold, silver and bronze in gymnastics. This year's Games continue to be protested for many reasons by the Japanese people, including the health dangers of Covid-19 and the economic expense that could go to many other critical issues. Amidst the challenges for all of the athletes these two past years, it has been inspiring to watch Sunisa bring pride to the Hmong community.
This month, Jamie Ramola, specialist in diversity, equity and women's rights, joins us as a guest writer. I think her story underscores how when one stands up against inequality, there is often a price to pay.
The Drumbeat of Equity
I was recently named in a Boston Globe article as “orchestrating” the “drumbeat of dissent.” The article was supposed to be an expose about the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) unrest at my (former) nonprofit that led to the executive director’s departure. It turned out to be a “nothing burger” - a term coined by a former colleague’s mom - where so many opposing views were brought to light, that it diluted the key issue of racism into a “she said, they said” quagmire.
"The 'Problem' Woman of Colour in the Workplace" cycle held true, again. People of Color (POC) are sought after, intentionally recruited, have a (short) honeymoon phase, and then the second we start to engage in Diversity, Equity and Inclusion DEI, work, BOOM goes the cannon and the clock starts ticking down the days we have left before we resign or get fired. I truly, and I mean truly, believed this time would be different. This organization had social change as a mission and social justice as a value. I was brutally honest in each interview about how important DEI work was and that as an executive member I would be centering equity in both the leadership of my department as well as in senior leadership meetings. I thought there was no way that I would get blindsided yet again by tokenizing, gaslighting, and white supremacy culture behaviors and actions.
Keep in mind that I worked for this company for less than two years. Although I had not been with the company long, it was apparent from day one (literally day one) that there were significant issues at the senior level around DEI. Since this was not my first rodeo, I started documenting all the microaggressions I witnessed or heard about immediately. This, and news that the executive director discussed firing me with one of my peers while I was out on medical leave after three months of work, led to me file a racial discrimination and retaliation grievance as well as a separate letter begging the board to intervene.
One rogue board member responded to my letter agreeing that the organization has had a long-standing issue with white supremacy culture and hoped that things would change with me naming it outright. The official board response was to hire an international law firm that represents management, exclusively. Shockingly (heavy sarcasm) the investigator sided with the Executive Director - and did so again three more times as three additional staff filed grievances for similar reasons. All four of us are no longer employees. Close to twenty staff have left since my departure in May - nearly half the organization in two months.
And yet, I am the one named as orchestrating dissent. This language is so powerful and dramatic. I have visions of myself meeting with people under the cover of darkness, plotting moves and countermoves, when in reality, I am the type of person who eats dinner at 5:30 pm, goes to bed at 8 pm, and does not get to see anything cool on Netflix because PBS kids is ALWAYS ON. Did I mention I am trying to sleep train a baby? I am, unsuccessfully.
After my fruitless attempts to create change, I experienced the official Time-For-You-To-Leave treatment. Everything I did was suddenly wrong. I was told I was inept and didn’t know my role, my job, or even how to prioritize my work anymore. The end had come.
I resigned. I gave the customary four weeks’ notice. In an unsurprising move, I was cut off of my work email three days later and told that I would get paid the remaining four weeks but that my services were no longer needed at the organization. Four other staff resigned that same week but all of them were allowed to keep working until their final day.
After my last day, a black woman who had defended me in an all-staff email was fired. This galvanized the staff. Thirty-two out of forty-seven staff filed a “vote of no confidence” letter demanding the resignation of the executive director. (I was not working when this took place. Honestly, I wish I had thought of it. Someone else was better at orchestrating dissent than I.) The executive director then “retired” giving three weeks' notice. She was allowed to continue to work her final weeks.
Racism is alive and well in nonprofits, even “radical” ones. I do not harbor ill will toward the ED (okay, maybe a little). It is it is clear this is a systemic issue, particularly in nonprofits. The former ED did not work alone. She was not able to cause the harm she did without allies and support and people willing to turn a blind eye. She was just a cog (albeit a powerful one) in the wheel of white supremacy culture. The board continues to state their unwavering commitment and dedication to DEI by hiring the fourth DEI consultant in less than two years to turn everything around. No one seemed to bat an eyelash when only white board members were on the DEI hiring committee.
With the Jan 6th racist and violent attacks finally being investigated, it’s easy to point and say, "What those people did was wrong." It is MUCH harder to understand the subtlety of racism at nonprofits. Advocating for DEI change as a POC can feel almost futile - rolling the proverbial boulder up a mountain type of impossible. White supremacy culture does not smash in your window or leave you with bruises, but it can feel just as terrorizing over a long period of time. It makes you question yourself, your reality, your mental health. It is anxiety-inducing and can cause actual physical pain, including PTSD.
While interviewing for a job, the article came up. I did not deny that that particular quote was referencing me. To my surprise, I was told that I should put the article in my cover letter and wear it like a badge of honor. I can tell you with all humility that being unemployed at 40+ with young kids, a mortgage, and car payments, does not feel like a win. I do not regret being vocal and advocating for myself and others, but it is a lonely and fraught place to be.
If I could re-write that article, I would share that I am no one special. What happened to me has happened and continues to happen regularly to POC staff who have the audacity to try to move DEI work from concept to action. I would share that DEI consultants are not going to save you. That they can often be used as a shield for more white supremacy culture. That formal channels of advocacy like grievances can actually uphold racist behaviors because they serve to protect those in power, who, at least in Boston, happen to almost always be white (senior leadership and board chairs). My former colleague said it best when she wrote to the executive director about her ineptitude in leading DEI work, “Do better, or leave.” I am looking at you, nonprofit board members, and senior leaders who say you are deeply committed to DEI. If you are the constant in an organization struggling to truly embrace DEI, then you should indeed, do better, or leave.
Questions to reflect upon:
Can you concretely identify how you have supported staff of color? How? Would staff of color identify you as an ally?
Are you involved with Diversity, Equity and Inclusion efforts at your workplace? Does your organization have equity initiatives? If yes, how have you contributed to actionable change?
How will you ensure your DEI efforts, both individual and/or systemic, live beyond a DEI consultant or a lone staff member with a DEI title?
Note: Jamie is a transracial Korean adoptee and has 20 years of experience training and leading change in a variety of settings. She has worked in nonprofits across the US including rape crisis agencies in Minneapolis and Boston, running training and events teams for national organizations including uAspire and YouthBuild USA, and delivering state-wide training for the MA Office of Victim Assistance and the Asian Taskforce Against Domestic Violence. She has taught English in South Korea and worked for San Diego State University and Cirque du Soleil in California. Colleagues describe her as high energy, supportive, strategic, and passionate about equity. Whether it’s a global pandemic or not, she can be found going on many family nature hikes, eating Korean BBQ, and smack-talking during card games.
©Wendy C. Horikoshi & Jamie Ramola, 2021, firstname.lastname@example.org
“The fact that we are here and that I speak not these words is an attempt to break that silence and bridge some of the differences between us, for it is not difference which immobilizes us, but silence. And there are so many silences to be broken.” -Audre Lorde, Black Writer
Continual Growth of our Nation
I am a leadership coach/trainer and my area of focus is learning and development, with an emphasis on transformation and equity. Having just celebrated Independence Day, I believe that collectively as a society, we are tasked with the dream of striving towards “a more perfect union,” as cited in the Preamble to the U.S. Constitution in 1787. During this holiday, I think of words from the Declaration of Independence, adopted in 1776 by the Second Continental Congress, “We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Since the birth of our country, the word, “Men,” has been interpreted by courts and Congress, to encompass all people, whether it be women, persons from other shores besides European countries, native peoples, persons forcibly brought here as slaves, gay, straight and transgender people, as well as persons with mental and physical challenges. This is a dynamic, changing process, which does not grow without challenges. Just as the Statue of Liberty beckons people to our shores, the principles of liberty and justice beckon us. Lin Manuel demonstrates in his Broadway musical, “Hamilton,” with persons of diverse backgrounds playing characters from our country’s history, and this story represents the diversity that has always existed in this country. “Hamilton” carves out a fresh new way of understanding “self-evident truths.”
If we review how post-Civil War Jim Crow laws sprang up to keep former slaves from working for compensation, owning land, living as neighbors with White people, shopping and going to school in our communities, today, many rules and prevailing power systems seem to be counterattacking the self-evident truths that all people are created equal. After electing an African American president, we experienced the backlash through the selection of a racist white leader. With Black Lives Movement mobilizing the voice of racial inequity and our country experiencing the highest voter turn-out with record highs of African Americans voting for 2020 elections, we also watched in horror how many citizens stormed the Capitol on the day Congress was certifying the election of President Biden and Vice President Harris. Indeed, we seem to be reliving the Jim Crow era, accompanied by continued legislative sanctions by individual states to limit voting rights. There is increased violence and hate crimes perpetuated against Asians, continued detention of immigrant children, construction of pipelines through Native territories and continued violence, death and curtailment of civil liberties, which heightens the trauma for people of color. Are we at a turning point where we, as a society, will move towards a more perfect union of self-evident truths, or will we close our eyes to the disparities in our communities that wish to keep the same power structures in place that disadvantage BIPOC and the poor? Are we willing to examine our economic systems, even if it means that we can’t hang on to privileges that we may have to share in order to promote equal opportunity for all people?
I’m realizing that I can celebrate the Fourth of July, with my eyes upon the vision of a more perfect union, as declared in the Preamble of the Constitution. Although many social justice advocates are driven by this vision every day of their lives, perhaps this day is a special one in that can propel and motivate us towards the healing, growth and transformation of that dream of a more perfect union. Hope you enjoyed the holiday and that throughout this month ponder, how can we individually and as a nation promote self-evident truths of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for all people in our communities and country.
Questions to reflect upon:
Do you have certain traditions for the Fourth of July? How might they embody the vision to create a more perfect nation?
As a leader, how can you grow to be a more accepting and inclusive person who strives to bring out the best in other people?
“Maybe it was impossible to disentangle one’s motives. I recalled a sermon by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., called ‘The Drum Major Instinct.’ In it, he talks about how, deep down, we all want to be first, celebrated for our greatness; we all want ‘to lead the parade.’ He goes on to point out that such selfish impulses can be reconciled by aligning that quest for greatness with more selfless aims. You can strive to be first in service, first in love. For me, it seemed a satisfying way to square the circle when it came to one’s baser and higher instincts. Except now I was also confronting the obvious fact that the sacrifices were never mine alone Family got dragged along for the ride, put in the line of fire. Dr. King’s cause, and his gifts, might have justified such a sacrifice. But could mine?" -Barack Obama, A Promised Land, p. 71
June is Gay Pride Month and I’ve asked Kira Salde-Azzam, a community leader and organizer, to write this month’s “thoughts.” I really appreciate Kira’s reflections which help us understand differences that we do not live.
Reflections on Ancestral Wisdom and Healing from the Internal Struggle of Being "Different"
After listening to Robert Kikuchi-Yngojo’s song, "Different Picture," (shared in Wendy’s “thoughts” last month,) I resonated deeply with this idea of people having questioned “what I am” from a very young age. This questioning has often shaped the way that I navigate and negotiate spaces that I’m in. My parents taught us from a young age that my brothers and I are mixed race and that we are Filipino-American and White. It wasn’t until 9/11/2001, when the World Trade Center was attacked and the U.S. went to war that I began to learn about my Palestinian history. My paternal grandfather, whom had passed in 1997, was Palestinian-American, from Jerusalem. And because my last name was Azzam, people started teasing me and calling me names at my high school. This was the first time I remember feeling ashamed for being different. On my maternal side, our family was fisherfolk and farmers in the Philippines and came to California by way of C&H Sugar Company in Hawaii in the late 1940’s. Both sides of my family kept from teaching their children, my parents, their own languages, as they worked to assimilate into U.S. society and culture. I have often felt ashamed that I don’t know the languages that they spoke or know how to cook their traditional dishes. This separation from culture has made me question myself, even asking myself “what I am,” and to where I belong.
As I have yearned to learn more about my own history, I have come to learn about the struggle for justice and liberation in the countries of my familial origin. And I have come to learn of many countries who struggle against the exploitation of land and people because of U.S. Imperialism. As a person now living in diaspora, because of the forced migration of my Filipino family due to harsh economic conditions and the forced migration of my Palestinian family because of genocide happening in Palestine, I know what privilege I have in the U.S. and also what responsibility I have. Part of responsibility is to raise my child, and hopefully future children to know our heritage and teach them to be critical thinkers and hopeful believers in a different kind of society.
My partner and I have been together for almost 12 years and we are co-parenting to raise our mixed-race child, who is now 3 years old. Though we both come from different ethnic backgrounds, my partner’s being Chinese and Filipino and myself Filipino, Palestinian, and white, we both have searched to understand history by traveling to the places where our families come from. For myself, I have romanticized many times, the familiar smells of food cooking, the familiar sounds of the language, the familiar faces to my eyes. But there is also a shared heartache and pain of feeling as though there is no land that you belong to. And so I think about “what I am, who I am, where I am.”
I have found the ocean to be the great connector. Mama Ocean is where I sometimes tell my family I’m going when I need some healing space or somewhere to connect back to self, or feel connected to ancestors and earth and spirit.
I feel the presence of our ancestors with us as we walk throughout this life together. And although times are changing, and we are moving towards hearing and seeing more people of color in mainstream media, I can also say that as queer people and queer parents, it sometimes feels like we’re overwhelmed by all of images of nuclear white families. Now having watched many Children and Family Movies, it is glaringly obviously that there are so many that have only white families with a mom, dad and 1-3 children. We see this image of family in our stores, in the media, and even walking down our street. Of course, our daughter is going to then play with her dolls and give everyone a Mom and a Dad. To her, our family is the exception. Even of our organizer friends that are growing their families and having kiddos, there are so many straight couples and households that look similar, but not quite like ours. Even the support for my partner, as the non-birthing parent has been hard to find - not because our community doesn’t love and embrace her, but I think because folks don’t think of inviting her into their “Papa’s groups” because well, she’s not a “papa.” We are also among the first of our queer friends to have a child. So, there was limited information available to us about what our options are and what’s safe for us which caused us to have years of conversation, research, and planning before we even tried to have a baby. And then we have to take into consideration the fact there are so few Asian American donors in sperm bank registries, and we only had two choices of Filipino donors to choose from. It seems lucky, or maybe divine timing that we were grateful and excited about the donor we chose. All this is to say that we still have a long way to go as a society. Queer families are under-represented in media and information about queer family building is not easily accessible.
As a queer family, we have also experienced times with our physicians that have been both humiliating and traumatizing, during this process. This led us to choose a home birth for our daughter. We worked with a midwife, who provided the knowledge and medical support that we needed, and she upheld our rights as parents.
Somehow, having a home birth helped me to feel more empowered and more connected to my ancestors, and in particular, my mother figures, including Mama Ocean. When I think of myself as a mother, I hope that my daughter knows that she was raised collectively, and that she is a product of hundreds of years of resilience and strength. I hope that she knows that what she is, is beloved and that just by existing she is a symbol of hope and of resilience. I believe that my feeling of difference has given me opportunity to be with those who also straddle the margins, who swim in the seas of diaspora, and that maybe this labeling of “difference” is really a connection to our internal wisdom, our internal divine spirit.
Question to reflect upon:
In what ways have you experienced difference and how might it push you to, or how has it pushed you to recognize injustice in our society?
How can recognizing these differences help you to be a better leader?
Note: Kira Salde-Azzam is a third generation Filipina-Palestinian-American from Los Angeles, California. She moved to San Francisco to pursue an undergraduate degree and graduated from San Francisco State University in 2009. She has worked as the Community Organizer of the Palestine Program at Buena Vista United Methodist Church in Alameda. She also staffed the Friends of Wadi Foquin, an organization in partnership with the village of Wadi Foquin, located in the Occupied West Bank, Palestine and the Stories of Palestinian Diaspora, documenting the lives of Palestinians living in the SF Bay Area, and their journey from Palestine. Kira currently works with the CA-NV Philippine Solidarity Task Force and the Northern California National Ecumenical Forum for Filipino Concerns (NEFFCON NorCal), both organizations committed to human rights in the Philippines.
©Wendy C. Horikoshi & Kira Salde-Azzam, 2021, email@example.com
“We should indeed keep calm in the face of difference, and live our lives in a state of inclusion and wonder at the diversity of humanity.” -George Takei, Asian Actor, Writer, Gay and Community Activist
“There are so few truth-speaking traditions in this society in which the myth of ‘Western civilization’ has claimed the allegiance of so many. We have rarely been encouraged and equipped to appreciate the fact that the truth works, that is releases the Spirit and that it is a joyous thing.” -Toni Cade Bambara, Black Writer Activist
“Love him and let him love you. Do you think anything else under heaven really matters?” – James Baldwin, Black writer, Civil Rights and Gay Liberation Leader
Our Family Portrait
My husband, Peter, and I were singing the song, “Different Picture” by Robert Kikuchi-Yngojo from the CD, “Yokohama, California,” ©1977, which was first circulated as a record album in 1977, https://youtu.be/O2sDDDZegPM. Robert and Peter were bandmates in this group. Last week we offered the song to celebrate Asian Pacific Islander Heritage Month and to speak up and against the racial hatred against Asians in America that has ramped up this past year. Not only does the song point out racial injustices and stereotypes that have been occurring throughout our country’s history, but reveals how interwoven racialized thinking is embedded within everyday life. It doesn’t take much for racism to rear its ugly head. As I was reviewing the words, I began to understand the meaning of the words, not only for us as Asians in contemporary times, but also in the racial history of BIPOC communities. How we see things, the images that are painted in our minds and that we project out to the world, have great impact and influence. Leadership in our world requires understanding differences and doing our own work to learning how differences affect equal access and opportunity.
Can you tell me who I am as if I didn’t know.
You have tried to paint my portrait but the truth you failed to show.
Just what image do you conjure when you look at me?
Do the memories of Charlie Chan make you doubt I’m American?
The first three lines of Verse 1 apply to all BIPOC people. The stories of Native people, Asian Americans, Latinx, African Americans are rarely told, and up until recently, they were narrated from a white perspective about how “other” people affected what was considered the “normal” or European way of life. In an “Unlearning Prejudice” workshop I was leading, I remember being told by a participant that when she came from her country to the San Francisco Bay Area on an exchange program, she was warned to be wary of Blacks and the Black areas of town. She believed that this orientation reinforced that they all needed to fear Black people.
The last line of Verse 1 refers to Charlie Chan, which is a character in a series of murder books and movies. These stories followed a Chinese detective who worked as a Honolulu police officer, and was a “good” person as opposed to the few Asian characters in other movies who were always the villains. Charlie Chan embodied the “model minority,” of the hard-working, subservient Asian. The model minority was used to contrast other minorities as lazy, unintelligent and violent. This myth is dangerous and harmful for Asians, as well, because it generalized that all Asians are high-achieving, universally successful and don’t complain. Charlie Chan spoke broken English and was portrayed by a white man in “yellowface.” Even in recent years, there have been white actors who play Asian characters, not recognizing when the portrayal is a stereotype and unthinking about the few roles available for Asian actors.
Well, I’m not surprised that you don’t know from which land my ancestors came.
Was it the Philippines or maybe Japan?
You give me that line that we all look the same.
You have painted a different picture; it doesn’t look a thing like me.
Then you flashed it all through the media, so the only thing they will see,
Is a lousy yellow slanted eyed fellow on your color T.V.
The second, third and last lines of Verse 2 give us deeper meaning of what it is to be Asian American. Being Asian does not connote being from a specific country. There are many similarities in Asian cultures, but not the same history, foods, music, and perhaps most importantly, not the same languages. Unfortunately, many of the shared aspects in this country are how Asian Americans have endured similar discrimination and racism. Since the Asian American movement in the 70’s, identifying as a collective group of people has been important to gaining a voice in our society. Especially in the past few years, there is better representation of Asians on T.V and movies. And yet, stereotypes of Asians abound and there are many Asians with lack of and limited access to food, housing, health and education. Robert Kikuchi-Yngojo is clever in the line “lousy yellow slant-eyed fellow on your color T.V.” Robert, Peter and I grew up in a time where the technology of black and white T.V. changed to color. Just being able to see different colors does not provide an authentic image of Asians. I believe that stereotyping of BIPOC will only be dismantled when all of our histories are shared and when stories about BIPOC are written by BIPOC persons and viewed by the larger population.
The first, fourth and fifth lines of Verse 2 are appropriate for all BIPOC. Growing up, we were not taught multicultural history. This country broke down the social institution of family for people of color. Our country brought slaves, deliberately separating African American parents from their children and husbands from their wives in order to minimize connection and social support. During the previous administration, immigrant children from Latin America, were purposely separated and jailed apart from their parents and families. Native Americans were forced from their homelands and Native children removed to boarding schools where they were punished for speaking their language(s). This stripping of one’s culture, language and religion also applied to Latinx immigrants, African and Asian Americans. White dominant “culture” tended to erase the knowledge of “which land my ancestors came” in order for white people to maintain control and power, (which Isabel Wilkerson identifies in her book of Caste.)
I know you’ve heard that one picture is worth a thousand words.
But even a million have no meaning if the truth can’t be heard.
These words from the Bridge could be an anthem for BIPOC communities. A single picture may not include diverse perspectives and stories. In fact, it may represent a mistruth. In the first line of this Bridge, there is a play on the saying, “One picture is worth a thousand words.”
I’ll bet you think I’m an uppity coolie, well, baby you’ve got it bad.
And it’s about time or me to speak up, get your burden off of my back.
Like I’ve mentioned you’ve been misled into believing lies.
And you’ve been staring at a picture that’s been painted with blinded eyes.
Like a fool they’ve pulled the wool over your eye.
“Burden off my back” is a reference to the term, “white man’s burden.” Rudyard Kipling wrote a poem with this title of “White Man’s Burden.” In it, he encouraged the annexation of the Philippines during the Spanish-American war.
It was a phrase that not only justified imperialism but echoed the looking down on how the U.S. would be helping “brown,” “simple” people who were of a "lower" class.
“Coolie” in the 1700’s referred to low-wage worker in India and China. By the 1800’s, this country began to ship and hire more laborers from Asia. Coolie became a derogatory word to refer to Asian workers on plantations in the U.S. When slavery was outlawed, sources of cheap labor were needed. Today, we still face this system in the U.S. where immigration is vital to U.S. production. Our country thrives on low wage workers (as well as importing production from other countries where they can pay lower wages, use child labor and aren’t subject to humane and ecological working conditions.) And yet, BIPOC persons who come from other countries are not welcomed as candidates for citizenship. Even when immigrants of color are citizens, they are seen as foreigners and outsiders. This is true for Asians, Latinx persons even if their families have lived here for many generations. In different ways than immigration, African Americans and Blacks in this country are often made to feel as though they are outsiders.
And in the darkness, you didn’t hear about Manzanar or Tule Lake
Now it has been thirty-four years ago, you locked up more than a big mistake.
This second Bridge refers to the forced assembly and mass evacuation of 120,000 persons of Japanese Americans during WWII. It is one big mistake where this country has tried to apologize and begin to make up for the illegal mass incarceration. The Civil Liberties Act of 1988 provided reparations and an apology for those still living. This Act that can provide precedence towards reparations for slavery and for the violence and confiscation of lands from Native people.
Now can you tell me who we are, people of the land?
We’re gonna paint our own family portrait, brothers and sisters hand in hand.
You’ll discover a different picture; I know you’ll be surprised.
For the first time you’ll know a story that you’ve never heard before.
People like me trying to be free.
People like me trying to be, People like me trying to be
People like me trying to be free.
I think this verse could be an anthem for BIPOC communities. Many white people may also be searching for the same thing--being “free,” but our stories are different and diverse and need to be a part of the whole history that we teach and learn. Incidents of racism can often isolate the targeted group from other BIPOC persons and communities. In a family portrait where we walk “hand in hand,” we must recognize racism for what it is, and continually strive to be allies with each other.
“Different Picture” was recorded in the late 70’s by musicians wanting to express their feelings about the Asian American movement and to encourage other Asian Americans “to assert themselves creatively.”1 I think this concept resonates for us today in our desire for racial justice. Kiku111chi-Yngojo’s message is an important one for leaders today.
Questions to reflect upon:
What have all of the incidents and attacks on Asian Americans brought up for you? Have you talked with Asian Americans and asked or heard what it brings up for them?
Do you notice patterns of disdain, hate and pejorative treatment towards Asians that have similar motivation as mistreatment towards other people of color? What are those patterns?
What is one thing that you can do to resist racism?
1 “ Different Picture,” Yokohama California, Music Annex: San Jose, CA, 1977. (Remastered CD is available at YokohamaCa.com)
April is “Celebrate Diversity Month.” This month, Babalwa Kwanele, M.S., joins us as a guest writer on working together in these current times of challenge and strife. Among other issues, Babalwa supports youth and families in addressing racial trauma.
In next month’s issue of Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month, my “thoughts” will address anti-Asian violence and standing as allies with the Asian and Pacific Islander communities.
Lifting Together to Create Change
Thank you, Wendy, for your invitation to write this article for Celebrate Diversity Month. Over the past year we have often heard “We are all in this Together” a call from the United Nations to address human rights and the tragic experiences resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. As a guest writer on this blog, I posit the question, what does it really mean to say; “We are all in this Together?” I hope to answer that question, and raise a few other points that may be helpful on our collective recovery and growth journey. This piece is written from the lens of a licensed mental health therapist with a specialization in complex trauma and racial equity.
We-means a group of people that includes oneself
Are-searching for meaning
All-Everyone is uniquely diverse
In-A current place and situation that is influenced by the past and shapes the future.
This-Collective trauma, pain, grief and loss, recovery, healing, and growth
Together-Individuals connected by a shared experience and a desire to survive
Who is the proverbial "We"? This is a simple, yet a complex question. On the surface, “we” is simply a single person in the company of at least one other individual. “We” could be oneself in reference to a collection of people in one’s family, city, state, or country. “We” could be oneself in reference to the planet in which one lives, giving a nod to the fact that “we” share the same planet. Each member of the “we” has a collective story with a past, present, and a future. “We” is more than one—it is a collection of people who live on the same planet, breathe the same air and who are
warmed by the same sun.
“Are” seems to be such a funny looking word when standing all alone. When added with other words, it no longer looks so strange, it can a become profound action: “We are searching for meaning”. Finding meaning in one’s life is a human response effort to process and understand extraordinary events in order to learn, heal, and grow from it. Many persons are trying to understand the inhumane, harmful, frightening, and traumatic experiences that have unfolded in the last year. Many are searching for meaning and understanding in all that has transpired with both COVID-19 and America’s new moral racial awakening. Life for most people has been jolted into a new reality. Yet for others, this jolt has also come with an added sense of pain and validation for the unheard minority members of society; who had long pointed out the injustice, discrimination and inequities in the social determinants of health. Thus, we are not in a melting pot, rather “are” a collection of fascinating cultures, ethnicities, races, and genders.
"All" is a word of inclusion; it allows for the celebration of diversity, and opens the door to stand together to strive for justice. In lessons learned from the COVID-19 pandemic, “all” have been impacted by a seemingly invisible force which caused society to take another look at the word “all”. “All” also encompasses the uniqueness of each culture, and seeks to warmly accept the differences, thereby creating a beautiful tapestry of life. This concept goes against the grain of what “mainstream” society teaches that “We are all just the same, I see no color” and against the supremist ideology that one race is dominate by birthright.
"In" describes the current, seemingly protracted, complicated situation that we are all in with COVID-19 and racial injustice. Our current circumstances in this Country are greatly influenced by past histories and current experience of multi-generational trauma, racism, and inequity. These realities have bred mistrust and pain as seen from multiple vantage points, it has opened the door to new creative words to describe an untruth, such as alternative facts. “IN” has flooded COVID-19 recovery effort with shrouds of doubt, which added one of the largest global public health and economic emergency in modern history. Hundreds of thousands of lives were lost, millions ill, and millions more are in financial dire. We are, indeed “in” a collective crisis.
"This" word has been the most mystifying set of combined letters forming a word which desperately grasps to explain what is happening to all of us now. What is “this?” “This” experience is a shared collective, national and global trauma. The very people who many turn to for help, healthcare workers, mental health practitioners, clergy, educators, and scientists are hurting just like everyone else, yet maintaining the drive to help others while existing in this shared reality. They are also experiencing a reality of pain, grief and loss on a massive unthinkable level. Families have lost loved ones due to COVID-19, racial injustice, and hate; may we say all of their names to remember them. “This” is also a time where we have seen the tireless efforts of human kindness to save lives; the unlocking of creative genius to help a fellow human, and the hope for a better day. “This” traumatic experience for some people may provide a “gift of trauma” in which one moves to a very different place in life. In using one of my cliches “one has to hug the cactus first in order to get to the other side of pain”*. After recovery and healing efforts are well underway, one may reach a place where inner-wisdom and light is found, untapped potential may become released taking them to a beautiful space in life that they never imagined-- a place where the challenges of microaggressions and macroaggressions are met with bold determination and justice. In “this” space, life holds a different meaning, as does love, relationships, and struggle for positive progressive change, because one has experienced the possibility where that very life and breath is at risk of being lost or changed forever.
"Together" connotes a shared collective experience where the primary driving force is to survive, thrive, live, and be free. “Together” all have seen the callousness in the taking of Mr. George Floyd’s life, igniting a global outcry for justice, equity, and liberation for the lives of others before him and after him which have been lost or changed forever, so we say their names. “Together” we are people of different hues and shades are hurting, healing, growing, and loving.
The reality and histories that “we” hold helps us to see that each of us “are” finding meaning in the shared understanding that “all” of our uniquely diverse communities are “in” “this” shared collective experience “together”. When lifting together, we can create change, because: “WE ARE ALL IN THIS TOGETHER.”
Questions to reflect upon:
Think of an incident where you “hugged the cactus.”
-How did you heal or begin to heal from it?
-Was the pain/loss/grief that happened to you as an individual or related to the history of being not from the “in-group” socioeconomically, culturally, linguistically, or by gender, LGBTQ, religion, mental/physical illness?
-Is there more healing or moving towards wholeness that you might benefit from?
-Have there been individuals or groups/organizations that have helped and supported you in your healing? What was it that helped?
-What might you do to help others who have been afflicted by the incident or similar pain?
In today’s current society of the Pandemic and hopefully heightened awareness of racial injustice, what might you be doing to actively support persons who may be suffering from similar pain, including collective or historic pain?
*Many years ago, Ms. Kwanele coined the phrase, “hug the cactus” when watching Lion King with her children. Simba tumbled down and fell into a cactus, only to learn that there were many cacti that he needed to get through to get to the other side. He was running from a painful traumatic experience, that he was unable to face. Once on the other side of the cactus, he began a journey of self-exploration, worked through his trauma and used the experience to empower himself, and later became a King. Babalwa used this expression of “hug the cactus” with her children, who are now young adults. Babalwa also began to incorporate the Lion King story into her trainings to help others understand the deeper meaning of hugging the cactus to get to the other side. More recently, the concept of “hug the cactus” became popularized by Robert Downey, Jr. in the alcohol and recovery world.
Note: Babalwa Kwanele is an African American, a social justice community organizer and Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. She can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org
©Wendy C. Horikoshi & Babalwa Kwanele, 2021, email@example.com
“In order for our organizations to become vehicles for change and not obstacles that contribute to the status quo, we need to find new ways of collaboration by sharing vision, learning from each other, planning joint strategies and sharing resources. When we disagree, we need to resolve it and move forward. When we mess up, we need to own it and be forgiving. Our work must be fueled not by scarcity and competition, but by a spirit of abundance and camaraderie.” -Roby Rodriquez, Latino Organizer
We have just passed a full year of being in isolation with the Pandemic. It is sobering to acknowledge that over 549,526 people have died from COVID-19, with over 2,686,077 persons worldwide, and so many of them needlessly so. For those of us who have been able to receive the vaccine, we are grateful and encourage you to take it when it’s your turn. (For state of California register at https://myturn.ca.gov
or CA COVID-19 Hotline at 1-833-422-4255. Help is available to all who need assistance with mobility, language, interpretation, or other accommodations.)
In earlier “thoughts” we have discussed another Pandemic, one of racial injustice which ends up targeting Black, Indigenous, People of Color, BIPOC. Perhaps this time of social reckoning can help us “rethink” and/or recommit to better understanding the history and social fabric of the U.S. Karen Keefer, a colleague who worked with me on the faculty of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator Qualifying Program responded to my last month’s question about Caste: The Origins of our Discontent, by Isabel Wilkerson and is this month’s guest writer.
As we celebrate Women’s History Month, see Karen’s column.
New Ways to Look at Heritage Experiences
In your recent newsletter you asked to hear from people who have read Isabel Wilkerson’s book Caste. I read it this fall, and it changed the way I see American society.
This was the third book in a row that my book group of eight women tackled as a result of the George Floyd killing and aftermath; we started with Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates, then read Toni Morrison’s Beloved at the suggestion of the one Black woman in our group, and finally read Caste. I could hardly put down Between the World and Me, which is written as a letter from a Black father to his teenage son. The writing was so expressive and really drew me into his experience. I had started Beloved more than 20 years ago but didn’t get very far because the brutal treatment of slaves was so hard to take. This time I finished it, but it was still disturbing to read. I found Caste hard work, again because the examples were hard to take. Wilkerson has researched it so thoroughly that every point she makes has at least one historical example to illustrate it; many of those examples are heart-rending. I got her main point in a quick “aha”; the framing of our supposedly “classless” society as an actual caste system fit so many things, including the other two books I had just read. In this view, WASPs (White Anglo-Saxon Protestants) are on the top, Blacks and Native Americans are on the bottom, and other ethnic groups are in between.
At first it seemed as though wading through the whole book would be repetitive - but it wasn’t. Wilkerson has different points to make, and she builds her arguments carefully and persuasively. Still, it wasn’t easy to absorb it all. Most of my book group didn’t make it all the way through. We still had an interesting discussion, though I don’t know that anyone else had as big an “aha” as I did. (Maybe they didn’t need their noses rubbed in the reality of racism as much as I did.) After Caste we decided to move on from our Black Lives Matter self-education and read something a bit lighter!
Discussing race and racism is pretty new to me. I grew up in places that were virtually all white. The class ahead of mine in high school had two Black students, twin sisters; the only ethnic diversity in my own graduating class was one Japanese boy. The Japanese boy was one of the “smart kids” in my advanced math class and College Prep English, and I knew the Black girls through the Speech and Debate Team and Drama Club. None of them seemed that “different” from me because they had similar talents and they valued academics the way I did. None of them had accents, or emphasized their ethnicity in the way they dressed or acted. Looking back, I think I just ignored their ethnic differences and patted myself on the back for being color-blind (it was, after all, the ’60’s). But I wasn’t close to any of them, and never met their parents or went to their homes, so didn’t have any real sense of their “differentness”. I think the only personal encounter with racism I had growing up was the three years when my family lived in Bethesda, Maryland and many of my friends were Jewish. They had stories of grandparents fleeing the Holocaust and parents having been discriminated against. However, that was generations removed from our teenage lives. Discrimination against women was much more visible and real to me than racism.
