Entry 62: Intent and Impact

AccidentalPerfectionistBlog

Dear Allies,
If you are called out for a microaggression, focus on your impact, not your intent.  If you hurt someone, it does not make you bad, it makes you human. 

I have two boys, ages 7 and 11, and they fight and argue.  Over the last year, I noticed a pattern with the younger one.  When he realizes he has done something to hurt his brother, he becomes very upset.  Many times, his reaction seems disproportionately large compared to the original hurt he caused.  

As I continued to observe and reflect, I drew a parallel to what we adults may experience, when we are called out for causing a microaggression or Subtle Act of Exclusion* against a Black, Indigenous, Person Of Color (BIPOC).  [*Subtle Act of Exclusion (SAE) is a more descriptive term for microaggression that I am a huge fan of.  It was created by Dr. Tiffany Jana:   Check out more from them here or here.  ]

See if this resonates with you.  A BIPOC colleague, friend, or social media contact, points out to you that something you said or did was a microaggression, and that it made them feel invalidated, invisible, disrespected, or harmed them in some other way.   

Do any of these run through your mind?  

…What? I can’t believe they would think that.  

…But I wasn’t trying to hurt them.  

…I can’t believe they are calling me out (in public).  

…They are so oversensitive – i’ve said that to another colleague, and they never reacted that way.

…But, i’m one of the good guys… I’m not racist.  

…I’m a good person…  I wouldn’t hurt anyone.

…Or we want so desperately to ‘move on’ from their hurt, that we over-apologize. In so doing, our reaction turns the focus to ourselves instead of to the experience of the harmed person.

These reactions may demonstrate feelings of surprise, shame, guilt, disbelief.  All of these emotions are real and there are multiple reasons for these reactions.  

In many white-dominant communities, politeness is a key cultural value – when we hurt someone, we violate our own stated value of politeness, and can feel shame or guilt.

In liberal white communities, we may consider ourselves one of the ‘good guys’ (opposite of conservatives or other ‘racist people’).  If we cause harm to a BIPOC, it contradicts the self-image we have as a “good” or “moral” person.  This causes a physical dissonance and triggers the disproportionately sized response.  

And more broadly, we may suffer from perfectionism, and in our attempt, we may have a hard time accepting that we could make a mistake.   

The fact that we hurt someone does not make us bad, it makes us human.  None of us is  perfect, and we will cause harm to others over the course of our lives.

When one of my boys is an ‘initiator’ of harm on the other, I work with both of them to ‘make it right’.  

First, the ‘initiator’ listens to how the other child was hurt.  This gives the ‘harmed child’ agency to share how it impacted him (if he chooses to).  

Next, the ‘initiator’ thinks about how he might try to ‘make it right’.  Making it right could be assisting to mend the physical wound, a hug to tend to the hurt feelings, an apology with a commitment to learning from the mistake, or talking it out together until the hurt child is ready to move on.  

  • The basics are:
    • Keep the focus on the harm or impact
    • Give the harmed party agency to explain their hurt.
    • Let the initiator propose amends, that the harmed party may accept or not.
  • The additional nuance for us grown ups might include:
    • Take a breath and give yourself grace to listen and learn
    • Instead of trying to reject, disprove, bypass the other person’s experience, get curious about how the other person was impacted by your actions. 
    • If you can do it authentically, thank the person for being vulnerable and sharing their hurt with you.  
    • If you are not ready to respond from a place of caring and authenticity, ask for time to let the experience sink in.  Then, come back at a later time (only if the harmed party is willing). 

I’m hoping that with these practical lessons, my boys learn the power they have to choose their actions.  Some of those actions may cause harm, and that doesn’t contradict whether they are a ‘good person’.    

While it has been hard for the kids to accept the pain they cause others, they are also learning they have the power to make it right.  Making amends can allow forgiveness and peace (until the next time someone gets hurt, which is inevitable).  

Anti-racism is a process of un-learning habits… for all of us.  

