Embracing “Otherness”: Owning Our National Story

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President Obama made some interesting comments at the National Prayer Breakfast not too long ago, comments that unleashed a flood of criticism and defense.  As I read some of the responses, I couldn’t help feeling like we were all missing the point.

 

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Before I go on, let me go on record as saying:

  • ISIS is bad.  Very bad.  Extremely bad.
  • The Crusades and the Inquisition were bad.  Very bad.  Extremely bad.
  • Jim Crow laws, and any justification for slavery (past or present) is bad.  Very bad.  Extremely bad.

From the perspective of the victims, all forms of injustice are equally bad.

As I read one response that talked about the Jim Crow South, and even further back to the founding philosophy of the Confederacy as a “Christian slave nation,” my first response was to dismiss any Biblical defense as a distortion of Biblical truth (which I do believe to be the case).  However, I have come to believe that to dismiss the experiences of so many within our own nation just because I didn’t take part in the experience or condone it is to give in to a sense of shame.

While it might not be obviously connected, I found a recent story on the AP US History test to be related.  Since I graduated from high school (many years ago), there has been a move to teach a broader view of US history.  I think this is a good thing.  However, it seems that there are some who want to emphasize the terrible things the US has done while others want to emphasize only the positive things.  I believe both views are skewed, and I am beginning to see how both reactions could be rooted in shame – a national shame.

In her TED Talk, Dr. Brene Brown emphasizes the negative impact of shame on interpersonal relationships, not only at the one-on-one level but also at the group and community level.  She says that “you cannot talk about race without talking about privilege. And when people start talking about privilege, they get paralyzed by shame.”  I know this is true for me; when I read the accounts of what happened under slavery in the US or under Jim Crow laws in the South, I automatically want to distance myself from it.

When we dismiss the narratives we don’t like, we embrace shame and reject vulnerability.  This is the opposite of what is necessary to truly find a solution to the divisions, racial or political, we still see in the US.

1003173_13701993To understand national shame, we need to first look at responses to personal shame. One such method is called the Viking or Victim shield by Dr. Brown.  At a personal level, people are seen as either a Viking (exerting control and power to avoid being victimized) or a victim (always at risk of being taken advantage of).

From this perspective, those who want to dismiss President Obama’s remarks as exaggeration are buying into the Viking mentality, while those who want to run with all the negative implications are running with a Victim mentality.  Likewise,those who want to emphasize only the positive aspects of US history are embracing a Viking mentality, while those who want to emphasize only the negative aspects are embracing a Victim mentality.

Neither approach is an accurate reflection of reality!  In order to move forward, we have to stop reacting to shame and start embracing vulnerability to the point that we can start having healing conversations.

In her book Daring Greatly, Dr. Brown writes, “Fear and scarcity fuel the Viking-or-Victim approach and part of reintegrating vulnerability means examining shame triggers; what’s fueling the win-or-lose fear?”  When our first reaction is to either dismiss the event as irrelevant  or to throw an event into someone else’s face, we have identified a shame trigger.

The next step is to cultivate trust.  It seems to me that our nation is facing a crisis of trust (but more on that in a later post).

Owning our story begins at a personal level, but it can not stay there; we have to own our national story – the good, the bad, and the ugly.  In her book Daring Greatly, Dr. Brown writes, “Shame derives its power from being unspeakable. … If we speak shame, it begins to wither.”  By sharing and embracing our individual stories, perhaps we will be able to find a path forward – together.

 

Links and Resources:

Brene Brown’s TED Talk on Listening to Shame

Article on AP US History

Obama National Prayer Breakfast 2015 Text Transcript and Full Video

44 Bible verses on shame

34 Bible verses on vulnerability

70 Bible verses on reconciliation

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Embracing “Otherness”: A Personal Story

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By Tasha M. Troy

Living with diversity often requires us to feel uncomfortable.

I have never been one to seek the limelight.  I was not often the center of attention among my peers growing up, and the few times I was, I felt very uncomfortable.  As a result, I lived a life trying to blend in and never stick out.

Then I decided to work in South Korea.Ulleungdo

Not only did I move to a highly homogenous society, but I also spent my first year living in one of the smaller cities, far from the capital Seoul.  As ridiculous as it may seem, in the first few months after moving there, I continued trying to blend in.  Not surprisingly, I quickly found such efforts to be futile.

As an example, many people in that city used bicycles for transportation, and I soon had one of my own.  When I rode by bike to the market and back, people would often stop and watch me ride past as if it were the strangest thing they had ever seen.  I often felt like I must have three heads or some other extreme abnormality to attract so much attention just going about my daily routine.

My “abnormality” was simply my race, my otherness.