I’ve had a variety of “race education” experiences, including one of Laurie Lippin’s “whiteness” workshops, but I’ve only realized the extraordinary level of privilege that I and my forebears have had, due to our whiteness, since reading Caste. More recently, in trying to understand white supremacy, I’ve seen how easily that attitude can be embedded in family tradition.
Both my and my husband’s families are white, western-European as far back as we can trace - England, Ireland, Germany, Switzerland, France. Most of our great-grandparents grew up on farms - in Ohio, Michigan, Indiana and Nebraska. Our grandparents valued education (some were highly educated themselves, the rest encouraged it for their children), and our fathers both were WW II veterans who went to college on the GI Bill. Both of them were the first in their families to go to college, and the only ones in their generation to earn PhDs. We are proud of the accomplishments of our family members, and we try to live up to - and have passed on to our children - the values that were instilled in us around integrity, hard work, importance of family, commitment in marriage, good citizenship, careful money management, valuing education and trusting science. Dave’s Wyoming extended family and my Indiana-transplanted-to-Colorado parents also imbued us with “Little House on the Prairie” ideals of pull-yourself-up-by-the-bootstraps independence and self-reliance. We had the comfortable middle-class lives we had because of the intelligence, skill, hard work, resourcefulness and thrift of those who came before us - it was earned.
Reading Caste and encountering all those examples of prejudice, discrimination and suppression page after page, had me start to see that so much of what I have now was made possible by white privilege. Some of our people were discriminated against, like my non-English-speaking German ancestors who had to make do with the poorest farmland and kept moving west hoping for something better. But they weren’t robbed of their labor by the institution of slavery. None of them had their land seized by the U.S. Government, or were told where they had to live, or had their children taken from them and put in boarding schools were they weren’t allowed to speak their native language. Their white European heritage placed them in a higher caste, safe from such treatment.
I find myself wondering: If my husband Dave’s great grandmother hadn’t been white, would she have had enough college courses and enough standing in the community to allow her to take a job as a Wyoming school superintendent when her husband died suddenly in 1903, leaving her with four children to raise? If Dave’s grandfather hadn’t been white, would he have been admitted to graduate school at Columbia in 1913? If my grandfather hadn’t been white, would he have been able to go to medical school in Indiana in 1920? If my parents and my husband’s parents hadn’t been white, would they have been able to buy homes in neighborhoods with good schools for me and Dave? The high social standing and valued skills of their highly educated white fathers got both our mothers’ families through the Depression without severe deprivation. And those grandfathers’ careers as college professor and medical doctor allowed them to accumulate wealth to pass on to their daughters’ families. The gifts from my mother’s parents allowed my folks to begin saving early for their children’s college educations, making it possible for me to attend Stanford and my sisters to go to the schools of their choice.
In the homes my husband and I grew up in, we tended to see ourselves as smarter than most people, managing life in better ways than many people, having been lucky along the way, but being better off than most Americans largely because of our own efforts. In other words, we felt superior, though we didn’t actually say that. I hadn’t seen our “we deserve this” point of view as white supremacy until I read Caste, but now I think that white supremacy is also part of our family tradition.
All of Dave’s and my American ancestors were northerners and never owned slaves that we know of, but in my family, there are stories about relations with Indians, all of which portray the Indians in a bad light. At least one ancestor was involved in deadly conflict with Native Americans in Colonial times, and multiple lines in our genealogies cut down trees and established farms on former Indian lands over the centuries, from the Eastern seaboard west as far as Indiana. This was all just presented to me as stories of our family history, with no value judgments about those events. I was stunned when, some years after my father’s death, my mother mentioned that for a while in the 1920’s my father’s father had been a member of the Ku Klux Klan in Indiana. Seeing the look on my face, Mom reassured me that, “We don’t know that he ever burned a cross on anyone’s lawn,” and, “That’s what all the small businessmen in town were expected to do back then.” In the fall of 1967, my senior year of high school, with civil rights marches in the news, my father surprised my sisters and me by telling us he hoped none of us would want to marry a Black man. Not that he would have a personal objection, he said, but because interracial marriage was so controversial and it would make our lives very hard. It wasn’t as if we’d be likely to do that, as there were no Black people in our neighborhood or among our parents’ friends. And even in college, I encountered very few Black students, and none in my dorm or in the classes required for my biology major. My husband had similar experiences growing up and in college. It was as though our entire lives had been engineered to keep us surrounded as far as possible by people like ourselves - good people, intelligent and educated and going somewhere with their lives - few or none of whom happened to be Black. We weren’t raised to be racist, but our sense of superiority – white supremacy - was there in the food we ate and the air we breathed.
Reading Caste gave me a new way to look at my heritage and experiences, and to see impacts of racism and white privilege that I hadn’t seen before. I’m still very proud of things that my ancestors, and Dave’s, were able to accomplish. There were some quite remarkable people in our families, and my new perspective doesn’t take away from that. I am just aware now of the societal structures that allowed them to be who they were and do the things they did. If they hadn’t been the descendants of white Europeans, their lives would have been much different. And so, would mine.
Questions to reflect upon:
What was your “family tradition” around racial differences when you were growing up? Do you see things differently now? If so, what has influenced your views?
Note: Guest columnist Karen Keefer is recently retired as an MBTI trainer and consultant, and as a high school Speech and Debate coach. She is co-author with William Yabroff of Four Gifts of the Mind: Imagery Journeys of Self-Discovery, a workbook and CD set for experiencing guided imagery within the context of personality type. Karen can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
©Wendy C. Horikoshi & Karen Keefer, 2021, email@example.com
“For me, forgiveness and compassion are always linked: how do we hold people accountable for wrongdoing and yet at the same time remain in touch with their humanity enough to believe in their capacity to be transformed?”
― bell hooks, Black Writer, Social Activist
What Does Antiracism Mean in February?
February is African American Heritage Month and I had been thinking of writing about something from the book by Isabel Wilkerson, Caste: The Origins of our Discontent. I’m not ready to do that, but hope to do so in some future coaching blog. (Please contact me if you have read it or will be reading it.) I strive to continually learn and understand how our country’s history of racism affects our lives, our systems and even how we perceive our values. In this “thoughts” I’d like to talk about the term BIPOC, Black Indigenous People of Color. I do understand that some people do not like this word because they feel we are being lazy in not giving attention to all of the cultural groups that we want to address. Racism in this country is a primary reason that all people of color are not living on a level playing field. Black people in this country were abducted, inhumanely treated, brought to this country as slaves and Native People who were already here, were violently treated, forcibly removed from their homes and ripped of their lands and way of life. Asians were enticed to come to America as cheap labor only to be prohibited from becoming citizens, and the immigration system has tried to keep Latinx from entering our borders, including persons wishing to go through the legal system to request asylum.
The word Indigenous also includes Alaskan Natives. (It seems to me that Native Hawaiians might also be included in this term of Indigenous, although they are not.) For people of color, racism has resulted in systems that affect wealth, housing, and access to education and health. Thus, when focusing on African American and Indigenous people to underscore issues for people of color, BIPOC resonates with me. They are the same issues, just played out in different manners. Therefore, resolution to one issue isn’t enough. Our systems and understanding of how the collective values of our systems affect individuals must change.
Ever since the killing of George Floyd by police, I have noticed a great deal more intentional connection between many different justice efforts with the Black Lives Matter movement. In reading Japanese American newspapers, I have noticed more coverage on racist issues perpetrated against Black Americans. This past August of 2020, the Japanese American Citizens League in collaboration with Tsuru for Solidarity addressed anti-Blackness in youth conversations. (Tsuru for Solidarity is an organization aiming to end detention sites and to support front-line immigrant and refugee communities that are being targeted by racist, inhumane immigration policies.) On this past Martin Luther King Jr holiday, college youth of Japanese American churches gathered for a virtual retreat during the week-end. They learned about liberation theology and “entangled” liberation, or where all people’s liberation is entangled together. The past year, my church, Buena Vista United Methodist has been holding a series of roundtable programs on Racial Healing Justice & Solidarity with Black Lives. I think some things that have been notable about this series is that it has included young adults as leaders of it, has been intergenerational in participation and has also been attended by a diverse ethnic mix, although primarily Asian, due to the make-up of the church.
This is not to say that there haven’t been united efforts from communities of color to address racism prior to 2020. In August, 2019, Asian Health Services held a rally with community advocates, politicians, people from the Native American Health Service, West Oakland Health Service, La Clinica and Tiburcio Vasquez Health Centers to decry unequal access of healthcare for people of color and the scapegoating of immigrants, and higher incarceration rate for BIPOC. Several years ago, the Koshland Foundation/San Francisco Foundation with the United Methodist Community Development program funded a program to create bridges for communities of color in Alameda to work together to lift the voices and concerns of people of color in the schools, the City and in housing. These aforementioned programs are a few that I remember and have participated in. I’m sure there are many efforts over the years in other communities.
Through Zoom programs and in reading Japanese American newspapers, I have seen calls for justice for all people of color and immigrant communities in Japanese American community celebrations for the first two months of this year. January 30th is Fred Korematsu Day, his birthday. Korematsu, his family and all persons of Japanese ancestry were forcibly removed during WWII to American concentration camps. Korematsu went all the way to the Supreme Court to fight that as an American citizen, he was illegally being detained. He lost the case in 1944, but when it was reopened before the Supreme Court in 1983, the original 1944 decision was vacated. This year, on Korematsu Day (Zoom) celebrations, the intersectionality of race, the similarities of how immigrants and Muslims are being detained now, how African Americans are being denied their full rights and the enormous disparities throughout our society that Black and Brown communities suffer as a result of racism were discussed.
As this Lunar New Year* arrives, we have seen rising tides of anti-Asian attacks and robberies on persons, especially the elderly, while shopping for the New Year’s celebrations. This seems to be a repeat of last year’s Lunar New Year, targeting Chinese people and their businesses believing they are the cause of the Pandemic. My husband and I were surprised to see these attacks in Chinatowns across the U.S. covered on national news. Several of the persons caught on camera in these incidents are African American. Across Instagram and Facebook people in both the Asian and Black communities, are speaking out, saying this is racism; it is not about being anti-Black nor anti-Asian, but about antiracism and that we must come together and resist racism.
February 19 is Day of Remembrance, DOR, and marks the anniversary of Japanese American forced evacuation during WWII. With upcoming celebrations, the San Jose’s Nihonmachi Outreach Committee’s theme for its virtual program is “Confronting Race in America: Unifying Our Communities.” Sacramento’s Day of Remembrance is titled, “Uncomfortable Conversations: Racism, Equity, and Belonging.” San Francisco’s J-Town, Bay Area DOR topic is “Abolition! Reparations! Carrying the Light for Justice.” I hope that this trend towards being inclusive in our antiracism quest continues throughout the year and beyond.
In March, I hope to share “thoughts” from a guest writer, an African American, who will relay issues of the challenge and weight of having difficult conversations in the workplace.
Questions to reflect upon:
-Have you ever felt uncomfortable when the issue of race, racial injustice, or Black Lives Matter came up? As you reflect upon this, what was uncomfortable and/or difficult about thinking/dealing with it? How might you move through this discomfort to become more knowledgeable about the issues and your own reactions? Would it be helpful to become more knowledgeable about Black history and antiracism? How might you become more knowledgeable?
-Has your perspective on these issues changed over time? If yes, how and why do you think you came to view these issues differently?
*For 2021, the Lunar New Year is February, 12. It is sometimes referred to as Chinese New Year.
It is an historical fact that privileged groups seldom give up their privileges voluntarily. Individuals may see the moral light and voluntarily give up their unjust posture; but, as Reinhold Niebuhr has reminded us, groups tend to be more unmoral than individuals. -Martin Luther King, Jr., Black Civil Rights Activist
There’s a tendency in most strikes, struggles, or movements to confine the battle to their own group. The workers who were the most active and wanted their struggle to win actually saw the need to link right away with other people and other forces. -Harvey Dong, Asian American Scholar
Starting the Year Anew: Honoring Differences & Acknowledging Power Imbalance
Last month, I wrote about Principled Leadership and not taking unfair advantage, applying it to each opportunity we may get in life, including those which are may not available to all people. In thinking about this value, as we start the New Year, what frame of mind do I want to enter it with and how do I want to learn and grow? In the past, I’ve written some “thoughts” about race, class, economics, gender, LGBTQIA, mental/learning/physical disabilities, and age and how we probably need different lenses to have a fuller understanding of the diverse world in which we live. At this point of time, what are “realities” of persons who are underrepresented in leadership, underserved in our educational and social services and just don’t have as much access to resources and the necessary things to get ahead in society? With what happened last Wednesday, January 6, 2021, at the Capitol in Washington D.C., I feel compelled to address what many journalists are referring to as Insurrection on the Capitol.
Due to the sociopolitical times in which we live, and perhaps also as a result of some of the “thoughts” I have been writing, I have been hearing many personal conversations from my white friends. In interaction with several colleagues from Bay Area Association of Type, BAAPT, a type organization to which I belong, I have encountered some interesting comments. (As a quick overview of BAAPT, this professional organization promotes the constructive use and application of psychological type through the lens of Carl Jung’s theory of psychological differences. It is interested in Instruments such as the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator® and Keirsey’s temperaments as well as a host of other ones that help people to value personality differences. I have always enjoyed much of the content of this organization, as well as the type of people who are attracted to observing and understanding differences.) I want to share with you some of the thoughts they’ve expressed and will indicate their psychological “type,” in case you follow type, but will not directly discuss why or how that may have bearing on their remarks.
As with most organizations, the path of integrating issues of culture into these discussions is not so simple or straight-forward. Cultural issues are not the main focus for which most professional organizations are founded. However, the “valuing” of differences is a unique pathway for observing and interacting with life. About my blog on not taking unfair advantage, one person (whose preferences are for ESTP) wrote: “Again another touching piece for reflection and inclusion. It reminds me of the unconscious process that occurs when interacting with others. This brings to mind the care we need to show others and ourselves. Thank you for reminding me of this value especially as we go into the holiday season.” I have always appreciated this person’s curiosity and questioning style. The way that this person has structured his thoughts and ordered them is precise, direct and straightforward. This colleague touched upon some key issues in learning and growing: “reflecting,” “interacting,” and the “unconscious process.” It is only through reflection that we really learn, or learn in a transformative way that can help us change. Values aren’t often directly talked about. We might figure them out through our interaction with other people. It seems that values, like culture, are often harder to identify because we don’t usually speak discuss them, but they do drive our behaviors. We tend to assume that other persons are working from the same values which are driving us. It often takes me time to articulate what my individual values are (ISTJ). My preferences probably have something to do with this but, I have been steeped in personal values through knowing about being different as a Japanese American woman, and also, as a result of my value centered mother (INFP).
I believe my BAAPT colleague, in using the words “unconscious process” was referring to it in the way that is commonly used within type and Jungian communities. We have access to our preferred mental functions and only through a great deal of focus can access our “unconscious” functions, and then, still not as effectively as our “conscious” functions. In other words, certain lenses in which we see our world are easier to access than others and we can easily be blinded to the realities and existence of the other ways of learning and deciding. Other people with differing types do tend to see and experience the world differently and we, through focus and practice can begin to incorporate these different ways of perception and coming to conclusion, although not as effectively as persons who have the preferences which are best suited for those tasks, learnings or perspectives. It is only through being able to hear, see, experience, perceive and intuit through multiple lenses or perhaps continually seeking out the best pair of glasses that we might become conscious of what is taking place in any particular situation, especially within a diverse world where different cultures live and work together.
Another BAAPT colleague (ENFJ) talked with me about how she is registered with the Independent Party and had always felt that governmental systems work fairly well. She said she was comfortable “staying out of politics.” With racial injustices being more publicized this past year she began to recognize that she has advantages from “white superiority” within our systems and felt a need to be more active. She admitted that in the past she had this resounding voice inside of her wondering why some persons with accents in this country don’t speak English better. In reflection she began to ask herself, “Why aren’t I willing to learn another language?” She recognized that communication is a two-way street, that it takes much effort to learn another language, and thought differently about the privilege of expecting that everyone who doesn’t speak perfect English is in some way being disrespectful of her and is responsible to make the adjustment. She mentioned how she now sees that the values of our systems do not necessarily represent everyone’s values. Thus, this past election year, she felt a responsibility to be active in voicing her preferences for political offices and that she needed to become active in processes to move towards electing persons whose integrity and platform better matched her beliefs and values. I was inspired to hear how this colleague identified the group values at work and how they connected to her own perception and actions.
Another white friend from college (INFP), not from BAAPT, who lives in a region which tends to be more conservative than the San Francisco area where there are many Trump supporters, shared with me, “For a lot of people, white superiority gives them a place to fit in. They believe Trump is a demigod, and anyone who doesn’t follow him is a traitor. Trump is reinforcing that they are elite as white people. I think he’s tapping into the fears that they are being replaced. Their so-called ordained position of superiority is in danger of disappearing, and they are angry about this. They believe in a system where one can fight for oneself as an individual, but can’t see that they are actually trapped by the economic system, seeing ‘other’ people getting opportunities that were ‘reserved’ for them.” She added that a meme she saw aptly “represents what is happening: police officers holding a PH scale with a color grid and being told that if you’re the color at the top (white), you’re a protestor. If you’re below the white color of a color descending downward to black, you are a rioter.”
My friend, who worked as a bilingual teacher, also commented on my blog about privileged leadership and not taking unfair advantage. She believes that in general, it’s unusual for persons to follow this value. For teachers, their values are more focused upon the Golden Rule, “I think most people will do what benefits them. I’ve never named my values or privilege in this way before. And, I think it’s human nature to take advantage of situations without really considering the impact on other persons who don’t have the same opportunities.” I have always appreciated how my friend feels and explores her personal values, empathizing and making connection with what’s going on in people’s lives.
Although my friend said that she has taken advantage of situations without thinking of others, she was incensed with what happened this past Wednesday with the insurrection on the Capitol: “What kind of persons are we and what kind of life do we want to be living? It’s heartbreaking to me to see when I have friends who enable Trump, … . We need to find common ground and to forgive.” She has a longtime family friend who is on the opposite end of the spectrum from her beliefs around Trump and it’s hard because she hasn’t wanted to cut off the relationship. And yet, my friend said, “I don’t think she wants to find common ground.” As with my friend, we probably all have persons we know that disagree with what we believe is correct and fair, and who do not want to listen to other perspectives. How do we handle these types of situations? What values do we follow and how do we live them? What consequences are we willing to endure regarding relationships with them? Is there any way that we can preserve our relationship people given that our opinions differ so greatly?
Of course, type differences are not the main focus of this entry. I have identified how three person’s personality type have responded to issues of “unfair advantage.” Although I didn’t discuss these type differences, for those of you who appreciate observing differing lenses and styles of behavior, there may be some indicators that help us appreciate that we all learn and contribute to the world through differing styles, and that may give us better understanding of our own needs for learning about equity and creating a more level playing field.
As a result of power and privilege, certain stories are told, so we tend to be familiar with one group’s history. I have shared a few stories from white persons. In our search for fairness and equity, we need to become more aware of the way in which persons of color enter in to the conversations and to learn about their lived experiences and their histories. How do we engage our Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC) friends and colleagues and learn about their stories? Is there some work that we need to do on our own that acknowledges our inherent privilege of race and class, sexual orientation and ableism? How do we create safety so that persons can feel that their knowledge from their lived experiences can be shared, without them having to have all the “answers” or remedies for systemic racism or inequities? How do we better listen and initiate conversations even when it may feel uncomfortable about having to examine our own issues of privilege?
Questions to reflect upon:
Can you think of an instance where you have privilege over another person, or other groups of persons? What was it? Did you do something to earn the privilege? Does it surface an instance of systemic advantage? What, if anything might be done to equalize the playing field?
“A good spirit is like a muscle. If you do not work and exercise it and massage it in a good and positive way it will eventually wither and die.” -Brandon Astor Jones, Black Prisoner
“Don’t take unfair advantage.” -Caltech Honor System
We have been living through many difficult experiences this year: The coronavirus pandemic, the widespread televised/social media exposure of racial injustice, watching children being separated and incarcerated and the scapegoating and mistreatment of Asians in this country due to where the virus originated are a few. It has shed a deeper light on the divisions of those who have and who do not in this country and around the world. These issues and this past Presidential election, have prompted me to think of the ethic that students at my son’s college were taught, “Don’t take unfair advantage.” At the beginning of my son’s freshman year, he attended an orientation the week before school began, engaging in elective trips and gatherings. In addition to providing socialization and a process of adjustment, my son’s college used the week to introduce the value which reflects that everyone is respected and everyone needs to follow the principle of not taking unfair advantage.
In a welcome session for parents, we were informed of how not taking unfair advantage applies to every action in their scholastic and community life. For example, if someone has food in the refrigerator and you take it, is that not taking unfair advantage? Having guests in the dorm room needs to be talked about and agreed upon. In following this principle, every student is trusted. Tests were not proctored. Exams were assigned identifying the amount of time one could use to take it, and there was a date to return it. One could complete one’s examination whatever time that worked best. If one finished it and it was after hours, one could check out a key to deliver it. The policy seems to reflect how much Caltech believes in this honor system.
When my husband and I visited during parents’ orientation, the President and Dean of the college shared the College’s philosophy of honesty and not being opportunistic in the sense of fairness to every other person. We were told that they would not be sending grades to us, but they hoped that when we asked our children about their grades, they would share them. Thus, they were treating our children as adults, and stressing their responsibility to the students and hoping that the students would bear responsibility to their parents. Having come from an education background and prizing fairness and honesty, I was delighted. I knew that the school was a tough one academically and that my son would thrive in such a community. Such a simple concept and yet, I could see that throughout the years of college and following, it has given him courage, conviction and congruence in being forthright about group processes that honor this principle.
I wonder what our society would be like if this “code” was explicitly taught in our schools, in our homes, in our churches, in our communities, in our legislative, executive and judicial branches-not just talking about being fair and honest, but identifying examples of it and envisioning ways that work it into daily life.
I have often wondered if any organization or company integrated this ethic into their collective value systems—naming it, incorporating it into systems, policies, including opportunities for advancement. Whenever working with organizations or leaders who want to value diversity, equity and inclusion, this is the type of principle that I try to help them come to terms with—building respect, honesty and equalizing the playing field. It’s a dynamic process, one that definitely requires focus, commitment and prioritization. It’s not easy. It takes much time in getting individuals and groups to the place where leaders and employees are willing to question group values and work together to create better ones. It is human nature to want to move towards more privilege and opportunity. Desiring a collective value to be one in which a whole organization operates, can mean setting aside output, production, and money not always being the number one priority. This may sound unrealistic in the competitive business world. In corporate leadership, there is a field of training often referred to as “Principled Leadership.” The components are to lead with humility, embrace a true, authentic self, act and speak with courage, develop and value people and resources, empower and hold others accountable, respect others by building trust while learning from mistakes and serve others before self. I wonder if what might happen if “Don’t take unfair advantage” was added to these principles? What might come from listening to people and being willing to identify and admit when we have privileges and opportunities that other people don’t have?
In the work world, the process of production and “doing,” may occur without having to pay attention to who we are leaving behind. When we get an opportunity, do we think about whether we are receiving an advantage over another person, another class or group of people? This is truly difficult and humbling work. However, so many of my clients attest to this is what makes their lives meaningful and is healing in the process.
My son is now over 30 years old, working in a job that he enjoys and for which he is eminently qualified. He tends to be quieter than the average person. I remember when he graduated, and we picked him up to help him move out of college, he said that he needed time with his roommates alone before we could go. They had purchased many things together and although he was pretty sure all of them would like to donate it to the hall, he knew they all needed to be able to voice their desire, so he initiated the conversation.
My son once told me that the ethics that they lived by at his College helped him to feel good about decisions he made and helped him and to have the confidence to live and work with many different people. For instance, he took a job on the other side of the country and moved into a house with two other persons from his College, who were also going to work for the same agency. In accepting this job, my son knew that he was leaving a community where he was surrounded by his own age group. He felt like going to this job and living with two other persons from his college, (whom he didn’t know really well) would be a good step into the “real” world. One roommate wanted the downstairs which was quite a bit larger than the other two rooms and he said that he thought he should pay more for it. They all agreed to this arrangement. I have found that these kinds of issues, like money, who gets what, etc., can be very difficult issues for young people and even older people to discuss. It’s often easier and quicker to just keep quiet.
My son’s experiences inform me that we can take “baby-steps” towards the outcomes and to the world in which we want to live. I wonder what beginning steps can be for us as individuals, as families, as organizations, as communities, as a nation to identify and live up to principals of fairness?
Questions to reflect upon:
Is “don’t take unfair advantage” a principle that you live by?
What are your core values? Are they the same for you at work and at home?
What are the core values of people that you work with? What are the core values persons that you hang out with?
“I have no doubt that the forces of justice and peace will prevail over the contemporary incarnation of empire, blood, terror, and greed that is the USA. –Walden Bello, Filipino Scholar
Post Election Waiting & Preparation for the Times to Come
The following three quotes are words of wisdom from John Lewis, U.S. Congressman, Civil Rights Activist:
"Do not get lost in a sea of despair. Be hopeful, be optimistic. Our struggle is not the struggle of a day, a week, a month, or a year, it is the struggle of a lifetime. Never, ever be afraid to make some noise and get in good trouble, necessary trouble." – A tweet from June 2018
"I appeal to all of you to get into this great revolution that is sweeping this nation. Get in and stay in the streets of every city, every village and hamlet of this nation until true freedom comes, until the revolution of 1776 is complete." – At the 1963 March on Washington
"Freedom is not a state; it is an act. It is not some enchanted garden perched high on a distant plateau where we can finally sit down and rest. Freedom is the continuous action we all must take, and each generation must do its part to create an even more fair, more just society.” – From his 2017 memoir, "Across That Bridge: A Vision for Change and the Future of America"
As we neared Election Day, I had been at a loss for what to write for this November issue of “thoughts.” The day after the elections, I decided to change the quotations at the end of my email signature line with some words of encouragement from John Lewis, the U.S. Congressman and civil rights leader, who passed away this past July, 2020. I’m sure most of you know about the highlights of his life with his leadership of the March on Washington in 1963 to end legalized segregation, and the 600-person march from Selma to Montgomery across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in 1965, where peaceful protestors were attacked and violently beaten by white state troopers and sheriff deputies. Although an icon of the Civil Rights era, he was still a humble and compassionate man. John Lewis words remind us that freedom is an ongoing struggle and that we have to keep fighting for it. The legacy of John Lewis reminds me that we continually need to take heart and recognize how similar our times are to the Civil Rights era of the 1960’s.
There have always been many things wrong with our democracy, although this past year has been an especially difficult time. This election has not brought what many of us were hoping for. There is still hope for a good outcome of the Presidential campaign. And, there will still be so much to do to move us out of the tyrannical and inhumane policies and appointments made by the current President. I wish for you strength of spirit, healing of the funk many of us have been in, and energy to contribute our parts towards a more caring and brighter future for all of us in living in this country.
There is much we can learn from John Lewis’ life. I leave with you one last quote from the late Congressman Lewis: “We have been too quiet for too long. There comes a time when you have to say something. You have to make a little noise. You have to move your feet. This is the time.” – At a 2016 House sit-in following the Pulse shooting in Orlando
Questions to reflect upon:
Can you put into words the feeling(s) that you are currently experiencing? I wonder if acknowledging them might be helpful.
What if you were to dance, write, sing, walk, paint, create with clay any heaviness, disillusionment or feeling you are experiencing?
In Pandemic Society: Joy Through Art
What are issues which may be most of interest to my clients? Over the years I have written a great deal about leadership, culturally-aware coaching, my philosophy and practice and this past year, the emotional, political and public health issues in which we are currently living. Last month’s thoughts, I wanted to acknowledge one path for caring for one’s soul, and it was more “religious” than most of my blogs. I think that working with the spiritual realm is one of the most effective ways to spur transformation. I believe that engaging in Spirit, does not have to mean Christianity or Judaism or even a particular religion, however many persons in this United States, identify with these religions. For me, the activism of the church to which I belong has been an extraordinary foundation and community support as we move through the Pandemic isolation.
What are other pathways for us to care for ourselves, our communities and our planet? Most of my clients work in social justice or services that help people and communities to gain access to services. What are ways for them to be caretakers for themselves, to enjoy the fullness of life and to be moved towards wholeness when their souls are stirring? Music, storytelling, dance, poetry and literature are powerful ways for us to get in touch with ourselves and our world. As I have explored in previous “thoughts,” art can be a medium for rejuvenation and meaning-making. Over the past few months, I have viewed some videos from artists whom I greatly admire. As we end this month of Hispanic Heritage Month, I want to share a little about the artistry of Gloria Estefan, with her traditional Latin rhythms and American rhythm and blues groove. She has been through difficult times in life and has been willing to share them with the public, while also innovating new art forms which transcend cultures.
Estefan was climbing the musical charts in the 1970’s with the Miami Sound Machine and was in a bus accident, almost killing her and severely injuring her back. She engaged in a long healing journey, which I’m sure was painful and took much fortitude to recuperate. She was not depressed about what happened, but instead thankful that as a result of the accident, she took stock and learned to slow down and take care of her body.
Estefan, one of the artists highlighted with her husband in in an interview on PBS series “Beyond the Canvas,” Episode 3, spoke about her partnership in music and life with her husband, Emilio.
https://video.search.yahoo.com/search/video?fr=jnazafzv&p=beyond+the+canvas%2C+episode+3#id=1&vid=803559834f9aed331bee2c424f66854f&action=click She shared how she left Cuba right about the time of the Bay of Pigs invasion. Her dad was a police officer and their lives were in danger. She fled Cuba with her mom, but her dad was imprisoned for two years as a war criminal. Music was her catharsis. Music made her happy. We, as viewers and listeners, see and feel the “joy” that emanates from her music as her music enters us. Both she and Emilio carry what she calls, the “immigrant mentality” knowing that this could all go away tomorrow. Gloria says, “This could go away, this could go away, you have to be safe, you have to be careful. … Of course, it could, and it can.”
(I believe this interview was conducted prior to sheltering in place, yet her words continue to ring true for our current life.)
Emilio mentions that people in this country tend to take things for granted, “One of the things we take for granted is freedom. We came to this country not just looking for a better opportunity, but for freedom. And, keeping that safe is like keeping both feet on the ground.”
Although Gloria Estefan tends to stay away from politics because her audiences share the spectrum of political views, she participated in a music company’s “Your Voice, Your Power, Your Vote.”
What I take away from Gloria Estefan, her stories and her music, is that we can enjoy life. Music can bring us happiness, peace and a sense of sharing who we are. In future “thoughts,” I’d like to share more stories from artists featured on PBS’ Beyond the Canvas. I am currently reading Caste: The Origins of Our Discontent, by Isabel Wilkerson about race and caste in the U.S. If you are reading Caste or have completed it, I’d love to chat with you as I hope to write about it in a future “thoughts.” In the meantime, I hope that you will vote and remember that things can go away at any time, including democracy. Please help our country keep its feet on the ground.
Questions to reflect upon:
What brings you joy? And in particular what might bring you joy during this pandemic? How does music, art or literature inspire you?
During this Pandemic, how do you, might you “keep your feet on the ground?”
Care of the Soul
“Care of the soul speaks to the longings we feel and to the symptoms that drive us crazy, but it is not the path away from shadow or death.”1 - Thomas Moore
“Soul is nothing like ego. Soul is closely connected to fate, and the turns of fate almost always go counter to the expectations and often the desire of the ego. … Soul is the font of who we are, and yet it is far beyond our capacity to devise and control.”2 -Thomas Moore
September has come. This year is not over and we are living through a global pandemic, economic crisis, heightened awareness of the racial crisis in our country, as well as Hurricane Laura, multiple fire complexes from lightning, earthquakes, with one which hit northern California this past Sunday. It is a difficult time for everyone, and yet, there are many persons and communities who are suffering much more than other people. In this country, Black, Indigenous, People of Color, BIPOC, are by far suffering more from COVID-19, lack of access to food, jobs, shelter and medical care. Other marginalized communities, such as the poor, women, LGBQTia, those with mental and physical disabilities are also being more affected during this pandemic. As the shelter in place continues, I am hearing more depth of sadness, depression and trauma inflicted upon colleagues, clients and in my community than previous to the pandemic. I have been pondering whether to write my “thoughts” to acknowledge the sadness and yet, there are enough articles about all of these issues. Many of my clients, if they are fortunate enough to be still working, are facing these stories daily with the people they serve. I do not want to gloss over how difficult many person’s lives are, while also don’t want to add to a downward spiral of frustration and depression. In my heart, I want to sit with the heaviness that we are facing and somehow make some kind of sense from it. I don’t have a lot of answers, however, I am listening, watching and being open to take the mantel where I’m being called. I’d really appreciate if you would share with me any stories that you or the people you serve are living. What are your and your clients’ daily struggles and triumphs?
It is indeed a strange and seemingly unprecedented time we live in. Amidst all of this, during the Zoom church services on 9/6/20, we at Buena Vista United Methodist Church experienced two jolts from an earthquake, which most of us in the San Francisco area in California could feel. Pastor Myrna had just finished her sermon, “Don’t Mess with God,” taken from Exodus in the Bible, referring to signs God had been sending to Pharaoh to let the Jewish people go. Plagues were sent: an invasion of frogs, swarms of lice, another swarm of insects that ruined the land, killed the Egyptian livestock and resulted in sores on the bodies of Egyptian people. Pharaoh didn’t listen and God sent deadly hailstorms and a 3-day eclipse of the sun. Still, Pharaoh ordered midwives to kill all male born children. Not only did Pastor Myrna’s message reverberate with what seems to be happening in our current society, many persons wondered, what more can happen?
Three days later, we awoke to darkness, with orange tinges of light shining through the clouds of smoke. In the Bay Area, we don’t typically experience overcast-like weather during the summer and fall-- it was eerie. The entire day the sun did not shine which is very uncharacteristic for the Bay Area in September. This experience evoked descriptions of the apocalypse, the end of times. The paleness of the sun’s rays feels similar to the effects of the lighting I have seen in movies about Mars and other planets, and about stories of how some of these planets’ suns had burned out.
That same dark day, I attended a Zoom “Body and Scripture” movement session through my church. In these meetings, our church’s Spiritual Nurture Coordinator, Coke Tani, leads us in connecting with the wisdom of one’s body to take up space, claim our voices and our own stories, including decolonizing our physical beings. Being in our bodies allows for us to feel the Spirit within and to receive information. We talked about the surreal images of the smoke, how the fires and orange glow seem like unmistakable messages about climate change, and how Pastor Myrna’s sermon “Don’t Mess with God,” is timely. Coke informed us that the apocalypse can mean “an unveiling.” She encouraged us to dance, following the Spirit in our bodies. As we moved to music, one participant mentioned that it was like her body had lost soul and through the movement meditation, she was reclaiming it. Coke closed the session, having us move to a song whose words spoke about the return of one’s soul. It was powerful and healing.