#blm

#antiracismplan

#microaggressions

#subtleactsofexclusion

#drtiffanyjana

#Anti-racistparenting

#justiceforbreonnataylor

Entry 61: Daughter of Immigrants

AccidentalPerfectionistBlog
Kamala Harris with her mother, Shyamala, in CA.

The photograph is faded, possibly a polaroid.  There is a woman with brown skin and long black hair, wearing a salwar kameez, helping to steady a black-haired toddler on the white steps.  

My breath catches, as I recognize my own life in that photo.  It is the life handed down from my ancestors to my parents, and then to me. 

Watching #KamalaHarris’ biopic before she accepted the nomination for VP of the Democratic ticket, I am viscerally transported to pivotal moments in my life.

When I was three, we moved from a small apartment to a house in a suburban NJ neighborhood.  I loved my room, with the pepto-bismol pink walls where I played with my toys and sat in my toddler-sized chair.   At night, however, I was scared, and my bedtime ritual included turning on the nightlight my parents bought at Woolworth.  

One day, I overheard my parents, distressed, arguing about their money struggles.  I became nervous and resolved to do what I could to help ease their need for money.  From that night on, I stopped turning on my nightlight, and instead, ran into bed and slept on my stomach with my hands clenched over my heart, tense with fear until I fell asleep.  

In my middle school and high school years, there were the inevitable culture clashes with my parents who were of a different generation as well as a different country.  My adolescent self bounced between deciding whether to conform to the mainstream or hold on to my ancestral heritage.   

When I asked for brand-name clothes or “talked back”, my parents warned me not to become “like one of those ‘Umricans’”.  The message seemed clear – we were different and they wanted me to stay true to our culture.  (“Umricans” were seen as entitled and disrespectful to their elders).  However, when I would speak out to uphold what I thought were our family’s values of fairness and standing up for the powerless, they would say, “keep your head down”, “don’t rock the boat”.   

In some ways, trying not to rock the boat suited me just fine because I didn’t want to stick out more than I already did – I wasn’t allowed to hang out with friends after school (because I could be tempted by drug dealers at the local Papa Gino’s), and sleepovers were out of the question (because I could get molested by a friend’s brother or father).  Staying within my small group of academically-oriented friends, and being invisible with everyone else kept me safe.  

Periodically, the cloak of invisibility would be ripped away.  One year, I was bullied daily by a white kid two years younger than I, using a slur about being Hispanic.  It seems that the typical deference afforded to 8th graders didn’t apply if you had brown skin.  These types of incidents would catch me like a deer in headlights, and left me feeling humiliated, physically weak, emotionally fragile, and anxious.  

Fortunately, it was different on the weekends, which we spent with my Bengali-American community for social or religious gatherings.   Other kids understood the struggles of feeling like an outsider at school, and the cross-cultural tensions at home.  I felt a release from the constant vigilance required in the rest of my life.  The community was a true gift, and many of those childhood friends remain my closest friends to this day.  (The community absolutely wasn’t all rainbows and roses, but that’s an essay for another day.)  

Over those years, I learned to use my invisibility to observe people, and developed a gut sense about people’s motivations and insecurities.  I gained empathy for people’s struggles.  I never became materialistic.  I learned that we are not entitled to things always getting better.  


These lessons started out as coping strategies to protect myself from pain, heartache and unpredictability.  

Then they turned to strengths.  Strengths that serve me in the workplace.  I navigated the complexity of multiple perspectives.  I intuited what supervisors needed, even when they could not effectively articulate what they wanted.  

I spoke out about underlying dynamics of power and stood up for people of color when they were stereotyped, excluded, or not valued.  These actions were not performative – they were deeply personal.  

In this country, we have a narrative about immigrants, which includes the many hardships they have to overcome.  Immigrants and their descendants amplify that message (Raise your hand if you have a version of ‘I arrived with $7 in my pocket at JFK airport and didn’t know anyone’?).

