Evolving the Race Conversation

June 21st, 2008

From Judgement to Design

I planned a very cool evening for myself tonight. I was invited over to a friend’s house to watch a series of short films on political issues- race, gender, and sexuality. The room was mostly people of color, activists, organizational development consultants, and change agents –people who have dedicated their lives to bring equity and social justice to organizations and their systems.

But I found myself trapped in a room of angry and stuck folks who blamed white people for all their problems. More than once a person of color (POC) had no problem making a blanket statement putting down white people – “A white person wouldn’t understand…” or “I would only do that if it was an exclusive group of POCs”. I understand where these statements are coming from. In fact, I made statements like these just a few years ago. But I found myself thinking “Really?”

Really? Is this as far as the social justice movement has come – where the people who are willing and eager to engage with issues of social justice are just trying to create spaces where POCs get to feel empowered by putting down white people? Where blanket statements of discrimination go unchecked because a POC never has to check themselves on the race line? Because white people get so many privileges that if a POC wants to take some rage out on some poor granola-esque Berkeley white woman, she has to shoulder that blame and internalize that guilt?

Of course the world needs to heal from the long-stemming effects of race, class, and cultural imperialism. Of course each of us have internalized some messages of the privileges or limitations that our skin color allows or denies us, and these messages should be brought to our awareness. Of course we could all use a little healing from the past and present. But when are we going to transcend the stories of hate and hurt, blame and shame, guilt and repression to a space of love and compassion?

I am interested in moving the dialogue on race relations forward. I am interested in acknowledging that each person comes into the world with issues to work out. I am interested in creating space for each person to work through each issue with as much love and compassion for ourselves and those in our paths that we can muster. I am interested in acknowledging that circling around and around within our own stories of hurt keeps us in a stuck energy. I am interested in finding genuine ways to connect with all people, to celebrate the connections, and honor the spaces we each need to deepen our personal healing work around personal issues.

Of course people of color have undergone more injustice than anyone should ever have to deal with.  But the point is that we shouldn’t create more of it for other folks in an effort to heal.  That doesn’t help relieve any of our own suffering.  Until conversations around race, class, gender, and sexuality move to a more mature place we are not going to see long-term sustainable change.  And it starts with change-makers and activists adjusting this paradigm.

Easter Poems

June 12th, 2008

This easter Lynn, Allison, Kelly and I experienced the powerful feeling of creating our own rituals. We manifested an Easter holiday that combines our personal values: good food, incredible hostessing (By Kelly Riggio!), personalized gift-giving, fun activities, spending time in nature and enjoying each other’s company. Here are some poems we created in a beautiful shared process. We each contributed lines to each poem.

Lynn’s Poem

Giving it some thought, I no longer need to beat myself up

Instead, I need to celebrate my simple right to be.

The joy of that is seeing clearly who I am

I am peace. I am enough. I am.

Love and worthy of love.

This feeling is my gift to share with the love-starved world

I share this gift freely, knowing that I also give it to myself

Like any good actor, I am attempting to find my light

Put myself on stage where it suits me, not just my audience

The truest works that I can speak come from the deepest heart.

That quiet space where the voice I’m hearing sounds a lot like god

And the God I’m hearing sounds a lot like me.

Now that I think about it, God is me.

Allison’s Poem

Putting down punishment…

The need to judge myself and others

Instead I’m going to let go, and let God

Knowing that God is who I truly Am

Revealed in my details, dissonance and resonance becoming song

I’m singing in praise of a new way to BE.

Compassion and deep actual passionate love of me. Sensitivity. And Gratitude.

I’m reawakening the parts of me that aren’t afraid to hear what my mind and body and heart are telling me.

I’m saying “walk towards all of it. It’s okay. You have everything you need.”

Your feet will carry you, your hands will build.

The miracle of New Life.

Sangita’s Poem

This year I am letting go of so many things

My need to work without rest, disbelieving my intuition and working my body too hard

So hard that I pass out at the end of the day, broken.

Because, like a muscle, I have to tear down and rebuild for the next morning.

Rebuild. Rebirth. Renew. A different you. Today.

I am I love I grow I die I begin again.

I am actively, proactively, carefully and intentionally manifesting abundance.

The kind of abundance that never runs out, and lasts forever and ever and ever

All of this flows through me, my blood, my bones.