In what seemed to be synchronicity, I had been reviewing a book Care of the Soul: A Guide for Cultivating Depth and Sacredness in Everyday Life, by Thomas Moore before the movement session. The books’ first chapter is “Acknowledging Symptoms as a Voice of the Soul.” It feels like we are experiencing symptoms from the collective soul of our lives. What are the longings of the soul that we might be experiencing? In sharing this month’s ‘thoughts” with you, I realize that being in community with my church and participating in artistic and movement experiences help me listen for soul. I continue to wonder, how might we collectively acknowledge symptoms of discord, lack of leadership, racism, increased domestic violence and destruction? How do we identify the brokenness of our lives, seeing the mirror of our human destruction as signs to open our hearts, spirits, creativity and imagination towards a more humane, just and beautiful world? Thomas Moore writes, “Care of the Soul is not solving the puzzle of life; quite the opposite, it is an appreciation of the paradoxical mysteries that blend light and darkness into the grandeur of what human life and culture can be.”3 Moore explores how ritual, storylines or archetypal motifs, mythology and the cultivation of imagination and spirit are essential to finding soul. He suggests that living artfully helps expand and reveal soul.
I don’t mean to imply that we don’t have a responsibility for the actions that we as human beings contribute, including historical violence and destruction of the earth and of the human body and spirit. I wonder for those of us living in these times, if we are being called to tend to the healing of our families, our communities, our nation, the earth and ourselves. How can we tend to soul in these dark days? What are our souls, individually and collectively longing for and how can we artfully cultivate the sacred in our everyday lives?
Questions to reflect upon:
What is a symptom in your life that feels like it’s driving you crazy? How might you acknowledge it and imagine what is being awakened within you?
1 Moore, Thomas. Care of the Soul: A Guide to Cultivating Depth and Sacredness in Everyday Life. (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, Inc, 1992), xvi.
2 Moore. xviii.
3 Moore. xix.
Confronting Racism: Turning Points? Part III:
Militarization of Police Departments vs Community-Driven, Community Responsive Approaches to Public Safety
"I love America more than any other country in this world, and exactly, for this reason, I criticize her perpetually." -James Baldwin
In the three months preceding George Floyd’s death, there were two other African Americans who were killed by police and report by the media. While jogging, Ahmaud Arbery was shot by two persons, one of whom had been a police officer and detective for the county in Georgia. Breonna Taylor, an EMT, died at the hands of the Louisville police, when they entered her apartment on a no-knock policy and shot blindly into the house. These repeated killings painfully remind us of Eric Gardner’s death from an illegal chokehold by New York Police and the killing of Michael Brown, an unarmed teen shot by Ferguson police, both in 2014. In earlier “thoughts” we’ve discussed how racism isn’t an individual issue, but a systemic one that is institutionalized and codified into regulations, processes and law. The police training and responses to many of the protests seem to come from the same frame of thinking--one of militarization and going to war against Black, Brown people, immigrants and people who are somehow classified as “different.” These are all too common responses across our police forces, our national police services and even our emergency services.
In the aftermath of the George Floyd’s killing, we see the police and National Guard showing up in riot gear, riot formation and riot equipment to deal with peaceful protests and wonder if the major goals are about protecting people and property. In one footage on TV following Floyd’s death in Minneapolis, the police formed a human bond around the chain store, Target, and all of the other small businesses had looters and persons destroying their shops. Meanwhile, in Oakland, California, I was surprised to hear how nobody was arrested when peaceful George Floyd protests changed to rioting and pilfering, but there were over 100 arrests when protestors ignored the June 1, 2020 curfew. Seems strange to punish curfew violators, and not looters.
Many police departments across the country are being trained by Urban Shield, a program offered through Homeland Security and originated with the Israeli police to quell Palestinians, (who live with permanent barriers blocking their free movement within in their own neighborhoods.) Alameda County, where the City of Alameda is located, is one of the Urban Shield participants. In other words, military style training, like that used by Israeli police is being provided to police through Homeland Security and emergency preparedness efforts. The topic of Urban Shield arose after worship at Buena Vista United Methodist Church, (which I wrote about in Part II of this series), where Joe Brooks spoke about two pandemics in which African Americans are living. Reverend Michael Yoshii shared that although the City’s current Police Chief is supportive of community policing, provides diversity training for his staff, and will have his department support Alameda’s Sanctuary City proposal by protecting undocumented persons from apprehension, the Police Chief is not supportive of ending the Urban Shield contract with Alameda County.
Militia type tactics have been on display at many of the George Floyd protests and in the clearing and tear gassing of peaceful protestors in Washington DC for the President’s photo op at St Mark’s Church by federal troops and National Park police The militarization of police has also been evident with Homeland Security’s presence of police in riot gear and deployment of tear gas amongst protestors in Portland, Oregon. Federal forces were not invited to Portland. In fact, the Mayor of Portland, and the Governor of Oregon requested and demanded that federal police leave their City because their presence had escalated violence.
Militarization of police has been evident in Homeland Security operations. In June, 2020, Customs and Border Protection Data revealed that drones, helicopters ad airplanes had been deployed by Homeland Security, logging in at least 270 hours of surveillance on 15 cities where there were George Floyd protests. I wonder why U.S. Customs has access to military type surveillance equipment and why they were watching demonstrators. These aerial machines were supposedly not aimed at identifying license plates or individuals, but were gathering information for use in future investigations. What investigations are they planning for? Military equipment can have a chilling effect on people who are assembling to exercise their constitutional right to protest, especially for immigrants.
In an article in Fast Company Leadership, Talib Visram writes about a federal program that makes excess and unused military equipment available to police departments is contributing to the militarization of our police, https://www.fastcompany.com/90513061/eliminating-this-federal-program-would-play-a-major-part-in-demilitarizing-the-police. An ACLU document of 2014, reported that police departments in Arizona had accumulated enough rifles, bomb suits night vision lenses, surveillance equipment and high-powered machine guns to take out multiple city blocks. This program originally began in the 1990s and eliminated surplus waste and was intended to assist the National government in the “war on drugs.” In 1996, President Clinton, expanded it to allow all law enforcement agencies to acquire unused military property in the 1033 Program. Some members of Congress are currently calling to eliminate the program. It makes me wonder if this is the manner in which Alameda County received a tank, which was on display during the Warrior’s Championship parade in Spring of 2018.
How does military equipment contribute to racist and violent police tactics? Most early studies didn’t show that increased military grade equipment increased violence. However, a study in 2018 by Dr. Jonathan Mummolo, from Princeton University concluded that SWAT teams were more regularly sent to communities with higher concentrations of African Americans. Dr. Mummolo had more data than previous studies to review, including SWAT team deployments. As an Assistant Professor of Politics and Public Affairs who specializes in the study of police behavior, Mummolo found that police with this “acquired” equipment did not decrease violence. He proposed that the reduction of SWAT teams could “improve perceptions of police with little or no safety loss.”1
In his article, Visram also reported on how Dr. John DeCarlo, a criminal justice professor at the University of New Haven, who had previously worked many years in a police department remembered receiving boxes of junk from the military. DeCarlo mentioned that there are several other factors in addition to military equipment that contribute to the battlefield mentality within police officers: little knowledge of the community they serve, coursework in police academies, the sense of “brotherhood” and soldier vs. enemy mindset.
Heavy-handed enforcement by police has proven to significantly affect Black and Brown communities, making life for them more dangerous. Eliminating the 1033 Program may help keep our communities safer. Following the George Floyd killing, some members of Congress are calling to eliminate it. Perhaps there also needs to be different strategies for training and preparing police for working in diverse communities, as well as creating different systems for ensuring public safety.
Police responses in this country have continued to become more militaristic over the past few decades. These militaristic tactics to civilian issues might make us wonder. Who are the police going to war with? Community policing, humane and more effective systems for responding to mental health incidents and first responders who deescalate situations seems to be a common cry from George Floyd protestors. “Defunding” the police may not mean getting rid of the police, but directing funds for issues that are health related to be handled by persons and systems that have better expertise and training to do so.
Has the George Floyd killing captured the soul of America in recognizing the systemic ways in which persons of color, the poor, immigrants, women, LGBTQIa and those with mental or physical challenges are treated as second class citizens? In this series of Confronting Racism: Turning Points, I have written about a couple of organizations and how they as organizations responded to violent and racist police actions. How will our organizations and the systems with which we are a part respond to these two pandemics of racism and COVID-19? Will we confront racism? How will we work with our personal issues of recognizing privilege and internalized racism? In our organizations, will we take the journey to look and listen to discover how certain groups of people as a result of race, class and other factors have certain privileges and opportunities not accessible to everyone? How are these privileges institutionalized in our organizational systems? How does racism and inequitable treatment affect the communities that our organizations serve? How will we embrace our humanity and heal from being victims and perpetrators? How will we work with our communities to listen more deeply and connect the patterns of racism occurring in our everyday lives? How will we lift the veils of racism in our systems and remove barriers to providing equity in our workplace, organizations and society?
Questions to reflect upon:
Think of one arena where you may have privilege on account of your race, class, sexual orientation, religion, mental or physical ableism? How might you gain more understanding about this privilege? In your work, your organization or political systems, can you think of a process or a way that might help provide opportunities for others who do not have this privilege?
Confronting Racism: Turning Points? Part II
This Coronavirus Pandemic has disproportionately affected the Black and Brown populations in terms of contracting the illness, having more severe cases and higher death rates from it. In a conversation after our Buena Vista United Methodist Church’s zoom service a few Sundays ago, Joe Brooks, a longtime civil rights activist, stated that the Black community has been living in a “pandemic since slavery.” He’s referring to racism in this country that is reflected in more difficulty in accessing healthcare, quality education, housing, jobs and living wages as well as the knowledge that the police may well be a perpetrator and not an agent who will protect and serve them.
Last month, in June “thoughts,” I began to wonder if the George Floyd killing by police may be a turning point in addressing racism in our society. I mentioned how Melanie Tervalon and Jann Murray-Garcia led the way to providing a model of Cultural Humility for examining racism at Children’s Hospital Oakland in response to the Rodney King beating and ensuing protests and riots. Buena Vista United Methodist Church, (BVUMC), first stepped into a number of racial justice programs outside of issues directly related to the Japanese American community when it came to light that some Alameda police officers had written racist comments on their electronic squad car computers when being directed to go out to a local Alameda bar. When transcripts were finally released about a year after the incident, (October, 1991), they revealed seven racist slurs, including: “N”-word, “going to kill me a ‘N’”, and dressing as KKK for police briefings.1
Pastors from the Alameda Ministerial Association joined community members, primarily from the West Side of Alameda, to talk about the racist messages. Don Grant, an African American community leader said that this is a long-term issue and while they appreciate the support, suggested that if they’re not committed to a long-term process, they should probably leave. Many of the ministers did leave the community meeting. Two ministers, including Reverend Michael Yoshii, from BVUMC stayed. A group called Coalition of Alamedans for Racial Equality, CARE, formed. It was comprised of African Americans, community members, and a few community organizations. CARE orchestrated a diversity conference, “Building Bridges” at the College of Alameda where government institutions and members of the community discussed institutional racism in the City. The Police Chief, City Manager, Superintendent of Schools and the Alameda College Provost participated. “Unlearning Prejudice” exercises and discussion were held. Reverend Michael Yoshii made a presentation to the police department on systemic racism.
The Police Department began diversity training. Community policing was adopted and the department slowly hired some minority and female officers. The officers responsible for the racist messages were suspended, but not fired. The Mayor of Alameda set up a diversity committee. The Alameda Police brought in consultants to do more extensive training. A couple years later, the Chief of Police resigned. The new Chief had more experience with community policing. Interestingly enough, the Police Chief, City Manager and Superintendent of Schools all resigned around the same time in 1993, as the community was calling for change and for the City to clean house.
The School District also has had a history of racism, including an incident with one of my sisters-in-laws, who is Jewish and married to a Japanese American. She was called a “J” lover by a school administrator. With new leadership in the School District, and after a protest against pushing out an Asian American Principal Designee from a school, CARE moved for multicultural audits at all of the school sites. Community members of CARE helped convene Affinity groups by ethnicities, which listened to the stories of families in the District and collected data which revealed patterns of racism within the schools. Over time, diversity training for teachers and administrators was given, and the hiring of persons of color in administrative and superintendent positions transpired. CARE offered a multicultural leadership program in the Alameda high schools, and BVUMC was a strong driver in creating and running it.
It took many years, but after the protest and continual community pressure, the Asian American Principal Designee, Nielsen Tam, who originally fought for minority hires, eventually became a Principal in the District. Upon retirement, he ran for School Board and became President. In this role he developed relationships with the Board to engender a better understanding of equity, which eventually led to an antibullying curriculum addressing discrimination due to sexual orientation, ethnicity, class, religion and mental/physical special needs. The process of fighting for and adopting this antibullying curriculum was a community-driven one. The minister of BVUMC and at critical points in time, the church supported Nielsen Tam, in his leadership of systemically combatting racism. (Tam was a client and friend, and identified in an earlier “thoughts, 5/2020, of an example of a person residing in the Fifth Order of Kegan’s development with regard to equity.) Nielsen Tam had joined BVUMC and throughout his life was a significant part of the message of healing and equity in the church, school district and larger community.
Many things have improved in Alameda since the racist messages on the Alameda Police computers. However, just 3 days before the George Floyd murder, Mali Watkins, an African American resident of Alameda, was intimidated and harassed for “dancing in the street.” Videos and a statement from the City Manager were recently released in June of this year. There is now a network of community leaders who find out about these types of incidents and let the community know to support the victim but also to inform the community to search for ways to become an ally and rebuild and reform systems. White neighbors of Mr. Watkins were interviewed on the news, identifying that the officer treatment was clearly racist and an overreaction to the situation.
The political leadership of Alameda at the City Council level and the Mayor has changed, and there is more openness to recognizing the systemic racism within City government. The current Mayor announced that the City is investigating why Mr. Watkins detained, hand-cuffed and thrown to the ground and what can be done so that this type of police aggression doesn’t reoccur. She calls for reimagining, reviewing and revising police policy so that every person can be safe. While racism has not been eradicated, many things have shifted from the early 1990’s, when public sentiment seemed to believe the notion that all people, regardless of race and class, were on an “equal playing field.”
In the City of Alameda, following George Floyd’s killing, there were several peaceful marches led by high school youth. Other gatherings spearheaded by these youth were attended by diverse groups of people in terms of race, gender, age and religion. An article covering one of the first assemblies was featured on the front page of the Alameda Sun, a community owned and operated newspaper. The writer was a freshman high school journalist. High school speakers called for people to listen to the “young, powerful Black voices all around them.”2 They urged listeners to vote, to elect persons who will listen to the diverse community voices while providing leadership to change our racist systems, to inform of injustices around the world, and to create and support Black Future Labs whose aim it is to hold politicians accountable. One of the few adult speakers that was asked to participate at the various youth-organized assemblies was Reverend Emily Lin, an Alameda United Methodist pastor, who formerly was an intern and headed up several programs at BVUMC before, during and after becoming a minister.
I would be remiss if I didn’t underscore how Buena Vista worked with the community and consistently engaged in coalition building. The larger community was the foundation of resist and reform processes. Individuals and organizations from the community participated, not just Buena Vista. I am spotlighting BVUMC’s participation with CARE and other organizations not to take away from many other entities that worked together, but to identify the trajectory and continued journey of one organization’s response to racism. The church continued to work in collaboration with other action groups and eventually created the Buena Vista Community Institute, to address racism, xenophobia, exclusion, injustice, education and healing.
Fighting racism is directly connected with addressing all human rights. In this country, Blacks, especially, have been in the forefront of resistance and leading movements for civil rights. BVUMC’s Reverend Yoshii, understands the intersection of the impacts of oppression. Pastor Yoshii, who just retired, has shepherded the congregation and the community to address many more issues that have sparked or supported numerous programs that move towards equity. To name a few of the efforts: support for starting a city-wide “Out on the Island,” LGBTQ group to meet and to begin education to the churches and institutions in the City; for BVUMC to become an open and affirming church for all people of diverse race or sexual orientation; affordable housing which began because African Americans were continuing to be pushed out of the City; meetings and support for attacks on the local Muslim church; sponsoring and housing immigrants; an advocacy program for persons with mental illness, which provides support for Asian Americans to access culturally-responsive services without stigmatization.
During Reverend Yoshii’s tenure, he spearheaded many other social and racial justice issues, locally, nationally and internationally, including supporting other Japanese American churches in becoming open and affirming ones, becoming a sister church with Wadi Foquin, a West-Bank community in Palestine, and helping other churches within the California-Nevada Caucus of the Methodist Conference to join the collective movement of identifying the institutionalization of Palestinian oppression. Although the entry into many of these programs began with a response to individual incidents, I believe that the aim has always been two-fold: healing and social justice. The processes usually began with community listening and hearing stories from persons who were being mistreated or excluded. That began a healing process for the victims as well as for the listeners. When programs were developed, stories from the listening sessions drove the processes that needed to be changed. Building community, collaboration with community agencies and government were the hallmark of Pastor Yoshii’s leadership. Over the years, this church with the community, has stretched to address antiracism and equity in very real ways. I believe that Children’s Hospital of Oakland’s four premises to develop Cultural Humility-- lifelong learning & critical self-reflection, recognizing and challenging power, and building institutional accountability have been present in BVUMC’s ministries.
The Rodney King beatings prompted the Multicultural Curriculum Program at Children’s Hospital. The police racist rantings spurred BVUMC and the Alameda community to address racism in new arenas. These entities worked with the community in uncovering and addressing racism and worked towards healing by listening and working towards systemic change. Both of these organizations included processes that address inequity beyond those of racism. I wonder if the George Floyd killing will signal a new beginning for our country in fighting for antiracism, equity and human rights. Just like with the combatting of the Coronavirus, it will probably be chaotic and a struggle. And yet, it does “feel” like this is a moment of change. In working with our communities, giving voice to the marginalized, by listening, reflecting, and in doing our personal and collective work in dealing with racism, I believe there is always hope.
In the same conversation after church in which Joe Brooks shared his experiences about African Americans living in two pandemics, he spoke about how the police in their attempts to “keep the peace” seems to be gearing up for war. He brings up the subject of how police are becoming more militaristic in their operations. That is what I’d like to address this issue in next month’s “thoughts,” in Part III of Confronting Racism.
Questions to reflect upon:
What are some practices in your organization that might have the effect of excluding or discouraging others? What are processes you and your organization might use to address issues of racism? What might be some first steps? How might this involve listening, engaging, community and coalition-building?
1 Kirkwood, Kathleen, “Police Takes Heat for Racism,” Alameda Times Star, October 26, 1991.
2 Madsen, Stella, Alameda Sun, "Island Expresses its Outrage," Front Page News, June 7, 2020, https://alamedasun.com/news/front?page=5.
“If we discuss a society without discrimination, then we must not discriminate against anyone in the process of building this society. If we desire a society that is democratic, then democracy must become a means as well as an end.” Bayard Rustin, African American Civil Rights/Gay Activist
Confronting Racism: Turning Points?
The George Floyd incident seems to have captured the hearts of people across our country. Will this be a turning point for confronting racism? Have you ever dealt with a leaky tire? I feel like this is an apt description of our country’s response to racism. We patch it up and hope we don’t have to think about it until something else happens. We think we can replace the tire when needed and ignore the possibility that the car may have other problems with it or without fully wondering what may be causing multiple leaks, and we just go on with our lives. The racism evident in the killing of George Floyd by the four police officers in Minneapolis, is one more example of how racism is a major factor for unequal justice for African Americans. In George Floyd’s case, the police were responding to a suspected forgery charge. When I saw the footage of George Floyd gasping for air spitting out the words, “I can’t breathe,” it occurred to me that the police must be in a heightened sense of fear, as if their lives were at stake even though Floyd was in hand-cuffs. It doesn’t make sense unless one has an extraordinary fear and the mindset to dominate and overpower the civilian. Our society has taught us to fear persons of color, especially a Black man. I believe this fear stems from racism, which may be overt or subtle, unintentional or intentional. We carry racist attitudes and stereotypes that affect our judgments and behavior below the conscious level, commonly referred to as implicit bias. We learn racism from our rules, systems and institutions, which reinforce our racist patterns of thought and action.
About 25 years ago, Johnny Spain, an African American trainer and colleague, told me that racism is a public health problem. It was a new concept to me at the time. It has helped me to frame my thinking about racism, how racism in this country is an illness. The truth of the matter is, these types of police deaths and assaults are happening all the time but, with video cameras, body cams, and smart phones, it is being captured more often. Social media, has enabled quick release to the general public and we instantaneously become collectively aware of some of the incidents. African Americans are further traumatized by footage reminding them that the worrying about their safety is a daily affront. Black children and families who also have lost someone by the hands of police grieve again, wondering why people didn’t demonstrate when it happened to their family member(s).
Civil unrest often occurs after highly publicized killings by police or when police are exonerated from charges of murder, manslaughter or brutality. In many cases, there tends to be a short-term “fix-it” mentality, which we might be able to follow on the news from the time of protests, memorial services to the conclusion of judicial processes. Then, we move on with our lives. The aftermath of the George Floyd killing seems to beckon us to ask ourselves, “How do the police change their policies and training to move towards a more inclusive mentality and governance that puts into practice equal treatment without regard to race? How do we as a nation continue the dialogue of antiracism which addresses the structural issues which are at the root of police violence? How do communities mobilize, contain the disease of racism and decrease the spread of racist practices? How do people in the African American community obtain justice and heal from these violations of their human rights?”
Many of you work with social justice organizations whose missions are to provide services to underserved populations. Many of us wonder if this horrific and senseless killing of George Floyd might be more than just the most recent call to our nation to come to terms with racism and to more actively engage in the path towards equal treatment for all people. Over this and next months’ “thoughts,” I want to share two organizations, and how they began journeys of antiracism resulting from racist treatment by police: Children’s Hospital in Oakland, with their Multicultural Curriculum Program, and Buena Vista United Methodist, an historically Japanese American church, with their social justice and healing programs. These two organizations expanded their organizational visions to respond to the disease of racism.
The Multicultural Curriculum Program (MCP) of Children’s Hospital Oakland, was created in the aftermath of the 1992 police beating of Rodney King, an African American who was stopped on a freeway in southern California. Although four police officers committing the brutality were charged, they were acquitted. Protests and rioting ensued in South Central Los Angeles, which lasted almost a week. There were tumultuous protests throughout the country and National Guard, Army and Marine Corp troops were called in. The whole area went up in smoke. Historically, the South-Central neighborhood had a history of Latino/Black conflict and this protest also pitted the immigrant Korean community, who had many small shops in the area, against African Americans.
Two African American physicians at Children’s Hospital, Melanie Tervalon and Jann Murray-Garcia felt compelled to respond to the Rodney King beatings. They began discussions and created the Multicultural Curriculum Program with lecture series presented through morning and noon conferences, grand rounds (presenting an individual patient’s issue and treatment to the doctors, residents, and medical students), as well as small group discussion sessions with the residents. Medical and community leaders provided programs which addressed differing cultural issues and attitudes with regard to healthcare, systemic barriers to healthcare, and disparity in healthcare amongst specific ethnic groups. The small groups met regularly with facilitated discussions about race, how patients and their families showed up and participated in their own health. Small group facilitators addressed white and class privilege through events and examples in their lives, that residents were dealing with in the hospital. Facilitators worked to identify how the lenses in which residents viewed and experienced race could affect their decision-making in life and death situations. Ethnic art, music and culture from the community were integrated into the programs. Committees composed of medical residents, staff and community persons met together to present monthly programs by groups: African American, Latino (would now probably be named Latinx), Asian American, White and LGBTQ.
It was truly an amazing program which initiated “cultural humility,” a concept that means one cannot be competent in another person’s culture, but have awareness, humility and respect for another group’s culture https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SaSHLbS1V4w. The framework of this program has three major components: Lifelong Learning and Critical Self-Reflection, Recognize and Challenge Power Imbalance, and Institutional Accountability. A premise of cultural humility is, we must embark on a life time of learning to fully understand and appreciate that each of us have our own history and cultural roots and we can potentially have cultural competence in our own culture. Respectful partnerships can be achieved by recognizing and challenging power imbalances by being aware of the dynamics between provider and client and between medical staff. Modeling these principles moves an organization towards cultural humility.
When we are trying to repair a tire, we have to take into consideration the wear and tear of the tire as well as the condition of the car. Unlike a car, where we could just buy a new one if we could afford it, in dealing with racism, we can’t just get rid of all of our institutions. Perhaps we need to rethink, dismantle, and transform our institutions from their foundations much like rebuilding the engine of a car. Or maybe we might consider other forms of transportation besides our cars.
The Rodney King event catapulted Children’s Hospital into creating a new construct for providing healthcare. The MCP of Children’s Hospital Oakland honored listening and community-building processes to uncover and discover culturally sensitive approaches to learning and service. They have become a model for healthcare in culturally diverse ways of providing and understanding health, medicine and healing. The principles of cultural humility are utilized by many non-profit agencies to fight racism. In next month’s July “thoughts” I will present Buena Vista United Methodist Church’s journey towards antiracism following a police incident in Alameda.
Questions to reflect upon:.
What are the feelings that you are experiencing as a result of the George Floyd killing? How might you ground yourself, move towards wholeness and ready yourself to take a/another step towards antiracism?
What might be some systemic issues of racism in your workplace, your organization(s) and your community?
“Let us be enraged about injustice, but let us not be destroyed by it.” Bayard Rustin, African American Civil Rights/Gay Activist
Reflection and Adult Learning: Equity, Part III
Reflection has been the cornerstone of my coaching practice. I believe in order for a transformative shift to be made, reflection is the first step that must be taken. Dr. Robert Kegan in his many books, as well as in his learning & coaching programs seems to follow this school of thought. Kegan is a constructive-developmental psychologist who taught at Boston School of Professional Psychology and Harvard School of Education. I took a transformative learning course from Dr. Kegan and Dr. Lisa Laskow Lahey, where they unfolded their program, which diagnoses one’s immunity to change by identifying seven languages as a mental technology for breaking through what keeps us from changing, especially in the arenas to which we are committed.
Kegan & Lahey suggest that human beings are complex, and that when we have difficulty reaching goals that are very important to us, it might be the result of conflicting commitments. If we uncover these competing commitments, we can more easily break barriers that are keeping us from moving forward in our lives. In some ways, Kegan and Lahey’s technology was earth-shattering for me in understanding my own mental blocks. (For information on these languages, see “thoughts,” 1/2018, New Years and Seeking Transformation.) Although I could follow and employ their technology with clients, I had difficulty fully comprehending Kegan’s Orders of the Mind,1 the principles with which he created his Immunity to Change program with Lahey. Over the years in discussion with colleagues, I have discovered that many of my coaching and training contemporaries find Kegan’s theories compelling, yet difficult to access.
Using Kegan’s Orders of the Mind to guide the languages of transformation has been intriguing and promising for bringing lasting change in one’s self-sabotaging behaviors. There is something promising and powerful about this concept of moving the Subject to the Object. This premise immediately resonated with me as a tool for promoting learning and development. Yet I feel like I am only beginning to understand how they integrated this principle into their program. It seems to me that the technology is crafted in an analytical, objective and straight forward manner, and reveals personal or group values embedded within ourselves. I think Kegan and Lahey’s technology helps individuals become more congruent, aligning all the parts of oneself in the same direction, while exposing room for growth, discovery and self-development. Kegan and Lahey describe this process as messy, uncovering parts of oneself that we have learned to hide in efforts to appear professional and competent. Admitting our weaknesses can make us vulnerable, and can be the first step towards breaking through barriers that we haven’t recognized are there.
Jennifer Garvey Berger, wrote a couple of articles, “Leadership and Complexity of the Mind” and “A Summary of the Constructive-Developmental Theory of Robert Kegan” which afforded me a clearer understanding of a Kegan’s theory. One of the reasons I took Dr. Kegan and Laskey’s Immunity to Change course was in hopes of helping individuals and institutions with equity. I had been reflecting upon Kegan & Lahey’s processes and Kegan’s Orders of the Mind to further understand the transformative power of their tool. When I asked Dr. Kegan if one does not identify equity as a personal commitment could the transformative languages help? He said “No.” Therefore, if one doesn’t have equity as a goal or focus on a commitment to equity, the processes wouldn’t work in identifying barriers to progress in combatting racism.
I am also wondering whether looking for examples of racism and paring it with Orders of the Mind in one’s mental development is an approach that begs the issue that racism is institutional. Ibram X. Kendi presents in How to Be an Antiracist, (see “thoughts”, 2/2020) how exploring racism as a personal issue, when racism is a systemic one will not be effective. Merely focusing upon racism as an individual act does not tell the whole story. The word racism implies that it as an institutional concept. Without acknowledging its presence in culture and society, we will have limited effectiveness in understanding how the meaning of racism is embedded within our mental systems. Kendi repeatedly mentions how focusing on an individual person as being a “racist” ignores the larger issues of our systems, institutions and structures of governance and living. Instead, he concentrates on the collective movement of working towards antiracism and provides definitions and different ways of looking at our society.
Kendi, along with many other antiracists, have identified the structure and systems of racism and how it is embedded in our institutions. Individual stories about how people experience racism can illuminate and provide a glimmering of how individuals are being affected by larger societal issues. If we ask the right questions and stretch our mental capacities to higher Orders of the Mind, stories about people encountering racism can point to systemic issues that act as barriers to service and equitable treatment. Just as it is uncomfortable and messy in uncovering one’s own immunity to change, there is cons
iderable discomfort in dealing with racism.
In Kegan’s Third Order of the Mind, or the first level of adult development, studies show that many persons live most of their lives within this order. They have internalized one or more systems of meaning, which may primarily follow the systems of one’s family or another group or culture. Persons inhabiting the Third Order can be self-reflective and self-conscious of their own actions and those of other persons. They can follow the company or family line and can be strong followers of the culture, organization or political rallying point. They have a self-authored system, but can feel torn apart by "disagreeing pieces of themselves.”2 In Kegan’s Fourth Order, individuals are able to develop their own philosophies to combine different systems and philosophies and are more self-guided and self-evaluative. They have a self-authored system, and have advanced to "generate larger goals, principles, commitments that transcend any particular culture of embeddedness."3 (For explanation of Third and Fourth Orders, see “thoughts,” 12/2020 and 3/2020 respectively.)
Turning to the Fifth Order, people at this level can understand advantages of differing governing systems while also recognizing limitations in one’s own internal system. Whereas abstract systems in the Fourth Order were confined to the Subject, in the Fifth Order, they can become the Object. Persons at this order can grasp and formulate many more possibilities and alternatives. Jennifer Garvey Berger writes, “Instead of viewing others as people with separate and different inner systems, those at the Fifth order can look across inner systems to see the similarities that are hidden within what used to look like differences. Adults at the Fifth order are less likely to see the world in terms of dichotomies or polarities.4 They are more likely to believe that what we often think of as black and white are just various shades of gray whose differences are made more visible by the lighter or darker colors around them.”5
It’s not surprising to me that most adults don’t live in the Fifth Order. “Kegan (1994) reports that between 3-6% of adults aged 19-55 make meaning in the transition between the Fourth and Fifth orders; no adults in the studies Kegan reports made meaning fully at the Fifth order (but since the age of these studies is relatively young, it is likely that there would be more people in the Fifth order in a more mature population.)”6
I believe I’ve encountered clients inhabiting the Fifth Order with regard to equity. I remember an African American client who served in the vice executive position, providing services within a social justice cause, and who was being pushed out by an incoming White Executive Director, ED. My client had worked on the local, regional, state and national levels. The previous ED routinely consulted with my client around issues of equity. As persons of color, both the outgoing ED and my client understood white privilege and how people of color, women, LGBQT persons and the poor operate in two different worlds- the white, male, heterosexual and middle class sensibilities and their own worlds where economic resources, access to education, services and resources are not as readily available and the barriers to them are unseen or invisible. In my client’s departure from her organization, she understood that white privilege was being exercised and yet knew she needed to craft her way to the next part of her own life’s journey. She was keenly aware of the power issues, the different systems at work with the organization, board and the new White leader.
While exiting, my client wanted to preserve as much of the program that would engage and enlist the community’s abilities to influence the goals of any programs, by developing avenues to express the needs of the community. She left a legacy of a community-based way of providing services, which was not static, but always open to engaging the community and acknowledging changes in society. My client hoped that some of the processes she created in the various programs, would continue to have meaning for reaching the poor, and underrepresented populations of color. In my client’s last several months at this organization, she developed and followed an exit plan that empowered the remaining staff and provided them with an arena to move through the transition of her exit. She was strategic and compassionate in creating a manner in which she was able to say good-by after holding listening sessions to deal with their grief, transition and issues that they felt they would probably be dealing with in her absence. She empowered them to carry the torch and to continue creating new ways of dealing with issues. She also refused to fight their battles for them. I believe that she operated at the Fifth Order because of the strategic approach to her situation and her departure plan.
Berger suggests numerous strategies for supporting executives in moving from the Fourth Order to the Fifth Order:7
• Practice the integration of the perspectives of other people and/or other groups
• Incorporate dichotomies or apparent opposites
• Deal with undiscussable issues, tolerate and understand contradictions
• Recognize limitations and awareness of one’s own meaning system
• Identify with two different sides of an issue, connect them and imagine solutions that can resolve the issue
• Understand the influence of one’s own mind-set on one’s view of reality.
Regarding the adult development, Berger, Kegan and many constructive developmentalists stress the need for challenge and support to facilitate successful learning.
I had another client, who I believe operated in the Fifth Order when it came to providing equitable education to students and the community. He was committed to equity. He served on countless community boards, committees, commissions for equal access to services and he advocated for persons with special needs. His extraordinary capacity for listening and building relationships was inspiring. He had a keen awareness of differences, while able to identify strengths and contributions of each individual person. Not only did he see the differences and connections between other persons’ meaning systems, he listened patiently, and created respectful and trusting relationships with persons who had been at the opposite spectrum of many equity issues.
As a Chinese American and son of immigrants, this client had experienced prejudice throughout his childhood and work career. He had fought for the hiring of persons of color to administrative positions, even when he knew that would keep him from being hired as a Principal. He persevered and after many years became a Principal and eventually the President of the Board of Education, where he had a tremendous impact on including diversity into the district curriculum and reviewing institutional policies of the District. He was curious about the cultural strengths of persons with diverse backgrounds. With parents whose children were having disciplinary issues, he thought about how their experiences growing up might affect the manner in which the parents interacted and participated in the school community. As Principal, he created ways to welcome all parents to the school and reached out to know them personally. He was constantly making connections of how perceptions, limited finances, lack of opportunities, difficult challenges and trauma might affect one’s ability to be fully present in the learning processes. As President of the School Board, he would ask questions and provide stories that over time, helped his colleagues understand some of the connections that he saw.
Over time, he built bridges where there was typically disagreement. He was a spiritual man, clear that he was called to be a healer. He believed that everyone is in need of healing and that all people are grieving some loss in their lives, even if it be from change or transition. Although I don’t necessarily believe that being spiritual is a requirement for moving into the Fifth Order, it is spiritual leaders that come to mind such as Jesus, Buddha, Gandhi, the Dalai Lama, Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu as persons who inhabit the Fifth Order. Each of these leaders helped people feel like they were heard and understood, while also liberated from suffering. I wonder if having a deep sense of compassion for one’s fellow beings makes it easier to enter the Fifth Order.
Thank you to all of you who have commented on these “thoughts” on this series of Reflection and Adult Development: Equity. I hope they have been of some interest to you. I invite you to post me with your observations and reactions.