But my journey is not just a series of hardships that my family and I had to overcome. With Kamala Harris stepping onto the VP stage, in part because of her lived experiences, I now see my journey as a #daughterofimmigrants as my very own intellectual property.

See, the middle school bully probably felt like he was winning because he felt power over me.  But, in overcoming his ignorant taunts, I gained my own source of renewable power.  

I have learned the rules of this system, but can challenge its shortcomings.  I am no longer intimidated by the bullies, popular kids or those above me on org charts.   My empathy fuels my vision of a system that works for the collective, not only those at the top.  And living in alignment with my values brings me profound peace.

This positions me, and others like me, well in a country that might finally be ready to grow into its stated ideals.  Let us lead.  

#daughterofimmigrants

#BengaliAmerican

#indianamerican

#asianamerican

#immigrantswegetthejobdone

#letuslead

#empathyispower

#collectiveconsciousness

#BLM

#JusticeforBreonnaTaylor

Entry 60: Where are you on your anti-racism journey?

AccidentalPerfectionistBlog

Here are phases i see people flowing through on their anti-racism journey. Where do you find yourself? Are you struggling or finding ease there? What are you doing to nourish yourself? What do you notice about how rest supports your efforts on the other areas?

Learn
-If you’re new to #antiracism , start here. Read/listen to experiences of Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC) in books or on social media. Seek multiple sources because no one person can speak for an entire race. 
– Pls do not ask BIPOC to do this work with you without offering something in exchange.
– Consider these questions: what history or contemporary experiences of BIPOC have i been unaware of? Where was i (or where were my ancestors) during those events, and what was the impact on BIPOC? Do i feel any resistance, or defensiveness? Was there harm done, and is it possible to make any amends for that harm?
– Practice non-judgmental listening, reducing defensiveness and acknowledging privilege. These skills will reduce harm during cross-racial dialogues.

Evolve (your life)
-Examine your habits, relationships, and the way you invest your time, money, energy and attention. 
-Consider these questions: With this awareness of impact of history on BIPOC, what parts of my life feel out of alignment with my stated values? Are there shifts and changes i need to make in order to live within my integrity?
– Set intentions for those shifts, and share them with a coach or a trusted friend who can be supportive of your evolution. 
– This phase will likely cause discomfort. Care for yourself through the evolution. 

Advocate
-Take your learning out into the world. 
-Consider these questions: What areas of injustice are of importance to me? What organizations/ have already been active in that area? Can i support, amplify, conspire with them? 
-What assets do i bring to the work? What are the communities, institutions, districts i have influence in? What are obstacles for me to be a conscious ally? 
-Know what you need for rejuvenation. Plan for when you may feel the need for validation or ally cookies.

This work is hard, but i know each of us has the capacity for this work. 
#blacklivesmatter 
#consciouswhiteally 
#socialjustice

Entry 57: Breonna Taylor

AccidentalPerfectionistBlog
I clean up the dishes from dinner, wipe down the counter top.  
I tell Ken that I’m heading to sleep.  
I brush my teeth, change out of my clothes, and get into my bed.  
I think about the next day - it’ll be a busy one.  
It’s been busy on the ambulance - the pandemic is starting to hit us in Louisville, 
and we have a lot of elderly who are at risk.  
I love my job, and know it is important work, especially now.  
Ken gets into bed awhile later, kisses me and we go to sleep.  

In the middle of the night, I awake, startled, by thundering noises, 
it sounds like a train coming through my front door.  
Someone breaks down the door.  What is that? I ask Ken.  I hear foot steps.  
Are we being robbed?  Are they going to kill us?  
Ken grabs his gun, he fires shots at the door.  
They return fire. I don’t know how many times.  
Eight of the bullets hit me.  
I am dead.  

I find out later, 
That they were police who 
Shot and killed me.  
Police who broke down my door. 
Police who forced entry into my house 
In the middle of the night 
Without showing a warrant, 
Without reading us our rights.  
In the middle of the night.
In my house.
I did not resist a warrant.
I did not resist arrest.
I was asleep 
At my home 
In the middle of the night.
At my home
In the middle of the night.

