WANTcast 039: On Creative Postpartum, Making Money, and Dreamin Big with Erin Bagwell of Dream, Girl

WANTcast 039: On Creative Postpartum, Making Money, and Dreamin Big with Erin Bagwell of Dream, Girl

the WANTcast

We’re BACK!

In Episode 39 of the WANTcast, filmmaker Erin Bagwell and I discuss creative postpartum (aka what happens after you finish a project), setting goals after hitting a BIG goal, speaking up and making your voice heard in the workplace (and world), using your creativity to make a difference, making money and how that relates to feminism, and so much more. Plus, why I’ve been AWOL, and how to pick the Season Two finale of the WANTcast.

WANT Erin:

Listen in iTunes Play in new window | Download Support the pod by shopping on Amazon via this link

erin bagwell dream girl
I'm just getting started. - @erinebagwell Click To Tweet

SHOW NOTES:
Dream, Girl
Creative Money
Feminist Wednesdays
Komal Minhas on the WANTcast


Like this episode? Shoot me a comment on womenagainstnegativetalk.comleave a review on iTunes (the more reviews, the more Erin’s message is spread), share it on Facebook, tweet it out on Twitter, or post it on Instagram. Be sure to use the hashtags #WANTcast, #womenagainstnegativetalk, and/or #WANTyourself!

A Quick PSA on Diversity, Denial, and How Curiosity Will Save The World.

A Quick PSA on Diversity, Denial, and How Curiosity Will Save The World.

Community Motivation + Inspiration Shift Of Power

I live in a city where I am PUMMELED by diversity the second I walk out the door. Diversity in race, diversity in religion, diversity in gender identity, diversity in age, class, body type, occupation — you name it, New York City’s got it. Bougie brownstones next to dirty bodegas. A multi-zillionaire riding the 1 train next to someone without a penny to their name.

I have never ever ever once in my life been exposed to so much diversity in my daily life. It has made me a better person because my eyes are opened wider. It has made my voice louder and stronger because I know it’s the only one of its kind in a sea of unique songs. Diversity has made me deeply internalize that the lens through which I view the world is neither right or wrong – no one’s is – because it is merely a single lens amidst COUNTLESS different prescriptions.

But. BUT. Here is the thing about diversity. Living amongst such radical diversity has also made it abundantly clear that while we all have different backgrounds and opinions and deep-seated beliefs about the way the world is, everything boils down to one of two buckets: GOOD or NOT.

We can all have different lenses on, but there are only two choices when it comes to what we condone when it comes down to the very basics of humanity.

 

I have noticed that sometimes the people around me can be harsh. They can sometimes be bitter or mean or maybe have different political views than I do. But at the end of the day, they (for the most part, don’t wanna generalize a whole city) believe in the notion that no matter who you are or where you come from, you deserve equal rights and you deserve to be here. Exactly as you are. The beauty of living in NYC is that while it’s maybe the most diverse city in the entire country, and the diversity is APPARENT on every street block, we’re all in this together. The majority is GOOD.

The majority of AMERICA is GOOD. I know it. But when we don’t own our stories or speak up or simply get curious as to why our story has favored certain races, religions, genders etc for so long – when we can’t even be proactive with our CURIOSITY – the GOOD gets weaker. And the NOT gets stronger.

As Queen of All Things Brené Brown said so eloquently in her FB Live this week (seriously, go watch it HERE), we need to own our own story in order to write our own ending. If we don’t, the story owns us. The ending gets written for us.

If we don't own our story, the story owns us. - @brenebrown Click To Tweet

The shame is that too many people think that owning your story means making yourself feel like an asshole. Or that owning your story means aligning yourself with things you don’t believe in. And neither of those could be farther from the truth.

We’ve been talking a lot about recovery and eating disorders on WANT lately, so to go with an analogy: owning that you once had an eating disorder does not mean it defines who you are. Owning the fact that an eating disorder was a part of your story does not mean it is anywhere near your entire narrative.

Owning that our country was built on white supremacy, that anti-semitism and racism and homophobia are woven deep in our fabric, does 👏not 👏mean 👏 that WE ourselves are any of those things. But to stay silent – to not even let your curiosity question GOOD vs NOT out loud – is to stay in denial of a NOT that has gone on for far too long.