Questions to reflect upon:
With regard to equity and inclusion, what are some of the issues that seem undiscussable?
In working with another person or a group of persons where there are two sides that people or you are viewing as either/or, how can you see the merits of each perspective and might there be some different form of governing system that incorporates or manages the tension between them?
1 Kegan, Robert, In Over Our Heads: The Mental Demands of Modern Life. (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1994) 31.
2 https://wiki.canterbury.ac.nz › attachments › berger+on+kegan+narrative, 8.
3 In Part I of Reflection and Adult Learning: Equity, I surmised that persons in the Third Order have difficulty with dichotomous thinking. Although technically true, according to Kegan’s Orders of the Mind, it is not until the Fifth Order that persons have the bandwidth to deal with either/or type of polarized thinking and recognize that one’s own meaning making system might prevent one from seeing different alternatives and be able to incorporate the advantages of two seemingly conflicting systems.
4 https://wiki.canterbury.ac.nz › attachments › berger+on+kegan+narrative, 9.
5 https://wiki.canterbury.ac.nz › attachments › berger+on+kegan+narrative, 9.
6 Berger, Jennifer Garvey, and Fitzgerald, Catherine, “Leadership and Complexity of the Mind: The Role of Executive Coaching,” Executive Coaching Practices & Perspectives. (Palo Alto: Davies-Black Publishing, 2002), 47.
COVID-19: Community & Individual Stories
I greet you wherever you are and suspect that in addition to anything else happening in your life, the Coronavirus is having an impact on your life. Over a week ago while on Zoom with a group of coaches who utilize culturally-aware practices, we discussed how with the predicted rate of infection, we will probably know someone who has died from the disease. It was a sobering thought. The following Sunday in my church’s zoom worship service, a person who had died from the virus was lifted up in prayer. I don’t know if COVID-19 has hit you personally. We have entered into a week that the surgeon general has recommended to forego trips outside of the home including designated exceptions to staying home, such as grocery shopping, since he believes that this week will be one of the worst.
On March 31, 2020, I watched the PBS Newshour’s “Unlocking the Virus” segment. Dr. Siddharta Mukherjee, an epidemiologist, who wrote “How does the Coronavirus Behave Inside a Patient” in the The New Yorker said something that struck me. He shared that measuring the COVID-19 as it moves across the population is equally as important as measuring how it moves within a single person. I began to think about what he said with how my clients continue to be aware of how they provide needed services for their communities while watching how their services affect each individual. Both the stories of communities and the stories of individuals are important. Dr. Mukherjee stated that epidemiologists are learning many things about the pandemic: how it is primarily transmitted through respiratory droplets and that persons can spread the Coronavirus even if one has no symptoms, how every virus has it own personal imprint and that this current COVID-19 virus is related to SARS and MERS. Towards the end of his talk, Dr. Murherjee stressed how social distancing and sheltering at home are buying time for scientists and medical professionals so that when the full wave of the virus arrives, we will be able to have enough capacity and treatments for the worst-hit persons.
Dr. Mukherjee presented how testing of the Coronavirus is only in its first phase, measuring how fast it is moving across people: Are you infected/not infected? Are you symptomatic or not, or don’t have symptoms and carry the disease? The second phase is the measurement of the movement of the virus within people, or the dynamics of the virus within people: How much virus were you exposed to? How much does that virus lead to an infection? Are you immune once you get infected?
Late in March, I sent an invitation to my blog readers to let me know how you are faring during this pandemic. For most of us, the shelter in place, means working from home or being out of work. I was pleased to learn that after making the transition, you were enjoying some extra time. Some of you were engaging more with family at home, and some of you were taking advantage of special videos, online concerts, online yoga/exercise and/or good books. Most of you did not mention decreased employment or major concern about your personal and organizational finances, although this was early in the timeline of staying at home. I do know that my clients are thinking about their families and their communities not having access to medical care, social services, enough food, as well as children and students who also may be facing difficulties from not having the computers/tools, internet capacity and needed support to access school lessons from home. Most of my clients work for non-profits and their organizational newsletters have emphasized how although their services might be on hold, we need to continue fighting for justice and equality. This epidemic exacerbates our most vulnerable populations’ quality of life and further corrodes the social safety nets and opportunities for gaining economic security. Immigrant children whose families are seeking asylum are still separated from their parents, and detained in prison. Many people do not have health care. With the shut-down of courts due to this crisis, increased delays to quick and speedy trials further amplify the shortcomings in our justice system. Communities of color, the poor and the disabled, are being more deeply affected from this pandemic than the larger population.
How do we carry on? Please let me know how you and your organization are moving forward with your mission. I’m curious about how you might need to change your approach for the uncertain future. As we return to work, will you/your organization make new provisions for health, especially when there is outbreak of contagious viruses such as influenza, Covid-19, SARS, MERS? In living through the Coronavirus, will you need to create different mechanisms for working in your office and in working with your clientele? Will you need to reconfigure waiting areas where receptionists greet the public? Will you have different sitting arrangements in group meetings? Will you need to continually clean all surfaces? We have much to learn from the medical and essential services that are already facing this issue. We also might research how Taiwan, who has battled previously with SARS, were ready and made changes that limited incidences of the Coronavirus and dramatically reduced spread of it as compared with neighboring countries and the rest of the world.
Returning to the PBS segment on Unlocking the Virus segment: Dr. Murkherjee, was asked if he thought we would be successful in getting through this crisis. He was affirmative and said that he is very confident that we will. On that positive note, I’d like to send my deepest gratitude to all of you who are health-care and essential workers risking your lives for us. THANK YOU. And, to all of my readers, I hope that you are able to stay safe, healthy and do what you can to help our communities, while taking care of yourself and your families.
Note: I have listed a few resources that I find interesting, including The New Yorker article written by Dr. Murkhergee; a two-part series about infectious diseases that airs tonight and covers Dr. Murkhergee’s work and the history of genetic testing; as well as a program about the pandemic of SARS that was created prior to the December, 2019, Coronavirus outbreak in China.
Questions to reflect upon:
How is the Corona Virus affecting your community? How is it affecting you?
How does your work or life affect the community you serve? And how do your services reach individuals and how does it affect them? Going forward, what changes do you think you will have to make?
“The Next Pandemic,” Explained, Netflix Series, November 7, 2019.
Ken Burns Presents: The Gene: An Intimate History, Two-part series, PBS, April 7 and 14; 8 pm, Channel 9 in Bay Area, California.
"All classes of people under social pressure are permeated with a common experience; they are emotionally welded as others cannot be. With them, even ordinary living has epic dept and lyric intensity, and this...is their spiritual advantage.” -Alain Locke, Black Philosopher
Reflection and Adult Learning: Equity, Part II
In December of 2019, I wrote about Robert Kegan’s Orders of the Mind and focused upon the first stage of adult development, or the Third Order. I provided examples about equity. This month’s “thoughts” I would like to address the Fourth Order, or second stage of adult learning. I will refer to some of the examples and explanations presented in Part I of this series on Reflection and Adult Learning: Equity.
Kegan’s premise is that as we reflect upon our lives and move the Subject to the Object, we are growing and developing and that we can’t act upon the content of the Subject until it moves to the Object position. At the Third Order, or socialized mind, we are able to incorporate a Board of Directors in our own minds,1 and can internalize different systems and ways of thinking, with the Subject being abstractions. Yet, we can only deal with abstractions in a concrete way. Thus, while we are in the Third Order, we can internalize another’s point of view in dealing with someone else and grow our capacity for empathy, we “cannot construct a generalized system regulative of interpersonal relationships and relationships between relationships.”
2 (Please refer to “thoughts, 12/19” on my website for a more thorough explanation of the Third Order.)
In the Fourth Order, the Subject grows to include abstract systems and ideology, with abstractions and self-consciousness moving to the position of Object. Executive coaches, Jennifer Garvey Berger and Catherine Fitzgerald write “Adults at the Fourth Order have achieved all that those at the Third Order have, and in addition, have created a ‘self’ that exists even outside of its connection to the meaning systems and people surrounding it.” 3 Individuals in the Fourth Order can deal directly with abstractions, consider multiple systems to make decisions about groups and institutions. It is not until the Fourth Order, or what Kegan calls the self-authored mind, where individuals become the Chair of the Board of their own minds. Whereas the Third Order adults recognize abstractions, as the Subject, those in the Fourth Order can move abstractions to the Object while acknowledging abstract systems, as the Subject. They do not have to rely only upon what their group, family, community, organization or institution have taught them. People in the Fourth Order are not surprised like those in the Third Order when they can’t get consensus about the best course of action. At the Fourth Order as Chair of the Board, a person can incorporate conflicting ideologies and “transform their relationships to these ideologies, institutions or people.” 4
Remember the Taylor Swift quote in Part I of this series, identifying Scooter Braun’s actions of purchasing rights to Swift’s earlier albums being met with fellow artists saying that Braun has always been nice to them? In the Fourth Order, individuals understand the abstract system of sexism and that being a nice person doesn’t address the issue of power or system of unearned privilege. Persons who haven’t developed the Fourth Order may not be able to understand the system of male privilege. And, because persons don’t always stay at the Fourth Order all of the time, it’s possible that persons may not be able to grasp their relationships to different ideologies, institutions or ethnic groups. Persons who haven’t developed the Fourth Order may not be able to understand or at least begin to look for different solutions and systemic ways of dealing with the problems in our society stemming from racism, classism/poverty, homophobia, sexism, and religious persecution.
In numerous coaching sessions, clients have come to me with issues regarding their direct reports, peers and bosses which included perspectives on equity. I have asked them whether culture or race might have something to do with the issue. They didn’t always answer in the affirmative, but their thinking somehow changed and opened up strategies for how to deal with their supervisory and leadership issues in a way that was congruent with their values. They were able to take into consideration the culture of the system in which their organizations and society operate and their own cultural systems.
As I reflect upon clients operating in the Fourth Order with respect to equity, two clients of color came to mind. In response to my question about whether culture may play a part in their situations, one client mentioned white fragility and another client responded that he knew that the type of behavior his direct report was displaying would never be tolerated from himself as an employee. I believe the issues around the privileges accorded to white persons were institutionally invisible and my clients carried them internally as the Subject. Until they were able to name and understand them as the Object, they couldn’t work with the system of white privilege and then incorporate the ideology in order to understand how it works while figuring out strategies for dealing with the specific issues around supervision.
There are two sayings that I think capture what I’m trying to convey. They are: 1) How do you know what you don’t know? 2) If what you need to understand is beyond your current developmental stage, what motivation would you have to learn and grow and operate in the next level? In the cases of my two clients, they moved to the Fourth Order with this issue and realized that their direct reports would not be able to understand their behavior as equity issues. This is not to say that my clients had not been operating in the Fourth Order with other issues. I think it is easy in our society to be blind to how racism is a systemic issue, not an individual one and the ramifications of this idea. Working towards antiracism is a system with which we have not had much exposure. I further began to wonder, what if my clients’ direct reports went around the authority of my clients and if the clients’ supervisors could not recognize white privilege in the situations? This happens more often than one might think. It would complicate the clients’ issues, creating more inequity and difficulty, as well as block opportunity for growth of the direct reports. Many of my clients have dealt with similar situations. In simply having to deal with racism, sexism and other systemic issues which grant invisible privilege, persons without these privileges live with less power and authority to deal with the presenting issues. Therefore, I’m thinking that in order to combat racism, it’s vital that we begin moving towards the Fourth level of Kegan’s Orders of the Mind.
So, how did my clients explain to their direct reports what they now understand about equity, white fragility and white privilege if their direct reports are at the Third or Second Orders? In their particular cases, I think my clients recognized that their direct reports were not open or capable of stretching and developing in this arena, and decided to deal with the issue in more concrete ways, identifying what was appropriate and what was not. Equity was not the main issue in both of these cases. Although the issues of white privilege and white fragility still exist in these two clients’ organizations, there were positive outcomes for the client. The clients grew and transformed to the Fourth Order of the mind regarding equity and were able to return to face their situations and deal with them with more confidence. They were able to let go of some of the frustration and angst that was embodied in their decision-making. They became congruent in their responses and moved on to other issues.
In a future “thoughts,” I plan to discuss the Fifth Order of the Mind and hope to find examples of equity.
Questions to reflect upon:
Think of an organization or board with which you work where you know the philosophy or system of ideology it holds. Can you think of an issue of fairness which the philosophy or system does not adequately address? For example:
-Disproportionate percentage of African American students who were suspended. OR
- Percentage of any group of color in the executive staff being disproportionately lower than the line staff.
To face Fourth Order demand, try any of these suggestions adapted from Executive Coaching:5
-Identify and articulate the expectations that are causing strain and confusion
-Brainstorm sources of information, expertise, and judgment that might address the issues, including interviews with community members, research or framework of organizations that have good track records of addressing the needs of the particular ethnic group
-Craft a decision-making process that you could use to deal with this complicated situation and include resources that could be helpful
-Propose ways to have constructive discussions with bosses, peers, community leaders involved with this issue
-Reframe the process as a learning process instead of a problem to fix
1 Berger, Jennifer Garvey and Fitzgerald, Catherine, referencing Kegan, “Leadership and Complexity of Mind: The Role of Executive Coaching,” Executive Coaching: Practices & Perspectives. (Palo Alto: Davies-Black Publishing, 2002), 5.
2 Kegan, Robert, In Over Our Heads: The Mental Demands of Modern Life. (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1994) 31.
3 https://wiki.canterbury.ac.nz › attachments › berger+on+kegan+narrative, 7.
4 https://wiki.canterbury.ac.nz › attachments › berger+on+kegan+narrative, 7.
5 Berger & Fitzgerald, 50.
“’The only way to undo racism is to consistently identify and describe it—and then dismantle it.’ (-Ibram X. Kendi)
“Antiracism is a transformative concept that reorients and reenergizes the conversation about racism—and, even more fundamentally, points us towards liberating new ways of thinking about ourselves and each other. At its core, racism is a powerful system that creates false hierarchies of human value; its warped logic extends beyond race, from the way we regard people of different ethnicities or skin colors to the way we treat people of different sexes, gender identities and body types. Racism intersects with class and culture and geography and even the way we see and value ourselves.” From the book cover of How to be an Antiracist, Ibram X. Kendi
From time to time, throughout my whole career in education, youth and human development and leadership, I have been asked, is there one book that they could read to help them be more culturally responsive and to educate themselves about racism. I have always felt that this is an impossible task. At best, I might offer a book on race/class and suggest additional ones where each book might help with understanding cultural and power differences on individual group of persons, such as African American, Native peoples, Asian Americans, Latinx.1 These books rarely included the topic of power imbalance in our society for females, LGBQT and non-binary persons. Recently I went to a public lecture by Ibram X. Kendi about antiracism, sponsored by several non-profit corporate giving foundations. I listened with interest in how Kendi unfolded how he, as a Black man, realized through life experiences that he is racist, sexist, homophobic, colorist (seeing different shades of color as supporting racist ideas between white and black people), classifying people of European descent as superior and holding the ideology that Black people can’t be racist because they have no power. While defining and shifting the focus to antiracism as a technology to combat racism, he explores how racism and these other forms of hierarchical cultural constructs lead to resource inequity and an unequal playing field. His premise is that we are all racist because racism is a concept of the structures and systems of our societies and that our country was created through constructing racist hierarchies.
I almost did not purchase Kendi’s book because his ideas were familiar—I’ve read about power, institutional racism, and seen racist acts and policies regularly reflected in today’s society, and I have many books in my library about race, class, and how to unlearn prejudice. But for some reason, I did. What I found powerful were his definitions:
• biological racist/biological antiracist
• ethnic racism/ethnic antiracism
• bodily racist/bodily antiracist
• cultural racist/cultural antiracist
• behavioral racist/behavioral antiracist
• colorism/color antiracism
• anti-white racist
• powerless defense of Blacks
• class racist/antiracist anticapitualist
• space racism/space antiracism
• gender racism/gender antiracism
• queer racism/queer antiracism
This may sound trite, but to better understand these words/opposites, I invite you to read Kendi’s book, How to be an Antiracist. Kendi is a Black male, who has repeatedly been the target of racism, shares how he is a recovering racist, recovering privileged male and recovering heterosexual. Although born and raised within the African American community, to a father and mother who were civil rights leaders, he shares how society bred in him the cancer of systematic hierarchical privilege for persons of European ancestry, males, heterosexuals. His journey reminds me of my life’s journey and that of many of my clients and persons of color who work for social justice. Our stories are not exactly the same, but have a familiar ring to them--the journeys we have had to make and continue to make because we are persons of color who dream and strive towards an antiracist society.
I think that Kendi’s focus on antiracism, rather than on racism, is similar to the movement in coaching and learning/development to come from a place of being positive and moving towards a goal: to be appreciative of one’s strengths while acknowledging one’s weaknesses and focusing on the way ahead. No one wants to think of themselves as a racist. The labelling of someone as racist is not helpful in getting individuals on board to do the difficult and continuing work of healing and eradicating ourselves and our society of this horrible disease. As individuals, if there is not the motivation to be antiracist, one is not likely to be willing to identify when one is racist and when one needs to own up to unearned privilege. Of course, I am not advocating that it’s OK to ignore racist acts and policies. Kendi says that there is no “in between safe space of ‘not racist.’ The claim of ‘not racist’ neutrality is a mask for racism.”2 Furthermore, Kendi writes:“This is the consistent function of racist ideas—and of any kind of bigotry more broadly: to manipulate us into seeing people as the problem, instead of the policies that ensnare them.”3
Questions to reflect upon:
Is there some action you might do to identify, resist or begin to rectify racism in your workplace, community or home?
In terms of racism and the fear which it may instill in you, from what do you need to heal?
1 Latinx is meant to be inclusive of male, female, LGBQTIA and non-binary individuals. (Only the reference to this group has a gender identification.)
2 Kendi, Ibram X, How to be an Antiracist. (New York: One World, 2019), 9.
3 Kendi, 8.
Welcoming the New Year, the New Decade!
Shinnen Omedeto-Happy New Year in Japanese. I’ve been thinking about journaling twenty things for which I’m grateful as we move into a new decade. I often hear counselors or coaches mention at year’s end how identifying things one is grateful for can really help one through difficult times, while also putting one in a place to help others. I do recognize that when one is grieving, or really hurting, it may be difficult to be positive. In some ways, focusing on being positive can mask how one is feeling. For me, I am finding that it is important to be in the moment of sadness, anger or disbelief, to be present with what one is feeling and to acknowledge it. I am finding that after finding a way to acknowledge whatever emotions are occurring, there is always at least one thing, at any time, that I can be grateful for. Two years ago, 2018 was probably the most difficult year of my life so far. This past year, 2019, brought a lot of health challenges. I am very grateful to have made it through the year and couldn’t have done so without the help of friends.
I am grateful for all of my clients, who let me in to their lives, sharing their joys and triumphs, as well as their challenges. I have come to realize that moving past one’s own barriers takes a measure of trust and willingness to be vulnerable. I am so very lucky to continue to have clients who are open to learning and developing—it is truly a privilege to accompany them in their life journeys.
I am grateful for the Prism Coaching Circle, a small group of coaches who practice culturally-aware coaching and continue to support each other in the practice of helping our clients better live their lives through understanding how all of our perspectives are informed by culture. A lot of our discovery and conversation is in identifying institutional power and institutional bias. I can explore more about this in future “thoughts.”
I am grateful for my sisters, extended family members and all of the caretakers of my parents these past seven years. My dad passed in October. I am grateful for all of the people from my parents’ farming and church communities, our current church family and relatives who stopped by, shared food with them and let us know they were thinking of my folks throughout the past seven years. If one can have a good death, I would say my dad did. I was watching my dad and my mom on the week-end that he passed. He died at home, passing less than 24 hours after he stopped food and water. My parents said their good-byes to each other, and almost all of the children and grandchildren had the chance to say our good-byes, even though we knew he might linger for a lot longer. One sister, who is a nurse, had been checking in on my dad daily for three days to see if he might get better, which he had done many times before. I had prayed that we could have hospice, as my dad seemed to be declining quickly and just didn’t have the usual energy or drive. Although the nurse who would have assessed him for hospice care did not arrive until after my dad passed, the kind of things that my sister did was very similar to what a hospice nurse would have provided in helping us prepare for his death. I am so thankful for the way in which she helped my family, helped me in participating in the ending process.
I am grateful for the health of my nuclear family. Last year in January my husband was in the hospital for two surgeries, which came after three years of suffering from something that wasn’t able to be diagnosed. In December of 2018, doctors thought my older son had passed a kidney stone. My son continued to have difficulty, but didn’t have surgery until March of 2019, when he had surgery to remove the stone that had been undetected and seemed to be the original one that had not quite passed. Throughout the last half o 2018, my younger son was dealing with grave symptoms from mental illness before he entered a program which assisted him in his journey towards acceptance of his illness and helped him to deal with PTSD. We all feel extremely fortunate that life seems much brighter than it was a year ago at this time
I am grateful for friends who have spiritually and emotionally supported me throughout this past year and this past decade.
I don’t know, in future "thoughts," I might begin each quarter this year with five more things for which I’m grateful. Maybe I will, maybe I won't. I wonder if you might identify five things for which you are grateful. How might these things have significance for you? I’d love to hear from you.
Questions to reflect upon:
Can you think of a time when you stopped to consciously be grateful about something? Did you notice any difference in your frame of thinking?
Can you experiment with making a gratitude list and observing anything thing that changes within you?
Reflection and Adult Learning: Equity, Part I
With December’s typical rain and snow in some areas, and with the close of the calendar year, reflection seems like a good theme for this month’s “thoughts.” In reflection of my coaching practice, I am eternally grateful for my clients--in having the privilege to accompany them in their leadership journeys, and in watching their moments of insight and learning. Working with them is a highlight in my life, so thank you to all of my clients, current and past. Many of my current clients view equity as an important value and goal for their organizations. It recently occurred to me that my clients are developing the complexity of mind, a transformative learning theory created by Robert Kegan, a developmental psychologist.
Kegan’s framework is built upon developing one’s capacity, expanding one’s mind to become more complex, more able to deal with uncertainty and multiple demands. Jennifer Garvey Berger writes about Kegan's model, “This is a constructive-developmental theory because it is concerned both with the construction of an individual’s understanding of reality and with the development of that construction to more complex levels over time.”1 The development is more than learning new skills or information, but transformative. The person’s thinking adapts, and changes the way he or she understands things.
Kegan has posited five stages or “orders” of human development, with increasing capacity in the way we construct and view our realities. The first two orders are typically developed as young children and adolescents. The First Order is a time of magic and mystery, and the world is constantly changing. In this order, other people exist separately from oneself, but another person’s point of view is not understood. In the Second Order, another person’s point of view can be accessed, however, one cannot hold differing points of view at the same time. The Second Order consists of things staying the same regardless of one’s relationship to them, such as understanding that when one goes up in an airplane, people on the ground have not shrunk in size.
According to Kegan, development to the Third Order is based upon the ability to move from Subject to Object. When something is the Subject, any assumptions or beliefs about it are not questioned. With reflection, one can internalize the Subject, question and think about it in different ways and consider one’s belief system about it. In this way, Kegan says it can become what he calls the Object. One’s belief system affects how one makes decisions and with reflection one can consider why and how one believes something. Kegan asserts that only by keeping the new learning as the content or Object of learning, can one continue to grow. It’s a psychological muscle that “is hard to build because giving up a way of understanding oneself and/or one’s world can be painful.”
2 Consequently, even if one has made a shift from Subject to Object, it is not uncommon to allow the insight to fade back into the Subject.
On a morning show, Singer/Songwriter, Taylor Swift, recently selected “Woman of the Year” in entertainment spoke about Scooter Braun, whose company owns the rights to Swift’s earlier albums, “Let me just say that the definition of toxic male privilege in our industry is people saying, ‘But he’s always been nice to me when I’m raising valid concerns about artists and their right to own their own music.’”3
I think that for Taylor Swift, male privilege is the Object. It seems to me that the people commenting are focusing on Scooter Braun and not being able place male privilege as the Object. People may be confused as to what Swift is talking about because their belief system guides them to assume that Braun is a nice guy so he couldn’t be exercising male privilege, especially “toxic male privilege.” I wonder if it is difficult for them to understand male privilege, and to question their relationship to the notion of male privilege.
Kegan has designated three orders of adult development which encompasses an increasing shift from Subject to Object and also reveal an underlying structure of one’s conscious reflection. Kegan asserts that when the Subject becomes the Object, transformation occurs, and the way that a person makes meaning from the world evolves. This progression of knowing can help adults deal more effectively with abstract systems, ideology and how one relates to other people and to institutions.
In the Third Order, or the typical first level of adult development, an individual can understand abstractions as the Subject and is aware of one’s needs and preferences as well as those of other people. A person inhabiting the Third Order is self-reflective about one’s actions and the actions of others. The Object, however, remains concrete. Meaning is made primarily by the point of view one has internalized. At this order, when there is a conflict between ideologies, institutions or people, a person in the Third Order may have difficulty making a decision, especially when there is no consensus. Most adults can inhabit this order; however, I suspect that with the Subject of equity, many adults fall back to the Second order. As in the Taylor Swift example, the abstract idea of toxic male privilege is difficult to grasp because, for them, male privilege isn’t consistent with their notion of a nice guy. People in the Third Order can be very loyal to the particular ideologies they have adopted. They may disregard information that is new to them and may not be open to changing their minds or thinking differently about the situation. With regard to equity, they may have internalized specific systems of meaning that do not consider or incorporate differing cultural philosophies or viewpoints.
I remember an African American participant in an “Unlearning Prejudice” workshop I conducted over 20 years ago remarking that she didn’t want to share her experiences. Let’s name her Yvonne. She just wanted to do her work and get by the best she could. Yvonne was working within a predominantly male dominated field, where there was a small percentage of African Americans. Another African American woman had shared her story about unequal treatment. Yvonne commented that she’s not going to spill out her guts and have persons sit back, watch her and think that she’s crazy. For although the woman who shared her story found it healing, at the same time, there were white persons that felt entertained and happy that they didn’t have to speak or share, and they did not. Listening didn’t demand them to self-reflect. They didn’t question their belief system about prejudice nor their relationship to the meaning of prejudice.4
I think I understand what Yvonne meant about just doing her work. She knew her coworkers well enough that one or two of their stories would not get most of them to understand an internalized system of prejudice, white or male privilege and it was just too emotionally exhausting to share when she was pretty certain of the outcome. In Kegan’s framework, one must be able to question one’s belief system about the Subject to move it to the Object. In this instance, I believe that many of the white male coworkers may have been stuck in the Second or Third Orders when speaking about racism. While these persons probably had “internalized one or more systems of meaning (their family’s values, a political or national ideology, a professional or organizational culture),”5
they could not understand the abstract idea of racism. Perhaps they didn’t understand the examples from the woman’s story because they were not concrete enough, and/or not close enough to their own experiences. This means they were inhabiting the Second Order. Or the persons may have been in the Third Order, still “unable to develop their own philosophies or to combine the best parts of several different ideas into their own new one.”6
Reflection in the Third, Fourth and Fifth Orders is a significant part of Kegan’s development as it reveals underlying structures of one’s thinking. I plan to write more about Kegan’s Framework, especially the Fourth and Fifth Orders in future postings of the coming year. Please feel free to post me with your responses or observations of this month’s coaching blog. Thank you for reading and joining me in my reflections and “thoughts” journey. As this year closes, I wish you the best of learning and development, contentment and joy in your relationships.
Questions to reflect upon:
Have you ever encountered a problem where a suggestion from a co-worker, mentor or coach helped you to view the problem and perhaps solution in a different way?
Have you ever become frustrated or had difficulty in making a decision when there was no consensus about the issue? What happened? Would you have that same difficulty with that decision if dealing with it now?
1 https://wiki.canterbury.ac.nz › attachments › berger+on+kegan+narrative, p.1.
2 Berger, Jennifer Garvey and Fitzgerald, Catherine, “Leadership and Complexity of Mind: The Role of Executive Coaching,” Executive Coaching: Practices & Perspectives. (Palo Alto: Davies-Black Publishing, 2002), 31.
3 Taylor Swift, Good Morning America, December 13, 2019.
4 Note: There were several White participants who felt they learned from this workshop. I had one African American male who said he had been in many of these types of workshops and thought he was going to just sit through it because it was a mandatory training. He was surprised that he felt invigorated and transformed by the exercises that we did around building community, stereotyping, preconscious nature of prejudice, classism/racism. He thanked me and said he was leaving with ideas how we can work towards understanding culture and power in a way that doesn’t create stereotypes and more invested in changing the workplace culture.
5 Berger, 37.
6 https://wiki.canterbury.ac.nz › attachments › berger+on+kegan+narrative, p.6
The Trees are Leaving
I love the Fall season: I see vibrant colored leaves, the air smells different, and I sense a drop in temperature. On many days the sky remains darker and I feel a peace inside as I acknowledge the passing of the seasons. Fall is a signal of change and transition. A couple of weeks ago, I walked along my father’s orchard with my sisters, their families and my cousins, retrieving some almonds in their hulls. I felt a stillness and recognized nature getting ready for hibernation and the colder winter. Our family had celebrated my father’s memorial the day before. My dad was raised in this place and farmed the land until he was 88 years of age. Although my dad grew different crops over the years, he retired with almonds, which another farmer now leases and cares for. The almond trees on the farm were dropping their leaves. Here in Alameda where I live and where my mother and dad have lived these past six years, the leaves on the Japanese maple trees in my yard and in the neighborhood still shine with the fall colors. It’s getting colder and these trees, too, will soon shed their leaves.
Fall is a time of transition and reminds us of the cycle of life. At the service, the grandkids shared some memories. My son, Steven, spoke about how grief can be like a friend that reminds you that you are loved. “I’ve heard this phrase that has helped me and maybe it will help you. The phrase goes: ‘Grief is just love that has nowhere else to go.’ It’s our love for him that has nowhere to go. …It’s like the friend that always shows up at bad times. …Grief shows up for me when I need to be supported. …Grief will be there to support us for as long as we need.”1 It is sad he said, but love can help us through the sorrow.
As he spoke, I felt the emotional connection to the loss of my father and also related to how emotions are the passageway of the Neutral Zone that William Bridges presents with his work on Transition. Bridges outlines three stages of transition: endings, neutral zone and new beginnings. While Bridges admits that the neutral zone is anything but neutral, this is the phase where we may experience the confusing process of something ending. Grief, like Bridges’ neutral zone, is the container where we may experience these emotions. I often refer to Bridges’ neutral zone as the passageway or middle ground. Bridges posits that we must go through “endings” before we move on with our lives. Furthermore, he believes that the passageway of the neutral zone, which can be fraught with psychological changes and emotions allows us to start anew. In other words, whenever we experience change, we need to process the emotions that crop up for us, or it will be difficult to start new beginnings in our lives.
Fall is a season of transition, and moves us through harvest to dormancy in Winter, which is followed by Spring and new life. In our fast-changing world, change is always occurring and therefore we are constantly in transition. I have experienced Bridges’ stages of transition and often observe it in my clients. Moving through change and transition is something with which I can support my clients in their coaching journeys. I wonder, what transitions are you currently experiencing? What are the endings that you may need to process? What are the emotions and what might you be grieving? It may be difficult to envision and create new beginnings until moving through this passageway.
The past six years, my sisters and I brought my dad and mom to the farm on week-ends as often as possible. My dad had said that when he dies, he wants his ashes spread on the farm. He had spoken briefly about other alternatives at different times with different daughters and with my mother. For several reasons, including not knowing if the farm would always remain in the family, I think he knew that his ashes would probably end up at a gravesite. As my extended family participated in the burial service at the cemetery near the farm, I noticed a grove of almond trees in the background. The lot adjacent to the cemetery was an almond orchard!
Questions to reflect upon:
During this fall season, what changes do you notice? Are there emotions that come up from you as you move through the changes? Are there any things that you want to celebrate/honor with these endings?
1 Horikoshi, Steven. Celebration of Life of Frank T. Suzuki, November 9, 2019.
This month, I’d like to address multi-tasking at work, life and in your leadership role. With our high usage of electronic devices, most of us multitask at least some of the time. I have been reading that multitasking is not effective in helping one become more efficient or effective. In February, of 2016, I posted a “thoughts” on “Improving Productivity by Getting Unplugged.” In fact, many of my clients take yoga and are learning to meditate to be able to focus on one thing and to stay in the present moment. Several articles in Fast Company have been dedicated to multitasking. One blog identifies when it’s good to multitask: https://90264034/this-chart-will-show-you-when-you-can-multitask-and-when-you-cant/ It recommends a few strategies. “Go for it” when one task is a habit or skill, when activities reinforce each other and when one task requires intermittent focus and when one task lessens distraction. “Proceed with caution” when you might miss a key detail, when you’re in the spotlight, when tackling a complex task and when you risk tuning out “Don’t even think about it” when you need to relax, when focusing on your family, when one task is high stakes or high risk. A second article https://www.fastcompany.com/90322275/multitasking-is-usually-a-bad-idea-but-here-are-5-times-when-its-ok/ posits that most of the times multitasking isn’t a good idea, but suggests 5 times when it is: when completing simple organizational tasks, reading, creative thinking, practicing presentations, and walking.
One article cites evidence that multitasking is counterproductive and damaging to one’s brain and health. https://www.fastcompany.com/3019659/leadership-now/what-multitasking-does-to-your-brain/. Multitasking, can impede the ability to pay attention, making it difficult to identify irrelevant information. Multitasking rewires the brain and stunts the growth of one’s emotional intelligence. It also purports that multitasking makes people less creative and worse managers. Although an earlier article suggested that multitasking might help creativity, this piece identifies that habitually doing it makes changes in the brain and leads away from sustained focus, the attention needed to spark creativity. If you can’t sort through information and recall pertinent ideas, it’s difficult to manage people. People who multitask all the time become “chronically distracted,” engage larger parts of the brain that are “irrelevant” to the particular task, which makes it difficult to sustain the necessary attention for good decision-making.
One other article provides a process to let go of multitasking. “Why Mindfulness is the Antidote to Multitasking” https://www.fastcompany.com/3026119/why-mindfulness-is-the-antidote-to-multitasking/
suggests relearning how to concentrate and explains how meditation can help you to become more aware when you’ve become distracted.
Questions to reflect upon:
Do you multitask? Are you aware that you are multitasking? Does multitasking in each situation assist you in productivity or efficiency?
How do/can you practice mindfulness? Through walking, engaging in yoga, tai chi, meditating?
The past two months, my coaching blog has been focused on listening as a culturally-aware leader. (Scroll down to read them.) This month I’m presenting some “thoughts” on procrastination. This issue has often cropped up in my sessions with coaching clients. I usually work with procrastination in an individual way, depending upon the person’s workstyle and what might be causing my client to get “stuck” in completing something when it is a priority or important issue. In Fast Company, I came across three different articles about procrastination: 1) one which gave ideas to assist in creating an effective “to do list,” https://www.fastcompany.com/90392932/to-do-lists-for-procrastinators/
, 2) another column provided strategies based on the personality types of Perfectionist, Dreamer, Worrier, Crisis-maker, Defier, and the Pleaser, https://www.fastcompany.com/90383266/personality-type-and-procrastination/, and 3) an article that identified procrastination as an “emotion-management problem,” rather than a time-management one https://www.fastcompany.com/90357248/procrastination-is-an-emotional-problem/.