Birthday 2006That year I decided to embrace my otherness, and I found it to be a liberating experience.  By the time I left Korea several years later, I had made a lifestyle of intentionally putting myself in situations where I was the only “foreigner.”

No, it never got easier to walk down the street and have people stop and stare, to have children stop and point at the “way-guk-in.”  However, I did become more comfortable with who I was and who I wanted to be.

My experiences in South Korea changed my life forever.  Not only did I largely leave behind the need to blend in, but I also developed a measure of empathy for those who feel shut out, ostracized, and “other.”  As a result, today I have a heart for those who feel unseen as well as those who feel exposed simply because of who they are.

In her book Daring Greatly, Brene Brown describes shame resilience and lists “owning our story” as an important step.  I agree; I believe the first step to embracing differences as strengths rather than weaknesses is to first embrace our own imperfect identity.

Take It Deeper

To what extent have you not yet owned your own story?

If you would like to go deeper on this topic, I hold free exploratory coaching sessions on Fridays.  You can register online at Troy Communications or email me to schedule an appointment at TMTroy@TroyCommunications.Net

 

How can we dare to attempt great things?

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IMG_7035I describe myself as a recovering perfectionist. (Can anyone else relate?) Until recently, I had started describing myself as recovered, but as I have begun branching out beyond my comfort zone in the past year, I have discovered that my perfectionist tendencies can still be quite strong if left unattended. One recent example is when I asked a trusted friend for some honest feedback on a project that hadn’t turned out as I’d intended. His answer wasn’t anything I was expecting, and I’m afraid I reacted badly – no gentleness, no connective listening, no diplomatic language, just a defensive emotional reaction. I still have work to do when it comes to controlling my perfectionism.

After working with high-achieving professionals for the past ten years, I have encountered many perfectionists.   In the intense environment of a short-term full-time professional development course, I often see the pitfalls of perfectionism. Occasionally, a highly driven student will focus so deeply on one assignment that he/she will fall behind in other assignments, losing the time needed to do those assignments well (forget about perfect) and dramatically increasing his/her stress. If we are still striving to perfect what we needed to complete last week, last month, or last year, we are missing the opportunities of today. As Brené Brown says in her book Daring Greatly, “When we spend our lives waiting until we’re perfect or bulletproof before we walk into the arena, we ultimately sacrifice relationships and opportunities that may not be recoverable, we squander our precious time, and we turn our backs on our gifts, those unique contributions that only we can make.”

If we are going to pursue God’s purpose for our lives, we must let go of perfection.

Later in the book, Dr. Brown points out, “If we want greater clarity in our purpose or deeper and more meaningful spiritual lives, vulnerability is the path.” In this case, vulnerability is the opposite of perfectionism. “To claim the truths about who we are, where we come from, what we believe, and the very imperfect nature of our lives, we have to be willing to give ourselves a break and appreciate the beauty of our cracks or imperfections.” For recovering perfectionists, this is easier said than done, but the good news is that God is on our side in this venture.

Psalm 37:23 says, “The LORD directs the steps of the godly. He delights in every detail of their lives” (NLT). Every detail – the good, the bad, and the imperfect. One of the keys for me in this past year of breaking out of my comfort zone is understanding how deeply God loves and accepts me, imperfect though I am. Not only that, but He also wants to see us succeed, just as I want to see my students succeed. He provides the tools and guidance we need to fulfill the plan He has prepared for us. Ephesians 2:10 says “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” God wants to see us walk in the good works, the purpose He has ordained for our lives, and has set us up to succeed.Slide3

God is always speaking; are we always listening? If you are having trouble understanding God’s direction for you, start with daily Bible study; as Psalm 119:105 says, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” However, don’t be afraid to step out and do the works that are right in front of you. Everyone starts somewhere, and every step you take will teach you valuable things about yourself and about God and His ways. As Pastor Jeff Abyad of Capital Life Church said, “Nobody finishes a race they don’t start.”

Ephesians 3:20 says that God “is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think”; do we believe that is true? If so, do we live our lives in light of this belief? I can still hear the call of William Carey, the great missionary to India of the late 18th century, when he said, “Expect great things from God; attempt great things for God.” Do we dare?

What daring ventures do you have in your heart? Please share in the comments!

 

Links and Resources:

Verses taken from the English Standard Version unless otherwise noted.

  • NLT = New Living Translation

Brené Brown: Listening to Shame

CLC: Jeff Abyad – Start Strong, Finish Stronger

Reference to William Carey 

76 Bible verses about guidance

 

A few more of my favorite verses on God’s guidance include:

  • Isaiah 48:17 – “Thus says the Lord, your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel: “I am the Lord your God, who teaches you to profit, who leads you in the way you should go.”
  • Isaiah 30:21 – “And your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, ‘This is the way, walk in it,’ when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left.”
  • Psalm 37:23-24 – “The steps of a man are established by the Lord, when he delights in his way; though he fall, he shall not be cast headlong, for the Lord upholds his hand.”
  • Romans 8:14 – “For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.”

