Monday, August 20, 2012

He Ain’t Heavy . . . or Is He?


This is one of my favorite paintings by renowned artist, Gilbert Young. Its simplicity of one hand reaching out to help another speaks volumes of the capacity of the human spirit. Though I love the idealism behind the sentiment of reaching down or reaching back to help another, I question the realism of such an act. It’s a wonderful idea, but is it realistic? I can’t speak for others, but I have sometimes wondered: When can I say that you’re too heavy? When can I let go of your hand or ask you to get down off my back? How long must I carry you because you’re my brother, sister, niece nephew, parent or child? If I am responsible, is it my duty to always be responsible for someone else? When does the other person that I’m carrying have to take responsibility for his or her own actions?

Many of us don’t want to believe that someone in need is a burden, but ugly reality is that the weight of another cannot only bend our back, it can break us. Carrying someone’s burden is a challenge. We want to help, but we have to balance help with hindering—our life and theirs. I used to have a hard time saying no to people. Sometimes I still do. I thought if I could, then I should. But my oldest sister shared with me a valuable lesson that stays with me. She said that people should accept no, as readily as they accept yes. Though it didn’t happen right away, slowly and gradually, I began to be ok with saying, “No.”
What I have learned about myself is that I am a vicarious learner, and I have observed and taken note that some people will suck the life out of you if you allow them to do so. I watched family and friend give and give until there was nothing left, and because they were always the ones giving, when they needed, they didn’t have anyone to turn to. 

A few years ago I attended a workshop with Lisa Nichols, author of No Matter What and she did an exercise with us about giving.  She placed a glass of water on the table. As she began pouring the water into the glass, she asked those of us in attendance that as he filled the glass, she wanted us to look at the glass symbolically as each of us, and she wanted to know at what point could she stop pour to indicate when we ready to give to others. Some said at the halfway point, some said when it was three quarters full; some said when the glass reached capacity. But Lisa kept pouring until the glass over flowed. And she said that we give to people from our overflow. Such a simple concept to grasp, but one not so easily to follow through. But when you think about it, it’s the right thing to do. When we are replenished and refreshed we are in a better place to give to others. Giving to others from our overflow may not be possible all the time, but it is something to aim for. So, when someone is depending on you, but you don’t have it to give, give yourself permission to put down your brother because he may be your brother, but that doesn’t mean he’s not heavy.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Jedi Mind Trickers

            As an unattached woman past the age of 40, I may not know married life, but I know single well. I have plenty of dating scenarios—both good and bad—that shape my life experiences. Not originally a big Star Wars fan, I have grown to appreciate the wisdom of the Star Wars Universe.  In Star Wars, the Jedis use the power of force to influence weak-minded people. Jedis make verbal suggestions and tell sentients what they want, and then the sentient restates the position and if the mind trick works, the sentient actually does what the Jedi requests. It is said that strong-minded people can resist the influence of the Jedi.
All of this Star Wars babble came back to me in an epiphany recently as I was reflecting on past relationships. I had been thinking about a conversation that I’d had with a guy I was dating at the time that turned into a full-blown argument after I made some off-the-wall comment that blew his gasket. He claimed that since I had never abused by a man (as in beat me) I didn’t have anything to complain about. Taken aback by his comment because although I had not been “abused,” my relationships had been far from perfect. Priding myself on rarely getting into escalating arguments or being called out of my name (to my face), our conversation made me stop and think of ways men had tried to steal my self-worth.
It was in that moment of reflection I realized some of the Jedis had escaped from the Star Wars Universe and were masquerading as mortal men. In a society that measures a woman’s worth by being married and/or having children, some women become light-headed and giddy when dealing with men and find ourselves under their influence. These Jedi Mind Trickers (JMTs) have words so smooth they go down like Cognac, and before you know it, we have the hang-over from hell because of too many refills of the sweet wine of his words. Do you recognize any of these JMTS?
The One Upper is a very polished guy—most likely metro sexual with exquisite taste in everything—car, clothes, food. Unlike some men, he keeps a spotless house without the aid of a housekeeper or wife, and definitely appreciates good linen. But herein lies the problem, no matter what you have, he can always show you something better, but he’s not willing to buy you better or show you how to get it yourself. Why? Because if you had what he had, he wouldn’t always be able to do you one better which would knock him off his superior post.
Now opposite of The One Upper, is the Understrapper. This JMT thinks that you are a dream the come; the answer to his prayers, only he doesn’t deserve you. You’re too good for him, he tells you in hopes that you’ll believe him. So, you stop trying to better yourself so as not to intimidate your man, and if you’re already accomplished, you downplay yourself. He wants you to sit on the curb with him and swing your feet, and if he can climb on your shoulders and sit, that’s even better.
 The Changer is another Jedi in disguise. Nothing about you satisfies him, but you don’t know that at first because you mistake his JMT behavior with him being a man that really knows what he wants. You wear your hair long, but he thinks short hair is really sexy. You wear your hair short, but he loves to run his fingers through long hair. He likes his women—you fill in the blank (taller, shorter, thicker, thinner etc.)—than you.  You can’t make him happy unless he can change something about you. It’s a power thing, and he thinks he has the power if he can change you.
The Naysayer knows you better than you know yourself. He doesn’t see the glass as half-empty, he sees a glass that’s dirty and contaminated and wants to protect you from it and all of the rest of the dangers in the world. He is the boyfriend of Doom. He thinks going back to school is a waste of time because you’re not going to get the job anyway. He discourages you from losing weight, and then when you do, he still wants you to hold on to your “fat girl” clothes just in case you gain the weight back. The Naysayer has no faith in you because he lacks faith in himself, and he is strong believer in the misery loves company adage.
The Pretender is probably the most Jedi mind tricking of the JMTs. The two of you have great chemistry, good conversation, and he’s the perfect gentleman. He opens doors, carries bags, and does all of the things that make us feel like ladies when we’re in his presence. But as wonderful as he his, there is something not quite right about him. He lies but we don’t know because we’ve been sipping on his sweetness. By the time you realize that you’ve been tricked, bamboozled, and run amok, there’s nothing left for you to do, but pick up the pieces of your broken heart and bank account and move along.
Many of us have found ourselves under one or more of the JMTS influence and, while we may become temporarily inebriated, we don’t have pass out from the drunkenness of our encounters. If you happen to run into one of these JMTs, may the Force NOT be with You!