As I read “Procrastination is an emotional problem,” by Sam Kemmis-Zapier, I realized that I work with my clients in a similar way, by asking them questions that might lead them to naming how they are feeling and what is coming up for them. Zemmis-Zapier notes that there often seems to be some kind of emotion attached to procrastination, and cites information from Solving the Procrastination Puzzle, by Tim Pychyl. Pychyl, a psychology professor at Carleton University, reveals that since the 90’s, research links procrastination to a negative emotion, which people subconsciously carry and which underlies some kind of anxiety. There is some kind of guilt or “inner critic” which causes a person who is procrastinating to think and say, “I should have done this, but didn’t,” or “I’m lazy.” This guilt doesn’t seem to help one become more effective in overcoming one’s procrastination, but rather ends up in more worrying and a negative mindset. Zemmis-Zapier refers to a study in Pychyl's book that identifies “significant positive correlations between procrastination and rumination, and negative correlations between procrastination and both mindfulness and self-compassion.”1 In other words, a good method for overcoming procrastination is to stop judging oneself, which can help oneself to deal with one’s emotions, step into mindfulness, and let go of ruminative thoughts.
Returning to the column on creating an effective to-do list, I recognize that I have moved my clients through many of the suggested steps: 1) figure out what to eliminate or automate, 2) make sure that your tasks are broken down into specific parts, 3) start a project-specific, rather than day-specific, to-do list, 4) commit to doing one item and then clear out the rest of the day, 5) create a procrastination “low energy” list.
Referring to the article on dealing with procrastination by personality types, the suggestions are helpful and fairly predictable: Perfectionist-get rid of “should” from one’s vocabulary and not worry so much about details; Dreamer-pay more attention to details and specifics and make a plan for a specific day; Worrier-let go of overthinking and be willing to make a decision; Crisis-Maker-create the kind of “rush” by setting a timer to counteract difficulty in not getting motivated until it’s the deadline; Defier-shift out of a reactive mindset and “choose” to act and move into action; Pleaser-since this type aims to please people and ends up having too much to do, find vocabulary to say “no” in a gracious way, “like ‘No, thanks for thinking of me,’ or ‘No, I can’t do the whole thing, but I can do part of it’… .” 2 Regarding workstyles and time management, there is an excellent resource which identifies how the 16 Myers-Briggs Type Indicator® personality styles deal with procrastination-Out of Time: How the Sixteen Types Manage Their Time and Work, by Larry Demarest. For each type, Demarest dedicates a section on how procrastination manifests itself and how each particular type gets back on track.
Most people procrastinate. I think it’s human. Dealing with our emotions, recognizing our basic patterns of how we work and creating to-do lists that work for us may help us to deal better with procrastination. How we respond to procrastination can help us become more productive, calmer and happier.
Questions to reflect upon:
Is there any concept in this issue that resonates with you? What is it and how might you try it out to overcome procrastination the next time procrastination crops up?
Can you think of a time when you overcame procrastination and felt good about yourself? If yes, did you congratulate yourself?
When I posted these “thoughts” above I received a comment. One friend wrote to me and mentioned that as an executive director, she was given an interesting strategy. “I received this wisdom, and it helped me survive those long unrelenting days and nights with some satisfaction. Basically, it’s ‘Worst things first!’ The rewards came with a clearer focus to take on the primary, creative aspects of the jobs, without the heavy guilt that had nagged me before. In the long run, it made time to assess and change processes for those ‘worst’ tasks, too,” Jeri Lynn Endo.
I’m wondering if some kind of emotion, such as “guilt” for not doing the “best” job may be a factor for her previous procrastination. My friend’s suggestion reminded me of another a strategy I used and only recognized it when my husband mentioned that he had observed a co-worker employing. When in a meeting and little follow-up tasks emerged, such as making a phone call or looking up something, his co-worker took care of those items immediately after walking out of the session. My husband adopted that strategy and said that he was able to complete projects with many details more quickly, which saved a lot of time, while preventing bad feelings about putting something off.
1Sam Kemmis-Zapier, “Procrastination Is An Emotional Problem: If you stop treating procrastination like a time-management issue, it becomes easier to manage,” Fast Company, May 31, 2019, [http://fastcompany.com/9035248/procrastination-is-an-emotional-problem/]
Leadership, Immigration and Listening
With the continued detention of immigrant children separated from their parents, the deportation of families who have come to the U.S. to seek asylum and the mass shootings in Florida and Texas which seem to have targeted Latinos, I have been wondering how immigrant families, communities and the many people who provide services to these populations are being affected. I called a former client who works in Domestic Violence Prevention who came to this country from El Salvador. I wanted to know how she is doing, how she is personally processing all of this and how it affects the services she helps provide, as well as how her clientele is coping.
Sonia said, “We’re definitely feeling it.” Her initial response was that she doesn’t have anger or sadness, but an overwhelming feeling that that the government is not listening. Sonia is proud to have come to the U.S. and feels a great connection with the diversity and beauty of this country and its people. She said the treatment of immigrants affects her every day, especially because she’s a mom. Having many family members who are undocumented, she understands the fear, worry and concern that so many mothers are undergoing. Will it be their children next? When will their families be targeted? How will the mothers at her work who have experienced domestic violence cope with this added layer of trauma?
Sonia shared with me that no matter how many letters they send, no matter how many people they call, no matter how many protests attended, she feels like no one is listening. In hearing Sonia, I realized that she responds to this lack of listening with her own compassionate listening. Her organization sponsors equity women’s groups, where women talk about their issues and share stories of difficulties. Sonia listens and provides information and strategies that can help them. Sonia’s boss asked her to lead a forty-five-minute session on immigration. At first her response was, my gosh for all the years that they had been having women’s groups addressing race, class and inequities, why have we never offered this before and how could she possibly cover the issues in that short time period?
Nevertheless, she agreed to do it. Sonia’s session was well-received and her office will be holding many more sessions where women continue to share their stories of fear, but also of resilience and survival. Sonia reminded me that in our coaching journey I helped her to overcome nervousness in speaking and leading and provided listening and support to persevere in an organization that didn’t have a culturally-aware perspective of immigrants. She really began to understand how powerful her experiences and her stories are. Sonia is a wise woman, who knows how to listen in a compassionate way which enhances her capacity to serve her clients and help them begin to heal.
Sonia believes that, “Fear is not going to stop us from being in support groups and being visible in the community.” She said that these women worry and are anxious, but the support group is a safe place where they can name their fears and share it with other persons who are experiencing it. Although Sonia knows that it will be painful if they are separated, Sonia provides the support to begin making decisions of how to protect themselves and their families, and to learn about their rights if ICE or the police stop them. In these groups, Sonia exposes them to one of the well-known immigrant information programs, “Know your Rights.” They begin to make plans, such as coming up with a person whom they can leave their children with if ICE takes them away. The women can sign up to see an attorney who can help them figure out an individual plan tailored to deal with their specific situation.
I was inspired in listening to the stories that Sonia shared, of her leadership in helping empower and provide healing for immigrants. As a “wounded healer,” she is helping women to voice their fears and recognize their dependence upon each other.
Questions to reflect upon:
Are we listening to the stories of immigrants in our neighborhoods and communities?
What are their stories and what might their stories call us to do?
Listening as a Leader
“Railey Stern Yen, a senior alto sax player at Oakland Tech who’s headed to the Oberlin Conservatory of Music, credits (Helena) Jack with his musical sucess. ‘She never says, ‘you better do this.’ She just shows you how to play something and lets you run with it,” he said. ‘And at the end of the day, she wants us to listen to each other. That’s the most important thing in music. And life, too, I think.’ -Carolyn Jones, “Reaching Beyond the Classroom,” Oakland Magazine, July, 2019.
Saxman Railey is one of Helena Jack’s 2019 music students in the Oakland Unified School District. Jack, who is retiring after 20 years, created Oakland Eastside All-Star Ensemble and influenced scores of students at Elmhurst, Castlemont, Oakland Tech and Skyline High Schools. Jack exposed her young people to jazz, funk and blues and not only inspired some of them onto careers and further college in music, but engaged them in life. Railey’s statement about listening, reveals Jack’s extraordinary teaching philosophy and also how she inspired persons to show up and lead their own lives.
Jack stressed listening, continued learning, as well as independent thinking. Mary Nguyen, a classical pianist until high school was instructed by Jack to listen to Count Basie, “She really pushed me to expand musically and try something new. She taught me that music is about communication. …She taught me to keep improving myself, and not worry about what other people think.”
Jack began teaching at Elmhurst Middle School, a very tough assignment where the students weren’t very cooperative. She started attending the afterschool sports games, getting to know the students in an individual way and letting them know that she was there to stay and couldn’t be “run-out.” Helena Jack got to know the families and the community. The principal helped her to obtain a grant expanding the music program to 10 teachers, enabling all students at the school to take music for all three of their middle school years. Jack worked professionally as a trumpet player before becoming a teacher. Jack paved the way for female musicians and also influenced thousands of students. Grace Gulli, a Oakland Tech freshman, who plays the alto sax shares “There’s not a lot of female jazz musicians who aren’t singers. …But we get to practice with Ms. Jack every week. She’s definitely the coolest band teacher I’ve ever had.”
What I find so amazing in this story is how Jack utilized the arts, good teaching, leadership and understanding the importance of families and the community to reach students where they are. Her transformative approach helped students to apply themselves, find enjoyment and passion in their lives. I believe that in many ways I facilitate this type of transformation as a coach, accompanying my clients as they create passageways in their lives and shift responses to move forward. While Jack inspires her students through music and helps them become disciplined in their lives, I help my clients discover or name their strengths and enlist their sources of inspiration and resources to successfully move through challenges. Helen’s Jack’s legacy reiterates the importance of listening and understanding the connection each student has to family and community. I began to wonder how listening has affected how I provide coaching services. Practicing listening within a culturally-aware framework has really helped me to hear and understand my clients in their unique social, political, economic and cultural contexts.
I recently received an email from an African American client who was retiring and with whom I worked with more than 10 years ago. In it he wrote,“I never forgot you. Your words helped me so many times when I just wanted to walk away. I was able to use your advice to promote (to a higher institutional leadership position). When I first met you, I had my doubts, I was so WRONG. I hope you continue to inspire and motivate your clients as you have done for me.” -KC. It’s interesting that he used the word “advice,” because the majority of my time with clients is composed of questions that probe their understanding of the situation and respond with statements that summarize what I think I hear which often results in continued inquiry.
Last month as Asian American client wrote, “I appreciate all your time and coaching and was especially grateful for the time and emails you sent before/after sessions with reflections and additional thoughts. They were so reaffirming and often anticipated my own thoughts.” I believe that the culturally-aware philosophy that I strive to embody contributed to my capacity to assist and support these two clients, embellishing and unearthing aspects to the experiences they shared. Their stories became richer and deeper. My clients reached their goals in creative and authentic ways.
Sometimes a client shares directly about how my culturally-aware coaching approach unlocks their own stories and/or how building and understanding community strengthens their effectiveness. These words are from TL, a White Executive Eirector, “She (Wendy) helped me to reflect upon my goals and break them into realistic pieces. Her questions challenged me to think about why I wanted to achieve those goals. It has been so much fun to make plans and see them come into fruition. I have never experienced anything for myself like the trip to Mexico to learn Spanish. …We have taken time to reflect on our history and for new staff to hear about our agency story and see themselves as part of that story. Everyone was able to think about their strengths and share them with each other, to see how we come together as a team. I feel like we have created more equity in the organization and it is part of the everyday conversation, which sometimes is in Spanish.”
The stories of each client reveal different experiences, strengths and capacity for growth and leadership. With regard to listening, where might your growing edge be and how might listening strengthen your leadership?
Questions to reflect upon:
Is there an arena in your life where listening might deepen the quality of your life or relationships?
How might “just listening” provide a path to your leadership?
Collective Pain & Healing
The month of May is Asian Pacific American Heritage Month and my church had a special service with the Topaz group, youth and families attending a Topaz Pilgrimage in June. Peter, my partner, and I were asked to present Tanforan, a song that Peter wrote with Sam Takimoto, a former bandmate, about the shopping center in San Bruno, California which was formerly a race track and used in 1942 to assemble persons of Japanese-American ancestry before evacuees were sent to a concentration camp in Topaz, Utah. Topaz was one of 10 camps that people of Japanese ancestry were imprisoned during WW2. I found myself tearing up when the main speaker who was born in Topaz shared stories about pioneer members and the role the Buena Vista Methodist church played when members of the church prepared to evacuate and also during the resettlement time after evacuees were released.
Although I have participated, attended and watched many films and shows that focused on evacuation, I was surprised that I got choked up. I knew that these tears were not coming from my individual sadness, but from the sorrow of persons present in the room, of those whose stories were being remembered and from the experiences of my parents, their families and communities rounded up 77 years ago. This collective pain and sorrow were visceral and people in the congregation felt it, too. In addition to being an educational process, I believe that the sharing these stories of pain and injustice are part of the healing process.
In a similar fashion, I feel moved when hearing stories from clients about their experiences of culturally-insensitive remarks or experiences, including when bias is occurring from systematic policies. When the client shares experiences rooted in being different from majority culture, the client usually isn’t coming to me to complain about them. The issues arise within the challenges that they face. I often inquire whether culture had something to do with it or whether culture might be affecting the angst or conflict they are experiencing. Generally, it feels like my clients are not wanting to be personally offended by the issue--they don’t want to be “overly reactive,” or “oversensitive” about the incidents, yet are puzzled or torn about what has occurred.
In these instances, the coaching session can provide an opportunity to recognize that the something they are feeling is “invisible,” is weighing them down and getting in the way of their goals and progress towards achieving them. When my clients name the incident, they can see it as an issue, rather than a personal shortcoming or weakness. They become clearer about what they are dealing with and can more readily make decisions of how they wish to proceed. I have previously written about being “stuck” and having barriers that keep one from being able to achieve one’s desired outcome(s). I do believe that the naming of these incidents helps begins a process of healing. I am acutely aware that some of the barriers we face are institutional. The shifting of oneself amidst institutional blocks can begin with the naming of it, which can release emotional feelings such as confusion, disbelief, anger and fear. Similarly, attitudes and treatment of an individual as a result of culture, class, gender, sexual orientation, religious or mental/physical ableism can be significant blocks in one’s ability to move forward.
The Topaz program reminded me of the concept of redemptive suffering. The Civil Liberties Act of 1988 granted reparations to all Americans of Japanese ancestry with an apology from President Reagan. Many Isseis (first generation Japanese Americans, immigrants,) Niseis (second generation) and Sanseis (third generation) spoke at Congressional hearings to pass the Act. After evacuees received their apology and reparation check, many more of them began to tell their stories about this period of time. For many Japanese Americans, this event helped to recover from the shame they had buried, feeling somehow guilty for being evacuated and not being accepted as “real Americans.” Through the passage of the Civil Liberties Act, redemption from the unjust evacuation was codified into law. Having experienced this type of suffering, it is not surprising that many Japanese Americans and Japanese American community groups have been outspoken about treatment of Muslims in any efforts to round them up and incarcerate them.
At the same time, part of the healing process for Japanese Americans is acknowledging their strength and resilience. Although the students and families attending the Topaz reunion will connect with the stories of pain and loss, they will probably see and hear stories of love, military service, swing dance, music, and art in the camps. Celebrating relationships and joyful experiences in life aid in the healing process. For persons whose families did not experience evacuation, I believe that they can participate in the healing process through listening to the stories, recognizing the damage and loss and resolving to be a part of the movement to keep this type of illegal and inhumane treatment from happening again.
During this month of Gay Pride, as we celebrate our LGBTIA communities, I hope that we are open to hearing their stories of joy as well as sadness so that collective pain can move us forward towards collective healing.
Questions to reflect upon:
Can you think of a time when you identified with someone’s or some community’s pain?
What is a story or experience of struggle for you that is similar to that of other persons, perhaps of an entire community?
Using Coaching Processes to Heal
As I grow older, I am increasingly becoming aware of how it is important to me to appreciate life, to be mindful about living in the moment and to find the joy around and within me. These past two weeks I had some experiences that tied together some of the processes that I employ in my coaching practice, reflection, focus, congruency and flow, and helped me deal with a minor health issue. Reflection helps us to identify the issue, focus, helps up to discipline ourselves, congruency helps to align ourselves and flow helps move us towards meaningful coincidence.
On a Friday, Saturday and Sunday before my church’s annual Spring Bazaar, which celebrates Asian/Pacific Islander Heritage Month I had been helping. Buena Vista United Methodist Church, BVUMC, is committed to understanding and practicing God’s love and healing, and believes that we are called to engage in social justice and inclusion. I typically do not participate in other activities during the Bazaar week-end because BVUMC’s mission is a priority for me and I tend to get overtired. However, I agreed to play music with the Wesley Jazz Ensemble, WJE, in San Jose, another event during Heritage Month. My partner and I had missed playing at a fundraising dance with WJE due to health issues for my partner and son and for caretaking of my parents. I really wanted to sing the song from Crazy Rich Asians, “Wo Yao Ni De Ai” and play with the Ensemble when the San Jose Taiko joined us for two musical pieces. Some of the preparation work at the Bazaar was physical labor and my back and shoulders became tight. As I sat playing the instrument with WJE, I realized that it was difficult to sit up straight and to hold my flute parallel to the ground. I noticed it (reflection), but became so energized by our set and the taiko drum music that I forgot about my stiffness.
Ordinarily I’m beat at the end of the Bazaar. The “high” that I got from engaging in the music felt so uplifting, that even though I had been up at 6 am to work the Bazaar, had left around 10:30 am to travel to San Jose for the music, and came back to the Bazaar to help and clean, I was only mildly tired. I was glad I had made the decision to participate in both events and felt congruent about my decision to do so. For me, life felt like it was flowing and I was very happy.
The following Monday, I engaged in a restorative yoga class, being able to soften my whole body and release some stiffness from my shoulders. On Tuesday, I had an infusion (for bone density, not cancer) and had arranged my schedule to limit coaching sessions and adopted a “wait and see” attitude towards my exercise schedule. While I was tired and had minor back pain the first day after the infusion, the second day, Wednesday, I engaged in a Pilates class. For the first exercise the instructor had us stand up straight and hold our arms in a goal post shape, opening our upper bodies. It was a challenge to hold my arms up in a straight plane and not notice the strain and my body’s reluctance to keep it there. In this stance, I began focusing on the impacted shoulder areas, breathing into them for the count of four, holding my breath and breathing out for the count of four. My shoulders softened and relaxed. I was able to swim the next day and don’t think I would have been able to exercise the full 30- minute workout had my shoulders still be affected. On Friday, my yoga class was dedicated to stretching the whole body, opening up the spine and aligning the body. With an initial pose of laying one’s side body over a bolster (big, firm pillow-like prop), all of the tightness of my shoulders was released. Reflecting and noticing my shoulders during Pilates, yoga and swimming, focusing on the processes, especially through the breathing, helped my shoulders/body become aligned (becoming congruent). Although yoga often helps me in this way, it was synchronistic (flow) that this particular yoga session was dedicated to stretching and opening of the back and hips.
So, why might it be important that I observe the coaching processes in my daily personal life? When I’m busy, it’s easy for me to dismiss any aches or pains that I have and they grow to be much bigger issues. Before I know it, I’m in a bad mood and it affects all of my work and even my attitude towards life. Without recognizing it, I’m in “overdrive” and feel compelled to finish and fix things, and I’m sure that other people around me notice this energy. In this particular situation, observing the coaching processes helped me to take care of myself, increase my gratitude for being in community, acknowledge how much satisfaction I gain from contributing my little part to the larger Asian American and faith communities, as well as enjoy special opportunities in music.
Questions to reflect upon:
Where have you missed noticing small aches and pains, literally and figuratively, that have turned out to be bigger issues? How can you reflect more intently so that you can take care of these issues and yourself in the future? What steps can you take to then focus, become congruent and let the flow bring a better resolution?
*I have incorporated three coaching processes identified by Donald Gerard, MA, CHT, Relationship Coach, that he formulated as Clarity, Alignment, and Acceleration.
To read more about my coaching processes, go to my blog, www.transformativeleadership.net/thoughts.html and scroll down to the months with blogs mentioning:
Reflection: 2/2012, 9/2010
Focus: 12/2011, 3/2010
Congruence: 7/2012, 8/2011, 8/2010, 3/2008
Flow: 9/2011, 5/2011, 5/2008
Evaluation: Collecting the Right Data
I have a coaching client who was exploring a position that evaluated data for compliance and quality assurance. She was intrigued by the job, although has always known that her top strengths were dealing with the big picture, seeing patterns in data as opposed to compiling and monitoring of technical data. I asked her if she was competent in obtaining data, compiling, reviewing and evaluating it. She answered affirmatively. She also had a history of being able to relate to people well and to gain information as to whether her department’s services addressed equity issues, the general principles of fairness, justice and access. I began to think of many instances where the right type of data was not being collected.
With this mindset of equity, I recounted a segment on “CBS This Morning,” 3/02/19, how law enforcement can be focused on particular offenses with the outcome resulting in disparate impact on certain groups of people. Frank Baumgartner, a professor of Public Policy, spoke about data he had collected about traffic stops by race in North Carolina, which is presented in his book, Suspect Citizens. After reviewing 22 million traffic stops over 20 years in North Carolina, Baumgartner, found that “People are not making this stuff up” about racial profiling. African Americans are pulled twice as often, four times as likely to be searched, while White persons are less likely to be issued a traffic ticket. This was the case even though Whites are more likely to be found with contraband than Blacks or Hispanics. Furthermore, if these cases go to court, Baumgartner said that since the court system reflects White middle-class values, the power is given to this perspective.
The purpose of traffic laws is to keep us all safe but, Baumgartner has concluded that the traffic law is used “as an excuse to do a police investigation.” This is the case of Walter Scott, an unarmed man who was fatally shot after being stopped for a broken tail light. Most media accounts did not report that Scott had been pulled over 46 times for traffic infractions. This is not an uncommon statistic for many African Americans. Anyone pulled over that many times can not afford tickets on trivial infractions, and are unlikely to be trusting of police stops. In minority communities, especially poorer areas, African Americans are viewed as criminal suspects. Baumgartner said, “There’s a way that police interact with middle-class white Americans, and there’s a way that people and the police force interact with members of minority communities, especially in poorer neighborhoods.”
At first the North Carolina Association of Chiefs believed that Baumgartner’s data was deeply flawed. They were initially resistant to embrace the findings because they basically believe they are doing police work for noble reasons. As a result of the data, police in Chapel Hill, North Carolina are trying to reform their processes that have had inequitable impact on communities of color. They are focusing on the big picture issue of fighting crime. They have deemphasized low level traffic enforcement. The numbers clearly show that old processes had a disproportionate effect on persons of color, and their efforts. With these changes, Chapel Hill Police have found that it has not impacted their ability to serve and protect. Officers are still making traffic stops. The quality of the traffic stops has improved, the number of unnecessary searches has gone down and searches of contraband actually being seized have gone up.* The Chapel Hill Police Chief said, “For years citations and arrests were a measure of success. The kind of results around traffic stops showed us that good policing was not achieved in the manner they thought it would.”*
Baumgartner concludes, “Don’t use the traffic code to alienate people for no good reason. Don’t use the traffic code to go on a fishing expedition, to try to show who’s boss.” Baumgartner concludes that the data indicates that our society needs to listen to perspectives from minority communities. He encourages communities to find ways to have a significant voice in their local governments and strongly believes that voting and participation matter.
Returning to my coaching client, she further identified her interest in data collection. She talked about how this job as well as her role in her current job might continue to search and collect data that reflects any disparity in which the services of her department may have on communities of color and the poor.
Questions to reflect upon:
In any situation where you evaluating something, what is it that you are looking for? Does focusing on issues of equity suggest collecting different data? How does trying to ask the right questions affect the quality of the responses and subsequently the data that is collected? How might you include differing perspectives that include situations that persons of color and the poor are experiencing?
With the U.S. Census coming up in 2020, what kinds of questions should be added? What kinds of questions should not be asked?
*Bolding and underlining, are mine, not Baumgartner.
Womens's History Month: Three Stories
During February, I enjoyed reading a couple of articles distributed for African American Month—one about “23 Black Female Scientists Who Changed the Damn World: I got 99 problems but black women will cure all of them someday,” and another about the transatlantic slave trade, “The Maafa: The Journey Toward Healing the Trauma.” I thought about integrating at least one of the articles into this month’s “thoughts” maybe under the theme of personal learnings from African American Month and/or under the theme of Women’s History Month. In trying to relate these topics to coaching, I decided to present some stories of women of color who have been my clients. These stories each underline at least one of the values that they wrestled with: commitment to organization, commitment to the movement and commitment to self.
Commitment to Organization: One client, an Asian American woman, was working for an organization that was committed to educational opportunities for young people of color. She was being bullied by one of the directors and passionate about the organization’s commitment to helping youth develop and gain access to higher education opportunities. Since she had been at this institution for many years and had strong ties to staff and their constituents, she kept hoping that things could change. It was making her ill. There were some fundamental practices which could threaten the organization’s demise, and if given the opportunity she could help them recoup and become healthy again. She ached over these problems that the organization was likely to incur and it was difficult to let go of her commitment to the vision and mission of the organization. There was another cultural issue which was troubling her- any potential fall-out on the directors, as they were both persons of color. Even as she was being maligned by one of them, she believed so much in the organization’s ability to contribute to the transformation and growth of youth. In addition to the power difference in her position, being a woman and an Asian American weighed heavily in the situation for this client. When she realized that she was likely to be scapegoated for the problems for which she did not create, she decided to look for another job. It was a good move, a place where she could invest her passion, skills and talents.
Commitment to the Movement: One client, an African American woman, had committed her life to the elimination of violence against women. She was the primary community builder for the organization, developing young people and the staff to lead programs. She was skilled in writing and obtaining grants, leading and evaluating staff and group-building. The staff saw her as the wise woman. The outgoing executive director had longed wished that my client would take over as ED, but she knew that she could have more impact in being a part of the direct services. A new executive director entered and seemed to dislike the “messiness” of direct services. She cut out my client’s department and cut her hours. The ED soon discovered that many of the organization’s other functions didn’t work as well without this woman. There were blatant occurrences of being disrespected as a Black woman. My client slowly transitioned out of her role by helping those remaining at the organization heal from the changes and tying up the loose ends of the many programs she helped to create. She was in such a position of respect from the entire organization that she coached many of them who were losing their jobs there, as well as those that remained. This woman moved to consulting and is still active in eliminating abuse against women.
Commitment to Self: Another client, a Latina woman, worked in legislative advocacy and had just given birth to a child, her first. The ED position was opening up and given her family circumstances, she had not been thinking about advancement or other big changes in her life. We moved through some discussions and exercises to sort out how she felt about it. She believed that she was competent to fill the role and began to explore how she could help the organization grow and develop in improving their services, specifically to underrepresented communities of color and the poor and working class. We also envisioned how the increased work and travel might affect her routine and capacity to “be there” for her newborn and partner. We talked about what her cultural values around family, around honoring the group, serving others and being committed to the movement. In the end, she realized that in her commitment to herself, she needed to apply and was appointed to head of the organization.
With each of these clients there were cultural issues, whether it be values instilled by their parents or community, or cultural assumptions of being personally disregarded due to gender and/or race. The relationships were sometimes between white persons and persons of color, and sometimes inter-ethnic. In my years of coaching, I have observed many examples of persons being pushed out which included strong cultural components of mistreatment. For many of my clients, making space for a balanced personal life can be difficult. They are eager to do well in their jobs, relentlessly working to serve their clientele, their organization and/or the movement to which they have committed themselves. It is often a difficult path to take the time and energy to continue to reflect upon what it truly important at any point in one’s life. During this women’s history month, I urge women to take the time to reflect upon what’s really important to them and to become congruent with their intentions. I encourage men to do so as well, and also to actively support women to make the space to do so.
Note: A special shout out to the three women willing to share these stories.
Questions to reflect upon:
How might you honor important women in your life?
How might you learn more about the contributions of women whose stories are not as commonly shared or known in the mainstream?
“In sharing my story, I hope to help create space for other stories and other voices, to widen the pathway for who belongs and why. …There’s power in allowing yourself to be known and heard, in owning your unique story, in using your authentic voice. And there’s grace in being willing to know and hear others. This for me, is how we become.”1 -Michelle Obama, Former First Lady
I’m often asked what I do in coaching and the answer is not always the same. Each individual is unique and so I think that that may be the reason that my answer varies and develops. My response about what coaching is morphs and changes according to the breakthroughs and new “aha’s” that my clients share with me. For although I often say that I help persons develop their leadership capacity, which may mean to lead others more effectively or to more meaningfully lead their own lives, I know that my coaching supports their learning and development to move towards the person they want to become or feel called to be. Michelle Obama captures this notion of “Becoming” with her book by the same name.
There is a part of me that has always felt that our lives are about becoming, learning and developing and transforming to find deeper meaning in our own lives and the lives around us. Growing up as a woman and person of color, it was not common to read stories about persons with my cultural background. In Becoming, I could identify with Obama’s experiences. I felt a resonance in Obama’s discovery process about culture, class and human nature and appreciated her ability to name them. Her stories surface the meaning of how persons of color and women have to navigate the world differently.
Obama writes, “Speaking a certain way—the “white” way, as some would have it—was perceived as a betrayal, as being uppity, as somehow denying our culture. Years later, after I’d met and married my husband—a man who is light-skinned to some and dark-skinned to others, who speaks like an Ivy League—educated black Hawaiian raised by white middle-class Kansans—I’d see this confusion play out on the national stage among whites and blacks alike, the need to situate oneself inside his or her ethnicity and the frustration that comes when it can’t easily be done.”2 Obama recounts her life as it leads up to the White House, through stories which underscores her understanding of how and why caring people don’t understand racism and white privilege. She shares how she was taught to uphold and integrate her values into her everyday living and to take responsibility for her decisions.
Sometimes, when I am working with clients, they are feeling torn or unsure of something because underneath there may be two different values which seem to be conflicting with each other. Through coaching, I help the client to identify and name the underlying values and to envision whether the two values can be held at the same time, which typically helps the client to get “unstuck.”
Another topic that Obama addresses is dealing with dominance. “I can hurt you and get away with it. … Every person who’s ever been made to feel ‘other’ recognized it. It was precisely what so many of us hoped our own children would never need to experience, and yet probably would. Dominance, even the threat of it, is a form of dehumanization. It’s the ugliest kind of power.”3 In my previous workplace, I have lived through this kind of dehumanization, and didn’t recognize it as workplace bullying until I had a client who was undergoing it. I began to research bullying in the workplace and was flabbergasted at the high incidence of it, the small or non-existent controls to prevent and control it and the lack of processes to support the persons receiving the abusive treatment. I was no longer surprised as this issue came up in coaching sessions with other clients. And, unfortunately in sessions with my clients, bullying behavior was revealed in other arenas as well, such as the home or community.
Obama’s reference to dominance in the book was in the arena of male privilege. “Women endure entire lifetimes of these indignities—in the form of catcalls, groping, assault, oppression. These things injure us. They sap our strength. Some of the cuts are so small they’re barely visible. Others are huge and gaping, leaving scars that never heal. Either way, they accumulate. We carry them everywhere, to and from school and work, at home while raising our children, at our places of worship, anytime we try to advance.”4 Michelle addressed the Democratic National Convention in 2015 and used her words to speak out about dominance.
I thoroughly enjoyed reading Michelle Obama’s book. She created space to tell people’s stories. She lifted up the voices of others, spoke her truth through stories and encouraged us to share our stories. Becoming is a journey that I’m on and one in which I feel privileged to accompany with each of my clients.
1 Obama, M. Becoming, (New York: Crown), 421.
2 Obama, Becoming, 420-421.
3 Obama, Becoming, 408.
4 Obama, Becoming, 408.
A Moment of Change
In past “thoughts,” I have commented on issues of diversity and fairness and how it might affect my clients in terms of their learning, development and leadership. I don’t believe I’ve ever written about this topic with regard to movies or television. I was struck by some of the words that Sandra Oh spoke as the emcee of the 76th Golden Globe Awards and as recipient of the best actress in a drama. She said that she was only willing to step up and inhabit the nervousness of being the emcee because of this past year’s diversity of movies, such as the “Black Panther” with an all-Black cast, “Crazy Rich Asians,” featuring an all-Asian cast, written by and produced by Asians, and a record number of females in lead positions and in directing/producing roles. Actress Oh wished to “witness this moment of change. … This moment is real.” She also acknowledged that next year the moment may be different.
When I grew up, I remember my whole family sitting around to watch David Carradine, a white man playing an Asian Shaolin monk, who was a martial arts master in “Kung Fu.” My sisters and I looked forward to each moment where Hop Sing, the Chinese cook in Bonanza made an appearance. When “Crazy Rich Asians” first came out, I didn’t know if I was particularly interested in a show about rich people, but then when I saw the movie, I experienced diversity within Asians, Asian Americans and within Asian American/Asian men and women. For one of the first times on the big screen, the story dispelled the often-held stereotypes that all Asian Americans are the same, that they are all kung fu experts. The acting, singing and artistry were beautiful and the story was heart-warming. The audience in the theatre I attended was diverse, however with more Asian Americans than I’ve seen at one time in that particular venue. I felt like I was at home. I had experienced a similar feeling when I attended “Black Panther,” where the cinema had a predominantly African American audience. I especially enjoyed listening to the comments that persons in the audience was making quietly to each other, which included issues about culture and history. Hearing young children asking questions about family and hearing the parents answer with pride was delightful. I realized that although Black Panther was a story taken from a comic book, the filming and viewing of it opens up possibilities for creativity, story-making and for African Americans to get more parts in future movies. It was delightful and added to the feeling of being in community, enjoying an Afro-centric story with universal appeal.
Sandra Oh’s opening comments included, “I see you and you and you,” while she acknowledged persons of color and women in the industry. The Golden Globes seemed to be recognizing the issue that persons of color and women have not been recipients of their awards. Lady Gaga, who co-wrote and acted in “A Star is Born” when being honored for co-writing the song, “Shallow,” said “As a woman in music, it is really hard to be taken seriously as a musician and songwriter,”and she was grateful that the male co-authors of the song supported her and “lifted her up.” In systemic change, the rules and treatment need to change to create a foundation that will support and encourage equal representation.
As Regina King accepted Best Supporting Actress in “If Beale Street Could Talk,” she said to the film writer, Barry Jenkins, that as her son watched it, it was the first time he really saw himself in the story. The story was adapted from a novel by James Baldwin. With the social backdrop of race prohibitions, this movie portrayed how one could begin to envision the possible from the impossible. King went on to say that “Our microphones are big and we’re speaking for everyone.” She vowed to make sure that everything that she produces will employ 50% women and challenged “everyone out there… to stand with us and do the same.”
