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.

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.

happysadbrainactivity_400x200

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.

2015-0820-attitudes-are-contagious

 

The Fear Factor | bazaarKuwait

Dr Susannah-The Fear Factor  Love writing for bazaar Magazine, Kuwait, and I am always so pleased with how the bazaar peeps make my little scribbles look so wonderful. This is the end of the third year I’ve had the privilege of contributing to this magazine, and I look forward to the New Year, new opportunities and old friends in Kuwait.

Adly & the bazaarites… May 2016 be all that you hope for and so much more than you can imagine.

Boiling Frogs

[Please note: Any case studies/people which may be mentioned in this blog are composites (unless otherwise indicated) of personal and professional experience over 25 years of people-helping in a number of different capacities and circumstances. Resemblance to any specific individual, living or dead, is purely coincidental and totally unintentional.]


frog-fable-Just how stressed are you? Do you know? Think about it… on a scale of 1 – 100, 1 being so laid back people think you’re dead, and 100 being so stressed out you wish you were dead, where do you fall? Is your current stress level “normal” for you? Is it unusually high for some reason? (If you’ve got a ‘mellow’ groove going on right now, don’t read any further.)

We’re generally pretty bad at gauging our own stress level. Apparently, it’s like the frog-in-hot-water thing. By the time we actually comprehend that we’re suffering stress-related health issues, it’s too late. We’re waaaaaaay past the point at which we should have gotten out of the water.  We all know that some stress is necessary or we’d all be at home, lounging in our pajamas or at the beach, surfing. Stress gets us up and moving. Too much stress, however, and we’re demotivated and inclined to implode, collapsing in on ourselves, becoming less and less efficient.

Really. Too much stress is nasty. Stress related issues include high blood pressure, heart disease, chronic pain disorders (i.e., Fibromyalgia, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome), anxiety, depression, and now, there appears to be a link between chronic stress and infertility.

Ouch.

DeLongis, Folkman, and Lazarus [1988] did a study on stress because they theorized that stress is blamed for a lot of ills, but there didn’t seem to be any longitudinal studies on stress which might actually establish a causal link between the evils of stress and ill health. Following the same 75 couples for six months, these researchers had each couple complete 20 assessments in total. To sum up ten pages of dry numbers (means, medians, and methods) they found a “…significant relationship between daily stress and the occurrence of both concurrent and subsequent health problems such as flu, sore throat, headaches, and backaches.” This study is from 1988! Twenty-four years later, we’re still not very good at recognizing the impact of chronic stress on our daily functioning.

“I was a little excited but mostly blorft. “Blorft” is an adjective I just made up that means ‘Completely overwhelmed but proceeding as if everything is fine and reacting to the stress with the torpor of a possum.’ I have been blorft every day for the past seven years.” ~ Tina Fey, Bossypants

Some interesting facts – North Americans have fewer vacation days per year than their European counterparts (approximately 14 days per year in America to 20 in Europe), however, the average American closes out his/her work year with 3 – 5 days of vacation unused. Canadians are the same. We don’t use all the vacation time allotted to us, but we use every single sick day we’re entitled to, and more. How weird is that? Both forms of time off are paid, and yet we apparently can’t manage to give ourselves permission to take a vacation day when we need it! Stress-related absenteeism costs employers and the economy almost a billion dollars a year in lost productivity. High stress jobs have a much higher turnover rate leading to loss of expertise and increased costs for recruitment. At home, chronic stress can be a factor in mood disorders, anger issues, relationship conflict, and suicide.

What’s wrong with this picture?

What makes it so difficult for us to take care of ourselves? Self-care is really not that hard, but the simple truth is, we just don’t do it. In a fast paced, high stress world, often the only “wiggle” room we have is the time we spend on ourselves. So, like the frog in the water, we give away our “me” time here and there, and then a little every day Suddenly, the water’s boiling, we no longer have the energy to jump, and so we croak.

Don’t get boiled alive. Take this stress test, and take note of the results.  

If your stress level is higher than it should be, turn down the heat. Find some time for yourself. Make a date with a friend. Go for a massage. Don’t go in to the office this weekend. Hug your spouse, play with your chldren. Read a book. Take a digital holiday and put your phones, iPad, Android – all those gadgets – in the sock drawer. Go to the movies or try that new yoga class. Choose to take care of yourself. More stress relieving ideas here, here, & here.

“Stress is the trash of modern life; we all generate it but if you don’t dispose of it properly, it will pile up and overtake your life.” ~ Danzae Pace

Note: This post is a reblog from three years ago (published to my original blog).