To stay silent when it comes to GOOD vs NOT is to deny a NOT that has gone on far too long. Click To Tweet

Speak up. It matters. Oh my god does it matter. I’m not saying you have to be posting all the time on social media. But words have immense power. We learn from each other. Just like bonding over negativity, if we make silence our MO, others will follow suit. However, if we start thoughtful conversations or make at the very least offhand comments boosting the GOOD and admonishing the NOT, others will start to follow. Your words let others know where you stand and how you think we should write the rest of our story.

And if you are struggling right now at speaking your mind – if you are feeling like you’re maybe at risk of losing your community or someone you love because they’re afraid of what owning their story might mean and will disown you if you’re the one who brings it into the light, because I do recognize that that is a VERY REAL THING for some people – I urge you to at the very least weave curiosity into your conversations.

It can go something like this: “It’s funny: we were raised to believe that XYZ” or “We learned 123 in our textbooks or in Bible study”…”But my current, more enlightened self WONDERS: _______?”

Create your own script. Wonder deeply and with intention. But do it out loud.

Wondering out loud opens doors that blame or shame cannot, and can lead to taking ownership of your past and therefore creating a new future.

 

5 Badass Female Cartoonists + Illustrators You Should Follow On Instagram

5 Badass Female Cartoonists + Illustrators You Should Follow On Instagram

Community Tips + Tools

One of the many joys of my childhood was coming downstairs for breakfast on a lazy Sunday and seeing the newspaper parceled out for each family member. My dad got the front pages – the major headlines and serious stuff. My brother always started with the Sports section, which he split with my mom between bites of cereal or an Eggo waffle or a big fluffy cinnamon roll baked fresh from the Farmers Market.

And me? I got to start with the Comics.

Don’t get me wrong, I loved the Calendar section for Arts news and the “Lifestyle” section for the op-eds. Chris Erksine’s weekly column in the LA Times was a staple in my repetoire, and the candor with which he and other columnists (in what I deemed the more “cool” and “down-to-earth” sections of the paper as a young reader) wrote about their small yet mighty life experiences was for sure an influence on my speaking and writing style.

But I found that my tween-ish mind could learn way more from the Comics section than any other part of the newspaper. In just six or so pages of newsprint, I could dive into different worldviews, laugh at jokes that I might not have been deemed “marure enough” to understand IRL, and – my favorite – watch characters, in bite-sized vignettes, put words to what every single adult around me was thinking and not saying. As a highly sensitive person and an empath to the core, I could often feel what adults around me felt. I just wasn’t always able to put it into easily understandable terms. How could I, if no one else around me was even validating that these feelings existed?

What’s more, *I* felt those feelings, too. Stress. Loneliness. Awkwardness. Through comics, I could watch these characters morph and evolve week after week right along with me. They helped me wrap my head around a world that was sometimes a bit overwhelming, and even got me seeing – laughing – at the absurdity of so much of it. 

When I think of “The News” migrating from the page to the screen, I always feel a pang of sadness. Yes, of course, because of the value of the printed word…but also because of the immense pleasure of the Sunday comics and the parceled-out paper sections at the breakfast table. The newspaper, and particularly the Comics section helped shape me as not just a writer and artist but as a full human being.

Which is why when I started to discover the vast amount of cartoonists and illustrators on Instagram, my heart felt like it had been reunited with a childhood bestie. But better – because the bulk of the cartoonists I was finding myself drawn to were WOMEN.

The one gripe I have about the Comics section of my youth is how male-dominated it was. Baby Blues, Zits, Mutts, and Momma were my go-tos. When Calvin and Hobbes ran its last strip, I cried. But rarely did any characters look like me sans a token mom or female sidekick – and very rarely was there a woman in the byline. If I wanted a female point of view I really only had Cathy to turn to (who was a badass. for the record).

Today, there are countless female cartoonists and illustrators on Instagram creating witty, poignant work that is HIGHLY relatable whether you’re a woman or not. Their bravery to use their art to tackle mental health issues, take a stand for causes they believe in, and help their followers understand the nuances of what makes each person unique toes the line between art and activism. Their boldness helps me, and others like me, be bold by boiling things down to images that make us FEEL.

I might not have a breakfast table decorated with parceled-out newspaper sections and words and ideas just waiting to be discovered, but I love that social media has allowed the Comics section back into my life – and, what’s more, a brand new Comics section that looks a lot more LIKE my life.