Placing our attention to who receives media awards is more than an isolated issue of fairness. Doing so acknowledges the diverse world that we live in and also underscores the notion that films and television profoundly affects our thinking and social consciousness. When the stories of African Americans, Asian Americans, Latino Americans, Native Americans, Middle Eastern Americans are not shared, they are invisible and often rendered powerless. Persons of color are often only portrayed as perpetrators and villains. When Barack Obama was elected President, I wondered if the popular TV show, “24”, with Dennis Haybert depicting the character of David Palmer had influenced people’s thinking. When I looked up African Americans portraying President, there was an article that said popularity for an African American President was high. To my surprise I also discovered that by the year 2008, there were numerous roles of African Americans dating back to the 1930’s, although many reflected the contemporary racist attitudes of the times. I don’t recall seeing these programs. I am reminded that it takes times for people’s attitudes to change and that even with breakthroughs in the social consciousness of society, attitudes go back and forth and that many times with forward progress there are reactionary responses which take us backwards. Thus, Ms. Oh’s remark that next year the moment may be different.
Many of my clients are heart-broken with the increasingly intolerant and hateful attitudes towards immigrants, persons of color, poor people and persons of diverse sexual orientation. It has been difficult for my clients to keep from being overwhelmed by sadness and sense of frustration for our society’s ignorance and lack of compassion. Celebrating moments of change can give us hope. Watching and hearing many of the speakers at the Golden Globes has reminded me that we all have arenas of influence. I think we need to give and be given opportunities to dream for change and to influence change. Where can we step up to tell our stories and join in these moments of change?
Questions to reflect upon:
How do any of the stories from the films or television shows that you watch identify or reflect voices that aren’t often heard from?
In your area(s) of work, community, family and leisure, what can you celebrate about the increasing diversity and inclusive embrace of it?
Is It Cold Outside?
I participate with a jazz group that presents music to the community. Last year, my husband and I sang a classic Christmas call and response type of duet called “Baby it’s Cold Outside.” It was a lot of fun to sing. This year in the Me, too movement some radio stations have banned this song about a man continuing to urge a woman to stay despite the female repeatedly saying “no.” Even in the liberal minded San Francisco Bay area, many listeners objected to the ban and at least one station starting playing it again. The radio stations said that more persons voted for the music to be played than seemed to object to it.
Several writers suggested that things were different in the 1940’s when it was written. One writer responding to this ban wrote that the originator of the music, Frank Loesser, was actually commenting on how it’s OK for women to have power over their sexual decisions even though society told women that they shouldn’t flirt or show desire for love. Might there be other questions we ask that might help us address the question of whether the song should be played over the air waves? I wonder whose opinion we want to focus upon: -the managers of the radio stations? -the families of the famous singers that popularized the song? -the persons feeling slighted and insulted by the music? -the listeners of the radio station? Do we deal with the collective values and power in society which influence whose narrative we are familiar with?
In these types of situations, I find it problematic to focus on the issue by minimizing it to one of political correctness. I wonder if there’s a way to understand not only the historical context, but also the current day understanding of what is offensive. Are we marginalizing people with it? What, really, are we giving up if we choose to not continue to use the song? How do my values line up with the issue?
I asked Michael Omi, PhD, Professor of Asian American Studies at U.C. Berkeley, his take on this issue. He wrote, “In the case of ‘Baby, It’s Cold Outside,’ the contemporary context is crucial. The lyrics to a song written in 1944 might have seemed innocuous at the time, but might be read as offensive today given the concern over sexual coercion and date rape. Thus, contemporary listeners are attuned to interpreting the lyrics in a very different way in than in the 1940’s.”
It’s curious to me how this winter song doesn’t talk about Christmas and yet has become a “Christmas” classic. It seems to me that many of us have patterns or processes that we repeat each year during the season. Rituals are important, and yet, just because we have done things a certain way for many years, does it mean that this is the way we always need to do it? What is the meaning of the ritual? The song is catchy and cute. And yet, do I need to keep repeating some song just because I like it? If the song conjures male harassment or rape for even a seemingly small number of people, I’m not inclined to sing it. There are way too many other songs that can be used.
In thinking about this issue, I also wonder when and where is it sensitive to play Christmas songs? We know not everyone in our society is of the Christian faith. Many people who aren’t Christian feel fine with playing “Christmas” or holiday songs especially when the words do not include any “religious” connotations. And yet, playing Christmas music can be very tiring for persons of other faiths or agnostics who feel uncomfortable and deflated with the entire Christmas season. Many persons view the playing of Christmas songs as promoting commercialism. And there are many people for whom the focus on holidays and being together with family and friends may bring sadness and depression. So, how do we celebrate things that are important and meaningful to us without disenfranchising or being insensitive to whole groups of people?
I suppose that with these types of issues, we might muddle through each situation and arrive at answers that line up with our values and objectives. I try to understand the situation within the context of inclusion and institutional power, as well as the historical and contemporary contexts. If you celebrate any end of year holidays, Christmas, Kwanzaa, Hanukah or New Year’s, enjoy. If you don’t, I hope for you a peaceful end of the year as we transition into 2019.
Questions to reflect upon:
If you celebrate a holiday this season, what is the meaning for you?
Do you do some things during this season to “fit-in” with what others around you are doing, and/or because you have “always” done these things? What are these things and do you feel uncomfortable about doing any of them? If you feel uncomfortable or situations happen that ask that you think about them, are there some questions that you might ask to help you better understand the situation?
Deepening Our Perspectives: Megyn Kelly Blackface Remarks
On October 23, 2018, on Megyn Kelly Today, Megyn Kelly questioned blackface when it comes to Halloween costume choices. Amongst a panel of persons, Jenna Bush Hagen, Melissa Rivers and Jacob Soboroff, Kelly bemoaned how Kent State University banned certain costumes for Halloween. Kelly introduced this segment as “political correctness going amuck.” From my perspective, I thought this piece could have been a great opportunity to discuss why the banned costumes might be racist, offensive and feed into stereotypical thinking. I wonder if political correctness is more of a hot button issue for conservative white people.
For me it was difficult to understand why Kelly would invite a panel of all White persons to respond to this topic. Kelly wondered why persons can’t paint their skin darker when posing as an African American character such as Diana Ross. “When I was a kid, that was OK, as long as you were dressing up, like, as a character…. I felt like, who doesn’t love Diana Ross. … I can’t believe all the number of people we are offending by just being normal people.” The following day on her show, Kelly apologized and she was fired the next week. (There were many responses about how Kelly had made insensitive and inflammatory remarks before coming to the Today Show and also ones that mentioned that this issue probably wasn’t the only reason for the firing since ratings were never as good as NBC executives had hoped.) One thing that struck me about this incident was Kelly’s use of the word “normal.”
Kelly’s statement about being normal resonates with what I’ve been writing and discussing for many years ago about what it’s like for persons of color, women, immigrants, persons with disabilities, differing sexual orientation, diverse cultural and religious backgrounds not considered to be the mainstream of society. It’s as if persons who are not in Kelly’s normal world are invisible. People of color have to live in two or more worlds, needing to shift between a mainstream “white” world and with their own cultural worlds, knowing when it’s best to inhabit each one.
Without realizing it, I believe that Kelly provided us with a good description of white privilege. Being white is normal for Kelly. Her perspective is that all of the privileges that come with being what she finds to be normal is not something that she has to think about. Melissa Rivers said during the broadcast that “If you think it’s offensive, it probably is.” That may be somewhat helpful in trying to keep from offending people. However, what if you don’t understand the racial history of this country and haven’t had to experience prejudice and stereotypes about your cultural background?
We are all limited by our own perspectives. Racism, white privilege and inclusion are uncomfortable subjects for all of us to face, and yet these issues remind us how limited our perspectives may be. In applying River’s advice to a coaching perspective which is culturally-aware, I am reminded of the question, “How do you know what you don’t know?” Do we want to understand that what is normal for us may not be the same as for other persons? What do we gain by expanding our understanding of differences? How can we benefit from a more comprehensive knowledge of our history and treatment of persons who are different from us? It seems like many people believe that having to be politically correct infringes upon their rights, as if they are losing something. Perhaps a critical question in understanding white privilege is, what are we losing in acknowledging white privilege? What would we be giving up? Conversely, what do we have to gain in learning more about the effects of privilege? How can being curious and humble about our limited understanding of white privilege within our diverse society help us fully acknowledge, appreciate and gain the wisdom and talent of all people in our society?
The concept of white privilege reminds us that there is not a level playing field, no matter if we are white or people of color. Acknowledging white privilege helps us to recognize that simply being kind to individuals who are different from ourselves does not provide equity or equal access to education, services, resources and opportunities. I believe that understanding institutional power helps us become aware of what is normal for some individuals and not for other persons. I’m especially aware of this notion of being “normal” as we have completed the holiday of Columbus Day and moving towards Thanksgiving and Christmas. How do we celebrate holidays that are important to us while being inclusive in acknowledging that these holidays may remind other people of grief or one’s religion or cultures being ignored? Would love to hear your responses to these questions.
Questions to reflect upon:
Can you think of a situation where you might have some advantage and another person might not have the same access? If yes, what might be some remedies to better provide that opportunity? And/or, where is a supportive and enlightened arena that you might discuss this?
During the months of October through December, is there a holiday which you feel like persons take out the fun or meaning from it for you? Might they be coming from different perspectives? Might you ask them what does that holiday mean to them?
Passion & Perseverance: Getting "Gritty"
As a leadership and strategic coach, I am always wondering what will help my clients be more successful. Dr. Angela Duckworth has researched this notion and found that one characteristic stands out as a significant predictor of success. It is not social intelligence, not IQ, not socioeconomic status, not good looks, and not physical health; it is “Grit.” Dr. Duckworth explains, “Grit is having stamina, sticking with your future, day-in, day-out, not just for the week, not just for the month but for years and working really hard to make that future a reality. Grit is living life like a marathon, not a sprint.”
Dr. Duckworth studied students at the National Spelling Bee, cadets at West Point Military Academy and rookie teachers serving in difficult neighborhoods. She observed which Spelling Bee candidates continued on, which cadets dropped out and which educators were still teaching at the end of the year and which of them improved learning outcomes. She found that talent doesn’t make you grittier or help make students or teachers follow-through with their commitments. Dr. Duckworth connects grit to a “growth mindset” as identified by Dr. Carol Dweck in Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. A growth mindset sets forth the notion that the ability to learn is not fixed—it can change with effort. If one believes that failure is not a permanent condition, it can become a challenge from which one can learn. Grittiness helps one persevere towards one’s short-term and long-terms goals and can also grow one’s ability to thrive in the learning journey.
Duckworth’s construct of grit resonates with me—from my own continual learning journey, from working with youth in academic and leadership environments, and especially with clients in coaching and training. Duckworth’s work supports my belief that it is vital to help clients become clear about what they are passionate, to reframe their failures as temporary setbacks from which they can learn, to evaluate how important the specific outcomes they are moving towards are and how they want to use their energy, resources, creativity and talent. The issue of evaluating desired outcome can be critical. For many of my clients, success may not only require personal change, but understanding how they want to contribute to a larger movement or collective action. Each step of their learning journey may be incremental towards their overall long-term goals, which can amplify hope and motivation for staying gritty. I believe that coaching is a perfect arena to become grittier. I welcome you to seek coaching with me to explore, practice and express your passion and perseverance.
Questions to reflect upon:
What are you passionate about? What challenges have you faced in being successful in pursuing this passion? How have you persevered and what might motivate you to continue to move towards your goals?
Have you shown grit in one of more areas of passion and what were the results??
Aretha Franklin, Author of Her Life
"When she sang, she embodied what we were fighting for, and her music strengthened us. It revived us. When we would be released from jail after a non-violent protest, we might go to a late night club and let the music of Aretha Franklin fill our hearts. She was like a muse whose songs whispered the strength to continue on. Her music gave us a greater sense of determination to never give up or give in, and to keep the faith." -U.S. Representative John Lewis
"From the time that Dinah Washington first told me that Aretha was the 'next one' when she was 12 years old until the present day, Aretha Franklin set the bar upon which every female singer has and will be measured. …You will reign as the Queen forever." -Quincy Jones, Music Producer
“Aretha Franklin was not only an unparalleled artist, she was a freedom fighter and civil rights activist. … She was a feminist before feminism.”
-Reverend Al Sharpton
Aretha Franklin, Queen of Soul has passed away. Aretha has to be on the top of my list of singers. Sometimes there are entertainers who mesmerize me as they share their extraordinary talent. Aretha was much more than that. Bob Hope once said to her, “Nobody handles a song the way you do. What’s your secret?” She answered, “It’s no secret, I just do my thing in my own way and I hope people like it.” When the Pastor of Aretha’s church spoke about her, Robert Smith, Jr talked about how she performed for decades, stood the test of time and still had the voice at 76 years of age. She ushered in a whole new way of creating, appreciating and utilizing music in many genres of music.
Aretha was humble: a fighter for women’s rights, African American equity and the poor and downtrodden. As a teenager, Franklin traveled with Martin Luther King, Jr. singing, rallying the crowd and providing inspiration with her talent. She was the first female to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987. During Franklin’s celebration of life and coverage on the news immediately after her death, we heard story after story of how Aretha would call or visit artists, politicians, reporters and community people just to talk and tell them how proud she was of them and to listen to their encounters with racism, sexism, difficulties with the criminal justice system and other unjust treatment or inhuman living conditions, such as the contaminated water in Flint, Michigan. She provided a listening ear and inspired hope for change and challenged persons in leadership positions to do something about the unjust or unhealthy situations.
Generous in spirit with her music, love and money, Aretha Franklin was deeply passionate about the human condition, wanting to be remembered as a good mother. She conducted an annual 3-day revival in memory of her father, C.L. Franklin, the former minister of the church, providing soul through music and food. Her revivals fed people from 4 pm to 1:30/2 am in the morning. Not only did Ms. Franklin actively fundraise to feed the needy and persons having difficulty, she donated freely with her money, always accompanied with the spirit of caring and dignity for the recipients.
Willie Nelson, Country Singer/Songwriter said, "Whether it was Gospel, Blues, Jazz, R&B, Pop or Civil Rights, Aretha Franklin was the greatest gift and the voice of a generation. She could turn any song into a hymn. She will be greatly missed here on earth, but that band in heaven just got our Angel." It occurs to me that Aretha Franklin was not only the Queen of Soul in music. She was deeply spiritual and used her gifts and graces to influence and affect us in how we live our lives. More than an innovative musician and storyteller, she was the author of her own life.
Questions to reflect upon:
Aretha Franklin was passionate about sharing her music for the betterment of the human condition and in doing so became the author of her life. What are you passionate about? How are you using your gifts and talents to live and write your own stories and become the author of your life?
“Food for me has always been my language. It’s something that if someone doesn’t understand my culture, I always serve them a plate of herring or Ethiopian chicken. The other one is music. Food, music and art are these incredible pillars. They’re kind of like pillars into windows which make each culture very, very unique.” -Chef Marcus Samuelson
I have begun watching a cooking show called “No Passport Required.” In one recent episode on the Indo-Guyanese food in Queens, New York City, I was intrigued with how Chef Marcus provided us with history, music, art, dance, religion and walked us through Richmond Hill of Queens, which is very much influenced by the Guyanese community of South America.
Guyana’s culture is similar to the Caribbean culture, and includes a mix of Indian, Portuguese, Irish Dutch and Chinese. Chef Marcus showed us fresh markets, restaurants, faith and entertainment centers of Richmond Hill in Queens. Ancestors from the Indo-Guyanese community were originally from India and who came to Guyana in South America before making Queens their home. Chef Marcus, as a masterful storyteller, facilitated the stories of each of his guests and provided insight into what makes the community so vibrant and alive.
Chef Marcus travelled around the neighborhood, connecting what ties the people together underscoring unique cultural differences. Truly a culturally-aware approach, I thought to myself. Just as the use of food is a language for Chef Marcus, the use of stories is the foundation for culturally-aware coaching. Chef Samuelson told us that food “is a path to culture, identity, and history.” I believe the telling of stories also illuminates culture, identity, history and community. In the coaching experience, each person shares one’s own narrative. Each story stands on its own.* For example, when certain hardships or successes are shared and a listener feels that other people believe the story to be novel, that listener might respond in a way that seems to diminish the narrative, for example, “I had that experience, as well, it’s not a big deal and that’s not anything special.” However, each person has their own story. Similar or different experiences do not take away from the story being told. Stories have the power to deepen the understanding of the person, the person’s culture(s) and the community.
Stories highlight what things are important to each person and provide a historical and cultural backdrop for the narrative. When clients share their stories, I pay attention to social-economic matters, as well as cultural, gender, sexual orientation, liberation and healing issues. Although the patterns of stories are universal in meaning, each narrative is unique. Some aspects of each story bring forth unconscious meaning. In coaching, recognizing the meaning for the client can uncover the client’s blocks, struggles and aspirations. Identifying each person’s history can help us better understand the person’s experiences. Art, culture, music and story can trigger emotional understanding for deeper meaning and motivation.
Chef Marcus presented West Indian Trinidadian food from a cross-cultural bush cook, which was traditionally made in the jungle then moved to the open-fire and now cooked in a big pot on an induction burner. I watched as many Indo-Guyanese persons played cricket, a popular sport in Guyana, then tail-gated with a big spread of cultural foods. Chef Marcus also chatted with Indian DJ entertainers who were innovating their electronic music which highlights their Caribbean and Indian roots and fuses it with hip hop. Chef Marcus then visited one of the DJ’s parents who was hand-making roti-an Indian pancake-like bread. I drooled over curry dishes with Chinese influences and saw how this roti shop with long lines at lunch transformed into a cultural hang-out with tasa drums, calypso music and singing and dancing.
In answering Chef Marcus Samuelson’s question about how do you connect with your culture, and how do you express your Guyanese culture, Ryan Madray, a U.S. born Indian/Guyanese DJ of music responds, “We almost live through the stories of our grandparents and our parents. …We feel so close to it because of how we were raised. … We have to keep the culture alive or it will die out.” Madray’s grandparents spoke English more than Hindi because of the British occupation during their lifetimes.
My creative writing instructor in graduate school, N.V.M. Gonzalez, often said that good stories have general patterns or motifs, and the social, political and economic milieu make each story come to life. With culturally-aware coaching I hope to help each client connect with the stories they have lived and also to become clearer about the future stories they wish to weave.
Questions to reflect upon:
Where do your stories come from?
What can you learn about others from their stories?
*This idea was first articulated to me by Jennifer Chien, culturally-aware coach and independent filmmaker.
Strategic Plan of Action
In last month’s 6/2018 “thoughts,” I blogged about “Goal-Setting” describing how I assist clients in creating goals that focus on the outcomes they desire. Formulating a realistic goal can provide motivation and support in attaining it. This month I am addressing taking a well-formed goal and generating a plan of action for it.
In developing a client’s plan of action, we ponder what difference the client wants to make and where the client wants to be. We brainstorm methods for achieving the goal. We identify the strengths and challenges the client may have in reaching the goal. Although many of my clients are familiar with producing workplans, in our sessions together I think the coaching process helps each client go beyond putting into writing what they already know. The client becomes aware of forces at work within oneself. We explore areas where the client might have blocks which typically prevent oneself from moving through the strategies. It helps the client to review whether the tactics are ones that s/he would realistically complete and whether one is motivated to complete them. The client then produces a contingency plan for overcoming any block(s). We may uncover whether there may be some habits or patterns that have prevented the client from being successful in the past. (See “thoughts” 4/2017, 11/2016, 10/09 and 4/09 for transforming habits.) I also ask a question from CompassPoint’s1 learning development template, “How will you celebrate success?” Just as the answer to the question about what blocks the client is often personal and unique, the response to how one plans to celebrate success tends to vary greatly from person to person. I have come to realize that celebrating one’s success is vitally important because in we tend to just move on to the next crisis or priority that occurs, not recognizing that we have achieved something major which is of great importance to us.
I believe that as a coach I am assisting clients in illuminating their own learning processes, helping to develop and recognize their own resources while creating a map to achieve the desired outcomes. I help facilitate and support my clients transform and grow as they do the work generating a plan that will work for them.
Questions to reflect upon:
Is there a goal for which you’d like to develop a plan of action?
How might you creatively and strategically create that plan?
1CompassPoint is a non-profit organization whose role in social change is to partner with leaders to develop themselves and others, to guide organizational strategy and capacity building, and to share knowledge and perspective with the colleagues across the field.
Many clients in my coaching practice wish to develop a plan of action for envisioning and achieving their goals. I believe this can be a very helpful process for supporting clients in developing and growing beyond our sessions together. Over the next month or two, I will be posting a series of “thoughts” about the strategic processes for creating plans of action. Goal-setting is the first part of this process and I am devoting this month’s coaching blog to it.
In goal setting, I assist my clients by leading them to identify the outcomes that they desire. Sometimes they begin with a goal which encompasses skills that they are already good at, so we try to hone in on the specific outcomes or development that they seek. Fleshing out their strengths and weaknesses or challenges and reflecting upon how the improvement or learning arena will help them achieve the outcome they want are parts of the processes we move through in order to identify the “real” goal they wish to pursue. Chipping away and refining the goal are critical elements in identifying a goal for which they can creatively map out strategies and tactics.
Most of my clients are experienced goal-setters and often don’t need me to help them do what they already are successful at. However, clients generally engage in coaching to help themselves grow and develop and their typical pattern for goal-setting may not be working. Anisa Purbasani Horton in “Five Alternatives to try when traditional goal setting doesn’t work” https://www.fastcompany.com/40578662/5-alternatives-to-try-when-traditional-goal-setting-methods-dont-work
offers five tips from five different people. Entrepreneur Reshma Chamberlain suggests “adopting a mantra,” instead of changing your habits, because transforming one’s routine way of doing things is very hard work. Adopting a mantra helps you consciously choose what you want to focus upon. This process can help persons let go of focusing on what they don’t want.
Productivity expert, Laura Venderkam points out that because we live in a constantly changing environment, setting “90-day goals if year-long ones don’t make sense.” Establishing 90-day goals can help us stay accountable to the longer-term ones and adjust to changes that weren’t and couldn’t be anticipated. With 90-day goals, we may come upon some necessary processes that take a year or two or more and severely affect meeting the longer-term goal.
Typically, we are taught to start a task or goal at the beginning. An interesting alternative Horton mentions is an approach from Spencer Greenberg, mathematician and entrepreneur, “optimize what’s already right in your life” rather than trying to fix a problem. I remember speaking with a counselor friend about some issue that my adolescent son was having. She responded that she was hearing an area in which my son was not doing well. She was sure there were many things that were going “right” in his life. She had experiences of working with parents and young people who were focusing on the negative and how it tended to make the undesirable actions grow. Similarly, she observed that when parents and young people focused on the positive, it also grew. I think this was the beginning of my seeking out a positive frame to learning, (see “thoughts,” 12/2017, 12/2010) one that grew into incorporating appreciative inquiry, (see “thoughts,” 2/2008) culturally-aware coaching (see “thoughts,” 3/2018, 2/2018) and focusing on strengths (see “thoughts,” (5/2017) instead of primarily weaknesses. Although I saw myself as a fairly good problem-solver, I realized that honing in on only the “problem” had its drawbacks and prevented me from seeing the bigger picture and being creative and curious about how to embrace the development I wanted to achieve.
Going against the grain of traditional goal-setting, Scott Young, author of How to Change a Habit, counsels persons to “start some goals in the middle of the process.” Whereas in some cases we know the end point and can move back through the process, sometimes we may not understand all of the ramifications of the goal. Young says that in these cases, “Committing to a certain amount of effort, and then setting a reasonable goal once you have a better idea of what it would take” can be more productive.
I was especially intrigued with this goal setting method that Daniel Dowling, Fast Company Leadership contributor advises us to ask ourselves, “Did I do my best?” instead of the typical suggestions of being “specific, measurable, achievable, realist and timely (aka SMART).” Effort is measured. We typically tend to evaluate whether we are good at something and we can’t be good at everything. The question of “Did I do my best” reframes our mindset to a learning and growth one placing our attention on what it is that we have done to reach our goal, rather than focusing on being a failure. A feeling of failure can affect our motivation and make us become more “stuck.”
All of these five alternatives to goal-setting are factors why I take my clients through a full process to establish their goals. It reminds me of the saying, “Go slow to go fast.”
Questions to reflect upon:
What is important to you about any goal you have or that you are setting? What will achieving this goal give you or provide for you?
When you approach your goals, do you look at the positive or the negative aspects of your actions?
Teambuilding through Art and Performance
My clients often talk about teambuilding in their workplaces. How do I get the best quality from my team in working together? How do I utilize strengths while continuing to nurture growth and development? How can I best communicate so that everyone feels included and understands the group direction? How do we create synergy, where the whole produces much more than the collection of the individual parts? Recently I had the privilege of playing/singing with the Wesley Jazz Ensemble in a collaboration with the San Jose Taiko, "Japantown Immersive." This event, staged in an open street festival manner, was directed with Epic Immersive where the San Jose Taiko, SJT, worked together with several different artistic groups to “connect people through cultural understanding, creative expression, and rhythmic heartbeat.” It included opportunities for the audience to be a part of the event and collaborated with different performance groups at two different stages. One of the Japantown Immersive performing sites was with the Wesley Jazz Ensemble, WJE, offering a shortened version of Swingposium, a musical play about the incarceration of Japanese Americans during the 1940’s. I marveled at how SJT members worked together to provide a moving experience of music, art and meaning. Reflecting upon this performance, I have been pondering how SJT creates and builds teamwork. I noticed the essence of how individuals were confident in their interactions with each other and with their collaborators. This seems to set the foundation for teambuilding factors of nurturing growth, development and synergy, developing the roles that each team member plays, being intentional about their communication and fully enjoying their art. The SJ Taiko’s mission of using rhythm and cultural understanding to connect and build community was creatively orchestrated in this Japantown Immersive experience.
Focusing on Roles
In watching and in conversation with individual SJT members, there seemed to be many elements in the structure of how they work together. Each of the members played different roles. Those roles could alternate, but each member was deliberate in each action they took. In some numbers, one member videotaped the players. In another, one played a different type of drum than the core group. In some pieces, one, two or three members played other musical instruments, like a cowbell or cabasa (percussive), or a Japanese wooden flute. I also noticed that different persons immediately swept up the practice area of the drums and they all helped to put the equipment away. Each SJT member seemed eager and happy to be engaging in each of these roles.
SJT’s non-performance and performance behavior are something that they are very intentional about. Franco Imperial, Artistic Director of SJT shares that each individual member contributes “to the longevity of the company - this means our roles are defined beyond the stage.”
Although individual SJT members play different roles, there is one sound, a unified rhythm that is practiced to perfection. We, the listeners, became mesmerized by their music and visually entertained by their physical movement and dance. I think it’s easy to see and hear if one person is out of synch with the rhythm, but SJT’s art seemed effortless. Each of the players knew their cues for setting-up the appropriate instrument or props for each successive number. The players jumped onto different drums and percussion instruments. Everything was committed to memory, even the progression of the next piece, unlike we, WJE musicians, who had sheet music or lists in front of us.
Individual & Group Communication
I noticed that immediately before and after SJT practiced, they sat in a circle shape, checking in with each other, evaluating and problem-solving difficulties they noticed in their processes. When we practiced with them, different SJT members coordinated different aspects of the collaboration with WJE, asking questions, and providing helpful ideas and being responsible for specific group cues. With Swingposium. this enhanced the ability for the three groups to get on the same page. I felt as though our joint practices efficiently utilized the group time together, which is often difficult for just one group. The coordination of communication seemed very tight, yet open and malleable for suggestion, input and improvement.
Each initial joint practice with WJE and Epic Immersive, SJT asked persons to introduce themselves, creating the same environment which SJT in their circles. Greeting and recognizing individuals seems to play into the open communication and cohesiveness within this organization. SJT’s processes seem to facilitate individuals in being able to “step-up or step-back,” which can be a valuable group-building tool.
Nurturing Growth and Development & Creating Synergy
At the Swingposium stage, the SJ Taiko danced in swing style. It was extraordinary how they were so competent at dancing while playing and moving their large drums. Since none of the players had previously been familiar with swing dancing, they had committed to dancing lessons as preparation for this performance piece.
SJT develops and cultivates individual strengths through a two-year training process emanating from four principles first developed by the founding members of SJT: musical technique, kata (form), ki (energy) and attitude. Franco described these principles: “Musical technique is what/how we hear, the manner by which we make sound, the way we strike the drum. Kata, (form), is what/how we see, how we use our bodies efficiently and expressively to create sound and movement. Ki, (energy), is what/how we feel, the way it comes from our hara, (center of our being), the energy that we project when we play and how that connects with the audience and fellow performers. Attitude is what/how we think. Respecting ourselves, those that came before us, those that play with us, and the knowledge that we have yet to learn (beginner’s mind). This is the criteria we use to evaluate anyone auditioning for our company. It’s also the way we evaluate each other and ourselves as performing members once we make the cut. We continually strive to integrate these principles into our art.” As these principles drive their performance, they also seem to lend towards the synergistic energy that is created.
Cultural Understanding and Creative Expression
Franco painted SJT’s canvas by explaining that “Japantown isn’t one thing, but a tapestry—we wanted audiences to get a taste of Japantown on Saturday and leave people with a sense of wonder and gratitude for what Japantown is and can be when we take a moment to celebrate and reflect.”
I believe that storytelling through culture and creative expression can be an incredible vehicle for teambuilding. At the Swingposium stage, SJT moved us through a love story between two young persons who were evacuated and incarcerated during WWII. SJT created art and meaning in a collaborative way that built connection and community while sharing the story of an infamous chapter of American history. Franco elaborated, “With the swing and hip-hop collaborations we’re showcasing the multi-faceted story of Japantown: a fantastical telling of its past and future. Swingposium forces us to relive some painful parts of this community’s history but primarily it’s a vehicle to show the spirit of a people turned to the arts for hope and survival.” On another stage with Get Down Dance Studio and DJ Cutso, Franco told me that “SJT shows its range as their taiko switches from swing to hip hop. Hip-hop is part of a movement born out of the 70’s (when SJT was born) and continues to be a source of inspiration and exploration for us. Being able to connect with the youth of the Get Down Dance Studio folks gives us a glimpse of what’s possible which is very exciting for us.”
I wonder if SJT’s principles of ki and attitude help produce the joy that is apparent with the players, the audience and the collaborators. The SJ Taiko members exuded joy--in practice sessions, in performance and in talking with us about their art and their organization. Speaking for myself, I had so much fun watching and playing with them. I believe the joy we shared, much like the energy, was synergistic, having a much larger effect than the result of individual persons experiencing joy. SJT’s performances reminded me of an expression that my short story teacher in grad school used to say, “Art evokes emotion.” When one is fully immersed in art or an experience, people can feel the emotion and make meaning from it. SJT had anticipated about 500 persons attending and there were over 1000 persons in attendance. When I visited the other performance site, it was difficult to view the entire stage because there were so many people. Yet, the crowds stayed. Focusing on roles, communication, nurturing growth and synergy, transmitting cultural understanding through creative expression, and creating joy are probably just a few of the elements of teambuilding that SJT offers. Do you notice any elements of teambuilding in your team, in your community, in other art collectives?
Questions to reflect upon:
In any groups you work with, what are the role(s) you play? What role(s) might be needed that is/are not being played?
What norms typify the individual and group communication? Are they intentional? What improvements might occur if they were intentional?
How does your group work allow you and other team members to contribute their individuality and strengths?
What do you find joyful about your group work?
Engendering Hope and Optimism Amidst Strife
“How many times must a must a man look up before he can see the sky?
How many ears must one man have before he can hear people cry?
How many deaths will it take till he knows that too many people have died?
The answer my friend, is blowin’ in the wind, the answer is blowin’ in the wind.”
- “Blowin in the Wind,” by Bob Dylan, sung many times by Peter, Paul and Mary.
April is a month that has been designated to “Celebrate Diversity.” I think it fitting to honor the life and works of a civil rights leader, Reverend Lloyd Keigo Wake, who passed away in late December, 2017. Eva Okida Sato, Glenn Watanabe, my husband, Peter and I were asked to sing Blowin’ in the Wind for Rev. Wake’s celebration of life service. The words printed above are from the third verse of the song. All of the verses and the chorus aptly describe Reverend Wake’s philosophy and leadership. He mentored and supported hundreds of community activists. As a fellow board member with Rev Wake at the Asian Law Caucus, Karen Kai, attorney and legal writer, mentioned to me after the service, that the board would be discussing situations and it felt like there was no hope. She said that Rev. Wake would “sit back, take it all in, offer some words and open the way.” He helped groups of people find the answers that were “blowin’ in the wind.”
Born on a farm in Reedley, California, incarcerated at Poston concentration camp with his family during the 1940’s, Rev Wake became a social activist who dedicated his life to furthering peace and justice. His life is a testament to envisioning equity in our institutions and ways of governance. Rev. Wake carried faith which engendered hope and optimism amidst strife. In many different ways, he fostered teambuilding, community building and leadership. Rev Wake created paths for individuals and communities to heal and resist; to face discrimination and systematic oppression.
Being an American citizen of Japanese ancestry, Rev. Wake was an internee who was stripped of his rights. As all evacuees did, he completed a loyalty questionnaire. Rev. Wake answered the selected service items about willingness to serve in the armed forces, with “yes, but I will not bear arms.”1 While in concentration camp, Lloyd felt called to the ministry. Rev. Wake incorporated healing as a necessary step in fighting against injustice.
Rev. Wake was one of the first leaders within the Japanese American community to support efforts begun by young adults to seek redress and reparations for Japanese and Japanese Americans incarcerated during WWII. He understood the need for healing within the Japanese American community, to deal with issues which arose from being behind barbed wires. Many individuals had been further hurt, since the Japanese American community felt forced to believe that there was only one way to respond to the abrogation of their rights. The loyalty questionnaire divided the Japanese community. Questions #27 and 28 were: “Are you willing to serve in the armed forces of the United States on combat duty wherever ordered?” and “Will you swear unqualified allegiance to the United States of American and faithfully defend the United States from any or all attack by foreign or domestic forces, and forswear any form of allegiance or obedience to the Japanese emperor, or any other foreign government, power or organization?” Evacuees were asked these questions while being incarcerated and without due process of law. Since Japanese citizens were not allowed to apply for citizenship, pledging allegiance would mean they would be without a country. Answers to these questions caused much angst and confusion. The community took sides against each other for the answers they gave. Some evacuees, both Japanese immigrants and American citizens were “repatriated” to Japan. The stories of the “no-no boys”, evacuees who answered “no” to both questions #27 and 28 were not really shared openly until 50 or so years later. In many ways the no-no boys were treated like pariahs in the community, when they were simply resisting illegal treatment by the government.
Rev. Wake began his ministry serving the Japanese American community, within a “provisional” church, since Asians could not be a part of the larger United Methodist Conference. He later was appointed to be an associate pastor at Glide Memorial United Methodist Church where he was the first minister to perform a “Covenant Service” for a gay couple in the United Methodist Churches in the 1960’s. As part of his ministry at Glide, he shepherded many young adults who filed for conscientious objection to find alternatives for military service.
