Five years ago, I was at a crossroads in my life when I finally stood silent and could hear the red flags flapping in a 40 mile an hour wind. For far too long, I had been looking outward for the answers to my deepest questions. It was time to do some serious internal self-examination and hit the reset button for the next chapter of my life. I even said out loud — “I need to be at my best for whatever the future might hold and I can’t be my best when I am so drained and feeling so disconnected from all that I love and value most.”
How did I get so far from the fulfilling life I envisioned for myself? A simple answer surfaced — I had been living on autopilot, unconsciously relying on old behavior patterns. There is a natural evolution process that occurs as we go through life, shaped by our experiences and our responses to them. The secret to growing through our experiences is self-awareness. So often we inadvertently push away the growth opportunities waiting to emerge simply because we feel comfortable staying in the old familiar habits.
An inspiring resource for personal my growth has been Dr. Michael Bernard Beckwith and he articulates exactly what I was feeling in that moment five years ago:
I feel this is very true today for our global community and especially true for our country. Our collective pain is being pushed around, back and forth — and the ongoing uncertainties are causing us fatigue. And I also believe that a larger vision is pulling us. I take heart and find hope in those people who inspire, educate and challenge us to pull together for the collective greater good.
There is a noteworthy common thread running through the lessons we have in front of us: It’s time to be consciously aware. If ever there was a time to stop operating on auto pilot with our preconditioned responses to things that scare us or that we disagree with, it is now.
Brene Brown’s most recent podcast is a solo episode where she opens up about why accountability is a prerequisite for change. She openly shares her personal experiences and her strategies for pulling her “thinking brain” back on line when she feels flight or fight energy. Her mantra is one I plan on using myself — “I am here to get it right, not to be right.” She also reminds us to be wary of calling, texting, posting or emailing when you are caught up in strong negative emotions.
Dr. Michael Beckwith shares that “people live in reaction or choice. Choice is when you have awareness.” We witness knee jerk reactions every day in the news and on social media. These emotionally charged reactions are not helpful and often create more confusion, more blaming, and no acceptance of accountability. Rather than throw another log on a raging fire, we can pause and let our own heated emotions settle down. We are capable of stopping our habitual reactionary patterns that often push away needed forward progress. Not surprisingly, one of Michael Beckwith’s most ardent suggestions is that we get very skilled at listening. Taking the time to truly listen is a lost art. When we truly listen (without planning our retort or response), we may find the answers to questions we never thought to ask.
As I have worked on myself, shedding the old patterns and embracing healthier new ones, I discovered that my awareness of others has grown exponentially. I have become a keen observer, patiently looking past the flurry of emotions that others armor up with and seeking to discover what is truly hurting them. I began to see that there were repetitive behavior patterns that emerged in others. Michael Beckwith calls this the “merry go round” and I laughed out loud recalling years ago when I told someone I would not buy a ticket for their emotional “merry go round” ride again. We can readily recognize these predictable patterns in the daily news cycle. If we want to be part of a meaningful change, we have to stop going in circles. Get off the dizzying merry go round.
Taking the time to educate ourselves beyond what we currently know, requires that we be open-minded about perspectives that are different than our own. Each and every one of us has stories of our life that has impacted us in unique ways. Our personal stories hold the connectors that will bridge our divides and help us look at the many facets of our very complex problems. Can we really hear another’s story and not feel our shared humanity?
Lately something has been happening so frequently that we have almost normalized it — using “dehumanizing language and labels” to fuel the “us vs. them” mindset for our collective issues. This creates an instantaneous divide laced with superiority or inferiority. It is an insurmountable impediment to facing the reality of our problems and finding over-arching solutions for the greater good of all. Brene Brown distills the devastating consequences of dehumanizing labels:
“Dehumanizing often starts with creating an enemy image. As we take sides, lose trust, and get angrier and angrier, we not only solidify an idea of our enemy, but also start to lose our ability to listen, communicate, and practice even a modicum of empathy.” — Brene Brown
Empathy is absolutely necessary to get past blaming and shaming so that we can get to the meaningful work of understanding how we are all affected by our collective struggles. Only then can we pull back the curtain that obscures us from taking a calm, comprehensive, cohesive reality check. Shame kills empathy.
Brene Brown has studied shame and vulnerability for over 20 years. She was diving into this work since before 9-11. She explains that empathy and shame are on opposite ends of a continuum. “Shame results in fear, blame (of self or others), and disconnection. Empathy is cultivated by courage, compassion and connection. Empathy is the most powerful antidote to shame.”
We are all very much connected and affected by our first time experience with a global pandemic and quarantine, by the ongoing systemic problems of racism and inequalities and with the divisiveness of politics. It is my hope that we can individually raise our consciousness so that we are contributing in constructive, positive way to find solutions to our realities.
Every day in this country, collectively diverse groups of people come together setting aside gender, age, race, political party and more to help us as a whole. They are health care workers on the front line fighting COVID-19. They are teachers, first responders, food industry workers, our military. They are also fathers and mothers, daughters and sons, grandparents, brothers and sisters, children. Coming together for the good of others, even those we disagree with, is more than possible. Dr. Michael Beckwith encourages us with these words “our potential is always greater than our problems.”
Maya Angelou so wisely said “When you know better, you do better.” Let’s consciously strive to do better.
The New Normal Podcast with Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force Kaleth O. Wright (with Brene Brown). There is also a recent episode with Dr. David Kessler and one entitled the Power of Social Media.
Blog Post by Brene Brown – Dehumanizing Always Starts with Language:
Mindfulness Magazine – In The Heat of the Moment Article – Take a Journey through bias with awareness and kindness:
Dr. Michael Bernard Beckwith – Pain Pushes Until the Vision Pulls (SuperSoul Sunday/OWN:
Unlocking Us Podcasts by Brene Brown: (I’ve listed a few that are most relevant to this blog post)
- Brene on Shame and Accountability
- Brene with Ibram X. Kendi on How to be Antiracist
- Brene with Austin Channing Brown on I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World made for Whiteness
- David Kessler with Brene on Grief and Finding Meaning
- Tarana Burke on Being Heard and Seen
Talking to Strangers – by Malcom Gladwell (Read this book and watch this video)