Here are five female Instagram cartoonists and illustrators I’m loving – and think you will, too:

@IntrovertDoodles


Marzi from Introvert Doodles is the one that started it for me. Her cartoons are always a high point in my day, and get me shouting out “ME TOO!” more times than I can count. But silently, because #introvert. Unless I’m alone. Then out loud. I honestly don’t have adequate words to describe how much I love Introvert Doodles…so go check her out yourself to see what I mean.

@MakeDaisyChains



Hannah Daisy of @makedaisychains is a mental health activist who uses her #boringselfcare series to remind us all – whether we’re struggling with an illness or are feeling down in the slumps – that no act of self care is too small. She’s helped me “just clean the dishes” or “just do the laundry” multiple times. Because sometimes, those “justs” can feel a lot more than that.

@ByMariAndrew



I’m obsessed with Mari’s adorable, quirky, uber-positive (but never saccharine) illustrations. Every time an illustration of hers pops up in my feed, I’m reminded of how many little things there are to smile about – and how many of those little things aren’t really so little at all.


@SarahAndersenComics


The comic strips that Sarah Andersen of Sarah’s Scribbles (aka @sarahandersoncomics) draws remind me the mosts of the comics I LOVED as a kid – but even better. Sarah tackles anxiety, periods, dating, and the thoughts we’re all thinking but rarely say out loud. And…her comics make me snort-laugh. Which is very important.

@KimothyJoy

Okay, so Kimothy Joy’s work isn’t so much cartoons or comics as it is illustrations and art. But I love her so much, I couldn’t leave her out of this mix. Her gorgeous paintings and drawings are the perfect merger of art and activism, sharing the wise words of women along with artwork that will make your heart sing. New writing goal? Write something worthy of a Kimothy Joy quote illustration.

 


NOW YOU:
What other female cartoonists, illustrators, and artists are you loving? Who else should our WANT community be following on Instagram? Tell me in the comments below!


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WANTcast 027: On Education, Immigration, and The Power Of Conversation with Brenda Gonzalez of Tamarindo

WANTcast 027: On Education, Immigration, and The Power Of Conversation with Brenda Gonzalez of Tamarindo

Community the WANTcast

I know I’m not alone when I say that the last few months – heck, the last few days! – have been a lot to process. And that’s amplified by a bazillion when I feel like I’m constantly needing to confront how much I don’t know. I’m not saying I’m not informed or “woke” or however you want to put it, but I’ve been made very aware of how much work I have to do when it comes to understanding the nuances of the American experience – specifically when it comes to people who were not born here. Coming to terms with that information gap can be overwhelming. But we can’t let it be paralyzing.

We all have a story of moving forward fearlessly on a big or small scale. Some of us are in the middle of our own right now – and I want to learn about them all. So instead of reading a crapton (I have been) and learning in just a few months what seems like more than I did in an entire year of school (also true) and then regurgitating the information to you (down to do that!), I thought I’d do what I would want to listen to right now: talk to someone who knows a lot more about this stuff than I do and has personally experienced it firsthand.

Activism is as small as going conversation by conversation. Click To Tweet

Brenda Gonzalez is co-host and co-creator of Tamarindo, a socially conscious podcast she hosts with her friend, Luis Octavio. Together, Luis and Brenda discuss politics, food, music and life through a Latino lense. Recommended by NPR’s Latino USA, they interview comedians, artist, activist, and those that want to shake things up in their community. Brenda has over 15 years of experience working with nonprofit organizations, most recently with a national Latino civil rights organization, the National Council of La Raza – which is the country’s largest Latino nonprofit advocacy organization. She is also the Board Chair of Los Angeles Education Partnership, an education nonprofit working in high poverty communities to foster great schools.

Bonus points – she’s my former neighbor! Brenda and her husband Jeff (and pup, Frieda, who Jeremy and I nicknamed “The Happiest Dog In The Universe”) were some of my first friends in DTLA and some of the best neighbors I’ve ever had. I was always impressed by Brenda’s immense knowledge on the topics of activist work, non-profits, civil rights, and immigration, and the way she could put a fun, engaging spin on otherwise complicated and slightly overwhelming topics. When she first talked to me about wanting to start a podcast focusing on Latino social, cultural, and political issues, I knew it would be a hit just because of her personality. What I didn’t realize is how much I, someone who is not a member of the Latino community, would get out of it on a weekly basis.