Throughout his life, Rev Wake was an ally of marginalized people, demonstrating and bringing together different communities. Within the United Methodist Church, Rev. Wake was the only Asian delegate that joined with Blacks and progressive Whites to establish the General Commission on Religion and Race, an agency to eliminate racism within the Church. He demonstrated for rights of Zainichi Koreans; supported the United Farm Workers, chaired the Wendy Yoshimura Fair Trial Committee; advocated for admitting a gay person to join the board of the San Francisco Family Service Board, served as President and board member of Asian Law Caucus for 21 years, was arrested at a sit-in protesting sham elections in the Philippines during the Marcos era, and joined the human rights trip to South Korean when Park Chung-hee was in power. Rev. Wake became the first chairperson of the National Federation of Asian American United Methodists. Although these actions are only a sample of Rev. Wake’s leadership, they give us a glimpse of his commitment to marginalized individuals and communities in our society.
Not only was Rev. Wake a courageous leader, but a humble, kind and loving person. At one of the services his children and grandchildren spoke of his humor, sports ability and how fun he was to be with. Much of my coaching practice is about facilitating transformation and transition to help clients develop and grow. It is clear that Rev. Wake’s life helped countless individuals and organizations grow, in transforming and opening the path towards liberation with dignity and joy. In closing I want to share with you a few of his words:
“The only criterion for action is love. I hesitate to use that word because love has become so distorted. The opposite of love is not hate: it is aloofness, apathy, indifference. The love I am talking about is not a romantic love; it is a love that very often takes sides, that takes the side of the oppressed. It is a love that tears down evil systems so that it can build up people who have been dominated by and dehumanized by those systems.”
“There are three ways in which men and women deal with their wounds. One is to cry, one is to be silent, another is to turn the pain into joy and healing. Blessed are the wounded who respond with the totality of their lives to bring health and healing and joy to all people.”
Questions to reflect upon:
Is there any arena in your life or in our society where you suffer from aloofness, apathy or indifference? How might you begin to heal, transform and bring hope? How might the group “open the way?”
1Celebration of the Life of Rev. Lloyd Keigo Wake, Memorial Program Timeline, March 10, 2018.
Women's History Month & Culturally-aware Coaching
“Feliz Dia De La Mujer. Hoy quise regalarte la flor mas hermosa, pero no pude, porque la flor mas hermosa eres tu. !Felicidades!”
“Happy's Women's Day. Today I wanted to give you the most beautiful flower, but I couldn't, because you are the most beautiful flower.”
On March 8, I received this text from a special Latina woman who watches my parents. She was sending me a greeting for International Women’s Day. She is a kind person, a thorough caretaker and has a positive effect on my parents’ mood. As an immigrant and single parent, she is not only a hard worker, but resilient as well. This was the first time I had received a salutation celebrating Women’s Day. Earlier in the day, I had visited a gay woman friend who is in seminary, gifted with dance and movement and undergoing chemotherapy and we had exchanged the greeting, “Happy International Women’s Day”. As my friend struggles with the debilitative effects of the cancer, it is amazing how upbeat she is. I am constantly touched by her compassion, openness and appreciative spirit she holds for everything in her life. She is immensely grateful for her the mental, physical and spiritual support from her partner and the persons accompanying her on her healing journey. Similar to so many women I know, at times I detect a hesitance in “accepting” help--her not wanting to impose on other people. However, when I mention how might she react with friends facing similar illnesses, she acknowledges the natural outpouring of love and finding space to receive these gifts of grace. Sharing in these exchanges with both of these women on this day was celebratory and meaningful. As March 8, 2018 marked women’s activism around the world and this month honors Women’s History, I have decided to share a story about culturally-aware coaching with a female client.
A Latina client, let’s call her Maria, was wondering whether to spend her session time about a concern she had about a direct report. Her direct report seemed to be finding ways to avoid following through with certain tasks and having difficulty in communication and joint work. This staff person also seemed to be taking sick days off that didn’t seem to match the situation. A colleague responsible for HR issues in the organization said that this person had demonstrated this pattern when she was an intern, although apparently nothing was done about it then or during her probation period when she was later given the position. Maria said that she felt the position may not be a good fit for her direct report. When I asked whether the direct report could do the necessary work and is motivated to learn the job responsibilities, or if it might be a disservice for her direct report to stay in the position, I recognized that Maria had already pondered these issues. Maria would have liked to move her into a position that better utilized more of her staff person’s strengths, although this was not a possibility. We talked through the situation and I began to realize that in her mind, my client had already mapped out a performance improvement plan and had covered the bases for forging and continuing a respectful relationship with her direct report. Maria seemed to shift when asked about whether it was in the best interest of the direct report and the organization for her to work towards the kind of performance that was desired and needed for the organization. I think that my client had been torn because she was focusing on the direct report—her contributions and hope in helping her grow and develop. When we named that Maria was wanting to hold both values of caring for the direct report and the organization, she felt more aligned and congruent in moving forward with the situation.
I got this feeling that there may be something deeper than her sense of duty to her staff person and organization, possibly pertaining to culture. I asked her whether her direct report was a person of color and she responded affirmatively. Maria was the first Latina in a management position and she hadn’t been there very long. Additionally, her direct report was one of the first persons of color of hire in that particular position. The organization may well have fast-tracked her direct report’s hire as the organization was consciously trying to be more inclusive. While my client acknowledged that she was supportive of her organization’s efforts to be more diverse in their hires, she also recognized that there needs to be support for these processes. We talked about how it is typical for the first few persons of color, the first few women in departments, and the first persons who are “different” in organizations to consciously or unconsciously shoulder the responsibility for “fixing the institutions” when they are not reflecting the organizational values of diversity and inclusion. My client was cognizant of the inclusive values the organization was trying to uphold and how dominant culture typically carries privilege and access. The act of naming what was going on in my client’s leadership journey helped her to regain her footing and balance.
Connecting culture to the storyline of the client’s journey, naming the cultural backdrop of each situation as well as the values affecting one’s behavior and decision-making, are critical to culturally-aware coaching. Instead of the situation being two isolated issues—1) valuing both the direct report and the organization and 2) naming the cultural perspective, my client could acknowledge the multiple forces occurring within the context of her leadership story. Addressing individual and organizational values was helpful. Identifying the cultural perspective and issues about organizational power was healing. We often hear the adage, “The truth will set you free.” I believe that through culturally-aware coaching, assisting the client in uncovering the social, cultural, political and economic milieu of each person’s storylines while illuminating how power is embedded within organizational structures can be healing and transformative. May this month focused upon Women’s History highlight a greater understanding of individual and organizational values and the process of being curious about each other’s cultural perspectives and realities.
Questions to reflect upon:
How might you learn more about women’s history, in your family, in your community, or in the world?
How might culture affect any particular issue you are dealing with?
Black History Month: Reflecting upon Culturally-aware Coaching
“The cultural crisis though which we are passing today can be summed up thus, said Cesaire: the culture is strongest from the material and technological point of view threatens to crush all weaker cultures, particularly in a world in which, distance counting for nothing, the technologically weaker cultures have no means of protecting themselves. All cultures have, furthermore, an economic social and political base, and no culture can continue to live if it’s political destiny is not in its own hands.” -James Baldwin
James Baldwin, who was referring to a speech by Aime Cesaire at the Conference of Negro African Writers and Artists in 1956, published these words in Nobody Knows My Name. These words strike me as something that still has great application for today. As we live in a multicultural society with individuals coming from influences and cultures different from mainstream society, I am reminded that persons of color, females, working class persons, differently-abled persons, LGBQTia persons, agnostics and persons of faith other than Christianity, are forced to live in at least two different worlds at the same time. And, one of these worlds always has power over the other institutionally and in ways that drives personal perspectives. This country’s history has not only fueled slavery, brought immigrants to supply a cheap labor force, it has become prosperous economically, intellectually and technologically from its rich heritage. Today, in February, 2018, sixty-two years after Baldwin wrote these words, stereotypical views of African Americans abound. African Americans, especially African American males are often viewed as the “problem”, as the bottom of the heap, as a “lower class” simply because of their skin color. Yet many people believe that African Americans are afforded an equal playing field.
In coaching I sometimes refer to this saying: “How do you know what you don’t know?” By this, I mean, how do you hear what you don’t hear? How do you feel what you aren’t experiencing? How do you see what you don’t see? I believe this notion applies to the privileges of class, color and religion and all other institutional privileges. Just because one is white doesn’t mean one is racist, however, being white makes it more difficult to understand racism because one isn’t a daily target of it.
How do these concepts about race and religion enter into the coaching field? Many of my clients are persons of color. All of my clients work in diverse environments. The majority of my clients are social justice advocates in the non-profit field and serve diverse audiences and persons who are in need of specific services. Being conscious of culture and race allows me as a coach to be present for all of the stories of my clients’ lives, not just ones that are familiar in our mainstream society. Being culturally-aware encourages clients to bring their “whole” selves, to not separate the different worlds in which they live. Providing an environment where clients can incorporate their cultural strengths while also identifying when race, culture, white privilege are factors in their lives which can help them create the ongoing narratives of their lives.
I continue to learn from my clients and to embody “cultural humility,” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SaSHLbS1V4w or a multidimensional concept that recognizes that I can only be an expert in my own culture. Cultural humility was developed and piloted at Children’s Hospital Oakland, Multicultural Curriculum Program by a team led by Drs. Melanie Tervalon and Jann Murray-Garcia. Inherent to this concept is the belief that no culture is better than another. This program has become a national effort within the medical field. A key value of this approach to health is that being aware of privilege and race in America can strengthen positive health outcomes. Residents discuss in small groups cultural issues which they realize may affect their practice with patients, including life and death situations. Many other social justice advocates have adopted this cultural humility framework and have infused them into their organizational practices. Cultural humility encompasses three principles: lifelong learning and critical self-reflection, recognizing and challenging power imbalances that are inherent in our institutional structures and taking responsibility for institutional accountability by modeling principles as everyone in the organization helps each other grow and learn.
I have worked with several organizations in adopting cultural humility. It is a creatively dynamic process that can lead to transformation and healing. As we celebrate African-American History Month, I encourage you to explore new learning not only about the contribution and achievements of African Americans, but also about how the history of conquest, slavery, exploitation and racism have a great deal to do with African Americans not having an equal playing field.
Questions to reflect upon:
From the definition of cultural humility, what culture(s) do you have expertise? What culture(s) might you want to develop cultural humility?
Is there a way you might explore new learning about race, racism and white privilege? *
*People often ask me if there is one book they might read about cultural diversity. That’s a difficult request to fill, similar to asking how can I read one book to appreciate all cultural differences. Understanding diversity and culture is complex, with continual learning being a requisite. Nevertheless, if you’re interested in viewing some stories about race in America, I’d suggest: Footprints on the Land: American Stories of Race, by Helen H. Helfer. If you have a request for resources within a specific context about race/culture, please don’t hesitate to contact me through email. If I feel like I don’t have an adequate response, I will consult with other culturally-aware coaches or colleagues with a background in understanding race and get back to you.
New Years and Seeking Transformation
Shinnen Akemashite Omedeto Gozaimasu-or Happy New Year in Japanese. Over the years, I have composed several blog entries on creating a “theme” for the year. I believe that selecting a theme for the year is focused on process, personal learning/development and transformative change. Dr. Robert Kegan, Harvard professor and principal of Minds at Work, a program which helps people move through unconscious resistance to change, believes that if you want to lose weight, don’t make a new year’s resolution about it or go on a diet. People often forget their New Year’s resolutions or quickly abandon them before February rolls around. Typically, resolutions are created with a particular result in mind and with little reflection about what processes are needed to achieve the result. Dr. Kegan has written a book, Right Weight, Right Mind to incorporate his “Immunity to Change” approach to identifying and working with one’s unconscious resistance for weight loss. I utilize this immunity philosophy in my coaching and in uncovering barriers to moving towards the life that one wants to lead.
Why is it that making a traditional New Year’s Resolution rarely ends in achieving the desired goal? Kegan believes that there are competing commitments to arenas where we have not been successful. Until the complexity for why we do what we do are tackled by uncovering these conflicting commitments, recognizing how our automatic responses once helped us achieve other desired outcomes, sometimes even life-saving ones, each of us will continue with blinders on, not recognizing the whole field in play. In several books that Kegan has coauthored with Lisa Laskow Lahey, Harvard Professor and other original principal of Minds at Work, they detail how one can use their Immunity to Change, ITC, for many different type of desired outcomes, including weight loss, communicating differently, exercising regularly or staying on one’s medications. In my personal life and with my clients, I have found Kegan and Lahey’s approach to be transformative. Their strategies are not necessarily “quick-fix” ones, and they are clear that their processes entail focus as well as stick-to-it-ness. They view their clients as “brave” and willing to commit themselves to change, learning and developing themselves.
Kegan and Lahey’s model also presents how the words and “language” reflect one’s mindset. One’s mindset is a very powerful tool in change. When we are able to “shift” our mindset, when mind, body and spirit are aligned, transformation occurs. I believe that transformation occurs at the spiritual level, whether we identify the particular change as spiritual or not. This notion came to mind as I was listening to the pastor of my church speak about how making New Year’s resolutions has its roots in Methodism, (a Protestant religion.) Wikipedia states that “Babylonians made promises to their gods at the start of each new year that they would return borrowed objects and pay their debts,” and “Romans began each year by making promises to the god Janus, for whom the month of January is named.” My assumption from all three examples is that the origin of making resolutions may include a spiritual awakening. Perhaps this awakening is beneficial in moving towards the shift, or desired outcome. I wonder if a New Year’s resolution was adopted as a learning process, as opposed to a specific outcome, would it increase the odds of reaching it?
Kegan and Lahey assert that New Year’s resolutions do not result in change and tend to create worse outcomes, for example, increased weight gain if “going on a diet” is the resolution. I wonder if you are desiring growth, development and transformation, if creating a theme or engaging in a coaching journey with me may help you seek your desired outcome(s).
Questions to reflect upon:
Is there a theme that you wish to focus upon for the New Year? What is it and what might the barriers be to achieving it? What is your contingency plan for reckoning with the barriers?
*For previous related blogs:
Creating a theme for the new year:
2/2015- “Seeing is Believing”, 1/2013- “On the Path to Happiness and Meaning,” 1/2012- “Focus on Growth for Year.”
Kegan & Lahey transformation
11/2016- “Growth Beyond Our Current Abilities”
Is there Negativity in your Workplace?
Most coaches utilize a positive framework in their philosophy: appreciating strengths and identifying positive aspects of one’s contributions. I have found this approach to support the growth, development and transformation in my clients and in the work that they influence. I recently came across an article in Fast Co Leadership, 6/26/17, titled “Four Signs That You’re The Office Debbie Downer,” by Stephanie Vozza. It reminded me that persons who are focused on fixing problems and what is wrong with any situation can be unintentionally infusing a negative vibe to the workplace.
I sometimes find this tendency in my clients and I remember being this way when I worked for the University of California. My former workplace came with its strengths as well as some of its bureaucratic aspects that often accompany a big organization. Vozza’s article identifies four major signs of a pessimistic cycle: focusing on what’s wrong, assigning blame, not letting go of the past and motivating with fear.
In my former workplace I was good at focusing on what is wrong with something. I tended to replay how it could have gone better with the intention of improving. I didn’t realize that this process of consistently pointing out what’s wrong, could also lead to self-criticism, reinforcing the neural connection of those negative feelings and making it more likely that I would use those neural connections again in the future. As a leader, how I presented issues to my staff and teams could easily bring them down and make them feel inadequate.
I now actively try to recognize when I am assigning blame or worrying about something not being perfect. This has been helpful because affixing blame can shut down creative ways to move towards better performance and outcomes. I was fortunate because I had friends, outside of the organization who helped me to acknowledge what was done well. Eventually I incorporated this technique in supervising and in coaching. Coaching can be of great help in interrupting the blame game and in identifying a cycle of negativity. People need to be held accountable for their work, however assigning blame that demeans a person is likely to be counterproductive and create a pessimistic environment.
The third sign of being a negative influence is not letting go of the past. Vozza refers to Jon Gordon, author of The Power of Positive Leadership: How and Why Positive Leaders Transform Teams and Organization and Change the World, who writes: “Anyone pursuing anything worthwhile will fail and fail often. You can dwell on the past or look forward to making the next opportunity great. You can see life as a game of failure or opportunity. It’s all in how you see it.”
In the corporate, small business, academic and non-profit worlds, I have repeatedly seen negative leaders who motivate with fear, the fourth sign of negativity in the workplace. When I was in their buildings I could see how tired and stressed the staff looked. Think about it, how creative are you when you are worrying about whether you aren’t measuring up to the task or when you believe that your supervisor is unhappy with your performance? Are you in your best mode for developing new ways of improving the results? Perhaps you don’t motivate with fear. Do you worry when things don’t seem to be going well or the way you anticipate they should? How effective have you been when responding to that worry/fear? If individuals are concerned about making mistakes, they usually avoid taking chances, quite possibly the chance necessary for them to succeed.
Is it possible that you may be a part of negativity in the workplace or in your social environments? If you are not sure if you’re a negative influence, Gordon suggests asking your team questions such as, “Do you feel energized working with me?” “Do I encourage you?” Do you feel I believe in you?” “Do you believe you accomplish more with me as your leader?” It seems to me that there are all good questions, although I wonder if a leader who motivates with fear would receive honest feedback from one’s team or direct reports. I wonder if it might be more effective to ask a colleague who one trusts will be forthcoming.
Questions to reflect upon:
Do you contribute to a negative atmosphere in your office or life by focusing on what’s wrong, assigning blame, not letting go of the past or motivating with fear? If yes, what might you do to shift or transform this negativity?
Rituals for this November Holiday
At the end of this month, people in this country celebrate Thanksgiving, which provides many persons with a four-day holiday. What do most people think of in connection with this holiday? For some people it is a special opportunity to gather family and friends together, to eat turkey and all of the fixings. For others it is a spiritual time or being grateful for one’s blessings. And for others it is a time to watch football, and to begin the shopping season in anticipation of Christmas. What are the rituals that you observe during this time?
Personally, I struggle with this holiday. I am looking for meaning in this holiday that I can fully embrace. Growing up, Thanksgiving was a time when my cousins from Los Angeles and the Bay Area would visit the farm. My grandmother would make sushi “appetizers” and everyone would contribute food. My mother taught us how to make the turkey stuffing and hand-cranked fresh cranberry dressing with chestnuts, almonds, apples and oranges from our yard and farm. The Thanksgiving holiday was a joyful tradition of family and thankfulness for the harvest bounty.
As an adult I’ve learned that the portrayal of Thanksgiving of Pilgrims preparing a feast for the “natives” is hurtful and disrespectful. Pumpkin, turkeys, corn and squash are native to the Americas, so it is much more likely that the Pilgrims learned how to cultivate and cook these foods from Native people. A reenactment of the “first Thanksgiving” does not include the oppressive treatment of Native Americans who were intentionally exposed to small-pox and life-threatening diseases by Europeans. For Native people, Thanksgiving does not produce positive thoughts of the first contacts and historical relationships with European settlers.
Several years ago, I attended “Sunrise at Alcatraz,” a long-established tradition on the fourth Thursday of November (scroll down to “thoughts, 12/09”). It was a solemn ritual reenacting the occupation of Alcatraz in 1969, when a group of Native persons inhabited the island, attempting to invoke legislation which stipulates that unused federal lands could be claimed by Native people. This holiday continually reminds me that I am conflicted with how the traditional Thanksgiving story ignores the history of our country’s massacre and domination of Native people.
I have been wondering if in addition to giving thanks in general, I adopt a spirit of gratefulness for the culture, heritage and contributions of Native people. Many cities already identify a day in October, Indigenous People’s Day supplanting Columbus Day (and in S.F., they have renamed their previously called Columbus Day parade to the Irish American Heritage Parade). For Thanksgiving, some persons might suggest celebrating both the Pilgrim’s desire for religious freedom and gratitude for Native people. And yet, these alternatives don’t address the historical and institutional mistreatment of Native people. Since Thanksgiving is a national holiday with institutional significance, is there a way to both celebrate and give thanks, while observing a day of apology or atonement for taking away Native lands and subjugating them to a European way of life? I wonder if communities could rethink Thanksgiving in a way that could help us take a step towards healing the woundedness that our country has inflicted upon Native people.
I am looking for rituals and learning processes that help me to observe the holiday--to identify and uphold Native American history, take responsibility for the stripping of their human rights, while preserving the act of being thankful. Do you have any suggestions?
This year, we are hosting our family’s dinner. We often begin with a prayer and a hymn. In honoring Native people’s respect for the earth, I’d like to ask the younger children to take turns reading aloud from a beautifully illustrated children’s book, Chief’s Seattle’s Brother Eagle, Sister Sky. These words, from over a hundred years ago, are a message to us about how the earth is sacred and a reminder to take care of the earth. I’d also like to have a prayer or hymn of thanksgiving which includes the acknowledgment of the exploitation of Native people and which offers words of healing.
Questions to reflect upon:
How do you feel or what do you think about the traditional interpretation of Pilgrims and Thanksgiving?
If you were (are) Native American, how might (do) you feel about this holiday?
Honor your Journey through your Story, Part V
Carol S. Pearson writes about how stories can act as guides for growth and development. In the past four coaching blogs, I have highlighted the basic patterns of these narratives and presented them through her categories of stability and structure, learning and freedom and results and mastery. In this month’s “thoughts” I will cover storylines of people and belonging or how people connect and work with each together. It is the final entry of honoring our journeys through our stories.
People and Belonging
In the workplace as well as in personal lives, clients exist in human community. Almost all clients have lived the great story of the everyperson/orphan, where the narrative is about opportunity and equality for each person. The storyline ends with a happy ending as people work together, receiving and giving help while they embrace their interdependence. The everyperson story can be a reaction to the unrealistic hopes of the innocent (see “thoughts,” Part III, 8/2017) who believes with enough faith anything is possible. I can’t help but think that in our current sociopolitical situation, many people are living this storyline of feeling like nobody is looking out for their individual interests, and they may be identifying with the rhetoric of someone who espouses taking away civil liberties from other people, who they do not consider as being a part of their community. At the same time in the U.S., current events seem to be galvanizing persons who were never before political, to protest, stand up and support individual rights. I coach many clients who advocate for social justice in a variety of services and communities. The everyperson in us “reminds us of our vulnerability and our dependence on others, require us to see real problems and the negative side of life.”1 I believe that the coaching process can help clients honor this everyperson story to unearth their fears, express empathy, and develop a deeper sense of compassion.
Still, other clients are living the story of the lover, people creating beautiful experiences, services and products. The lover storyline is active when my clients are following their bliss, actively engaging with their passion, commitment and loved one(s). When we fall in love with something, whether it be a person, a job, or a movement, we want “to be in loving relationships with self and others.” I have many clients that are passionate about eradicating domestic violence, providing inclusive education or services or creating a better environment. Pearson tells us that there are many different levels of this pattern, with love for oneself being the foundation for “loving humanity and the cosmos.”2 This narrative helps us by “showing beauty all around us, giving us energy and providing us with appreciation.”
Another storyline that helps people to belong is the jester, which creates pathways for enjoyment. Using “cleverness, clowning it up to enliven a dull situation, or using humor to speak with impunity what would ordinarily be an ‘unspeakable’ truth” are all devices of the jester. I had a client who said she chose me because I made her laugh. She was a humble and strategic thinker, a leader in uplifting the disenfranchised. I later learned that although she was rather quiet in their group processes except for when a value or perspective was not being voiced, in their social interaction, she was the life of the party. In hearing her stories during our coaching journey, I discovered that she could find humor in the most difficult of situations and seemed to be able to “balance freedom with a sense of ethics and personal integrity.” I considered her comment about me as a compliment, because I can be known to be overly serious. I truly desire to be able to lighten things up, to laugh at myself, and to look for different “alternatives to fight or flight dilemmas.” The “jester in each of us helps us and others by showing us the fun in difficult situations.”
Pearson teaches that each storyline offers us a story, a goal, a worst fear, lesson(s) to be learned and specific gifts. Pearson writes that one may not wish to view the storylines in terms of applying to self-understanding and personal growth, however they can still be an aid in ‘educating individuals for success, citizenship and leadership in a democratic society.”3 Different storylines are active within us at various times. We can activate storylines which help us towards wholeness and use them as tools to navigate the challenging currents which are occurring in our lives. Pearson suggests that if our inner guides are wanting to express certain storylines and we push them down, they will be expressed in their negative or shadow forms. If we don’t learn the lesson each storyline presents, the challenge presented to us is likely to recur. There are different levels of each storyline pattern. As we spiral through any particular storyline a second, third of fourth time we can grow and access a deepening awareness. In this series of “thoughts” over the past five months, I have introduced Pearson’s twelve storylines. For more information on honoring your journey through your story, please check out the wealth of resources written, co-written and presented by Carol S. Pearson.
Questions to reflect upon:
How do you best connect with people? Of these storylines of people and belonging: lover, everyperson and jester, which one(s) resonate(s) with you? What can you learn or gain from each narrative?
1 From this point on, all words enclosed within “quotation marks” without a subscript endnote number, refer to language that Carol S. Pearson created in instructional materials for her training with archetypes. Pearson has written and co-authored numerous books on archetypes, or the plots and patterns within stories. While I hope to convey how her stories and body of work apply to coaching, I want to acknowledge her brilliance, and creation as the primary source of this work. For more information, see references.
2 Pearson, C.S. Awakening the Heroes Within: Twelve Archetypes to Help Us Find Ourselves and Transform Our World, (SF: HarperSanFrancisco), 152.
3 Pearson, Awakening the Heroes Within, 14.
-For discovering the storylines active in your life, take the Pearson-Marr Archetypal Index online, and receive an interpretive report:
-To take the Organizational and Team Culture Indicator, go to https://marketplace.unl.edu/buros/organizational-and-team-culture-indicator.html
-Pearson website on storylines: https://www.carolspearson.com/about/the-12-archetype-system-a-model-for-discovering-your-archetypes
Carol S. Pearson, Archetypes in Organizational Settings: A Client's Guide to the OTCI Professional Report, CAPT, Gainesville, 2003.
Carol S. Pearson, Awakening the Heroes Within: Twelve Archetypes to Help Us Find Ourselves and Transform Our World, Harper San Francisco, 1991.
Carol S. Pearson & Hugh K. Marr, Introduction to Archetypes: The Guide to Interpreting Results from the Pearson-Marr Archetype Indicator, CAPT, Gainesville, 2002.
Carol S. Pearson and Sharon Seivert, Magic at Work, Currency, Doubleday, New York, 1995.
Carol S. Pearson, Persephone Rising: Awakening the Heroine Within, HarperElixir, San Francisco, 2015.
Carol S. Pearson, The Transforming Leader: New Approaches to Leadership for the Twenty-First Century, Berrett-Koelher Publishers, 2012
Jon G. Corlett & Carol Pearson, Mapping the Organizational Psyche: A Jungian Theory of Organizational Dynamics and Change, CAPT, Gainesville, 2003. (capt.org)
Originally published in condensed form in Collective Wisdom: Powerful Practical Advice for Achieving Success, Edited by Donald Gerard, 2009.
©Wendy C. Horikoshi, 2017, firstname.lastname@example.org. Primary sources of information from works and trainings by Dr. Carol S. Pearson. Do not copy without permission
Honor your Journey through your Story, Part IV
As I continue to draw from works by Carol S. Pearson that provide insight for our life journeys, this month’s “thoughts” addresses story patterns about production and getting things accomplished. Pearson groups these stories under results/mastery. What are the narratives of these stories? Is it the hero who champions some cause or the leader in some industry service or product who helps one’s organization/company to make a profit, increase those products and/or win the competition in one’s field? Is it the revolutionary, who through unconventional methods strives for innovation to break tradition, implements the cutting edge so that growth and change can occur? Or is it the magician, who with intuitive insight moves toward unprecedented success?
Stories of Results/Mastery
Many of my clients have goals of accomplishing and providing services for their clientele and communities. Many of my coachees are committed to social equity and justice. The hero or warrior narrative is often played out by my clients and their organizations. In this role, the hero must be “strong, effective and overcome any fears.”1 Winning is what counts most. One important lesson which can be learned from engaging in this narrative is to “fight for what genuinely matters.” Especially in today’s current social climate, I am finding many clients are seeing the over-reliance on this storyline. For example, there are many times when persons living the hero story must consider whether winning at all costs is worth the fight and/or whether the warrior storyline is the only way to achieve what is desired.
Some of my clients follow the revolutionary or destroyer narrative, helping the organization to shut-down old or ineffective ways of operating. The storyline is about “growth and metamorphosis.” I accompanied one client who followed this revolutionary path helping her organization to make a significant change in how they worked. She pushed for her organization to expand their programming to integrate older youth and young adults into the leadership of their programs. It was met with resistance, but her leadership and willingness to take responsibility for the supervision and any fall-out that might occur helped the organization to grow and move in a new and powerful direction.
I remember another client who lived the story of the revolutionary as an individual. She was the fiscal director of her organization, who cared deeply for the mission of the organization, but was being asked to operate in a manner that she considered unethical. Initially engaging the warrior narrative, she kept fighting the effort and tried to get support from the organizational hierarchy to deal with the issue, but without success.
Following the revolutionary narrative, she shared her concerns with a board member. This destroyed her chances to continue working there, potentially placing the organization in jeopardy, as well as abandoning what she felt was her commitment to working in the field. This client had reached her limit to contribute to this organization, was blocked from giving fully of her talents and understood that it was time to let go and move on. The revolutionary storyline “helps us to be humble, to accept our mortality and limitations.”
Interestingly enough, this same client landed another job in the same general area which paid more, was less of a commute and worked for persons and an organization where her principles of ethical fiscal management were welcomed. I believe she summoned the storyline of the magician. Initially fighting with the warrior story, she realized that pattern was not working and was not helping her to champion her cause in the former organization. Invoking the revolutionary allowed her to “deal with loss with some grace.” Searching and finding a new job required a major shift in my client’s perspective, one that was transformative and unearthed the magician within herself. The Magician finds “win/win solutions.” The magician often solves problems by letting go of the outcome while “valuing order and stability” and “understanding the interdependence of everyone and everything.”
The magician in me has helped me to see possibilities and solutions beyond my “understanding of the situation or problem.” It helps me to be more flexible and open, while recognizing “the interdependence of everyone and everything.” I have witnessed the magician in my clients numerous times-- when listening to clients and together renaming or reframing something which caused shifts in thinking, solving the problem and opening the way for unexpected outcomes or windfalls. This is the magician at work, expanding our understanding and transforming our realities.
As a coach, I strive to help my clients recognize that there are different manners in which they can produce results. Recognizing the story which we are living may help us find new ways to achieve our goals.
Questions to reflect upon:
Which of these storylines are active in your life?
If you desire results or production, which of these narratives of the hero, revolutionary or magician might best lead you towards your individual or organizational desired outcomes?
1 From this point on, all words enclosed by "quotation marks" refer to language that Carol S. Pearson created in instructional materials for her training with archetypes. Pearson has written and co-authored numerous books on archetypes, or the plots and patterns within stories. While I hope to convey how her stories and body of work apply to coaching, I want to acknowledge her brilliance, and creation as the primary source of this work. For more information, see references.
Carol S. Pearson, Awakening the Heroes Within: Twelve Archetypes to Help Us Find Ourselves and Transform Our World, Harper San Francisco, 1991.
Carol S. Pearson & Hugh K. Marr, Introduction to Archetypes: The Guide to Interpreting Results from the Pearson-Marr Archetype Indicator™, CAPT, Gainesville, 2002.
Much appreciation to Adam Frey for editing and imparting his wisdom of storylines (archetypes.)
Originally published in condensed form in Collective Wisdom: Powerful Practical Advice for Achieving Success, Edited by Donald Gerard, 2009.
©Wendy C. Horikoshi, 2017, email@example.com. Primary sources of information from works and trainings by Dr. Carol S. Pearson. Do not copy without permission
Honor your Journey through your Story, Part III
Throughout this summer, I have been sharing insights from works by Carol S. Pearson about story patterns that can inform us about our journeys in life. In the June “thoughts” I wrote about how discovering my own stories have helped me to incorporate important learnings in my life and how to better connect with the stories of my clients. In last month’s entry, I presented how the narratives of caregiver, ruler, and creator can provide stability and structure. This month I’d like to honor three storylines of Learning and Freedom which can inform us how to continue to grow and develop: the explorer, the innocent and the sage.
Stories of Learning/Freedom
Quite often I see clients when they move beyond providing structure and stability to their organizations, communities and families. The explorer seeks new adventures by leaving home, family, job or embarking upon an internal journey. I have coached clients who recognized the need for more or different types of challenge in their work. They felt bored, trapped by rules, regulations or responsibilities. Being in places of leadership in which they needed these areas to be covered, they provided stability in their current work, either by developing other staff persons to tackle them or creating systems that were more self-sustaining. In this way they felt empowered to stay true to themselves and to take their internal journeys while still serving their communities. They began to pay attention to their restlessness, rather than dismissing it as a sign of bad character. My clients gained independence and insight about their identities. In other situations, I remember clients who were passionate about their organizations’ missions, the constituencies they served and were therefore torn about leaving. The coaching processes were instrumental in clarifying their core values and their needs to step into healthier work environments where they could fully give of themselves.
Some clients simply have faith and hope there will be a happy ending, as in the story of the innocent. This pattern encourages people to stay upbeat and to see the good in others. The goal of the innocent is to remain safe and protected. I consider myself to be a fairly upbeat person, nevertheless, I remember times in my life when I had become cynical and found it difficult to hope for a better future or for better outcomes. I knew that there was no one who was going to swoop down and magically change all of the institutional systems that weren’t working. The narrative of the innocent provided me with optimism that help will come if I am attentive and if I recognize the help. I believe that this optimism and faith are critical elements to being resilient. I continually learn from the storyline of the innocent, as my clients share their journeys, their hopes and dreams for their organizations and the legacies they hope to impart.
One other story of learning/freedom is the sage, who finds deeper truth and understanding. The sage is curious, wise and adept at noticing flaws. Clients living the sage storyline are objective, and can more easily contribute dispassionate analysis, planning and evaluation. I have seen clients detach, no longer feeling the need to defend themselves. Honoring the sage within helped them to let go of personal insecurities. For myself, I find this storyline a fairly easy one to access in noticing defects or flawed thinking. However a growth area for me in fully embracing the sage continues to be expressing truths in a non-judgmental manner and being aware when there is openness to hearing them. I believe I access the sage when listening and feeding back to my clients what they have presented. I help them unearth the deeper meaning in their quests, problem-solving or decision-making. I ask questions and help them to get curious about their concepts, values and desired outcomes, assisting them to seek the sage within. We may engage in strategic thinking or alignment of their values with their goals and outcomes, which provides them with new ways of thinking, responding and moving forward.
Questions to apply to stories of learning/freedom:
Explorer: Are you experiencing a type of restlessness about your work or life? How might you pay attention to it as a sign of wanting to learn or becoming more true to yourself?
Innocent: Can you think of a time when optimism was a key ingredient to being resilient? Is there some issue in your life which might benefit from the pattern of the innocent?
Sage: Can you think of a time when you were free of needing to defend yourself, letting go of how to best convince other people of your competence? Is there some aspect in your life where you might engage the sage to free yourself of the need to prove your competence?