My back curved up to stretch the pulse, my rush of blood.

Flood of sexy lovely bliss.

In this sacred moment.

Cause let’s be honest,

I’m bringing sexy back.

The Seven-Fold Path: A Framework for Personal and Organizational Change

June 12th, 2008

Finding Tension and Space1.Finding tension and space

For any change process to be effective the first step is to bring awareness and intention to the aspects of your work that bring tension, and those aspects that invite creative energy. Every work scenario has both. Our goal is to alleviate the tension caused by the negative aspects, and expand the space, time, and energy given to the positive aspects. This can be brought out through a reflective, introspective process or a group simulation and dialogue.


2. Identify Triggers

We all have triggers- lots of them. Some triggers move us from feeling good to feeling bad. Other triggers work the other way, and move us from bad feelings to good. Triggers can be any type of stimuli that our brain responds to. It can be a thought or memory, a person we see, a conversation or phone call, or an email. Every person has their own triggers- things that tip them from one emotional state to another, based on their personality and life experiences. Through a careful observation process we can identify our most powerful triggers.

Ideal3. Define the ideal and move towards the real

Author Steven Covey said “the first creation begins in the mind”. We cannot create a new reality without a clear understanding of what this new reality should look and feel like. In this phase we create a crystal clear, detailed “ideal” scenario, and prepare to move towards it.

New Pattern

4.Start a new thought pattern

There can be no change without new thoughts. By re-framing our thoughts about a particular event we begin to step into our personal power to control our emotional and mental state. An agitated mind cannot produce creative organizational results, so it is important to empower every individual with the capacity to connect to their creative centers. Using techniques of neuro-linguistic programming and visualization we feed our minds with new thought patterns to produce the ideal vision we have defined for ourselves.

5. Expand the Space

ExpandChanging thought patterns to focus on what you want (versus thinking about what you don’t want) creates psychic space within our minds and bodies. This results in a feeling of expansiveness in our physical world- in relationships with others, in how we approach our work projects and in our ability to creatively solve problems.

6. Be CompassionateBe Compassionate

As you move forward with new knowledge of your self and organizational culture, and begin the work of creating a new reality for yourself, there will most definitely be setbacks & regression. People don’t change over night, and organizations are comprised of people, so organizational change does not happen overnight either. The real work happens here, in this phase. With this in mind we define ways to keep yourself and your organization stretching toward the ideal when it seems like you’re slipping.

7. Keep Stretching

    Success in one cycle of change will fuel motivation to bring change to other areas as well. New learning and experience with the possibility of alleviating stressful conditions within your organization will provide the space

    7 Innocent Gestures That Can Get You Killed Overseas

    June 5th, 2008

    I read this really interesting article on cracked.com about hand gestures that have innocent meanings here in the US, but can be really offensive outside of the US. I really resonated with the one about using your left hand- I tried to eat something with two hands once when I was in India, and people FREAKED!

    If you’ve ever had your penis cut off and/or been executed while on holiday, you’ll probably know that it’s easy to offend people from other cultures. Unless you learn the ways of the place you’re visiting, even the most well-meaning tourist can regularly find his oesophagus stuffed with burning goat. But surely just plain common sense and good manners will save you, right?


    Extend Your Hand, Palm Outward in Greece

    What you think you are saying:
    “Phew! That was a heck of a moussaka. I’d eat another portion, but I’m completely stuffed.”

    What you are actually saying:
    “Phew! That was a heck of a moussaka. I’d eat another portion, but I’m too busy rubbing handfuls of shit in your face.”

    What the hell?
    In Greece, the “hand out” gesture is known as the moutza, and it dates back to the time of the Byzantine Empire, when criminals would be paraded through the streets on horseback, their faces blackened to indicate their shame. If they were lucky, the blackening agent would merely be charcoal. If they were unlucky, it would be a substance much, much worse …

    SHIT, is what we’re saying here. Their faces would be covered in SHIT.

    If you really want to piss a Greek person off, you can go for the double moutza, which features both hands splayed above your head. However, this will also make you look like a backup dancer from Cats, so it’s your call.

    Give the Thumbs-Up In The Middle East

    What you think you are saying:
    “Ayyyyy! I’m the fuckin’ Fonz!”

