“Life is political, not because it cares about how you feel, but because the world reacts to what you do…”
– Timothy Snyder, author -On Tyranny
I see a glimmer of light with vaccines available and infections trending down. Remaining are civic issues and tension with the mask mandate relaxed and businesses opening up to 100% here in Texas. The Easter Holiday has just passed and we are ready to get back to Spring and Summer vacations. Not stay-cations. The decision to take the vaccine or not take the vaccine, plus added violence toward Asian ethnic groups and mass murder still persist. Division is present, yet I have to believe there is a glimmer of light as we view these challenges ahead. How long will it take for change? Who knows? What I do know is it will take all of us as a united people. It’s not an easy job, but anything worthwhile is rarely easy. There are three worthy human practices that have worked over the decades. We’ve just forgotten to use them intentionally. So, I’m bringing them back to light.
Being accountable and responsible for self. During this last year I’ve had to make myself accountable to me for how I work and when I work in a more demanding way. Not having yoga sessions, healthy lifestyle classes to teach, or meetings and appointments to go to, creates a void. A tendency to be a bit lazy ensued. To structure my day more strategically and intentionally made a huge difference. It was the only way to stay on task and be productive. Now settled into a routine, it seems normal. Ahh, I said to myself, that’s it. Developing and being accountable to a routine is key. Creating successful habits for productivity, setting goals, task deadlines and even self-care made a huge difference. Having new ways to be accountable to your work, your family and self is so rewarding. Personal accountability means not being so easily admissible to “it’s not my problem” antick. Which can be much easier done when we’re in an office environment or working with a virtual team.
We are accountable to ourselves first, then to others—even if that co-worker or team lead is miles away. Together we can flourish, separated we fall easier and harder. What we do in our work and personal world does make a difference. I recently read “On Tyranny” by Timothy Snyder. Although basically a political book, some of the messaging has wider meaning and reflection. He talks about responsibility. The chapter on responsibility for the face of the world states, “Life is political, not because it cares about how you feel, but because the world reacts to what you do. The minor choices we make are themselves a kind of vote, making it more or less likely that free and fair elections (I would substitute free and fair choices) will be held in the future.” Our choices in any given situation can make a difference. Our words, spoken and unspoken, gestures, and our type of leadership matters.
Opening our heart and mind is key for understanding others. Both are so interconnected we don’t realize how one helps control the other. Much of our thinking is filtered by how we feel at the time, right or wrong. When we stop to listen to others and hear their story without judgement, it will expand our perspective outside of our selfishness nature and life on a daily basis. It helps us to look at our internal and external values, and the daily thoughts that consume us. We can start conversations with a mutual understanding of kindness, while realizing our choice of words matter.
A quote from Theodore Roosevelt; “Neither our national nor our local civil life can be what it should unless it is marked by the fellow-feeling, the mutual kindness, the mutual respect, the sense of common duties and common interests, which arise when men take the trouble to understand one another, and to associate together for a common object.” It is this capacity for sympathy, for fellow-feeling and mutual understanding which must lie at the basis of all really successful movements for good government and the betterment of social and civic conditions…Yet without sympathy, without fellow-feeling, no permanent good can be accomplished. In any healthy community there must be solidarity of sentiment and a knowledge of solidarity of interest among the different members. Where this solidarity ceases to exist, where there is no fellow-feeling, the community is ripe for disaster…”
Our hearts need to change to spring forth new understanding and empathy. In realizing sympathy is different than empathy, empathy for those who are less fortunate than us involves an emotion of related experience to their personal pain. It’s not just feeling sorry for their suffering. Empathy requires an emotional component of deeply feeling what the other person is going through. A quote from Blaise Pascal says “The heart has its reasons which reason knows nothing of… We know the truth not only by the reason, but by the heart.” We must be humbled. True sincere empathy comes with humility that we don’t fully understand.
Examining purpose and identity reveals who we are deep in our character. I believe it changes as we go through life and its seasons. As years march on, we acknowledge our accomplishments and mistakes. One of my first purposeful awakenings came after the diagnosis of cancer. Any cancer thriver knows when you hear the “C” word your world stops for a moment and you think about your mortality. Then you are quickly shocked back into reality and what to do next. Asking self, what will my life look like during and after the prescribed treatment. I was no different, except I felt a sense of calm that it would be OK, despite the diagnosis. Easy—no, but OK in the end.
A lot of side effects followed simply because my body was and is not well acclimated to drugs. Driving myself to and from chemo was my way of tackling this head on. Even with a few mishaps like ending up on the front lawn with my car near the end of treatment and one incident, coming out of a public bathroom stall with my wig completely turned around, because it had gotten caught on the bathroom stall door hook. As I left the stall, a somewhat perplexed look on a young girl’s face awaited me. When I approached the mirror, I saw the wig disaster and had to laugh at myself while calmly making the readjustment. My solace was to keep in mind this cancer journey would pass and there would be a next chapter. A change in priorities, career, attitude and gratitude for life followed. A better me, a more humbled me.
Now, as we look at our life passing through this COVID era with all its complexities, possibly redefining where we are and where we want to be personally and professionally, our self-conversations are a big part of that change. Let’s define our self-conversation to good, meaningful and reflective thoughts with encouragement for hope and a brighter future. Then move to conversations with others that reflect that new hope. We have another chance at this thing called life. So go for the gusto and give it your best. You can make a change in yourself. Even more, make a difference in the life of someone else.
Alistair is a serial entrepreneur, human rights advocate, and certified lifestyle coach. She enjoys helping women and children know and own their sense of being and purpose, focusing on mental and physical wellness for personal growth. Her Yoga teaching and practice plus meditative walks are her grounding tools; while plant-based foods, dark chocolate, and girlfriend time are Alistair’s energy source.