A Good Guy

This post started me thinking. I often write about the hypocrisy of certain zealots of feminism and the double standard by which they seem to operate (bear with me, this post isn’t going there). Rather, I’m thinking about a different double standard.

Millions of people object to the status quo believing it limits options and prevents equality for women. Other millions object to a cartoonish, one-dimensional perspective of complex, multi-faceted gender-equality issues that will actually require a stunning degree of cooperation and collaboration to solve.

But let’s talk about Society. The cultural water we swim in – in this instance I’m speaking about North American culture here but the principle applies in every culture. There is much about Society that encourages, facilitates, models, teaches, and enforces the stereotypes so many of us object to. That capital ‘s’ is not an accident. There are very few individuals I know who will admit to espousing cultural norms which perpetuate an unjust or oppressive status quo, and yet, here we are, Society somehow making its presence felt in the most significant ways.

1184206946_3-c504284b-b657-46cc-8b77-18ce411104cdTake the column that started this post. Men, apparently, are bumbling (or ignorant) but well-intentioned, and women are mean. Society will evidently excuse men for inexcusable things because they’re ‘well-intentioned’ or ‘basically a good guy,’ but whatever a woman’s intentions might be are irrelevant, because as soon as she says anything vaguely authoritative, or declarative, she’s a bitch. Again, Society must be perpetuating this issue, because it’s happening everywhere – from the school playground where adults devilwearspradathumbare supervising children, to the boardroom.

So. No stats about women and leadership, or the total unfairness of castigating a woman for being authoritative (“Stop using your ‘mom’ voice”), or the irrefutable data that proves that a man and a woman can say exactly the same thing and he’s perceived as “trustworthy and collaborative,” and she is perceived as “shrewish and difficult.” No. Let’s not go there.

How about we talk about ‘Society.’ You know, you and me? The ones who stand idly by and give this crap a free pass? THAT ‘Society.’

“He is basically a good guy,” confirms one of our most pervasive biases. A colleague who made a sexist remark in a meeting? Well, we think, he didn’t mean it. He’s basically a good guy. The young man who insulted his date in front of his friends? He didn’t think she would take it so personally. He’s really a good guy. 

Being derogatory toward women is not the behaviour of a “good guy.” It is a slip of the tongue revealing values mostly kept hidden.  There may be a willingness to practice humility after the fact and apologize, but this does not change the reality that somewhere, deep in that man’s internal framework, women are ‘less than.’ The source of life’s problems. A convenient whipping girl. Not worthy of respect as an individual. Take your pick. But the rot is there …evidently. Maya Angelou famously stated, “When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.” The root etymology of the word ‘violence’ means “with words.” Make no mistake, Fellow Humans. Calling your partner a ‘stupid bitch’ is violence.

I have 54 years’ experience with men. I’ve had a father for that long, brothers for 51 years, and a husband for 35 years. They have done nothing over those years except demonstrate over, and over, and over, sometimes in the most trying circumstances, that women are worthy of the same respect they themselves enjoy. Even women trying really hard to disqualify themselves as worthy of respect were still treated with dignity (not that they appreciated it at the time) by the beloved men in my life. It is normal for good men to have an unshakeable conviction that every human being, regardless of gender is worthy of respect.

Here’s my take (and it is mine). ‘Society’ is you and you and you …x 7.5 billion …and me. When we, that is, ‘Society’ speak up and say, “Good men, real good men don’t refer to women in that way, E.V.E.R,” we become part of the solution and agents for change. The point is, when people don’t speak up, they become part of ‘Society’ which maintains, facilitates, perpetuates, and encourages this behaviour as the acceptable norm. Since ‘Society’ is you …and you …and you …and you …and me, when will you stand up… speak up… IN THE MOMENT when these unacceptable and demeaning behaviours happen?

I suspect that cultural norms would change a lot more quickly if ‘Society’ spoke up often, consistently, vociferously, and implacably.

Be a part of the change you want to see. ~Mahatma Ghandi

Kuwait 2014
Me, and my good man. Photo by Chris Loh Photography

More interesting/relevant stuff here, and here, and here.

And here, here, here, and here.

From Where I Stand

Those who will not reason, are bigots, those who cannot, are fools, and those who dare not, are slaves. ~ George Gordon Byron

I have a standup desk. Bill made it. I mean really made it for me. I found a picture on Pinterest, showed it to him, and he magicked it into existence. We usually try to upcycle or recycle when we make stuff for ourselves, but this time, we just didn’t have the resources or the time to hunt for appropriate materials. So we trotted off to Home Depot and bought the lumber required. Bill did his usual amazing job of crafting something from nothing and voile! I have a standup desk, a filing cabinet, and shelves, all made by my husband and installed by him and a son-in-law.