    What you are actually saying:
    “Ayyyyy! I’m going to jam my thumb in your anus!”

    What the hell?
    It’s not just the Middle East. This seemingly universal gesture is also hideously offensive in West Africa and South America, whose citizens would doubtless get really confused if they ever watched Ebert and Roeper. “This movie is great, Bill! So great that I’d like to anally rape it with my thumb!”

    The thumbs-up sign has been confusing people for thousands of years. Contrary to Hollywood legend, Roman gladiators were not spared by a thumbs-up, but by a hidden thumb. If the origins of both gestures are linked, we can only assume this meant, “Do not kill the prisoner, he seems the perfect solution to the emperor’s arthritic finger.”

    Finish Your Meal In Thailand / The Philippines / China

    What you think you are saying:
    “This is a delicious meal. I mean it. I’m not the kind of guy who would lie about something like this. In fact, your meal was so fucking fabulous that I am going to finish every last morsel and then lick the plate so bright that it reveals the face of God.”

    What you are actually saying:
    “You call yourself a host? I came here for a meal, not some Lilliputian hors d’oeuvre that wouldn’t satisfy a mouse after a sizable brunch. Look at me. No, in the eyes. You disgust me.”

    What the hell?
    It is always important that the host provides you with tasty food. However, in countries where steak in bleu cheese sauce costs approximately the same as a lung transplant, it is more important that the host provides you with enough food.

    In China, if you finish every last bite of your meal, you are implying that you weren’t given enough. Therefore, even if the meal is the most sexually delicious thing that has ever slid down your throat, you should still leave one last morsel on the plate to stare up at you mournfully while you eye it with ill-concealed resentment.

    That said, the Orient isn’t as uptight as this example suggests. In China it’s considered perfectly good manners to talk with your mouth full and to burp after your meal. Farting seems to vary according to the situation and your current company, so ask ahead of time. Lighting the fart is frowned upon in almost all provinces.

    Say “Hi” to a Member of the Opposite Sex in Saudi Arabia

    What you think you are saying:
    “Hi Steve! How’s things? Fancy getting a decaf latte?”

    What you are actually saying:
    “Hi, Steve! How’s things? Fancy booking a hotel room so that I can do immoral sex acts on you in the name of Satan?”

    What the hell?
    According to sharia religious laws, it is deeply immoral for a woman to greet a man in public, or associate with any man other than her husband without an escort. In February 2008, one American woman openly conversed with a man in Starbucks, and was promptly arrested, strip-searched and forced to sign false confessions.

    Though, perhaps this is nitpicking considering women are not allowed to drive, vote, own shops, testify in court or ride bicycles there. Bizarrely, it’s perfectly fine for women to fly high-powered jet planes, although they’re clearly fucked if they feel like taking a bicycle to the airport.

    The point being, if you’re a woman and are planning a move to Saudi Arabia, offending them with the whole public greeting thing is probably the least of your problems.

    Give an Even Number of Flowers in Russia

    What you think you are saying:
    “Darling, this week has been the most wonderful of my life. Since I first felt the sweet joy of your caress, I have truly come to know what it is to love and to be loved. Please accept these half-dozen roses as a symbol of my eternal tender devotion.” (Lean forward for kiss.)

    What you are actually saying:

    (Lean forward for kiss.)

    What the hell?
    In Russia, even numbers of flowers are only ever given at funerals, and such a gift is seen as inviting death, which you obviously don’t want to do unless you’re banging a goth chick.

    Choosing the right gift seems to be a minefield of morbidity everywhere you go. Never give a clock to a Chinese person, as the word “clock” is almost identical to a word for “death.” Don’t wrap your present in white paper there either, as this suggests funerals. And for God’s sake, don’t give anyone in Bangladesh white flowers or they will presumably be obliged to buy a spade and bury themselves while muttering at you reproachfully.

    You know what, screw giving a gift. You may come across as a selfish douchebag, but at least no one will hail you as the fourth horseman of the apocalypse.

    Give a Gift With Your Left Hand, Pretty Much Anywhere

    What you think you are saying:
    “Thank you very much for letting me marry your daughter. She is very beautiful. In gratitude, please accept this dainty, yet tuneful instrument. Did I mention that I’m left-handed?”

