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It’s eleven o’clock at night and it’s been a day where I’ve had some uncomfortable conversations with my white friends about white privilege. If you don’t know what white privilege is, then there is a wonderful quote by Steve Biko, A Black South African Activist who championed the dismantling of Apartheid, writing under the pseudonym of Frank Talk who said, “Never forget, that the colour of the white man’s skin is his passport to privilege.” To expand on this quote, it means not being disproportionally stopped and searched by the police. It means when you apply for a mortgage not having disproportionate checks made on your income. And it means not being followed in shops because you are thought to be a shoplifter merely on the account of the colour of your skin.
This conversation was sparked when I added the Facebook slogan, “Black Lives Matter” to my profile picture. Boy, did that get a reaction of “People Matter”, to “All Lives Matter” from my well-meaning white friends.
In the last few days, I’ve also read and received comments such as: “we are all pink under our skin”, to more recent, “I don’t see colour” — really? If you can tell the difference between night and day, trust me, you can tell the difference between black and white. Ironically, it’s this refusal to see colour that continues to perpetuate the inequalities faced by people of colour in all sectors of society.
However, one particular conversation stays with me and gives me hope; and it involves the power of listening. Not listening to comment on, nor to agree or disagree, like we usually do, but to truly hear what another has to say from their point of view, by setting your point of view to one side.
Whilst talking with another white friend about white privilege, fearful of the same whitewashing I had experienced, there was utter silence and a true listening of what I had to share. It was such a moving and healing experience for me. Instead of discounting what I had to say, here was a white person willing to hold space as I shared my experience without telling me I was wrong or feel the need to defend themselves. And then a really extraordinary thing happened as a consequence, she shared how she felt shame as a white person and how uncomfortable the topic of racism made her feel. Just as I didn’t want to be labelled the angry Asian woman (of Indian extraction) by sharing my experience, neither did she want to feel shame for having been born in a position of privilege and entitlement because of the colour of her skin.
It was a real lightbulb moment for me. In really hearing what she was sharing, I realized why so many of my white friends may have been so intent on defending themselves: they didn’t want to feel that shame either or be linked to a system that perpetuates these inequalities.
From my experience, it is clear to me that healing from shame is needed on both sides and it can start with the simple act of listening.
During the last few days, I have had white folk reach out to me asking me how they can help with regards to the current protests against racism. My answer — simply listen to what people of colour have to say. Don’t try to suppress their voice because you are uncomfortable hearing their truth. If you can act as a witness and really hear them without the need to defend yourself, then you will open up a dialogue where new conversations can be had and new possibilities for a fairer and just society can emerge.
If you’d like to discover the power of listening then visit, www.transformationmadeeasy.com
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An Audience Of One
If you watch the animated series Spongebob Squarepants, you will recognize the two characters I mentioned above.
Squidward is Spongebob’s neighbor and fellow staff at the Crusty Crab who is constantly irritated by the antics of Spongebob and his good friend Patrick while Plankton is Mr. Crabb’s nemesis and business competitor who is always scheming to steal the secret recipe for the Crabby Patty and put the Crusty Crabb out of business.
Squidward is known to think very highly of his artistic and musical abilities believing himself a maestro with superior talent and everyone else inferior and lacking in artistic taste. He is completely oblivious to the fact that his music is terrible deluding himself the best and everyone else lacking or uneducated.
In one episode, Plankton uses this to his advantage (as part of his endless schemes). He serenades Squidward – praising him as a musical genius and heaping accolades on him for his superior mastery on the accordion (Squidward’s instrument). Squidward is deceived allowing the praise get to his head and falls headlong into Plankton’s trap. Plankton gets Squidward to play his instrument everywhere in town including the Crusty Crab with Plankton leading out as a sort of ‘town crier’. Unbeknownst to Squidward, Plankton has secretly plugged his ears so he is undisturbed by Squidward’s horrible music while everyone else is groaning and telling him to stop. Squidward dismisses everyone’s complaints calling them ignorant and unschooled in the musical arts. He is completely besotted by Plankton’s deceitful ‘audience of one’.
This episode resonated with me and got me thinking. In life, we can be nudged on and encouraged to keep on, to keep trying even if all we have is an audience of one. So many instances abound of successful people who were rejected and told No so many times but kept going because someone was cheering them on, encouraging them to keep trying and not give up. Sometimes, that audience of one is all It takes to keep one going, to keep one firmly resolute on the goal of achieving their dream.
On the other side, (as in Squidward’s case) we must guard against an over-bloated sense of self-importance and overconfidence in our finite abilities choosing rather to remain humble and teachable while dedicating ourselves to learning, self-development, and self-improvement. We must not delude ourselves, taking on airs of self-superiority and lay ourselves open to deceitful people like Plankton who ultimately seek to destroy and profit from others’ downfall.