In memory of Breonna Taylor (1994-2020)


Entry 56: The scent and the thorns

AccidentalPerfectionistBlog
This moment contains the 
Agony of not knowing what tomorrow will bring, 
And the certainty that it will be the same.

It contains the fear of the dangers of the virus
And the knowledge that some have privilege to protect themselves

It has within it the gift of slowing down, for some, for myself,
And reverence for the teachers
It contains the struggle of being an ineffective substitute.

This moment contains my rage at those who say abandon your elders,
my disgust for CEOs who sacrifice their frontlines for profits.
It contains tender gratitude for our never-heroes: 
Garbage and sanitation, postal workers, grocery store employees.

This moment contains my breath and heart beat,
It contains my compulsive eating and elusive sleep

This moment contains healing for Mother Earth,
Cleansing her air and waterways.
It contains grief for the comforts we are leaving behind, 
And terror that we will design the same tomorrow.

It is a birth, as well as a death.  
It is the flowering of seeds planted long ago.

The flower is opening, 
Infinite beauty contained 
In one unfurling petal.

It contains thorns, too, and a sweet, sweet scent.  
It is a birth, and a death.  
i will not design the same tomorrow.
i will hold the scent and the thorns.

Entry 55: Dualities in Daily Life

AccidentalPerfectionistBlog

Like most people, the activities of daily life have been completely altered by the arrival of #COVID-19.  At times, it feels turbulent, as if I’m inside of a bowling ball, hurtling towards an unknown destination.  My mindfulness practice has helped me recognize the moments when I am feeling out of control, overwhelmed, anxious, and also those moments of connection, joy, and stillness.

Through my reflection and meditation, I am discovering an awareness of certain dualities in my daily life.  While I cannot claim to have done extensive learning on this concept, what I understand is that there are opposite or contrary ideas that actually coexist in nature.  This concept is often represented by the #Yin-Yang symbol from ancient Chinese culture, with Yin representing the receptive, female, dark and Yang representing the active, male, light.  These opposing forces not only co-exist, but live in complement and can transform into each other. Over the past few weeks, I have felt a strong recognition that certain prevailing beliefs are now being met with an opposite belief, and somehow coexisting in this moment.  I’m curious to hear if anyone else has noticed anything like this?  

The first set of opposites relates to the cultural belief about #self-care.  Prioritizing one’s self-care is usually thought of as indulgent, selfish, weakness and a detraction from being productive.  Now, sequestered in our homes, self-care – which includes illness prevention, personal care, rest, mental health and stress management – is turning out to be a selfless act.  I find it surprising and energizing to see an alignment between actions that benefits others while also benefiting ourselves. (I do acknowledge this is not true for our friends and neighbors who are serving in essential roles to keep our society healthy and functioning.  But by staying home, we are doing what we can to keep them safer.)

Another set of opposites relates to our #physicallydistancing.  It surprises me that in this time, I have felt as close as ever to some of my friends.  Friends who live across town or across the country, friends I haven’t connected with in months or years, are connecting through texts, phone calls, #zoomconferencecalls, Instagram or Facebook, gift deliveries…  When I think of someone, instead of saying, “oh i should call them sometime…”, I reach out. And in so doing, the relationship seems more palpable. The content of the connections also feels rich – we’re saying to each other the things we may sometimes hold back – deep appreciation and gratitude for each other, and the offer of patience, compassion, a listening ear or practical help… it feels vibrant and has been a gift.

A third opposite is one that challenges my own limiting belief about my capabilities to set boundaries.  I was worried that setting boundaries would be impossible given the proximity of the family being together all the time,  My kids would say, it’s a regular occurrence for me to resort to yelling (often when I haven’t set up an expectation in advance).  Somehow, in these unusual circumstances, I am making it a priority to ask for what I will be needing throughout the day – quiet space for my meetings, time to attend my virtual dance class or meditation.  I wouldn’t say it has become a habit yet, but what is surprising is that I feel less guilty about asking for what I need. I know I need to sustain myself and that this is an investment in my health. #boundaries

Have you noticed any opposing beliefs that coexist in your life at this moment? 