    What you are actually saying:
    “Thank you very much for letting me marry your daughter. She is the most worthless heap of dog vomit I have ever encountered, and I dearly wish that she would die. In gratitude, please accept a generous portion of my own effluence. Did I mention that I hate you?”

    What the hell?
    Toilet paper may have been around in China since 589 AD, but for much of the world, it remains a prohibitively expensive luxury. In places such as India, Sri Lanka, Africa and the whole of the Middle East, doing anything with your left hand is seen as unclean, as it is (as least symbolically) your ass-wiping hand.

    Eating out? Don’t even think about using your left hand. It’s better to come across as some kind of retarded monkey child than to imply that you rate your host’s food on the same level as a lightly-steamed assburger.

    Of course, poop is not the only reason left-handedness is bad. According to the Qur’an, Satan himself was a southpaw, which is why he was able to successfully fool the right-handed batter that is mankind.

    Give the “OK” Sign in Brazil

    What you think you are saying:
    “Hi Brazil, I’m US President Richard Nixon, and I’m feeling terrific!”

    What you are actually saying:
    “Hi Brazil, I’m US President Richard Nixon, and I’m feeling that you should all go fuck yourselves!”

    (Note: The above examples are only valid if you are US President Richard Nixon)

    What the hell?
    In Brazil, the “OK” gesture is roughly equivalent to the finger in the US, which means you should not use it when your hotel manager asks you how your room is, unless you want to tell him that it’s purple and velvety and recently molested his wife.

    The most famous incident of a misapplied “OK” sign was, in fact, Nixon’s visit to Brazil in the ’50s. While alighting from the aircraft, he lifted both hands to the cameras and double-fingered the entire nation. Nixon went on to greet the Brazilian Prime minister with a savage kick to the testicles, and concluded his visit by urinating from the window of a moving limousine.

    If you’re visiting Brazil, you should also never touch any food with your fingers. Even stuff like pizzas and burgers should be eaten with a knife and fork. Not that you’ll ever need to apply this knowledge, because after reading this article, you’d be insane if you ever travel abroad again.

    Tim Cameron is a recovering gaming addict. His blog, The Silly Addiction, catalogs his ridiculous struggle to go straight.

    Playback Theater & Cultural Competency

    June 3rd, 2008

    I have been taking an intensive 3 month workshop on Playback Theater, and it is blowing my mind. Playback theater is an improvisational performance format where an ensemble of trained actors act out live stories told by the audience. The purpose of playback is to provide the teller with colorful imagery and literally play back their own words in a series of stage pictures. A skilled playback ensemble will draw out the high and low points of emotionality in the story, search for the complexity of inner voices and the range of feelings the teller holds.

    The amazing thing about playback is how therapeutic it can be for someone who has experienced something difficult that they need help processing. I saw a playback show as part of an “isms” conference at UC Berkeley, and it was astounding. It was by far the most profound experience of cultural competency or diversity training I have ever witnessed, because it captured the complexity of one person’s story of marginalization. Our stories of hurt are never as black and white as he-said-she-said. They are complicated, with many shades of gray. There are people to be educated, personal triggers to be dealt with, peace to be made, transcendence to be sought out. And playback theater allows for some of this work to take place with the teller, the audience, and the ensemble all together.

    If you have the opportunity to witness a playback theater show, I highly recommend it. I am working on bringing playback theater into some of the organizational psychology projects I do. I think it will be a fascinating and informative experience.

    Graduate School: Three Weeks In

    June 3rd, 2008

    So I’ve finally begun my masters program.  I have been putting it off and putting it off, and finally now I am ready to start the journey of getting a professional degree.  I am doing a masters program in organizational behavior, which is clearly the only thing I want to study and do now.  The big picture of it is quite exciting, but I must say that being back in “academia” is extremely frustrating.

    I feel like “school” makes people want to be more sophisticated and complex than they need to be.  Like to say something in straight and plain English is not as distinguished as citing 4 people and writing sentences overloaded with complicated words.   It’s almost as though the process of learning is more complicated than the things we are learning themselves.

    This isn’t true of everything, but I think it’s definitely true of the research papers and some of the articles we read.  It’s so frustrating!  Why don’t we just say exactly what we mean in the simplest way possible?  It’s interesting because you move from academia to the business world, where everything is stripped into black and white slides with the minimum bullet points.  So weird.