A healthy dose of balance is important to keep one grounded. This helps as one maturely assesses one’s abilities and capabilities, accepting where we need to study more, learn more, improve and get better. It is equally important to allow assessment by others more experienced in our chosen fields who can teach, spot weaknesses, give enlightened input and provide mentorship.
Imabong Faminu, a creative writer and poet, is Founder/Chief Creative Officer at Words’R’Wine – a writing and content creation outfit
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Choose words carefully and Speak Less and Listen More
Humans being social animals can never stop talking to each other. Every day humans hold millions of conversations with each other. Not all conversations have a happy ending. Often, people misunderstand what we say to them. Shocked by their reaction, we scratch our heads and wonder where we went wrong.
The answer to our puzzlement is the wrong choice of words we use. Words are powerful. They have a life of their own. Words have a vibrational energy that we send out to the listeners unconsciously.
Japanese scientist Masaru Emoto performed experiments on the effect that words have on energy in the 1990s.
When frozen, pure water will form beautiful ice crystals that look exactly like snowflakes under a microscope. Impure water will freeze without forming crystals.
He would take pictures of water normally, and then again after reciting a prayer over it. He tested the water by playing different genres of music to it. Classical music produced well-shaped crystals but heavy metal songs produced misshapen, irregular crystals. He pasted labels of positive and negative words on the jars of water. Words like “love” and “gratitude” produced beautiful, perfect crystals, but negative words produced no crystals or misshapen ones.
Remember our bodies are 70% water.
While harsh and angry words harm the listeners, negative self-talk causes harmful physical and mental reactions to the speakers. If we repeat the negative self-talk, our subconscious minds will rewire our brains to implant negative thinking and behaviour in our minds.
How we speak is as important as what we speak. It is said 60% of communications are non-verbal. Our body language, especially the hand gestures and facial expressions, should signal kindness.
In his book, “The Four Agreements”, author Don Miguel Ruiz says that we should be “impeccable with words”. The words we speak or write should spring from love for ourselves and love for others:
“Impeccability of the word can lead you to personal freedom, to huge success and abundance; it can take away all fear and transform it into joy and love.
The consequences of using positive and negative words
In their book, “Words Can Change Your Brain,”, authors Andrew Newberg and Mark Robert Waldman, state that “a single word has the power to influence the expression of genes that regulate physical and emotional stress.”
Using positive, uplifting words like “love” and “peace” in our everyday lives can literally change pathways in our brains by boosting our cognitive reasoning and making areas of the frontal lobes more effective.
However, when we use negative words, we activate the fear response in our brains, which increases levels of cortisol and other stress hormones.
Reframe responses that shift the negative to positive
Wife: “How is this dish I prepared for you?”
Husband: “It doesn’t taste nice.” (Inappropriate)
“Good, but you had done this better before,”. (Appropriate )
Boss to an employee: “You are a slow worker” (Inappropriate )
“A little more speed will make you an excellent worker.” (Appropriate)
“Imagine how many suicide victims would still be with us, if only the right person said the right thing at the right time.”
― Wayne Gerard Trotman
Heed the three gatekeepers before you speak
An Arab proverb says the mouth should have three gatekeepers:
The first gatekeeper asks: “Is it true?”
The second gatekeeper asks: “Is it kind?”
The third gatekeeper asks: “Is it necessary?”
We should listen more than we speak
“We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak.”– Epictetus
When people talk, they expect us to listen. Our attention spans have shortened thanks to communication technologies like the Internet. Instead of paying attention, our brains are busy framing our reactions even while the other person is talking.
Inattention is the greatest spoiler of relationships, whether official or personal. Misunderstandings arise when we cannot grasp what the other person is trying to communicate.
Attention is the most prized commodity of the modern age. It can make or mar relationships and careers.
We have to build our Attention Quotient (AQ) which is a function of our attention spans. A simple formula for increasing the AQ is “speak less and listen more”.
The written word is as powerful as the spoken word
The pen is mightier than the sword. We should be especially careful while writing on social media as our words will outlive us. Never use harsh words in writing. If you want to disagree, do it agreeably.
The power of silence
Sometimes silence is more eloquent than speech.
The aphorism, “silence is golden, speech is silver”, seems to have lost its popular appeal in contemporary society.
It is better to say nothing than hurl hurtful and insensitive words at others. People may not remember the wonderful things you said about them, but they will never forget the harsh words that you spoke to them. Even if they forgive you, they will not forget the awful words that you spoke.
“Open your mouth only if what you are going to say is more beautiful than the silence.” (Spanish Proverb )
Silence can never be misquoted or misunderstood. Silence is spiritual, it opens the doors to wisdom. The more you practice silence, the more you learn to listen to others and pay attention to the world around you. Excellent listeners enjoy flourishing relationships as the capacity to listen is a sign of empathy.
To sum up, practicing the two mantras, “choose your words carefully”, and “talk less and listen more” will enable us to enjoy enduring and meaningful relationships.
Thanks for reading.
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