I am always awed by what they can do.

Anyway, all that to say that as I stand at my desk, off to the left is an original painting by Reham Al-Reshaid. There are all sorts of reasons why I like this painting, but mostly, I love that every time I look at it, I see something different. Add to that, I know the artist and some of her ‘back story’ which adds a depth and poignancy to the painting that keeps me intrigued.

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It’s not a large painting, but it’s striking. Regretfully, at the time, Reham didn’t make it a point to sign her work, and I didn’t manage to connect with her again before we left for Canada. When I shut my office door, the painting is just outside the line-of-sight for a client, but the colours often capture their attention, and they will turn to look at it directly.

The interpretations of meaning have been varied and interesting. Sometimes, the meaning-making of my client adds to the therapeutic process, sometimes, it’s a distraction or deflection from a painful internal process, and sometimes, it’s a trigger.

All from observing the same object.

My favourite response (so far) was from a client (looking for a distraction to the moment) who said, “That’s a religious symbol. I don’t think that’s appropriate in your office.”

reham2To which I replied, “Well, it’s possible that painting could be a bit of self-disclosure if I were pushing some sort of religious agenda, but I’m pretty sure the Muslim artist didn’t have Christian icons in mind when she painted that.”

His response? “Oh.”

We find what we’re looking for, see what we expect to, and hear very little of anything that contradicts our internal belief framework. Every individual on the planet is subject to bias confirmation. It’s a human trait. It is in refusing to acknowledge this universal truth, and to intentionally and consciously make room for the possibility of error, distortion, or misunderstanding in our thinking that we go awry.

While in Kuwait, I was privileged to be part of a fairly large social group, all professionals,reham3 some expats, some residents, and some Kuwaitis. What made this group so enjoyable were the debates and discussions held over Friday lunches at various restaurants in Marina Crescent. Just name any global issue you care to mention and the opinions, experience, and knowledge around the table were as varied as the countries we hailed from. It’s quite the thing to put forth an opinion about some topic and have it vociferously challenged by people equally intelligent, educated, and passionate. Cultural assumptions, biases, and blindness soon became apparent. We all soon learned a universally-held truth or self-evident fact clearly wasn’t so ‘universal’ or ‘self-evident!’

The lesson in all this?

So much of our worldview is entirely subjective. Not a bad thing unless that subjective perspective is held to be absolute truth. This is the stuff of dogma. Fanatical investment in a position that has no foundation other than personal interpretation of an experience, idea, or situation. Development of extremism in the name of the deity, cause, or faction to which one adheres, whether Fundamental Baptist, Radical Islam, or the Jim Jones’ of the world begins with, “I’m right and there’s no room for doubt.”

We fool ourselves so much we could do it for a living. ~ Duma Key (Stephen King)

Amongst my psychology friends and colleagues, it is not unusual to hear, “Now that’s diagnostic behaviour.” Sometimes we’re being funny, or dry, or sarcastic, but often, it’s a genuine reflection of what we’ve observed. Individuals who have a close-minded or rigidly inflexible approach to life situations tend to exhibit behaviour at odds with the circumstances. We cannot hide the basic framework of our internal landscape for long, and never completely. When the words and the actions don’t match, go with the actions. They tell the truth.

My point?

reham4The subjective interpretation of life makes it interesting – unless that subjective perspective is imposed on the subjective experience of others. You experience a painting as glorious; filled with layers of meaning, intriguing, and captivating. Your partner thinks it’s the most ridiculous thing that the painting is even considered ‘art’ and even worse, that the gallery paid for it. With an open mind and a listening heart, the discussion over wine at the local tapas bar could be scintillating, energizing, and thought-provoking. As it would be with any subject in the same circumstances.

Or that discussion could be an argument; shrill, and hurtful as one or the other demands that the his/her  view be adopted with implicit judgment of the other for a contrary position.  It doesn’t matter the topic, the experience, or the circumstance. Rigid and inflexible perspectives lead nowhere good.

Is there objective truth? Absolutely. The world is round; gravity exists; the moon influences the tides …but the experience of those tides? Something else entirely.

When I move into my new office tomorrow, Reham Al-Reshaid’s untitled work is moving with me. It’s too glorious to leave behind.

