It’s hard to feel energetic in the mornings knowing people are getting sick. Our lives are disrupted. It’s spring but we must stay home. Besides cooking, exercising and checking in with friends all over the world, I’ve found some comfort in my new hometown. These days, Mayor Garcetti’s five o’clock briefing is uplift hour at my house. That’s when I turn on KPCC and listen to Mayor Eric Garcetti‘s update.
When Mayor Garcetti speaks, I know this is what compassion is. In the middle of the most confusing time of our lives, a global pandemic that few expected and fewer understand, when violence has grown intimate and our national leadership has flagged, Garcetti is solving homelessness in order to save as many people as possible. His message to “Stay at home” comes with the energy and commitment to galvanize LA city residents to protect the lives of some of the most vulnerable people among us.
Mayor Garcetti easily slips into my portfolio of heroes: People like Harriet Tubman, Dr. King, Jesus, John Brown and Ernestine Rose. I don’t have a problem including him on my list. I want someone to imitate. I need to believe in goodness at a time like this. Here is a man talking about CoronaVirus and using words like, “us,” “we” and “love” to talk about what’s a stake and what we must do to heal and stay safe. He urges us to engage with our best efforts and most positive outlook while providing concrete guidelines for behavior that mitigates risk to our families. He reminds us to stay home, take care of each other and advises us on what the city is doing to curtail the spread of COVID-19. Hearing him is healing my heart.
“LA Love” is a theme I can get behind, especially when it comes with direct action. When he tells us about getting manufacturers to make masks for public workers, or sadly explains why our beaches are closed or how new regulations will be implemented, it’s full of hope. He’s even raising money for locals who are unable to work or need extended shelter until the danger passes. Garcetti emphasizes the unity of Angelenos and is raising money for people who may need help.
I’m grateful for Mayor Garcetti’s leadership at this time. It reminds me to be still and step up when I can. We can all use some hope these days.
I’m tired of workplace violence. I’m not just talking about bullets and bombs. I’m talking about physical aggression in the form of path-blocking and contemptuous stares. It’s the malicious, dehumanizing comments as I pass or when I step out of the room. It’s persistent and consistent disrespectful and unkind behaviors. It’s the willful taking of room in order to create scarcity and feelings of non-belonging in shared professional spaces. It’s a hostile racial climate orchestrated to marginalize. It’s aggressiveness with the end goal of dispossessing of employment and position. It’s thinly veiled abusive language that excludes, degrades and humiliates coworkers based on my gender and skin color. Come to think of it, this is all about bullets and bombs—the kinds that explode in the heart and mind leave people needlessly debilitated from a normal day at the office.
Causal violence harms because it attempts to annihilate and eviscerate the human spirit. Daily enactments of violence disconnect us from our highest selves. When we lose ourselves in the anonymity of numbers and algorithms, the resulting degradation making them permissible and tolerable. We have lost all need for personal, civic and social responsibilities requiring etiquette, good will and temperance, the fabric necessary to transform our thoughts before they become actions. These elements have combined and escalated the many ways we perpetuate violence in professionally shared social spaces.
La Nueva Obra
Now more than ever, we need a physical, spiritual and psychic prophylactic against workplace violence. We should be able to leave our homes and return in more or less the same state of health. The truth is otherwise. Incidences of harassment, direct assaults and numerous forms of mental and verbal abuse are systemic, and are eroding the mental and physical health of even the most vulnerable among us, causing a great economic gulf in society that is totally unnecessary. There are enough resources for all of us to thrive, and yet the gulch widens. It’s time to for a radical accountability that dismantles violence and oppression in the workplace. It’s on us to do it for ourselves.
We don’t get to choose our birth family, but as a transitional character working to understand and improve my psycho-social inheritance, I look to where I can strengthen the foundation of who I am. I’m long past the seductive intoxication of Impostor Syndrome—most of us survived college and grad school, and by the time we get to the office, we know where we belong, but then we encounter the barracks of the in crowd, who collude to haze black and Latina women out of the spaces we’ve rightfully earned . Enough is enough. But maybe there’s a part of this that really is about me. So let’s examine that, too.
According to a few trusted psychology studies from PsychologyToday.com and Havard HBR.org, the workplace seems to most closely replicate the family structure, and even if you’re from the lucky few without a dysfunctional childhood, you could work with people who bully, belittle, exclude and manipulate others as a routine part of their workday. That makes many vulnerable people subject to a proliferation of unhealthy professional behavior. It’s a lesson I’m still learning from my experiences teaching, running the office and writing in Silicone Valley. It’s time for a new status quo, one built on active professional kindness, authentic respectful communication and proactive training to unlearn the toxic behavior known to harm.
