I spent a few hours getting to know the dedicated, passionate folks at the Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity this week as we talked about activism, mindfulness, and self-care. Here is a Q and A from that event.
Are there any follow up studies on activists better managing stress?
Per your request, I found the following study, “Relieving Burn-out and ‘Martyr Syndrome’ Among Social Justice Advocates: The Implications and Affects of Mindfulness.” It is a good read.
Here are three ways that the 14 activists in the study who had experienced burnout and used mindfulness practice as a rejuvenation tool stated it had helped, “(1) helping them find balance between their activism and self-care without feeling guilty about doing so, (2) helping them slow down and see the ‘‘big picture,’’ letting go of the pressure to eliminate injustice instantaneously, and (3) helping them more effectively manage the stress and anxiety of their activism” (2015, p. 707).
In the introduction, however, Gorski states, “… little heretofore has been done to evaluate the actual impact of specific strategies or sets of strategies for mitigating activist burnout and fostering activist sustainability” (Gorski, 2015, p. 697). So there is work to be done, and this is an area for potential.
Additionally, if you would like to read the original study I shared, here is a link to “Burnout in Social Justice and Human Rights Activists: Symptoms, Causes and Implications.”
Want to change your brain? Be more compassionate? Listen better to others?
Check out these resources based on the Q and A from Mindful Compassion and Connection, a training I facilitated in conjunction with the Educational Service Center of Central Ohio for Americorp volunteers and teachers.
What are more strategies or resources to help with implicit bias?
Implicit bias is defined by the Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity as, “The attitudes or stereotypes that affect our understanding, actions, and decisions in an unconscious manner. Activated involuntarily, without awareness or intentional control. Can be either positive or negative. Everyone is susceptible.”
In addition to the Narratives of Inclusion activity (which we did in the workshop), here are a few additional resources I would suggest as helpful tools to mitigate the effects of implicit bias.
Harvard Project Implicit has published online quizzes you can take in order to discover your specific implicit bias.
Facebook has made public their implicit bias training called “Managing Unconscious Bias.” You can go through the entire course here.
What are more strategies and resources on brain change?
One resource I would recommend if this is a strong area of interest would be Bouncing Back: Rewiring Your Brain for Maximum Resilience and Well Being by Linda Graham.
Neuroplasticity, or the science of brain change, shows that we can change our brains in many different ways- for better or worse; this is a very broad question with many answers.
My suggestion would be figure out what you think you would like to change, and then start from there. In addition, this book by Graham is an excellent resource to begin pondering what change is helpful and how it can be accomplished. I learned so much from reading it.
I would also recommend the work of Dan Siegel. I am reading his book Mindsight now and have seen him speak; he changed the way I think about mindfulness and how it transforms the brain.
How does civility/incivility impact public life?
This is the driving question for a Socratic Seminar I hosted for teachers through the ESC of Central Ohio and PBL Ohio this Wednesday, October 26. Here is a link to this and other upcoming events I will host in collaboration with them.
To begin conversation, here are two short news clips and a link to a letter. After viewing/reading each one, write down initial impressions based upon the question: What is the impact of civility/incivility in modern, public life? Also record other questions these news items evoke for you around the topic of civil discourse.
- Watch this two-minute summary of the second presidential debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump which CNN named the “Scorched Earth Presidential Debate in Two Minutes.” Also included on this same link is a montage video of Trump interrupting Hillary in another debate and a video titled “60 Seconds of Pure Vitrol” where Clinton and Trump insult one another.
- Also check out this three-minute video called “Going Beyond a Civil Discourse” from Fox News which describes violence and threats made to both parties during the 2011 healthcare debates.
- Lastly, here is the recently released letter that George Bush left in the Oval Office for Bill Clinton after he had lost the election.
At the workshop, we used this entry event to generate a list of questions together. They are as follows:
- What is civil discourse?
- What is the current level of interest in civil discourse in our society?
- What is the impact of social media on our civility?
- What is the impact of our modern lifestyle on civility? (The immediate gratification culture)
- When is civility more difficult and why?
- What is the future of civil discourse?
- Have we become less civil?
- Where is the line between public and private life? Does this line impact our civility? Explain.
- How can we stay engaged in the discourse when we have been disenchanted and do not want to do so?
- Why do I want to engage in this modern discourse?