In the episode we talk about Brenda’s experience coming into the United States from Mexico as a four year old, the complications that come with wanting to become a citizen (or even just go to school!), how she began working with non-profits, and how a dark diagnosis in her family led them to the lives they are leading today. We also talk Brenda’s experience at the Women’s March in Washington D.C, the power of simply having conversations, and what YOU can do to make a difference in your own community even if you don’t have a background in politics or civil rights.

This is a must-listen, must-share…all the musts. 

WANT BRENDA:

Listen on iTunes | Play in new window | Download

SHOW NOTES:
Tamarindo podcast
Twitter
Facebook
Instagram
NCLR.org
DACA
AB 540
California Dream Act

Frieda, The Happiest Dog In The Universe

PODCAST/BOOK RECS:
Show About Race
In The Thick
The Warmth Of Other Suns

WANT to support the WANTcast? Click over to Amazon via this link, then shop as usual. I will receive a small-but-meaningful kickback, which means we can invest in things like sound editing, new equipment, and more. No extra charge to you. Easy as that!

Like this episode? Shoot me a comment below, leave a review on iTunes, share it on Facebook, tweet it out on Twitter, or post it on Instagram. The more you share, the more Brenda’s message can be heard. Be sure to use the hashtags #WANTcast, #womenagainstnegativetalk, and/or #WANTyourself!

 

This Too Shall (Not) Pass: An Open Letter To The Wellness Industry

This Too Shall (Not) Pass: An Open Letter To The Wellness Industry

Community Motivation + Inspiration

When I was twenty one, I made one of the best decisions of my life – a decision I can trace almost everything good in my life back to, from my friendships to my career to my fiancé to my self image. I got certified to teach indoor cycling.

My decision wasn’t so much about my love of fitness as it was my love of how fitness fit into my life at the time. I decided to get my indoor cycling instructor certification for three reasons: One, as a musical theatre actor, I knew I could have a side job wherever my “real” job took me. Two, I wanted to curate a stellar experience I felt was lacking. The classes at my gym played EDM remixes of Broadway musicals, and that was just not okay on so many levels.

And three? I was struggling. I was struggling to learn to love myself, to make peace with a world that seemed to tell me that investing in self-love was selfish and crude. It wasn’t cool yet to become a fitness instructor, and spouting off terms like “athleisure” and “reishi” might as well have been speaking Klingon. The fact that I stuffed spinach into my smoothies was weird enough as is. Now I was venturing into the even weirder world of self-improvement.

But I was fiercely determined to love myself and sort my mess out – and slowly started to notice that I wasn’t the only one. I would side-glance at the people around me, both in and out of the gym, and could tell they were struggling too. How was it that we were so devoted to this idea of “health and wellness,” yet none of us looked like we were healthy or well in any respect?

The dance club remixes kept thumping, the aggressive cueing kept coming, and I knew in my heart the conversation needed to change.

~

The world has changed a lot since 2007, and so has the wellness industry. No longer is it “weird” to stuff your smoothies with mushrooms and herbs; no longer is it taboo to wear workout clothes to a brunch date. Being a yoga teacher has been named one of the top 100 job opportunities in America. Flower crowns – do I need to say more? It’s now officially hip to be green.

One thing stays the same, though: when asked, almost anyone who is anyone in the wellness industry will say their goal is to inspire others and help change lives for the better.

So here we are. A time in which so many are feeling legitimately terrified for their lives or the lives of their loved ones. For them, it’s not just about job security or economics. It’s not just about the environment (although I do suggest watching Before The Flood, like, ASAP.). This is about the actual safety – and go figure, health and wellness – of human beings. As a woman, as a religious minority, as a citizen of this country, made up of such a diverse quilt of cultures and races and religions and gender identities and backgrounds – I am horribly, borderline-irrevocably, afraid.

Sometimes my fear makes me want to stay inside all day and ignore anything going on outside the walls of my tiny, inviting apartment complex. And yet I, along with so many of my incredible and inspirational colleagues, still get up every morning and do the work we have done every single day we’ve been in this profession. We show up. We witness struggle. We show people how to love – not just others, but themselves.