A former mental-health professional told me that people will often replicate their personal family culture in the workplace. Likely an unintentional consequence, we may carry familial habits into new spheres, such as the job market. Once in the professional space, the members of this work-life family varies tremendously. I’ve experienced violence, aggression and rudeness in the workplace. Let’s consider the contemporary alternatives to kindness in offices, college campuses and schools all over the country: contempt, violence and mass murder. It’s time to cultivate a consistent, daily professionalism and kindness in the workplace.
People from targeted groups, i.e., people of color, women, and people with disabilities are especially vulnerable to economic disenfranchisement—an extreme form of personal violence designed to attack on a spiritual-social-psychological that has strong evidence that it leads to depression, homelessness and unemployment that also results in loss of healthcare in addition to lost wages. Personal hero, Colin Kaepernick, stands for this new accountability: We witnessed him take a knee to protest the most important social-justice issue of our time—the killing of black people with impunity; he was economically disenfranchised in a very public and visible manner. Trump even demanded publicly, from our highest office, that the NFL fire any players who protested. This is an old standard of discrimination that reeks of Jim Crow. But if the NFL can change, we all can.
White men are not the only ones that need to take on the task of reforming the practices that reinforce violence and discrimination in the workplace. I’ll let Robin DiAngelo explain to white woman why you all don’t get a free pass. DiAngelo’s video about white privilege explains how easy it for us to miss our own reflection in the mirror. And neither do women of color, who may have internalized oppression, enact these same unhealthy behaviors. No one gets a pass.
So can we eradicate the toxic patterns that lead to stress-related illnesses, retaliatory violence in which the deeply-wounded individual returns to the sight of harm to enact revenge and economic hardship festering in toxic work environments? We’ve moved past the moments of permissiveness that have characterized the bad behavior seen in schools, offices and work spaces. Wake up to our own intent and impact. We have to interrupt toxic behavior when we see them. This new era demands that we each stay on our best behavior.
Who knows, you just could get on my list of heroes?
I’m always looking for a way to strengthen my relationships with young people. More than anyone in society, children are vulnerable. They need love and support to thrive. They need to be listened to and heard to grow confident in their abilities. I work to give them everything they need. Everything I never had as a child—a protectress, an advocate, a joyful ally. I’m not afraid to be fierce for them, to stand up for their rights and defend them against unjust behavior. I would rather take the burden of pain on for myself than let them face a brutal world alone.
Too many children fall prey to the very people who are entrusted with their care. Whether these children are athletes, students or family, we owe them a debt if they have been harmed under our care. Predators get away with abuse because children fear that they won’t be listened to or heard, and that no one will intervene on their behalf. Sadly, there is endless evidence of predation against innocent children. The Me Too movement draws attention to the numerous examples of professional women encountering sexual abuse and harassment, or worse, in the workplace. Yet movements like Me Too should ideally harness the energy of visibility to prevent further attacks on women and children. This is an important moment in history to work toward accountability in our society. Without individual accountability, we cannot change the outcomes and experiences of women or children, which we are now the focus national attention. It is simply not enough to look backward. We must demand accountability in the present moment as much as we seek accountability for past deeds.
The problem of abuse is more real than some of us care to admit. Children train in school to survive lethal gun attacks. They make few decisions regarding their own futures, and like women, are seldom believed. In that context, the least we can do is let them know that adults hear and respect their needs, their wants and their wishes—that even their dreams are sacred. Children deserve to have physical, emotional and psychological support and protection, and not solely after the fact.
It is up to women like me to act up on the behalf of children, to make sure history does not repeat itself. It is up to adults—every teacher, parent, uncle and grandparent, who cares to take up the slack. We must listen to children before there is a problem. We must be a person that a child will turn to for help and support. We have to give them grounds for the courage to speak up and tell the truth. We have to interrupt the violence and abuse perpetrated on others and ourselves as children witness. We can model behavior as we protect the future generation. No one gets a pass. We are all accountable. You may be asking yourself, “Where do I start?”
We can start by simply reading a book that gives us real, practical tools for working with and listening to young people. Below you will find a few gems gleaned from Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish’s book,How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk. Start here, and read their treasure to learn more about how to be an ally to young people.
The following are excerpts from How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish.
