I grew up in the 60’s when a lot of important questions were never asked and important issues were never discussed. That’s the way it was. People didn’t talk and secrets festered in families, communities, and society.
The first time I remember challenging this paradigm: my father had just entered the house, bone tired from a day of manual labor. Before he could kick off his shoes and exhale the weight of the day, I grabbed his arm; marched him over to the cubbyhole between the wall and the credenza in the living room and whispered: “Jimmy (a boy from down the street) says that the way you make a baby is that the man lays on top of the woman and puts his thing inside of her! Is that true?” I was maybe seven years old. My father’s eyes grew large like a struck deer, eyes darting up to the left then right and back to me, a series of times. Then he said, “no,” and quickly managed to escape my grasp and the cubbyhole. A part of me felt unsatisfied with his answer. Moments later I saw my parents whispering in the kitchen. A few years later there was more whispering: my older sister was pregnant and they were talking about abortion, which was illegal and costly back then.
From a distance I watched my sister deal with fear, shame, lots of bleeding and missed days of school. I have asked myself what would have happened if my father had used that cubbyhole, to tell the truth? But those were not the times for such thinking.
Challenging the status quo — the existing state or condition of things — has come to live in my bones. Maybe it is in reaction to my sister. Regardless of why this is who I am now. Whether I find myself at odds with the status quo of my outer environment or my beliefs or perceptions, here is my process: When the status quo and I don’t align it triggers discomfort. I pay attention. The disquiet warns that it is time for me to check-in with my Self. It prompts me to ask questions and try to figure out what is true for me, despite the mindset of the status quo.
This Self-examination is usually uncomfortable because it literally challenges my sense of identity and belonging. Who am I? Who am I if I am no longer as I have been? Who stands with me? Who knows me? How do I say no to ways of being that I once embraced? As uncomfortable as this process might be, ultimately I love it. It leaves me more connected to my Self — feeling more aligned with the real me and less ensnared by the idea of who I am, or who I should be.
In my passion work as the founder of Inner Fitness I encourage people — women in particular — to challenge how they habitually see themselves, and to figure out who they are beyond their status quo. We pay attention to the areas where life does not feel good, or where they feel out of alignment with themselves. There, we courageously and lovingly explore the needs of Self.
Recently, in my ongoing effort to normalize and socialize Self-examination and other strategies that support personal inner fitness, I was working on a 40-day Instagram campaign, not surprisingly called, “Challenging the Status Quo.” Without knowing this, a friend happened to send me a link to the podcast series Work Life with Adam Grant. The episode was, “#Metoo with Ashley Judd, Ronan Farrow, and Tarana Burke.” Each one of these people played a hero’s role in breaking the silence that led to Farrow’s Pulitzer Prize-winning reporting on Harvey Weinstein.
It was perfect timing to receive this link in the midst of building my “40 Days of Challenging the Status Quo” campaign. Listening to these lauded agents of social change tackle the question of how to stop sexual harassment in the workplace gave me new clarity. For the first time in my 20 years of championing the importance of inner work, I understood more profoundly than ever before something rather obvious: Every social movement challenges the status quo. (This may not sound like an aha to you but stick with me.)
Movements that change the course of humanity ask us to examine our conditioning and acceptance of things. People come together, raise their voices and take to the streets when the status quo begins to feel unjust and like a threat to the humanity of certain groups and communities. The people who dare to speak up and acknowledge their discomfort, with the way things are, create a pathway for the rest of us to follow.
Here is my aha-moment: Challenging one’s personal status quo — beliefs and habitual reactions — is crucial to personal and societal wellbeing. Listening to the panelists talk about creating social change in the workplace, I realized that every time we as individuals stop and challenge the existing state or condition of any part of our personal lives that does not feel good or aligned, we are courageously creating a path for social change. Every time one person dares to Self-examine the effort normalizes the acknowledgment and exploration of Self, and makes the pursuit of inner fitness as beneficial to society as the pursuit of physical fitness. Healthier, happier people make life better.
Ronan Farrow shared that during his investigative process, for the first time he saw that sexual harassment and violence toward women in the workplace was only part of the problem. The dawning realization, that started to keep him up at night, was that this abuse and secrecy was ubiquitous. Across the nation (world), systems — the legal/criminal justice system, media and work systems at companies of every size, in every area of business and every socio-economic strata — were “…set up to silence, oppose and intimidate women…” versus protect and support them.
This widespread oppression and abuse that hides dark secrets and leaves scores of people feeling broken has made us all — abused and abusers alike — social victims. As the saying goes: hurt people hurt, and the abused often become abusers.
The Adam Grant Work Life panel took place and was recorded at the annual Global Force Conference that attracts thousands of leaders and HR professionals dedicated to making work life better. The panelists, each in his or her own way, spoke of the kind of skills needed to affect change: compassionate listening, empathy, and the ability to create safe environments that support speaking up were just a few. These are skills that just a few years ago were labeled, “touchy-feely.” Today they are being seen as effective tactical strategies for affecting culture.
Of course, these are skills that can also support healing outside of these systems. These are skills every human life can benefit from.
The #metoo movement is one of the fastest women’s movements in history. Tarana Burke shared that in less than a 24-hour period, over 12 million people, through social media, acknowledged their #metoo status. “Each hashtag was a person” with a #metoo story. As a survivor of sexual assault, Burke also said that sexual violence causes a certain kind of death in the bodies of victims.
No matter the event, feeling disconnected from one’s Self is a sort of soul death caused by all kinds of hurt, drama, trauma, upset and disappointment. Extrapolated, it is not hard to see how such sadness, unaddressed, can turn to darkness that lives not only in an individual but also in families, communities, and society. Unhappiness carries a weight that all of society is ultimately made to bear. Mass shootings and betrayals that instill systemic distrust are easy examples.
For a society, institution, workplace, community or family to be healthy the status quo governing all these lifelines must be challenged. Where necessary, new ideas and behavior must be designed, and painstakingly applied to our daily lives.
This begins with individuals applying the kind of compassionate inquiry and witnessing, non-judgmental listening, Self-acceptance and sense of safety to their relationship with themselves that the Global Force Conference and panelists envision for institutions. As more and more individuals opt-in to a personal journey of Self-exploration and healing, greater social wellbeing will emerge.
At its core, wellbeing — inner fitness — is the byproduct of giving consistent care and accountability to the Self by being proactive and intentional about the quality and resilience of your inner state.
Historically, our nation resists difficult conversations and feelings. My father being bone tired saying what was easy and comfortable instead of what was true is just one example. Rarely do people think about the costs and ripple effects of not addressing uncomfortable conversations and feelings. I agree with Tarana Burke’s assessment that Americans are uncomfortable with being uncomfortable.
However, if the wellbeing of our nation and children matter to us, we must challenge our fear of discomfort: Dare to look at it, sit in it, and experience the discomfort metamorphose into healing, freedom, and joy. Indeed, in this way, challenging the status quo is an act of healing.
Originally published at medium.com