We show up. We witness struggle. We show people how to love – not just others, but themselves. Click To Tweet

I’m really lucky in that most of the people I know are empathetic to their core and unafraid to dance around the details. But I’ve noticed something interesting: some of the people who are the most peace-promoting in profession are glossing over peace-threatening issues in practice. They focus on proclaiming that now more than ever is the time to be the “kindest people we know” and just wait it out. “This too shall pass,” people have told me.This too shall pass. The words hit me like a kettlebell in the stomach.

Of course I agree that now more than ever is the time to be the “kindest people we know.” But I’d like to suggest that times like these call for way more than just the standard human decency we should all be striving for day after day. Times like these call for us to make actual, tangible changes in our day-to-day lives – seemingly small changes that make a huge impact in the long run. Kind of like diet or fitness. Kind of like any wellness practice.

We can encourage people to meditate. We can educate them on the benefits of sleep and yoga, even methods like bullet journaling and affirmations to manage their feelings. But beyond emotional healing and stress mitigation and telling people to be the kindest people they know, what else is there?

Turns out, a whole freaking lot.

~

As leaders in the wellness industry, we have a rare and vital opportunity to reach people at their most vulnerable. In fitness, that opportunity comes during moments of hard exertion, or sometimes in the moments of standing firm and staying still. In nutrition, it comes while helping people with one of the most personal things they can do: eat. In holistic and functional medicine, the opportunity lies in exploring the literal aches and pains of the mind and body. And the list goes on: crystal healing, dosha balancing, sensory depravation, etc etc etc. Wellness is about so much more than images of flower crowns and  yoga poses (and don’t get me wrong, I love a good flower crown and yoga pose): people come to us to sort through their struggles, tame their anxieties, and just generally feel better in a consumerist and reactive world that would rather they feel worse. Our jobs are more important now, in this politically charged and divisive time, than they’ve ever been.

We’re lucky that the people who are seeking out wellness-related products, services, communities, or “influencers” are already halfway there when it comes to an inclusive, bold, and proactive mindset. They already know they can be the change they wish to see in the world, and they already know that it’s those tiny-but-mighty tweaks to routine that are the gateway to being that change. Whether it’s meditation or movement, a cardio class or crystals, wellness-minded folks come to us ready to strip themselves of their pretenses and shed what they don’t need anymore in order to start anew. That requires an immense level of vulnerability, which is something we cannot take lightly. Not ever, but particularly not now.

Here’s where I propose we start…

• We must be cognizant of the language we use right now more than ever. Our words can be triggering – shameful even. In fitness, for example, creating a “beginner vs. advanced” mentality between students instead of meeting them where they’re at can make someone feel ashamed of their abilities, or resentful of their body’s limitations. Our students, readers, clients, and followers come to us baring their most vulnerable selves in the heat of the moment. Things like sweating at a high intensity, lying still with closed eyes, being open to alternative ways of living…those are vulnerable things to do! The language we use during these vulnerable moments – which are made even more fragile by the current political climate – can close someone off, open someone up, or even change the course of someone’s life.

We have a responsibility to use language that not only uplifts – that should be a given – but softly urges people to be proactive way after they leave their class, complete their session, end their meal, or finish their daily reads. We must urge them to be proactive, not reactive in their choices. We must not only help them feel powerful, but help them realize that feeling power is only productive if you DO something meaningful with it. We must remind them that even though they might have come into the room alone, they are surrounded by a team that has got their back – and they have the opportunity to do the same for others in turn.

• We must show a wide range of images of what it physically looks like to live well. Wellness has been popularized by the image of a lithe, privileged, upper-class white woman. I remember speaking to an editorial team about this once and urging them to publish more diverse images on their channels. They argued that mostly white women ran their platforms, so it only made sense these would be the images they gravitated toward. It “wasn’t ideal,” but it was “just the way things were.”

THIS IS NOT A SUFFICIENT ANSWER.

We must, must, MUST NOT loop wellness into a bubble of white privilege for only the size-2-and-under set. We must, must, MUST show more diverse images in our publications and use more diverse models as the face of our products. And we must, must, MUST not bill these instances as special occasions or campaigns, because the second we do that is the second we reinforce the idea of “the other.” From body image to skin color, men and women now more than ever need to actually see that wellness is for everyone and know that they are part of the rule, not the exception.