4 Ways to Help a Child with Their Feelings:
1. Listen quietly and attentively. 2. Acknowledge and accept their feelings with a word or sound. 3.Give their feelings a name. 4.Give them their wishes in fantasy form.
5 Steps to Engage a Child’s Cooperation:
1. Describe what you see or describe the problem. 2. Give information. 3. Say it with a word. 4. Describe what you feel. 5. Write a note.
6 Ways to Encourage Autonomy:
1. Let children make choices. 2. Show respect for a child’s struggle. 3. Don’t ask too many questions. 4. Don’t rush to answer questions. 5. Encourage them to use sources outside the home. (**Topic dependent. Use wisdom.) 6. Don’t take away hope.
Instead of Saying “N0”:
Give the facts. Accept their feelings. Describe the problem. Give yourself time to think.
Use Praise to Raise Self-Esteem:
Describe what you see without judgment. Describe your feelings in response to behavior. Sum up the child’s praiseworthy behavior in one word.
For whatever reason, it started in high school. I knew the answers to the teachers’ questions, but didn’t raise my hand to share them. When I was called on, I blurted the quickest response possible so as to avoid being the center of attention. This is when my fear of public speaking took root, the kind that made me suffer through classes all the way through graduate school, avoid certain social events, and ultimately, feel as if I was living below my potential.
It’s not uncommon to feel your palms sweat before a presentation or the rapid beating in your chest before delivering a speech. But throughout my young adult life, I often skipped out on the presentation or speech altogether just to avoid that uncomfortable feeling.
The result was to feel bad anyway. Worse, even, because in addition to the anxiety, I now had a heaping dose of guilt and regret to pour on top—for missing out on knowledge and growth, overlooking opportunities to collaborate and share, and letting myself or others down. To this day, I often regret that I didn’t attend my MFA program graduation, denying my family—and myself—the chance to celebrate this milestone. (My parents still ask why they didn’t get to go to a ceremony.) And all because I couldn’t fathom reading from my thesis to an audience.
Years later, when it came time to go on tour for my first published novel, I had to remind myself of the way my particular anxiety feeds on itself, hurting me rather than protecting me. Because this time, I was determined to show up.
Those prone to listening more than speaking still have a lot to share. Writing has been my salvation, providing me with an outlet for that reflection. The Hour of Daydreamsrepresented seven years of writing and believing in my words, and I had to give it every chance to find success. This meant public speaking engagements, sometimes in front of more than 100 people. How did I tame my anxiety beast?
I didn’t. I had to accept that it was there and plow forward anyway. It’s all too easy to wait until you’re “ready” before taking a leap, large or small, but “ready” can be elusive, and one can wind up staying stationary for too long.
I don’t believe in changing for others’ sake. I believe in choosing the spaces where one is comfortable, where one thrives. Readings are not a requirement of being published. As much as my publisher encouraged my journey to becoming a public author, the desire to share the background, process, and inspiration behind my work ultimately came from me, not the press. That’s how I knew it to be genuine.
Before stepping to the podium, I knew there were things I could do to make the process easier. I opted to sign on for a small number of key appearances versus the quintessential 20-city tour. I came prepared for each of these events, practicing my excerpts aloud and reviewing the themes they cover. I cleared my schedule before a reading, making time to relax and breathe, to enter a space of mindfulness and quiet. I found little things to bring out the joy of the occasion, like wearing a new dress (always blue or purple to match the book cover), or planning a special dinner. Along with bookmarking the passages I’d read from, I tucked Kleenex into the pages of my novel, because nervousness makes my nose run. Through all of this, as many times as I felt nervous or afraid, I also felt excited and grateful, and came to realize how much these emotions are intertwined.
And even though my heart felt like it might explode before those readings, as the words came out, it calmed. I’ve found that like writing, sharing aloud brings out a whole new energy, opening up others to share of themselves in turn. Again and again, I’ve found renewed appreciation for friends, family, peers, and strangers with whom I share the love of literature and stories. One of my fears has been to make mistakes, and I’ve made many in this process. I try not to replay them too often afterward. I try to forgive and accept my limitations.
Speaking in front of a crowd is easier now, but still feels unnatural to me. Perhaps it always will. And that’s okay too.
Renee Macalino Rutledge’s debut novel, The Hour of Daydreams, has been dubbed “essential reading” by Literary Mama, “one of 24 books to get excited for in 2017” by The Oregonian, and a “captivating story of love and loss unlike any other” by Foreword Reviews. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area, where she works as a nonfiction book editor, writes the “That’s So Alameda Column” for Alameda Magazine, and regularly explores the tidepools and redwoods with her family.