 

 

The Power of Gentleness

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By Tasha M. Troy

In 2004, I began a new phase of my teaching career by joining the teaching staff at a multinational corporation based in South Korea.  Our students were mid-level managers and mid-career professionals, and I quickly learned a new set of classroom management strategies that incorporated respect for their positions and experience while still giving constructive feedback.  Busan, South KoreaIn 2010, the necessity for giving gentle and diplomatic instruction was intensified as I joined a program in the US teaching professional communication skills to naturalized US citizens.  Not only were these experienced professionals, but they had also been in the United States for several years and had developed sophisticated compensation strategies that led many of them to overestimate their English proficiency.  Several of these accomplished adults experienced an identity crisis when faced with the reality of their language weaknesses, and only a gentle approach could reach them.

One key to treating people with gentleness is having personal humility and vulnerability. Brené Brown, in her TED Talk ”The power of vulnerability,” describes how the people who are best able to connect with others have embraced vulnerability, have owned their imperfections, and have developed a humility that enables them to approach others with kindness and gentleness.  I would venture that true vulnerability is only possible through a deep trust in the love and acceptance we receive from God.  Once we have turned to God as our source of love, it becomes so much easier to treat others gently.

I believe another key to treating people gently is to understand the other’s perspective. In his book Getting More: How You Can Negotiate to Succeed in Work and Life, Professor Stuart Diamond describes how important it is to connect with people you are attempting to work with, not on the basis of cold reason but through truly understanding what is important to them.  He explains that when attempting to persuade someone, “you have to understand the pictures in their heads: their perceptions and feelings, how they view you and the rest of the world.” He encourages his students (and readers) to ask a lot of questions when they are dealing with people they would like to persuade.  He goes on to list fourteen elements of effective communication, most of which relate to showing the other side that you value and respect them.

Of course, not all communication is created equal.  In my classes, we spend some time talking about the value of “diplomatic language” – speaking in such a way as to soften statements and to express value for the other person through polite language.  The more tense the situation, the more “diplomatic” you need to be.  This is not so much about how you feel; you may be very upset, but raising your voice and using overly direct language will not enable you to connect with the other person.  However, “a gentle answer turns away wrath” (Proverbs 15:1).

Pastor Rick Warren of Saddleback Church in California defines gentleness as “strength under control” and describes eight benefits to developing gentleness in your life:

  1. Gentleness defuses conflict, which I have mentioned above.
  2. Gentleness disarms critics; someone looking for a strong reaction will be surprised by a gentle response.
  3. Gentleness is persuasive, which I have mentioned above.
  4. Gentleness is attractive; gentle people are pleasant to be around, and others enjoy spending time with them.
  5. Gentleness communicates love; gentleness flows from humility and putting others first.
  6. Gentleness earns respect, which again comes from personal humility.
  7. Gentleness witnesses to unbelievers; consistently living an other-centered lifestyle is counter-cultural and only truly possible with God’s help.
  8. Gentleness makes us like Jesus (Matthew 11:29).

If we want to connect with people with different perspectives, we must approach them with gentleness.  Otherwise, we risk coming across as harsh and judgmental.  I highly encourage you to begin practicing gentleness in all your communications.

Take It Deeper

If you would like to go deeper on this topic, I hold free exploratory coaching sessions on Fridays.  You can register online at Troy Communications or email me to schedule an appointment at TMTroy@TroyCommunications.Net

Links and Resources:

Basic components of effective communication:

  1. always communicate
  2. listen and ask questions
  3. value, don’t blame them
  4. summarize often
  5. do role reversal
  6. be dispassionate
  7. articulate goals
  8. be firm without damaging the relationship
  9. look for small signals
  10. discuss perceptual differences
  11. find out how they make commitments
  12. consult before deciding
  13. focus on what you can control
  14. avoid debating who is right

(Getting More Chapter 3).

Stuart Diamond speaking at Google about the concepts in his book Getting More.

5 Tips for Polite and Diplomatic Language

Saddleback Church:  The Strength of Gentleness

97 Bible verses about gentleness

To Live Wholeheartedly

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Brené Brown, a social work professor and researcher, investigates connectedness, a basic human social need, and through her research has discovered that they key to feeling connected is being vulnerable and authentic with others.  She defines vulnerability as “the courage to be imperfect,” and suggests that embracing vulnerability can lead one to become kinder and gentler with others.