Monday, August 6, 2012

Medaling While Black

I was not an athlete growing up. The only running I did was away from gym class until my sophomore year of high school when I escaped to modern dance.

By the time I reached adulthood, I shed some of my shyness about being a klutz and started working out regularly. But intellectual ability still outranked athletic agility in my book. When I turned 40 though I had a life-changing experience when I joined a women of color triathlon team. Learning to balance training with the rest of my life was challenging even though I wasn’t trying to win; I was simply trying to finish. So, it is only in my mind’s eye that I can even imagine what it must be like to train for the Olympics-- the grueling workouts, extreme sacrifice and the dogged determined that is required to compete with the best.  

Watching the athletes from the comfort of my home compete to medal, I have felt my breath freeze in my chest. I have felt the sting of their defeats as well as the glory of victory of  these amazing athletes! But even in watching the Olympics I am reminded of the “otherness” of Black athletes. It started with the comments about Gabrielle Douglass’ hair. The medal wasn’t around her neck long enough before the comments started rolling in on social media about her hair. 

Many of the comments were those of Black women who felt like Gabby was not representing African-American well because her hair was not quite up to par. Initially, I thought the comments were nitpicking, but after some reflecting, I sadly understood what was going on even though I felt the criticism was unwarranted. Black people still carry the burden of the race—real or imagined--on our backs so it’s important for us to cultivate the appearance of first class citizens even when we’re viewed as second class citizens in the home of our birth. Some of us are still trying to prove our worth to White America.

Then Bob Costas backhand compliment added more insult to injury regarding Gabby’s win. "You know, it's a happy measure of how far we've come that it doesn't seem all that remarkable, but still it's noteworthy. . . "The barriers have long since been down, but sometimes there can be an imaginary barrier, based on how one might see oneself." I couldn’t believe that he formed his lips to say that “the barriers have long since been down.” Do we live in the same country? The fact that in 2012 we’re still recognizing “firsts” shows that even though things have improved, we still have to a long way to go.

Lastly, is the controversy surrounding Serena Williams’ victory after winning the gold. Fox Sports' Reid Forgrave, said, “And there was Serena — the tennis legend. . .the best player of her generation, the American girl being crowned at the All-England Club as the queen of tennis — Crip-Walking all over the most lily-white place in the world. She didn’t do it on purpose. It was a moment of unbridled joy. . . You couldn’t help but shake your head. It was as if Serena just couldn’t seem to avoid dipping into waters of controversy even as she’d ascended to the top of her sport.” I shake my head as I follow these stories. I feel for the Black athletes competing under the glare of mainstream America. 

In this culture of false bravado, everyone is living out loud, and people feel that they can say what ever they 
 want. And they can. But when someone can rise to the top of their sport and bring home the gold and the only thing some people can say is something negative about something so meaningless as how they wear their hair or choose to celebrate their accomplishment, I think back to the word of my elder when I was a child: "If you ain't got nothin' good to say, don't say nothin' at all."