• We must provide people with a wide variety of ways to live well that can work for any lifestyle – not just the wealthy and socially/culturally privileged. Most of us aren’t living the life of the “wellness high society,” as I like to call them: people who can afford multiple holistic treatments per week, buy thousands of dollars of special powders and supplements to live their best life, and have transformed their backyards into what are basically small farms (or even have backyards to begin with!). I’m not against any of these things, for the record – they’re just not realistic for the majority of people out there, whether in a big city in Los Angeles or a small town almost entirely off the grid. In our practices and preachings (although I’m using that term figuratively; hopefully no one’s “preaching at” anyone), we’ve got to take into account the entirety of the human experience and not just the bubbles that look like the ones in which we live. We must use not only the words and the images that are inclusive and encouraging, but the call-to-ACTIONS that not only take all kinds of high highs and low lows into account, but above all else promote being proactive, not reactive; inclusive, not exclusive. We must seek out, actively seek out, viewpoints other than our own, because we all know that living truly WELL in body, mind, and spirit means not assuming that one way is the right way for all times and for all people. Living well is about finding what works for you. And in order to help people find what works for them, we must show, time and time again, that there is more than one option.

• We must use our art as activism. If you’re in the wellness industry, chances are you’re using some sort of artistry to build your business. Writing. Cooking. Speaking. Healing. Teaching. So many ways in which wellness and creativity intersect – and so many ways you can get creative when it comes to promoting change. Behind the scenes, you can be writing letters and making calls to your government officials. Or better yet, why not host a letter writing evening and mix in whatever you do – yoga, bootcamp-style fitness class, meditation, natural beauty demos – to give the night a personal touch and fun flair, then donate proceeds to a cause you care about? Maybe you can publicly use/promote businesses led by women and minorities. If you’re a writer, you can be writing poetry or op-eds or interviews or essays and and share them on social media or your blog or even Medium if you’re a bit shy about posting personal things directly on your platform. You can listen to podcasts that talk about diverse issues, and use them as inspiration for your next project. Maybe it’s as simple as admitting you don’t know about certain issues or experiences, and then seeking out another artist or person in your field to help educate your community on those issues or experiences. Both art and activism are made even more powerful when there’s collaboration involved.

~

Contrary to popular belief, activism isn’t always loud and in-your-face. Activism isn’t always protests or rallies. And if your brand of activism doesn’t fall into one of those two categories – or makes its impact on the mat instead of in the street – I am here to reassure you: it is still activism.

Some environments will allow for more “activism” than others. Sometimes special events are the way to go (for fitness classes, perhaps), sometimes the topics at hand call for immediate and direct attention on the regular (meditation, maybe), sometimes it’s best to choose one issue and hone in (say, when you’re devising an editorial calendar or working with other companies). It’s all about the brand you’re choosing to build. Everyone and every avenue is different. The important thing to remember is that if we stand for everything, we stand for nothing. Seeing all sides of a situation is important and is one thing, but not standing up for the values you hold to be true is another – no matter who you are or what you value. I’m not suggesting we ridicule our readers or force our political opinions on our followers. None of that ever works – and probably isn’t the best idea when part of our job description is to help people (anyone) live well. We can, however, actively seek out ways to speak inclusively and build empathy. Most of us already do. Now it’s time to kick it into overdrive. When we help others tap into (and act upon) their very human, but oft ignored, innate empathetic sensors – we all win.

When we help others tap into (and act upon) their innate empathetic sensors, we all win. Click To Tweet

Whether you are a writer, an instructor, a teacher, a healer, a doula, a nutritionist, a designer, a marketing whiz, a CFO, a juice company, a minimalist guru, a wellness center staff member, a yoga studio owner, a chef, a sound bath master, a meditation guide, an actor, a “personality,” or simply just someone who preaches the wellness gospel to your own inner circle – this too shall not pass.

Right now is the time to take action.

Right now is the time to do things differently.

We say that our goal is to inspire others, to help change people’s lives for the better so they can truly live well. Right now, more than ever, is the time to make that happen.

 

 



WANT Yourself:

These are only a few thoughts on how we can be of service in the wellness industry. But what about you?

Whether you’re a teacher/professional or a devotee, what are some ways you’ve found your brand of activism under the umbrella of wellness? Share this post, or leave a comment below – I would LOVE to hear. You might inspire another reader to make change happen in their own way.

(p.s. – thank you for the difference you make!)

On Empathy: How To Talk To People Who Aren’t Quite There Yet.