Entry 54: A Difficult Mother

AccidentalPerfectionistBlog
By many counts i am a 
Difficult mother.
With a tight jawed glare
i scold without a word.
Loving order and tidiness
A chore is always available for you.
i do not have stamina for
Endless playing,
Or the patience for 
Fantastical stories.
i am adept at extracting fun 
from nearly any adventure.
i repeat myself until i, too, 
become bored of my sage advice.
With fears grooved into my brain, 
my power unseized and 
dreams unfulfilled,
i pass these on as a blueprint for living.
i cannot imagine how it would be to 
be my child.

When you laugh unfettered and carefree, 
i may loosen into a smile, or 
Shudder and crave an underground cave.
Your patterns are familiar, 
until they become unknowable.
We build a routine, 
until it crumbles.

Mothering, for me, encompasses all of these things, and 
that is why i find it difficult.
But, i suppose, without the 
peaks and valleys of the EKG, 
we would be pronounced dead.

But sometimes, 
i can’t bear to feel 
incompetent 
one single minute more, 
then
i speak the right words, 
at an appropriate moment, 
with the right intonation, 
it is met with understanding, and
i loosen into a smile,
until
...

Entry 53: Strike, Then Flow: How dance taught me to let go of a grudge

AccidentalPerfectionistBlog

Feel the ground underneath your feet, keep your knees soft, says Maria.  Hold, but don’t clench, the abdominal muscles. Then twist from the core, rotate shoulders, and strike with the heel of the right hand.  Keep the left arm and hand close to the side body. And vocalize!  

I strike with my right hand, and let out a satisfying grunt. Huh!  

Next, breathe in, swivel the core, and strike with the left.  Huh!

We march forward, 1 – 2 – 3 – 4, and strike: Right! Left! Right! Left!

March back, with feet stomping, and repeat Huh! Huh! Huh! Huh!  Four precise strikes, while a rock song with a heavy downbeat plays over the speaker.  

I am in a Nia class, a style which draws upon jazz and modern dance, tai chi, yoga, as well as tae kwon doe, and regularly incorporates punches, blocks and kicks into dance routines set to inspiring music.  

I sense my brow getting furrowed, and my focus zeroing in on the mental image of someone I am angry with – someone at work who had lied about me and was ruining my reputation.  This is one of the worst things someone can do to me. I channel my heated energy at an image of their face, then strike: Right! Left! Huh! Huh! I imagine the strikes land on their stomach.  It’s violent, I know, but I figure it is a safer way than most to channel my aggressions.

While we dance, Maria demonstrates a new pattern:  She marches forward, 1 – 2 – 3 – 4, and does two strikes – Right! Left!  Then she adds two freestyle moves – freeflowing arms with her hips jiving to the beat and legs loose.   

Our turn. 

March forward – 2 – 3 – 4.  Huh! Huh! Then, I freeze. My body refuses to do freestyle moves.  I stand with fists clenched and arms rigid.  

March back – 2 – 3 – 4.  Huh! Huh! I try again. I manage some herky jerky moves, probably resembling the ‘robot’.  I get angry at what Maria is asking me to do – I was in the zone and wanted to stay aggressive.  

I could not loosen up my core and arms, in order to pull off any moves other than the strikes.   

Next time, I know it’s coming, so I try to prepare.  I do my strikes, and then try to loosen up, but my body doesn’t acquiesce.  My mind is almost dizzy at the attempt, and can’t find the rhythm in order to time my freestyle…  

After one song, we move on from the martial arts movements to other dance steps, and I am relieved.

After class, I wondered, why was this so challenging?  I tend to pick up dance moves pretty easily, but this one – firm attacks, interspersed with flowing, loose movements – was a struggle, for both my body, and my mind. 