- Where is the line between civility and incivility?
- Is incivility necessary and when?
- Why does there appear to be greater public response when the discourse is not civil?
- Which is worse, secret judgement that is civil or uncivil, outward judgement?
- How does public discourse influence private behavior?
- Should we, as educators, model and expect civil and/or uncivil discourse from ourselves and students?
- How do we model civil discourse as teachers and role models?
- How does civility, or a lack of, influence production?
From The SpiritHouse Project website where Ruby Sales is the founder and director, Sales is a “nationally-recognized human-rights activist, public theologian, and social critic, whose articles and work appear in many journals, online sites, and books.” Sales came of age and took part in the Civil Rights movement and has continued her work since that time.
On Sept. 15, Krista Tippett had a conversation with Ruby Sales on On Being, Tippett’s podcast/radio show. They discussed Sales beautiful question, “Where does it hurt?”
Sales points us to the realization that “you can’t talk about injustice without talking about suffering. But the reason why I want to have justice is because I love everybody in my heart. And if I didn’t have that feeling, that sense, then there would be no struggle.” In this context, the question, “Where does it hurt?” brings us back to love.
On Being is continuing the conversation nationally by inviting people to answer the questions,
“What do you see in the way of generative relationships, of new openings and surprising connections, in your communities. Where does it hurt? And what gives you comfort? Where are you planting and finding hope and courage?”
I asked myself this question while running along the Olentangy River this weekend. The tearful answer re-centered me. I hope the practice is meaningful to you as well.
Photo taken of Anis Mojgani’s book of poetry and illustrations The Pocketknife Bible.
This last week I facilitated a retreat experience for the folks at Equality Ohio. I loved this opportunity to help build sustainable activism for a cause that is meaningful to me. At the end of our time, the group submitted questions. Here are my responses.
How can we balance acceptance through mindfulness with the activist’s desire to change the world?
This is a deep and ever present question for many. I will do my best. First of all, there is a rich history of intermingling, to mutual benefit, contemplative practices that boost awareness and acceptance with social justice work. The Civil Rights Movement in the United States and the work of Ghandi in India are both good examples of this rich history.
I think what acceptance did in those moments, and what it can do now, is to separate the act of doing from the result.
A mindful person is still an active and engaged, perhaps even more so because he or she is fully present in the moment.
There is also an awareness of the larger context outside of the self. This is important. It allows a person to see that they are not alone in the doing. In addition, objectively, one person can’t take ownership of changing the world, but they can affect change in individual moments. Acceptance provides a healthy mode of keeping us “right-sized.” What I do matters, and its not the only thing that matters would be one way to think about this dichotomy.
What can we do as a team to support ritual and practice in our work as activists? What other resources are available for this?
Going back to a historical perspective, there are many good models for how ritual and practice can be paired with community work, the Civil Rights Movement being one. In modern day, the Movement Strategy Center (here is a link to their blog, too) has some really interesting resources that might be worth checking out. I recommend reading Love With Power: Practicing Transformation for Social Justice and Out of the Spiritual Closet: Organizers Transforming the Practice of Social Justice.
I have often quoted Mary Karr’s sentiment, “Tell your story and your story will be revealed.”
I would like to add to that sentiment, “Live your own story, lean into the hard edges, and it will set you free. It will liberate you so that you can in turn liberate others.”
I live to let my own story- with all its sorrow, joy and resilience- be the point through which I further embrace my own humanity and connect meaningfully with others, and I do this with great gratitude and joy. This last Friday, I was reminded, in a beautiful way through community and teaching, what it means to do this work of both telling and living my own story in the beloved community of others who are doing the same work in their own unique ways.
What changed in my life while going without makeup for two weeks? Surprisingly little. Not a single person made a comment to me about looking “tired.” No one treated me any differently. People continued to be kind, caring and concerned in the way I know most humans to be on the average day.
The only thing that really changed for me is that when I looked in the mirror, I didn’t love my face. This sounds bad, but I wasn’t like, “Ugh, I hate myself. Why do I look like this?” It was more, “Yeah, I don’t really dig this right now.” And when I walked away from the mirror, the thought didn’t follow me around, didn’t nag me, didn’t even occur to me to be honest.