On Empathy: How To Talk To People Who Aren’t Quite There Yet.

Community Love Shift Of Power Tips + Tools

I don’t need to wax poetic about how I’m feeling right now. I think we all get it. Let’s talk about what’s been helping and what we can do.

I consider myself a pretty open, aware person. I listen with all my senses, I fill in gaps before others know they need filling. I know that disagreement and understanding are two very different things, and I get that my own experiences are vastly different than even my closest of friends.

Which is why, this week, I found myself needing to come to terms with the fact that I had slipped into an unenlightened and, frankly, naive way of thinking: that everyone I knew obviously shared my opinions, and everyone I knew would obviously be as upset as I was.

My wake-up call came while talking to a friend of mine…who happens to be white, happens to be Christian, and happens to be male. Our lunch date began with me in a daze, looking not unlike a character from a slapstick comedy movie who has been turned into a drone or zombie and talks sans emotions, moving perfunctorily through the motions of life. Except it was more like a slap-in-the-face than slapstick moment, and my voice was only monotonous because I was too exhausted from crying and functioning on zero sleep for two nights in a row. I kept saying how horrible it all was, how I couldn’t believe that hateful rhetoric and lack of human decency hadn’t been a deal-breaker for so many people. It’s like building a house with just wallpaper and roof shingles, I said. Without kindness and respect, everything else crumbles. He nodded and unenthusiastically offered up some anecdote about how “we don’t know what he’ll do so we just need to stay hopeful.” So much for the drone: I felt my face starting to fume. I could have breathed fire. It’s not about what he will or won’t do. It’s about the permission slip that’s been granted to people who hate.

I must have been visibly upset, even though my words stayed calm. I tried not to get accusatory or defensive. It’s hard for me to hear you say that, and I know you’re trying to help. But I need to know. Why, I asked, do you not seem as upset about this as I am?

What happened next is where it all turned around. Deep breath in.

“I feel like I can trust you, and you won’t judge me, so I will admit this about myself because I don’t like it: I am having trouble empathizing. And I feel like I am broken because of it. My privilege is so engrained, and if I’m being honest I am the kind of person who is least affected by recent events. I can sympathize for sure. But I…I don’t know how to empathize.

Please help me empathize and tell me what I can do.”

Since then, I’ve been diving deep into how to talk to people who aren’t activist-minded…how to help those who don’t quite internalize it be able to grasp the severity of this situation we’re in. People who are good, GOOD people, but because of whatever their set of engrained experiences or backgrounds or privileges are struggling to feel empathy in this very moment. Sympathy, sure, but empathy is tough.

Of course, because I’m me, I decided to ask around to see what was making the “empathy chip” shut down in some people during these tough times.

I also found that they want to help, but feel like there is no option other than attending a protest or being super engaged on social media – neither of which are up their alley in the first place. Most of all (and most unfortunately), they feel shamed when they ask questions or admit they’re not quite on the same page. How can we expect them to get on the same page if we scold them for not being there in the first place?

People’s minds don’t change until something affects them deeply enough. Unfortunately some people have to see it to believe it when it comes to evil and injustice. We’re seeing it now, and I’m realizing how overwhelmingly many of us are on the same side. More than ever, I think. But we cannot fault people for not getting on board sooner if we don’t take measures to explain why it all matters.

We cannot fault people for not 'getting on board sooner' if we don't explain why it all matters. Click To Tweet

I’m tired of meanness and ultimatums and am ready to help mobilize those who voted indifferently, along with the 46.9% who stayed silent because they thought they couldn’t make a difference, and might just think the same is true for their voice and support in everyday life.

Here’s a list of Dos and Don’t I’ve compiled, from my own experience and those of others, when it comes to talking to people who can’t understand your pain…but want to:

DO share with them exactly why you are scared, angry, or sad. What I found is that the people I’ve spoken with really, truly want to empathize. However, they’re only hearing expressions of rage and anger over and over, which makes it hard for them to not just shut down and disengage. It’s the same reason why people delete their Facebook pages or disavow social media: after a while, the extreme high highs and low lows can become one loud vague noise, and that one loud vague noise can become overwhelming and isolating. Social media was meant to be just that: social. When you explain why you’re feeling the way you are, you back up your feelings with supporting examples. And it’s a lot easier to understand and connect with someone when they explain the WHYs behind their WHATs.