I observed that these sensations – aggression and flow – had associated emotions – anger and forgiveness – which were also hard for me to balance in my real life.

When I feel hurt, threatened or angry, it is difficult for me to come out of that to feel relaxed, joyful, or happy.  Once I am physically tense, my body is not able to easily relax. And once I am angry, my mind tells me that if I let go of the emotion, I will be condoning whatever made me upset in the first place. 

I don’t know which comes first, the mind’s stubbornness or the body’s rigidity. In either case, the mind and body reinforce the tension and prevent its release.   

I reflected that this pattern has shown up over the course of my life in the form of holding grudges.  

The most extreme example of this occurred many years ago.  After college, my sister and I had moved back home. After a painful and dramatic incident, we did not speak to each other for several months.   It started with screaming and crying, and evolved to sidestepping each other with tension and awkwardness. I soon escaped by moving into my own apartment.

This habit seemed to run in my family.  My mother had a couple of years when she didn’t speak to her brother.  My father didn’t speak to his sisters for a couple of decades.  

Thankfully, all of those rifts had been resolved, but I felt there was more to discover.  

At the time, I had also noticed that I had a very hard time cooling off after an argument with my then 7-year-old son.  Even after he had moved on, and approached me lovingly, I couldn’t fully open to him, because I retained the tension of the interaction in my physical body.  Once I was aware of the pattern, it seemed absurd. I made a cognitive resolution to change my behavior, my plan complete with self-flagellation and harsh critique.  

Meanwhile, in dance class, I continued to follow Maria’s instruction.  In every class, we had strikes, punches, blocks and other martial arts movements integrated into the dance.  I would mimic to the best of my ability, focusing on the strike moves, and then releasing to allow organic dance movements.  It remained the hardest part of the dance for me to follow. 

At times, I found myself taking my strikes, huffing an inhale, and then moving into the flowing dance move.  It was a jilted move, and I was behind the beat, but I kept trying. Other times, I was so determined on making the flowing move, that my last strike would be wimpy and unfocused.  

After some amount of time (months, or maybe even a year?), one day I noticed that I moved from my strikes, focused and sharp, to my arms flowing, and core swaying gracefully.  I couldn’t pinpoint how I had developed the ability, and it didn’t even require the hyperfocus or trying that I had put in before. The ease was just there. I was ecstatic!  

Upon later reflection, I wondered whether this physical capability had any impact on my family or social interactions, so I made an intention to notice if there were any changes.  One day, during an intense interaction with my kids, my emotions flared up and I yelled. I felt my body and jaw tense up. I told the kids I needed to take a timeout and went to my room and closed the door.  After a few minutes, I emerged physically calmer, and emotionally cooler. When my son came to me, I was able to open to his embrace. We then discussed the situation, and I apologized for not communicating calmly.  

I have since realized that my physical tension stems from the sympathetic nervous system.  My mind and body believe I am in danger and trigger a fight/flight/freeze response. While I had known about this physiological response cognitively, it was only through my body’s practice that I was able to shift the pattern. 

The change happened in the safe space of my dance studio, with the compassionate support of my teacher, and without the harsh self-critique that I typically subject myself to. (A recipe to remember!)

I continue to be amazed at how the lessons I learn from my body are improving the quality of my life.  I am so very grateful for my body and all that it allows me to discover, endure, and experience. It is one of my most important teachers.

Entry 52: Reverent Care

AccidentalPerfectionistBlog

grey light drifts humbly through the window

my ears alert for early morning whispers,

breath quiet and steady

i hear the purposeful whoosh of

heated milk landing in the bottle

my palms blanketed by the warmth

i make my way towards the 

bedroom where you sleep, and

hold out the doodh

all ingredients melted into this 

moment of reverent care,

stillness

i plucked the guitar string from my essence

the vibrations echoed through the air

finding their way towards your heart 

know that it is an offer, only, 

you may resonate or be discordant

still, i stand here, 

arm stretched and heart open.

i offered simply because my deepest self wanted to.