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Feeling Chuffed

cover_issue_1_en_usThis week, after a year’s worth of work (and even longer time discussing) an article I’ve been working on with some really stellar professionals, has been published. Though I write much and am regularly published online and in magazines, this is different.

Collaboration with some very stellar peeps in the psych field produced a wonderful finished piece, much better than I could ever have done on my own. Thanks to Louise Lambert, Ed., for the idea, the encouragement, and the persistence in shepherding this idea from mere discussion to a published article.

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Are you contagious?

We have known for hundreds of years through behavioural observation that emotions appear to be contagious, but these conclusions were only based on patterns of behaviour.

Recently, that’s been changing. With the advent of functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI), scientists have been able to see how the brain lights up in response to emotional stimuli, positive or negative, and in the process, have been able to observe changes in the brain’s response to external emotional influence.

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There are two primary processes at work – focus, and scan, which have very different functions. When we are focused on problem solving, the “Task Positive Network” which is part of Executive Function, engages, and our brain process is almost completely cognitive. In other words, we’re thinking. The brain suppresses other “unnecessary” functions in favour of quick processing, creativity, and hyper-focus. In other words, when this Task Positive Network is engaged, the brain blocks out social/emotional processing. When interacting with people, we use a different part of the brain, the Default Mode Network. We scan; looking for verbal and non-verbal cues that will allow us to gauge the other’s emotional state. We have the ability to “tune in” to people, offering an appropriate social and emotional response to what we pick up.

happy-sad-facesPractically speaking, we have an unconscious tendency to end up mirroring the mood of the dominant individual in our immediate sphere. Apparently, these changes happen at the speed of light very rapidly and mostly at a subconscious at the neural synapse level. We aren’t aware of the change in frequency in brain activity that happens neurologically as we make the shift. If you think about it, you can probably come up with an example of a time when you felt that emotional shift – from positive to negative (or vice versa) after an encounter with someone. We even have language that expresses that experience; “He was a real downer.” “I always feel good after I’ve had coffee with her.” We might not be able to point to a specific action the other person did, nevertheless we experience an internal shift in feeling.

This is where mindfulness – as opposed to mindlessness – becomes key.  Mindfulness is so much more than just “paying attention.” It is being aware of both the external circumstances and, simultaneously, of our own internal landscape.

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Why does any of this matter? Because when we live mindlessly, we are at the emotional mercy of the strongest mood we encounter. It is also a sad truth that we are more likely to be swayed by a negative mood than a positive one. Our mood might pick up a little if we’re with a particularly sunny friend, but we are much more likely to feel flattened by someone’s downer mood. Now neuroscience has begun to compile a body of data indicating that living on autopilot can mean life is much more difficult than it has to be.

Here are some things that help us manage our own emotions in any context:

  1. Selfcare: When we are hungry, angry, lonely, tired, or sick, we are much more easily influenced by the moods of others. At the same time, we are also more likely to be negative to begin with if we have not had enough sleep, or not pursued some emotionally and psychologically renewing activity recently. Take care of yourself, first. Check out Selfcare on Pinterest
  2. Learn & Practice mindfulness: Don’t live on autopilot. Pay attention to your own inner responses to your external environment. Question your responses by choosing to tune in to the automatic self talk that is constantly running in the background of the mind. It’s there for everyone – I mean everyone – and those repetitious, under-the-radar thoughts compel a reaction before we have a chance to choose a response. Mindfulness is a cultivated habit.
  3. Journal: In some form, process what’s actually IN your head. I often suggest “morning pages” to my clients (Check out The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron for instructions) but any form of reflection will work. Do a vlog like Jake Sully in Avatar; look up art journaling on Pinterest and try it; take five minutes a day to record an audio file on your smartphone. Think over the day, and work through the times/occasions when your inner landscape was impacted by the external situation. Do this consistently for at least 30 days, then go back and review. You will be surprised at what you learn about yourself. Journaling ideas
  4. Focus on “Positive Emotional Attractors” – this is not just some sort of spizzy, think-yourself-happy exercise. Research supports the contention that focusing on strengths (as opposed to weaknesses), practicing empathy, and consciously monitoring and managing stress levels has a beneficial payoff through increased creativity, internal resilience, and self-motivation. Cultivating gratitude (as a bonus, check out www.unstuck.com – a gloriously helpful place to explore. There’s even an app)

When we focus on what is going right, mindfully cultivate a habit of gratitude, and look for ways to compassionately connect with our fellow human beings, life seems easier …and we all want that.

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