This is surprising considering that had I never stepped foot in front of a classroom or gone to a professional meeting without my safety blanket- concealer, blush, mascara and eye shadow. I did both of these things five days into the two weeks, and there was literally no difference between that day and any other.
In the arena of beauty standards, a personal position is not available to me without admitting to things that are embarrassing; shameful; or even, in the case of “you’re so pretty,” a little vain. Knowing this, dear readers, please understand that I speak from my own experiences with as much honesty as possible, owning the fact that I am one person among many. In no way do I intend to speak for all women. I learned already (from my makeup survey which I will publish later on the blog), that there are MANY different perspectives on female beauty standards and many stories to tell.
Disclaimers aside, here is one.
I know there is probably some curiosity about my silent retreat experience, which I am still processing and will write about soon. Until then, here is something I wrote about friendship, racism and being a privileged white woman who realizes her own blind spots. I wrote it months ago and have been hesitant to publish it because the topic is so complicated, so uncomfortable, for me and for others.
In my life lately, and also in my dreams, race and relationships have been a theme. A few months ago I started having dreams in which interracial relationships were continually a topic. Around the same time, I also became part of a group of racially diverse women-writers for a project on which I was working.
At this time and since, my dreams and my reality have swirled in my head. I find myself having conversations about race with other women continually. In each conversation, I try to tentatively explore where I am being led.
“Hatred and bitterness can never cure the disease of fear; only love can do that. Hatred paralyzes life; love releases it. Hatred confuses life; love harmonizes it. Hatred darkens life; love illuminates it.”
– “Antidotes for Fear” by Martin Luther King Jr. from Strength to Love
This sermon by Dr. King was one of my assigned readings for class this week. It’s message is one that takes courage to live. His life and death are both powerful testaments to this fact.
An anecdote from the sermon that was most profound in illustrating this was concerning a conversation he had with Mother Pollard, an elderly woman who participated in the Montgomery Bus Boycotts.
On a particular Monday evening, following a tension-packed week that included being arrested and receiving numerous threatening phone calls, I spoke at a mass meeting… In my address I tried desperately to give an overt impression of strength and courage, although I was inwardly depressed and fear-stricken. At the end of the meeting, Mother Pollard came to the front of the church and said, “Come here son.” I immediately walked over and gave her a big hug. Then she said, “Something is wrong with you. You didn’t talk strong tonight.” Seeking further to disguise my fears I retorted, “Oh, no, Mother Pollard, nothing is wrong I am feeling as fine as ever.”
“Now you can’t fool me,” she said, “I knows something is wrong. Is it that we ain’t doing things to please you, or is it that the white folks is bothering you?” Before I could answer she looked directly into my eyes and said, “I don told you we is we is with you all the way.” And then wth a countenance beaming with quiet certainty she concluded, “But even if we aint with you, God’s gonna take care of you.” Everything in me quivered wth the pulsing tremor of raw energy when she uttered these consoling words.
As I read this passage- King’s call from the past drenched in my knowledge from the present, knowledge of his life and death interwoven with history- I, too, felt a shiver of energy run through me. I couldn’t help but wonder, what did he know in this moment that only visceral feeling could express? What was love telling him?
I can’t know for sure, but his personal risks and sacrifices were made in love, not only for himself and for the civil rights movement, but for all people- even his enemies.
We shall match your capacity to inflict suffering by our capacity to endure suffering. We will meet your physical force with soul force. Do to us what you will and we will still love you… Bomb our homes and threaten our children, and, as difficult as it is, we will still love you. Send your hooded perpetrators of violence into our communities at the midnight hour and drag us out on some wayside road and leave us half-dead as you beat us, and we will still love you. Send your propaganda agents around the country and make it appear that we are not fit, culturally and otherwise, for integration, but we’ll still love you. But be assured that we’ll wear you down by our capacity to suffer, and one day we will win our freedom. We will not only win freedom for ourselves; we will appeal to your heart and conscience that we will win you in the process, and our victory will be a double victory.
While not every person is called to encompass and express love in the same way, I believe we are each called in our unique ways to do so. The language used to express this matters little. Wherever and however one feels love, that is a calling toward rightness. In the words of Mary Oliver,
You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves
My wish and hope for this Friday is that all of us may find more and deeper ways to feel and express the love within and to share this gift with others. Have a love-filled Friday, all.