Over the past couple of weeks, I have heard some of the most amazing stories of people overcoming racism and abuse in this country, and of people who continue to live under the stain of unbridled hatred. The stories have all come from readers, people who have reached deep to share incredibly powerful insights into the struggles of simply trying to be human in an environment that would deny them most anything at any time.
Ayin's saga of life after 9/11 as a U.S. citizen of Indian ancestry born and raised in the Northeast struck a deep chord for many. Readers were moved to share profound personal stories of their own, stories of racial intolerance and the unique ways each has found to rise above the limitations of the ignorance and hatred that surround them.
Some found incredible strength and insight through the experience and have risen to great personal heights, overcoming just about anything that stood in their way. Some emerged with an almost incomprehensible understanding and compassion in spite of their experience, while others have been embittered in ways that those who have not suffered such abuse may never understand.
So how do you overcome the insanity, whether of racism or religious intolerance, of political corruption or pure greed? How do you overcome the vitriol and hatred that seems to pass for discourse in our daily lives, whether played out on TV "news" programs or in the more "civilized" platforms of senate floors and houses of representatives?
I fear that there may not be any easy answers. There are many simple answers, but simple and easy are not necessarily the same.
As many have pointed out, some seem to be able to move on or through challenging circumstances more easily than others; some who have successfully risen above seemingly impossible situations appear to be superhuman in one way or another. Nevertheless, virtually every person I have ever worked with who has overcome adversity would say, "If I can do it, so can you."
Whether the individual has overcome physical challenges, racial injustice, abuse in many forms or economic collapse, all share something in common: the ability to recognize that what happened may not have been fair or of their choosing, but that any changes for the better would have to be made by them, regardless of the circumstances. They all have come to the conclusion that as bad as the circumstance might have been, they need not choose to further victimize themselves by their own attitude or by indulging in anything ranging from blame to self-pity. They all recognized that they need not walk the path alone or without support, but that each individual would have to do the work necessary to change his or her circumstance.
Of the many long letters I have received over the past few weeks, this rather short one perhaps best sums up the challenge, the solution and the call to support one another in the process of overcoming life's difficulties:
I am a middle aged female attorney who succeeded in a male dominated world of corporate real estate, getting a legal education before Title IX opened doors. I stand on the shoulders of many women and men who fought for my right to an education and my right to work. I did not achieve my success on my own. I was blessed with being born at the right time to the right family.
I went to high school with young women who were sexually and physically abused by their fathers or stepfathers, and who were sent to reform school because they were a problem at school. I went to school with young men and women who suffered from severe learning disabilities that were untreated and caused them to be the brunt of bullying and abuse from students and teachers alike. My empathy for my old classmates has made me an advocate for the rights of the less fortunate.
Those of us who walked difficult paths need to assist those whose paths may be even more difficult. We cannot say "I made it, so you can make it" and walk away. It's okay to acknowledge that the world is unfair and that some people have truly become victims of violence, illness, and discrimination. I won't give up trying to make the world a better place, if they won't give up trying to live in it to the best of their ability and their circumstances and in turn will fight for others who may face the same hurdles. I have no respect for people who whine about everything nor for people who trumpet their own achievements with no empathy for others.
Can you imagine a change of compassion in the day-to-day world in which we live? What would it take? What could you do to help? How can you work to improve your own circumstances while also lending a hand to those who may be in even more desperate states?
I would love to hear from you about your ideas, about what you have done to work around the challenges you are facing, or about what you have seen a friend or neighbor do that has been effective.
I'd love to hear from you. Please do leave a comment here or drop me an email at Russell (at) russellbishop.com.
If you want more information on how you can apply this kind of reframing to your life and to your job, about a few simple steps that may wind up transforming your life, please download a free chapter from my book, Workarounds That Work. You'll be glad you did.
Russell Bishop is an educational psychologist, author, executive coach and management consultant based in Santa Barbara, Calif. You can learn more about my work by visiting my website at www.RussellBishop.com. You can contact me by e-mail at Russell (at) russellbishop.com.