The messages of Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., and Nelson Mandela remain relevant even in a world where ideological confrontations and invasive totalitarianism have been overcome. They are messages of hope, of faith in a society’s ability to overcome conflict through mutual understanding and watchful patience. To achieve this, we must rely on our belief in human rights, the violation of which—whoever the perpetrators may be—must provoke our indignation. We must never surrender these rights. ~Stéphane Hessel
I wonder whether it is enough for me to do my work, to write my story, to create my art. I can no longer take liberty for granted, if ever I had. I have the urgency to stay awake, and yet, I also feel a tremendous responsibility to foster peace in the world, in my heart, in my home. The more I am afraid of the future, the more I cling to my sense of purpose, the calling in my life and to caring for myself, and others, with compassion, serenity and love.
It is easier to deal with the external manifestations of racism and sexism than it is to deal with the results of those distortions internalized within our consciousness of ourselves and one another.*
We must not permit our backs to be pressed against a wall, dogs to run us down like fugitives, or bars to close in around our hearts. If we are free, then no one can take that. And, we must believe that we are free—we have to know it. We have to own our freedom and live accordingly.
I say, keep your peace. Make room for your joy. Make sure that when the storm passes, your house is standing.
I believe I do not have to burn things to be part of a revolution —though I honor and recognize that those who must burn structures, effigies and ideals are necessary to the cycle of change.
I am writing about an anger so huge and implacable so corrosive, it must destroy what it most needs for its own solution, dissolution, resolution.*
I tend my garden, write like a mad woman, connect with my people, cry into my pillow, sculpt my ancestors, sand the teak table that has stood out in the blessed rain all this long winter. I do these things, and I watch, as Hessel prescribes, with a patience that is steeped in long-suffering and the alertness of a new season.
In our struggle for justice, peace and equity, we owe it to ourselves to nurture love, self-care and harmony. These are critical responsibilities for liberation workers.
Charity begins at home. Sometimes Trump seems to be saying just that. Perhaps freedom from hunger is the freedom we all need. When our people are starving, roving the streets looking for shelter, chronically unemployed, then it is at last time for a movement. It’s what prompted the revolutions of the 19th century and it’s what drove the 1960s Civil Rights activism. We are no more impervious to ills of imposed poverty than to the desire to feed and shelter our families. The people have spoken, and beneath the rhetoric of hate, misogyny and bigotry, are the very real concerns of people who have witnessed a steady decline in resources, opportunities and wages, as well as the intangibles: loss of pride, purpose and dignity. Unlike the bulk of Trump’s electorate, I don’t draw the boundary along a color line. I see that in San Francisco, the disenfranchised, displaced and working poor are blacks, averaging salaries of $24,000 a year. These communities, long-time residents of this thriving metropolis, are in need of jobs, resources, supermarkets and hope. Maybe we will see change.
That said, this is not the time to go to sleep. We need to remain watchful, vigilant and engaged. Trump’s policies need to provide for all of us, not just White Americans, who are feeling the pain that historically, only Native Americans, African Americans and Latino Americans and countless other minority groups have experienced. It’s the same pain. The pain is momentarily evenly distributed among those of the working class and working poor: groups, which are increasingly indistinguishable from one another. Let us look upon the lessons of history and see that we are our brother’s keeper. We’re in it together. Four years, or less: Who knows? But if we get more jobs, better paying jobs, I’m okay with prosperity.
In the meantime, let’s practice agape, friends. I’m talking about love. Kindness is contagious.
I have spent years looking at color and studying history through the lens of art, attempting to make the world around myself beautiful. Certainly, what we create is deeply influenced by what we see: the fragmentation or wholeness of life begins within. My walls burst with a vibrancy I believe reflects my deepest nature. The collective images around me emerge into a singular experience of my own story, retold.
In times of despair, art is no luxury. Essential to the healing of the psyche, beauty in her many forms is a conduit for soothing inflamed pathways, a distraction from our own external or internal whirls, a meditation on purpose. Through our eyes, the story of the extraordinary other, the Beloved, is transmuted into wordlessness, a state of suspended ego. Go there.
“This is precisely the time when artists go to work. There is no time for despair, no place for self-pity, no need for silence, no room for fear. We speak, we write, we do language. That is how civilizations heal.” ~ Toni Morrrison