DO invite them in and encourage them to ask questions. It can feel awkward to ask about someone else’s life experiences. You don’t want to come off as ignorant, or patronizing, or just plain dumb. We’ve all experienced it. But we cannot shy away. What we can do to help those who feel shy or awkward diving deep is encourage them to always ask more, and reassure them it’s same and judgement-free to do so. Why does this scare you? What makes you feel strong? What is it like to go through XYZ? Why do you feel called to do/say/be the way you are? The more we understand about one another, the more we realize how much we are truly alike. THAT’S what activates the empathy chip.

DO ask that they relay your reactions and emotions to others – and do it as often as they can. You’ve heard the saying “You are the five people you spend the most time with,” right? Well, by this logic, we mostly run in circles that are closest to our own way of being. Remind others (and yes, remind yourself too!) that they don’t have to attend a peace rally or write an 8-minute-read op-ed on Medium or post incessantly on Facebook to be an ally and advocate (but hey, if you want to read my 8-min-read op-ed on Medium, here you go). The way to spark discussion within apathetic or unaware crowds is not to feign empathy en masse or change the subject entirely, but to relay the stories of those you directly know and love. I told my friend that what would be helpful to me would be to engage in conversations when they arise and outright mention me, along with my feelings/reasons for feeling the way I do. He doesn’t have to fake that he knows what it’s like, but instead of brushing the topic aside or trying to mitigate the moment, it would be helpful if he told a story about his friend, and how and why she was upset, and maybe even how that affected him as a friend. I don’t need him to share in my experience – I just need him to SHARE it. And in sharing, he’s validating it exists and is real and is worth standing up to. Boom. Activism.

DON’T use them as a therapist. I don’t think anyone particularly likes being an involuntary dumping ground for someone else’s emotions. Standing witness to their emotions, of course. But when we talk AT people instead of TO people, no matter the subject, they tend to tune out. And the subjects behind these emotion – racism, sexism, homophobia, violence, environmental dangers, etc etc etc etc – are way, waaay too important to be tuned out.

DON’T shame them for not sharing your viewpoints. Some might argue it’s not a woman/Jew/Muslim/POC/gay/transgender/etc. person’s job to educate those who don’t “get” their struggles – and I do agree that the other person needs to make the first move when it comes to being open to new information. But we’ve GOT to help one another, and shaming someone for their privilege is not the answer. ANYONE can be an activist and an ally. You just need to find what’s right for you – and in this case, sometimes people need help identifying what exactly that is.

DON’T expect it will happen overnight. As much as we’d love things to change instantly when it comes to getting on the same page of ANYTHING – whether it’s drinking green smoothies in tandem or fighting inequality together – big shift takes time. One conversation with your friend, colleague, or family member will not undo years and years of their way of living. But If you keep talking, keep listening, and keep asking questions, you will both awake in ways you never thought possible.

Which reminds me.

DO LISTEN. People hold onto their viewpoints or lack thereof – whatever they may be – for a reason. Whether it was something that happened in childhood or a trigger that lies beneath the surface, no one simply wakes up and decides to live their life, think their thoughts, and feel their feelings out of thin air. This especially goes for those who have the desire to empathize but are not quite there yet. Just because there is a wall up or a mental block doesn’t mean there isn’t gold on the other side of the barrier. We cannot help people listen if we are unable to do the same for them. We say it all the time here on WANT. Dive in. Dig deep. It’s the freaking hard-ass work of life to listen with an open mind and full-as-F heart, but it’s what we must do if we want to ultimately get on the same page and see some shift happen.

We cannot help people listen if we are unable to do the same for them. Click To Tweet

I started to come out of the darkness late Friday afternoon. What was a bit of a consolation was thinking about how if art has taught me ANYTHING, it’s that the massive, major changes – not just progress, but actual GOALS reached in mass – come when the pendulum has swung to a very opposite extreme.

So yes, the Now is horrifying. But SO many people are upset about what’s going on in America – liberals, conservatives, the whole spectrum – that I have got to believe this is INEVITABLY going to bring about massive activism and change on a human level. This isn’t about parties or politics. This is about human decency. The first step isn’t empathizing, and the first step isn’t activism. The first step for everyone, the VERY first step, is to be unafraid to ask for help, and even more unafraid to ask what you can DO to help.



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