-For discovering the storylines active in your life, take the Pearson-Marr Archetypal Index online, and receive an interpretive report:
-To take the Organizational and Team Culture Indicator, go to https://marketplace.unl.edu/buros/organizational-and-team-culture-indicator.html
John G. Corlett & Carol Pearson, Mapping the Organizational Psyche: A Jungian Theory of Organizational Dynamics and Change, CAPT, Gainesville, 2003. (capt.org)
Carol S. Pearson, Awakening the Heroes Within: Twelve Archetypes to Help Us Find Ourselves and Transform Our World, Harper San Francisco, 1991.
Much appreciation to Adam Frey for editing and imparting his wisdom of storylines (archetypes.)
Originally published in condensed form in Collective Wisdom: Powerful Practical Advice for Achieving Success, Edited by Donald Gerard, 2009.
©Wendy C. Horikoshi, 2017, firstname.lastname@example.org. Primary sources of information from works and trainings by Dr. Carol S. Pearson. Do not copy without permission
Honor your Journey through your Story, Part II
“Myths are stories of our search through the ages for truth, for meaning, for significance. -Bill Moyers, in a dialogue with Joseph Campbell, “The Power of Myth” video
Stories evoke thoughts and emotions and can touch us in profound ways. In Mapping the Organizational Psyche, John G. Corlett and Carol S. Pearson organize storylines around specific themes or life energies, which serve as containers for learning and development. One of their categories is Stability and Structure. Although Pearson and Corlett present their ideas for organizational learning, I want to focus upon how stories of stability and structure may provide insight for individual growth too.
Stories of Stability/Structure
Identifying the collective stories of your workplace, family and community can help lead your life. Each person may move through many different storylines with certain types of stories being more active in one’s life at any particular time. Pearson posits that each story inherently provides a goal, lessons to learn and accompanying gifts or virtues. For many of us, our lives and work focus on the story of the caregiver, tending to people and being of service. The caregiver’s goal is to be “good, caring and unselfish.”1 The caregiver teaches us to work hard, to give and to love others. The caregiver in us can also help us to understand who we are and to “discover for what or whom we are willing to sacrifice.” Many clients who work in the non-profit world have dedicated their lives to this narrative. Sometimes, it has been instructive for them to understand this pattern so they may continue to give, but without burning themselves out. One of the ways they journey towards more balance in their lives is to enlist the caretaker narrative for themselves through self-care. Their journeys help them to recognize that being compassionate with oneself provides a deepening foundation to care for those around them.
At some point our story for achieving stability and structure may be about the ruler, “finding positive use for everything and everyone.” The ruler’s story creates order, maintains it and provides governance. This storyline can be powerful in dealing with scarcity and in “prioritizing goals and resources.” The journey of the ruler may occur in one’s inner or outer world. Achieving stability in one of these worlds can help mirror structure in the other. I remember times when my life was so chaotic that establishing order in my inner world facilitated capacity, energy and insight to deal with the outer one. I have seen clients adopt this narrative to make tough decisions and follow through with them. This narrative can work in the opposite fashion, creating structure in the outer world, which influences order or balance within. For example, when leaders implement policies which improve efficiency and redundancy, it can provide stability and ease the feeling of disorder and confusion for staff.
One other story of stability and structure is the creator, designing "one’s life, work or any new kind of reality”. The creator may design a new product, method or solution. I often accompany clients through their journeys of creating unique pathways for dealing with organizational issues and also for envisioning their own professional development. The creator in us can “help us to know what we really want to have, do, or create; allow ourselves to let our dreams come true and provide vocations for ourselves.” Through this storyline I have consciously become more accepting of myself, more in tune with my connection with the universe and with my ability to inspire and imagine the future. I work with clients in activating the creator in their lives, helping them to envision their futures.
Although all of these types of stories can help establish stability and structure, the processes and outcomes differ. Which of the narratives of caregiver, ruler, and creator can best provide us with stability and structure in our current situations? Recognizing the narratives, goals, gifts and lessons of each story may assist in developing ourselves and in authoring our own journeys.
Questions to reflect upon:
Do any of the storylines of caretaker, ruler or creator have resonance for you?
What might you have learned or gained from the story?
Regarding stability and structure in your work/life, might there be a particular storyline that provides insight or inspiration for the optimal path in your present situation?
(Stay tuned for Part III in next month's "thoughts.")
1 From this point on, all words enclosed by "quotation marks" refer to language that Carol S. Pearson created in instructional materials for her training with archetypes. Pearson has written and co-authored numerous books on archetypes, or the plots and patterns within stories. While I hope to convey how her stories and body of work apply to coaching, I want to acknowledge her brilliance, and creation as the primary source of this work. For more information, see references.
John G. Corlett & Carol Pearson, Mapping the Organizational Psyche: A Jungian Theory of Organizational Dynamics and Change, CAPT, Gainesville, 2003. (capt.org)
Carol S. Pearson, Awakening the Heroes Within: Twelve Archetypes to Help Us Find Ourselves and Transform Our World, Harper San Francisco, 1991.
Originally published in condensed form in Collective Wisdom: Powerful Practical Advice for Achieving Success, Edited by Donald Gerard, 2009.
Much appreciation to Adam Frey for editing and imparting his wisdom of storylines (archetypes.)
©Wendy C. Horikoshi, 2017, email@example.com. Primary sources of information from works and trainings by Dr. Carol S. Pearson. Do not copy without permission
Honor your Journey through your Story
Discovering and honoring my own stories helped me integrate all of the important parts of my life’s journey and have enabled me to connect with clients. Through several books and workshops of Carol S. Pearson, I have learned about the pattern of stories. Pearson writes in Archetypes in Organizational Settings:
“Workplaces are thus the settings in which they live out the great human stories—whether in their comic (happy) or tragic (unhappy) modes. As we pull back the veil of appearances, we may notice great heroism and pernicious villainy, devotion and antipathy, the pride of victory and the indignity of defeat—all right before us, every day. The great challenge is to be certain that the organization and those in it are living the optimal story available to them.”
Identifying which stories were active in my life and which ones offered the silver lining or new learning that I wanted to pursue has helped me to travel my career journey—contribute what I needed to with the current organization, leave a 13- year stable position that was a great job, continue my inward growth about myself, and move to a field of work that I love and feel most privileged about engaging in. Unearthing the stories continue to help me integrate all the important parts in my life: my calling, my family and community and my desire to live a responsible, productive and meaningful life. I keep rediscovering that life is a continuous process where each storyline helps me to feel more whole and better equipped to face the challenges and difficulties of each stage of my journey.
As a coach, listening to clients and inquiring about their storylines has helped me to metaphorically accompany each of them in their lives, especially when their stories are very different from mine. Alternately, when the underlying storylines are similar, each narrative with the social, political and economic milieu provides for a different telling of the same story. Through hearing and reflecting upon these stories we can recognize and experience the meaning and lessons which can be gleaned from each symbolic pattern.
Questions to reflect upon:
What is a story that is of particular interest to you? What is the narrative or plot? What is the goal? What are the lessons that can be gleaned from your story? Are there any gifts or virtues which can be gleaned from this story? If yes, what are they?
Stay tuned for Part II of "Honor Your Journey through your Story" in next month’s “thoughts."
Carol S. Pearson, Archetypes in Organizational Settings, CAPT, Gainesville, 2003.
Carol S. Pearson, The Hero Within: Six Archetypes We Live By, Harper San Francisco, 1998.
Originally published in condensed form in Collective Wisdom: Powerful Practical Advice for Achieving Success, Edited by Donald Gerard, 2009.
©Wendy C. Horikoshi, 2017, firstname.lastname@example.org. Primary sources of information from works and trainings by Dr. Carol S. Pearson. Do not copy without permission
I am a loyal and ardent fan of the Golden State Warriors. There is something quite special about the philosophy that Coach Steve Kerr has infused into this team. Kerr embraces individual differences and nurtures the strengths of talents of each player. He seems to build solid relationships with the players and the coaching staff. His value of finding and cultivating joy seems to be present with basketball, his relationships and his life. Although many leaders tend to believe they are successful solely because of their own personality, he is also cognizant about each player’s style, strengths and willingness to buy into the same team vision. Moreover, his leadership is inclusive in nature, incorporating individual knowledge to benefit the team. Kerr helps his team learn from individual mistakes and team miscalculations. As a leadership coach, I have seen clients follow this type of “learning by doing” while nurturing the skills and leadership of individuals. This approach strengthens the foundation of the team and organization. For example, one client who was an assistant director of a non-profit was willing to nurture a young staff person, whom the organization was calling to fire. The staff person had made a mistake in being too much of a friend with the high school participants. My client helped to develop the staff person who provided the organization with fresh, young leadership that offered new and different ways of community organizing with teens. As a coach, I created an environment that gave my client the time and space to think about why she wanted to help this person and how to accomplish this goal within the organizational restraints.
As a superb leader, Coach Kerr develops his staff as well as his players. Coach Kerr builds his team of coaches to complement their strengths and work together in an almost seamless manner. In selecting Luke Walton as the Warrior’s assistant coach in the 2014-15 season, it was amazing to see the Warriors win 39 games when Coach Kerr was out for back surgery. When Walton moved to become head coach of the LA Lakers, Kerr selected Mike Brown, a defensive specialist who had coached in the finals as a head coach in Cleveland. Brown is currently coaching in this 2017 play-off series in Kerr’s absence and the Warriors have continued to win. I have had leaders of organizations who have brought me in to coach them through transition, succession-planning and retirement. I helped my clients to figure out their plans for developing their teams so that the organization could carry on without their presence. I also helped the clients to identify their joy and meaning and how they want to incorporate these elements into the next phase of their lives.
Building relationships can be critical to fostering leadership. I find it delightful to watch how first team players of the Warriors have extraordinary relationships with the second and third teams, on and off the court. Golden State is well known for their team dinners. I believe that this type of relationship building has spill over to the court with their strategy of giving starting team members rest periods, leaving one or two of them in play, while bringing in players off the bench. Additionally when wanting to rest players for a full game, or when a starter is injured, the team maintains a flow with varying players out on the floor. While building relationships may seem as if it is intangible, it produces results and can be one of the more difficult skills to incorporate into one’s work. I support my clients with relationship building by helping them to be guided by their inner selves and to incorporate into thought and action their kindness, compassion as well as the mission of their organizations.
When the Warriors play they seem like they are having fun. I believe that one important quality of leading is helping individuals find what they value, cultivate and honor these values. In an interview, Steph Curry shared how Kerr has taught him to appreciate all aspects of one’s life, taking time away from the game to enjoy one’s family and friends, savoring golf and other activities. Coach Kerr seems to be a leader who treats his players as “whole” persons, who are more than just basketball players with “on” and “off” nights. As a coach, I often ask how my clients want to create joy for themselves and the people within their organization.
The Warriors provide me with enjoyable moments of respite and joy. In coaching leaders, I hope that some of the work we do together helps them to consciously utilize their strengths and differences, builds and deepens their relationships and brings them more joy in their lives and in their work.
Questions to reflect upon:
How might you nurture the strengths of people in your work or life? How do you nurture your strengths?
What might you do to build the relationships of persons you work, play and live with?
How might you cultivate joy in your life and in your work?
Barriers to Your Development and Successful Outcomes
What are barriers that keep you from developing or reaching the outcomes that you desire? Very often individuals tend to continue to utilize the same pattern which has been leading to the same barrier. I have a client that has been working on being conscious of her tendency to take on more than she can fit into her schedule and life. She works in a non-profit for immigrant rights and even prior to the recent immigration orders and new policies, has been working for an organization where the employees carry workloads that are at or above capacity. It is not surprising that she feels a bit underwater and worried that things will soon get out of control. She is concerned that she will begin doing more work on week-ends and evenings, sleeping less and experiencing more health problems as has been her previous pattern. Coaching has helped her to become more successful in understanding her workstyle that gains energy from completing things close to the deadline. In her coaching processes, she has worked diligently to create and implement strategies that help her focus on what to do, how to prioritize and schedule things with extra cushion space. She and her colleagues have also gotten through the panic, initial shock and emotional turmoil of drastic changes in the political climate for immigration policy in this country. In our last coaching session we paid attention to a situation she identified how a specific emotion comes up for her which often becomes a stumbling block to completing her workload—guilt.
You may experience guilt or it may be other emotions or thoughts that tend to weigh you down. Although coaching is not counseling, coaching can help you figure out your priorities, which direction you desire, identify stumbling blocks and create pathways for reaching your desired outcomes. Nancy, (we’ll call her), recalled the most recent time by re-walking the timeline of events of when she focused on finishing work and home duties while ignoring signals from her body that something was not right. She identified this point in time where she experienced guilt. I had Nancy step off the timeline, move into the future and give herself advice and wisdom. “Nancy, you don’t feel well. You have a fever. Why don’t you call and cancel your meeting, stay home and rest. I know that you’re trying to come through for other people.” Nancy stepped back into the timeline to receive that information and then moved further on the timeline. I asked Nancy, “What will it take to care for yourself?” She didn’t know. I had Nancy step off the timeline once more and move to her wise self. She realized that arranging for increased childcare when she took on more work obligations was also stressful. As Nancy returned to the timeline, she identified new resources that would help her take care of herself; creating an action item to develop connections with persons who could help with baby-sitting. Nancy felt guilty about caring for herself and making plans for her child when there was a schedule of work meetings. She realized that although cancelling a meeting may be disappointing for the other attendees, not doing so often means missing more work later when she absolutely must due to illness. Walking the timeline and making different choices helped Nancy transform the guilt and become more resourceful. And to top it off, Nancy has confidence that she will listen to her body and take better care of herself the next time.
Questions to reflect upon:
What might be a barrier that keeps you from taking your own good advice? What strategy or plan might you make to follow that advice? If you could use help in working through this process, could a coach help you?
Teamwork and Resiliency
What constitutes a good team that works together well? Is it when teams have great talent, are successful, and when they know how to pick each other up when they fall short of the mark? Is it when individuals know how to speak each other’s language, to understand differences, strengths and capacities and to utilize all of their different contributions to create much more than the sum of their individual parts? Is teamwork when individuals are willing to sacrifice their own agenda, their own need to control the direction and/or their own egos for the team’s overall goals? How does a good team nurture talent, utilize experience, and provide leadership while encouraging individual and group growth and development? How does a good leader look to replace a team member who leaves while nurturing teamwork during the interim? In listening to the experiences of my clients, I am beginning to think about resiliency as an additional component of leadership and teamwork. I formerly thought of resiliency as an important part of individual leadership, but in watching the Golden State Warrior’s play basketball, I am learning that resiliency can be a part of group leadership, as well. In the workplace, teams change. How do we help the teams we work with become more resilient? In this month’s “thoughts,” I want to focus on resiliency in teamwork, how teams make the most of their teams while undergoing transition, change and loss.
The Warriors play as though each of the team members know their individual efforts are needed. They are a self-less team, sharing the ball, sometimes even to a fault. They are the best shooting team in the NBA, the number one in field goals percentage and the top team in defending the three point shot better. And as all teams, they struggle, lose games and have injuries. Their strategy when in a slump is to get back on defense, move the ball well, create spacing, and to move without the ball. Everybody in the team is expected to contribute and they are fully aware of their roles. Much could be written about the Warrior’s talent and experience, their leadership and concentration on continual individual and team growth. Until the past several years, I have been reluctant to talk about professional sports teams when referring to teamwork. With basketball I felt like there was a tendency to focus one individual as the hero. “Hero ball” isn’t my idea of teamwork. Pro sports are also about competition, entertainment and business which can deter from teambuilding. I think teamwork has drawn me to watch the entire game, even when the Warriors are way ahead. I can observe the teamwork and skill development of the second and third teams. I am engaged when the Warriors are behind, rooting that they will be resilient and win one more time. The Warriors are willing to learn from adversity and see each game as an opportunity to learn, especially from the losses. This theme is echoed many times by different players as they are interviewed.
How does the Warrior’s resiliency connect with resiliency in the workplace? How does a leader hire a new team member? Does the leader hurry just to fill the vacancy, or does the leader assess what strengths are available, what areas of individual growth might each team player be working towards, and what qualities are most needed for the team? How can you engage the team to buy into a new team with the new person added to it? What elements might help impact and encourage the team to do well and continue to grow and flourish? All of the qualities of teamwork and leadership contribute to a team’s success. Building the team’s resiliency can be an important tool for working with changing personnel, environment and situations.
Many times, Warriors are asked sacrifice play time and all of the team mates strive to be ready when their names are called. The leadership treats their players with respect and in a manner that takes into consideration individual needs and strengths. The leadership seems to let each player be who they are. For example, not muzzling Draymond Green’s exuberance even when technical fouls may be on the line or deterring Steph Curry when he is playing around before the game. They seem to count on each player’s unique personality to bolster their teamwork. The players exhort and challenge each other to contribute their best for the team. They don’t seem to scapegoat each other when individuals make mistakes, yet take responsibility for areas in which they could have played better. On your team(s), how do you take advantage of poor performance and use it to build resilience? In the workplace, how does a leader deal with changes due to illnesses, special events and vacations? I was struck with how Green and Shaun Livingston took time away from a game to be with their partners during the birth of their children. I know persons who are reluctant to take time off from work, fearing they may lose their jobs or not be given opportunities for special projects or promotions. This is unfortunate and perhaps short-sighted, for orientation and replacement of good team players are costly and time consuming.
The Warriors seem to be intentional about having fun as they play. I don’t doubt that this adds to their team’s resiliency. The Warriors have already clinched a seed in the play-offs. I guess one could say that they are facing a big test of their team’s resiliency now, with the MVP Player, Kevin Durant (KD) out for at least a month. General Manager Bob Myers and Coach Steve Kerr’s quick response to KD’s injury was to pick up Matt Barnes, who they hope could help with defense and scoring. Although they had already signed another player, Jose Calderon, a point guard, within 2 hours they released him upon hearing the severity of Durant’s injury. This was a costly, but undoubtedly strategic move that is already helping the Warriors. The Warriors were resilient in configuring their team, providing it with good options when a change occurred. Myers and Kerr are counting on the Splash brothers, their two great shooters, Klay Thompson and Curry to carry on. Nevertheless, in the first half of the recent Atlanta game, both Curry and Klay Thompson were not hitting. Andre Iguodala, veteran player, stepped up his game, shooting and making baskets and energizing his team. Together with the outstanding performance of the bench, the Warriors were back in the game. How are you equipping yourself to deal with changes and to anticipate and withstand unexpected changes in your workplace and community teams?
Questions to reflect upon:
Think of a time when you were resilient. What fueled you to be this way?
What things might you do to exercise your resiliency and that of your team?
Remember a time when you worked together with a team or group of people and underwent transition and/or severe challenges? How did your team respond and what things contributed to your team’s resiliency?
*Thanks to Peter Horikoshi for ideas and support.
Executive Orders and Leadership
Three Executive Orders regarding immigration have been issued in January, 2017. There is a great deal of public debate on whether and to what extent these orders are excessive, extreme and immoral. How do we deal with the fallout from these Orders and what do they have to do with leadership? For the Japanese American community, these orders remind us of Executive Order 9066, issued on Feb 19, 1942, which authorized the removal of over 110,000 persons of Japanese ancestry from the West Coast. I wonder what type of leadership would have been necessary to prevent the follow-through of EO 9066 in 1942. It took almost 50 years for the government to admit that evacuation of a whole group of persons based on race was illegal.
What does it mean to be leaders in this time and how can leaders exert their influence regarding these Executive Orders? How are people, communities and companies dealing with the immigration ban? One of these Executive Orders, EO 13769, bars immigration from seven countries. Several tech companies have written to the federal government expressing how people from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen positively contribute economically and intellectually to the U.S. and how they need the skills from employees who were born in these countries. In an article at Fast Leadership Company, “Four Immigrants Affected by the Ban Share What It’s Like to Work in America Right Now,” a doctor, professor, tech worker and advertising employee from the banned countries share their stories and provide a glimpse into how their companies have responded. One immigrant, “Norah,” from Iraq, who helps with early diagnoses of cancer, is completely alone, because her family could not return to the US after visiting relatives. Her boss saw her crying and came in and hugged her, which although was comforting in the moment, she aches in knowing that her boss is a Trump supporter. Another immigrant, “Ali,” from Libya, said that her boss is not opposing the ban, but her colleagues donated money to ACLU. A third immigrant, “Mo,” originally from Iran, works as a college professor and is proud that the college has publicly opposed the ban. Nevertheless, he probably cannot stay in the U.S. when his work authorization expires in March. His renewal request and green card application will probably be placed on hold. (A green card can often take up to two years to process, probably because there was already careful scrutiny on immigration.) “Sarah,” a software engineer from Somalia, works at a tech giant in the U.S. under the H-1B Visa project. With the ban, she cannot visit her sick mother and return to her job. Her company has granted her time off to help plan an upcoming protest, and several of her managers and coworkers will march with her.
Executive Order 13768 denies federal funds to jurisdictions that have declared sanctuary status. Many cities, school districts, colleges have joined other entities adopting sanctuary status to help keep their inhabitants safe from being deported. What are other leadership efforts in disagreeing with these Executive Orders? We are seeing increased organized protest and forming of discussion groups to learn more about the issues and to help pinpoint where we can move into social action. I’ve heard from friends who were never political who are now making phone calls, writing letters and participating in community dissent. Clients and colleagues who have worked their entire lives in social justice organizations, providing services for those with limited access are becoming resources for all of us in cultivating our own responses. Prism, a culturally-aware coaching collective of which I am a member, is designing coaching circles to provide support in these challenging times and to utilize social justice practices to guide truth-telling, compassion and authenticity.
I am also hearing and feeling the need for persons to have avenues to become grounded and to become spiritually renewed to guide ones’ understanding and actions. At my church last Sunday, my pastor* shared with us how retired Colonel Anne Wright spoke at the Veterans for Peace Conference. Colonel Wright left the army in 2003 when discovering U.S.’ decision to go to war with Iraq was based on false information about weapons of mass destruction. In her resignation she objected to the decision to go to war with Iraq without the blessings of the United Nations Security Council, the lack of effort in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, the lack of policy in North Korea, and the curtailment of liberties in the U.S. (Wikipedia). She began researching and with Susan Dixon wrote DISSENT: Voices of Conscience, Government Insiders Speak Out Against The War In Iraq.
My pastor also related how Alison Weir, a journalist who was covering the Israel/Palestinian relationships in 2001 left her job to further focus on illuminating US policy in the Middle East. Her website: “If American Knew” and her book, Against Our Better Judgment identify how the historical relationship between Israel and the U.S. led to the US invasion of Iraq. She also chronicles how overall military policy beginning in 2001 was designed to destabilize the same seven countries included in EO 13769. It’s indeed uncanny how other Muslim-majority countries are not on this list and how no known terrorists have come from these countries that are on the list. It may not be surprising to know that Trump doesn’t have businesses in any of these seven countries, but does with other countries whose citizens have been convicted of terrorist acts.
Another 2017 Executive Order, 13767, directs a wall to be built along the U.S./Mexican border. This comes at a time when undocumented crossings have reached a 40 year low and a third of the border already has a wall. Many people question who will pay for the wall. The company that has built walls in the West Bank has been promoting the building of walls for the United States, attesting to the jobs and employment they could provide. I wonder if the walls in the West Bank have provided peace and economic stability for all of their residents. In closing of his sermon, my pastor shared words from Bruce Ough, the President of the United Methodist Council on Bishops who released a statement about Trump’s immigration order,
“The very soul of our country is at stake. When we abandon strangers who are at risk of bigotry, xenophobia and violence we not only destroy their hope, we destroy our own souls. When we fail to assist the refugees fleeing danger, we not only place them in harm’s way, we do harm to our own souls. When we build walls of concrete, or walls of divisive rhetoric, or walls of fear, or walls of immoral immigration policies, we build a wall around our own souls.
Bishop Ough further calls upon the Trump administration and US Congress to rescind the harmful Executive Orders. Bishop Ough speaking as a Christian leader may not resonate with you, however I share his words with you as an example of how he is exercising his leadership in his sphere of influence and is identifying his values which stem from his spiritual core.
Christ calls us to tear down the walls around our soul that we might live fully and abundantly.”
With renewed energy, at Berkeley Methodist United Church’s service on February 19, 2017, seventy-five years after that EO 9066, I will observe the Day of Remembrance which marks the anniversary of the evacuation order. I will be joining my husband and some of his former band members who sang about the Asian American movement during the 1970’s. Unfortunately, some of the same injustices are occurring today. The annual Days of Remembrance were a small part of the larger movement which over time led to the passing of the Civil Liberties Act of 1988. The Civil Liberties Act apologized to Japanese Americans for the unlawful removal and incarceration and provided modest reparation and money for public education of Evacuation. Yet, one equally important reason for the passage of the Civil Liberties Act was to help ensure that this type of travesty would never happen again. “Never again” is a mantra from evacuation survivors and their allies.
There may be other Executive Orders that are or will be calling you to action. During these turbulent times, I wonder what opportunities we have or what avenues we can create to respond, to lead our lives in a way that stop these new Executive Orders and which provide support for the persons affected by them. The four immigrants, Norah, Ali, Mo and Sarah allowed themselves to be vulnerable to share their stories. Some business leaders and church leaders are speaking out. Individuals such as Colonel Wright and Journalist Alison Weir are providing information that is not commonly known which shed light on U.S. policy. As a leader of your life and any leadership role you play or create at work or in the community, where are your spheres of influence and where might you be called to action?
Questions to reflect upon:
Do any of the Executive Orders affect people you know? How can you support them? Are there arenas where you can step up to the plate, as a leader of an organization or as a leader of your life to move into action that aligns with your values? What are resources that can help you sort these questions out?
*Thank you to Reverend Michael Yoshii for information/resources and for social justice inspiration.
As part of her leadership development, a client recently asked me if there was an article that could help in her specific situation that might help her build relationships. While I know there are numerous sources about the subject, I believe she wanted some strategies and ways to deal with communication with a specific person. In reflecting upon her situation I realize that there are several approaches to tackle the subject. What is the communication style of the other person? Is your style different from the person you are interacting with? Are there cultural styles or perspectives which, if identified, could help you understand yourself and the other person? Is there an organizational culture or belief system that if identified, could open up communication and understanding? Many times it can be important to understand who holds the power and what personal and organizational power one holds in the situation. What issues tend to push your button? Can you see a pattern of issues that pushes the button of the other person? What are the things you have control over? Many times the only thing that one has control over is how one responds. What things might you be willing to invest your time into changing how your respond?
In coaching we create a pathway for exploring these kinds of questions and develop a plan for moving toward the desired outcomes. Individuals discover their own stories that help them transform. We might study their learning modality or personality style to better understand their leadership strengths and challenges and build their ability to connect with other persons. We might engage in exercises to help with perspective shifting. We might investigate and reflect upon different cultural perspectives to approach the relationship and/or work with the issue differently. We might strategize to look for more effective ways to deal with issues.
As I think about the client’s question, I am reminded that the building of connection and relationships are primary elements of working and living together effectively and harmoniously. The building of relationships is vital to working as a group or company, individual or community. Building relationships is a common topic that individuals address within the coaching practice. It is amazing for me to watch my clients grow, shift perspectives, influence the people around them, and strategize to create the outcomes they envision.
Questions to reflect upon:
Is there a relationship that you’d like to build? What is effective in the relationship and what would you like to move towards?
I wonder how many of us are in mourning over the results of the presidential election. For those of us who are, in addition to dealing with any other challenges or difficulties in our lives, how do we take care of ourselves as we move through the grieving process? In working with terminal cancer patients Dr. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross in Death and Dying proposed stages of grief which each person seemed to go through. She gave her patients an opportunity to talk about how they were feeling in a time when people did not usually survive cancer or talk much about the disease or treatment. Over the years her work has grown to help people deal with any kind of transition. Kubler-Ross’ stages include: Denial/Isolation, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, Acceptance, and Hope. Originally these phases were seen as progressive, moving in one direction, although over the years, many persons believe that we cycle through these emotions, jumping to different stages as well as moving back and forth between them.
Grief is about loss, and how each person deals with loss is individual and personal. I want to share with you some of the reactions about post-election grief from people in my life. One client, a White non-profit attorney for immigrant rights, said that although she felt that while she was working hard to keep on top of her work, the mood in her office was very depressed. She felt like she was in a fog. Reading the ACLU website gives her hope. Another person, who recently became the ED of a health organization, said she told her staff to do what they needed to take care of themselves. Since we talked the day after election, the people in her organization were still very much in shock.
I also asked several coaches of color what phase of the grief cycle that they might be in. "I am still fighting," said a Latina. I will send you the list of Electoral College delegates I got this afternoon. We have to write to them.” She was pretty clear about being angry and has spent many days crying.
Another coach wrote: “I go in and out of denial, anger, bargaining, and depression. The denial shows up as just going about my normal day as if we don't have a racist fascist for a president. And then I read something online that reminds me of the current state of affairs, and I start thinking of the very real possibility of forced evacuations, prison camps, mass executions, etc., and my anxiety level goes up because I don't have a solution. The tension in my body increases, I feel angry and depressed, and I just want to escape or believe that we won't let the aforementioned things happen or that I won't have to give my life defending my family and friends. Every once in a while, however, when I'm able to get grounded and centered, I have hope.”
The Latina coach responded, “I know how I feel, but if I were a black man with a young son I would no doubt be going through exactly what you are. Our imaginations have so much fuel from history, and the man in question does nothing to convince us to trust him. Every time I woke up last night (4 or 5 times) I started thinking about it. Donald Trump is giving the term White House a whole different dimension of the term. Let's know that we have each other, and we have all those Democrats still in the government. I think that as long as we can keep DT from becoming a dictator, we may be able to survive as a dynamic civilization.” And then she offered her garden to friends when they felt overwhelmed.
I believe that allowing ourselves to grieve, to feel these emotions can be helpful and healing. One client shared that this election has been extremely difficult for her as one of her close colleague’s emotional state is impacting hers. She believes her colleague is distracted, reading and posting online and she wants to be supportive but needs to disengage. Additionally one of her parents has posted anti-gay remarks after the election. For although my client is “out” as a bisexual with her parents, her mother doesn’t seem to recognize that her comments affect her daughter and intensify the fear she feels for her own safety. I moved this client through an exercise where she asked for advice from a couple of persons she admires, a Catholic Sister and Harvey Milk, the Gay Activist and SF City Councilman who was gunned down. From the imaginary interaction with the Sister, my client was comforted and relieved to know that she is loved and accepted just as she is. My client shed tears, releasing sadness. She felt joy from the conversation with Harvey Milk, which inspired and motivated her to keep his legacy alive. This process allowed my client to get in tune with her inner self, and to experience warmth, love and wholeness.
Questions to reflect upon:
If you are in mourning during this post-election period, what stage of the grief cycle are you in? How can you honor your feelings?
Immunity to Change: Growing Beyond Our Current Abilities
Throughout the practice of being interviewed by clients looking for a coach, I learn new things about coaching and myself. I have been presenting myself as a strengths-based practitioner, and rethinking how I continue to do so while not excluding differing approaches that I incorporate. I mention that I help clients grow and learn and that I engage processes of reflection, focusing, getting congruent and finding flow to shift behavior so that one can get past limitations that have acted as barriers in the past.* In being interviewed about a strengths-based approach, one client asked if I could help her overcome arenas where she is not as strong as she wishes. This gave me the opportunity to affirm that in addition to helping persons honor their strengths and use inquiry to tap into their experiences, I can also help them move beyond the places where they typically get stuck.
One such transformative tool can be read in An Everyone Culture: Becoming a Deliberately Developmental Organization, by Kegan and Lahey. The Harvard professors affirm that their approach to learning differs significantly from the philosophy of a strengths-based, positive psychology approach. Dr. Kegan and Dr. Lahey encourage each learner to look at the “one big thing,” that gets in the way of one’s development. Their approach rests upon persons uncovering their weaknesses and using them like a map towards personal development and organizational growth. Kegan and Lahey contend that we are all doing two jobs: 1) creating our product and/or services and 2) covering up our weaknesses so that others do not see our errors. They contend that people in the workplace utilize a lot of energy and time working with the second job of disregarding their mistakes. In their theory of developmental learning, they ask us to look directly at our methods and choices which keep us from being more effective. They’ve created a process which they’ve worked with for over 40 years to help individuals and organizations to discover the barriers that keep each individual from growing. They document how several companies have become successful by continually and openly working with their one big thing.
In previous books where Kegan and Lahey had shared their developmental “technology,” they chronicled case studies within universities and schools, clearly laying out their transformative processes. This formula beautifully identifies one’s “immunity to change” by asking what one is committed to, what one is doing or not doing to achieve one’s goal, what hidden or competing commitment is uncovered which leads to a big assumption one is making. Kegan and Lahey’s process of identifying one’s competing commitment interrupts the loop that reinforces and recreates the original weakness or mistake that keeps one from achieving one’s original commitment. Finding one’s big assumption helps one to recognize how to shift and develop.
In An Everyone Culture, Kegan and Lahey cite several companies whose corporate culture focuses on exposing individual weaknesses and how these companies have groups, in some cases the entire company, that continually help each other stay true to identifying and developing in a way that acknowledges their one big thing. I believe that whereas Kegan and Lahey’s first few books were extraordinary in helping individuals grow and change, this latest one helps underscore how organizations can help their employees grow. In reading this book, I began to wonder: What if all employees in each workplace could adapt and learn how to move through their blind spots? This methodology would create far reaching and long-lasting results.
Kegan and Lahey’s philosophy emphasizes how the interior growth of individuals is monumental in creating strategies that help make individuals and the organization successful. They knew their technology was effective in educational and human service type organizations, but throughout their research with businesses using this type of approach, they were surprised to discover that focusing on one’s Achilles heel has helped companies thrive even during economic recession.
How might you help move your organization or company towards transforming it to grow beyond its current capacity? Many years ago I was trained in Kegan & Lahey’s technology and it has been life changing for me and for my clients. For any individual or organization that wants to change the culture of their organization, to be deliberate about developing one’s own or the organization’s growth, I have used this tool with other clients and I’d love to help you and your organization.
Question to reflect upon:
Is there some outcome or behavior that you really care about and have worked at changing, but like a rubber band it just pops back? Can you envision how this immunity to change approach can help you and your organization?
*To read more about my coaching processes, go to my blog, www.transformativeleadership.net/thoughts.html and scroll down to the months with blogs mentioning:
Reflection: 2/2012, 9/2010
Focus: 12/2011, 3/2010
Congruence: 7/2012, 8/2011, 8/2010, 3/2008
Flow: 9/2011, 5/2011, 5/2008
Coaching, Stories and Playwriting
This month I have been interviewed by several potential clients wishing to select a coach who will be a good match for them. This time is quite special as I have the opportunity to elicit and hear their stories-- their work and personal lives, both of which contribute to who they are, their histories, their challenges and how they make meaning in their lives. Each person’s story is unique: with different political, economic and social circumstances, and yet we can relate to different parts of other person’s stories. Recently, I was struck by one client in particular, who came to the US as an immigrant and was the first person in his family to go to college. His siblings had sacrificed so that he would have the opportunity. His story reminded me of many persons in my parents’ communities, which often had the oldest male going to college, and many times that individual went to war and didn’t come back. Amidst the sacrifices the families had made, there was the spirit to continue to build a good life. This potential client had shared his story of being the onl