With all of the recent events, protests and discussion around anti-black racism, it is has made me reflect on some valuable lessons I learned from Dr. Vern Redekop while studying at the Canadian Institute for Conflict Resolution in the early 1990s. At that time, Vern was working on his PhD and I was honored to be part of a social experiment he was conducting as part of his dissertation. Vern was researching what would make people who had been discriminated against and harmed on many levels forgive their perpetrators and move forward, as well as increase understanding between the “victim” and the “perpetrator”.
To that end, Vern researched a number of different disciplines and conducted seminars that he invited a mix of people from various backgrounds, cultures, religions and ethnicities to participate in. At the beginning of each seminar he would share the research related to some aspect of the conflict process. Then we were divided into small groups to work on questions Vern provided. Following that we debriefed with the larger group.
There were many participants who shared horrific experiences based on religious, ethnic, and cultural differences. I recall a black man from Rwanda who had seen his family cut up in front of him as part of the genocide that took place in that country. There was an ex-policeman from Northern Ireland who had left the country due to death threats. There was a Sri Lankan woman who had been held hostage by the Khmer Rouge. So many stories and heart-breaking experiences were shared. As well, many of those who shared the horrific acts that had been perpetrated against them, also shared that they had learned to forgive their perpetrators.
There are several things that stand out for me from that experience that I believe can increase our understanding of anti-black racism and other prejudices and horrific acts. One was that in order for “victims” (those who had experienced atrocities and discrimination) to forgive their “perpetrators” (those who had committed the atrocities), the perpetrators had to acknowledge what they had done and issue a formal apology to that person or group. What also was useful in terms of process was for the “victim” or “victims” to sit in a circle with the “perpetrator” or “perpetrators” and for each to share how they were impacted by what had happened. This created increased understanding on both sides and also enabled the “victim(s)” to decide what type of punishment they felt was due to their “perpetrator”. This is how restorative justice is practised (for example among some indigenous communities in Canada) and it is interesting to note that the punishments that are decided upon by the “victim(s)” in a restorative justice process are usually much less harsh than typical sentences arrived at in court.
The other learning that stands out for me was some research Vern shared that demonstrated that the need to belong outweighs many other human needs, and historical events have borne this out. This is important when we think about racism and other forms of prejudice and acts of violence, because it helps us to better understand why people do what they do. It also helps us recognize that it takes a strong and courageous person to step away from a group he/she belongs to and take a stand that is in opposition to that group as they run the risk of being criticized, punished and ostracized.
These two “lessons” from conflict studies and from research on history, human nature and culture I believe are important, particularly at this time when the light is being shone on anti-black racism and other forms of racism worldwide.
Understanding and awareness are important for change to begin. It is also important to understand that there are many layers of belief and cultural conditioning that we need to “peel away” in order to truly forgive, heal and create a better world.
“(A) world free of war and violence;
One where all cultures, (races) and religions are accepted;
Where all people are respected and treated with respect;
Where people live together in communities that model
The values of contribution, collaboration, caring and connection …
One that believes in the power of groups and synergy,
That the whole is greater than the sum of the parts;
A world where women and men stand together as partners.:”
Based on these learnings what actions can we take to move forward and create a better world? I welcome your thoughts and suggestions below.
 Professor Emeritus, Conflict Studies, Saint Paul’s University, Founder of the Social Reconciliation, Just Peace and Development Research Group and author of From Violence to Blessing: How an Understanding of Deep-Rooted Conflict Can Open Paths to Reconciliation
 “Restorative justice is commonly defined as an approach to justice that focuses on addressing the harm caused by crime while holding the offender responsible for their actions, by providing an opportunity for the parties directly affected by the crime – victims, offenders and communities – to identify and address their needs in the aftermath of a crime. Restorative justice is based on an understanding that crime is a violation of people and relationships. The principles of restorative justice are based on respect, compassion and inclusivity. Restorative justice encourages meaningful engagement and accountability and provides an opportunity for healing, reparation and reintegration. Restorative justice processes take various forms and may take place at all stages of the criminal justice system.” (Source: https://www.justice.gc.ca/eng/cj-jp/rj-jr/index.html)
 Excerpted and slightly modified from Learning to Dance with Life: A Guide for High Achieving Women by Pamela Thompson, pp. 153 & 154
Our world today is characterized by uncertainty. Our economies, our relationships, our jobs, our futures … . Uncertainty is ever present in our lives. Learning how to change your relationship with and to “befriend” uncertainty reduces stress and has a number of other benefits.
The Cambridge English dictionary defines uncertainty as: “a situation in which something is not known, or something that is not known for certain” and “the feeling of not being sure what will happen in the future” (https://dictionary.cambridge.org).
Recently, I came to a point in my business where I was extremely tired and feeling little passion around what I was doing. I knew I needed to make a change but I wasn’t sure what that change was. I had launched a new website and had rebranded less that one year ago. What was I thinking wanting to change things up yet again? Perhaps I just needed to take a break; to relax and “recharge my batteries”?
It was an unusual situation for me to be in, as in the past when I’ve no longer felt “juiced” by what I was doing or felt that an organizational environment was toxic, either I would leave a position, or change my direction in business, and I nearly always knew what I wanted to do next. This recent experience was different. I did NOT know what to do next and felt uncertain.
What happens when we feel uncertain?
We often experience fear and go into fight, flight or freeze – the stress response – as we feel unsafe and our body wants to protect us. When stress hormones are coursing through our bodies we often don’t make rational decisions.
We may “jump” at the first solution that presents itself so we feel more comfortable. This can be a position that we aren’t suited for because we need the money, or a relationship with someone who comes into our life so we won’t be alone.
We may be influenced by a well-meaning friend or person whose opinion we value, and choose a career or position we have the aptitude for; however one that we are not passionate about, instead of taking the time to figure what really “makes our soul sing” and following that path.
I’ve coached a number of clients who were extremely successful accountants, lawyers, engineers … in their late thirties and early forties, who were dragging themselves out of bed every morning, feeling no passion at all for their work. When asked to reflect on when was the last time they felt passion about their work, many admitted that they never really had any passion for their careers; a well-meaning adult had influenced them in their late teens to; for example, “be an accountant because you’re good at Math.”
There was a time in my life when I became a workaholic because I didn’t want to face the uncertainty of what my life might look like if I left my husband. If I kept busy all the time, I didn’t have to think or feel and I numbed out. Possibly you relate.
Uncertainty means different things to different people. I invite you to take a few minutes to think about your responses to the following questions. You may wish to journal about them.
What does uncertainty look and feel like for you?
Do you typically feel fearful when you experience uncertainty? If so, is your typical response fight, flight or freeze?
Do you react differently if the uncertainty is in your personal life than in your professional life?
From experience I know that we often don’t make the best decisions when we feel uncertain. I also know that for those of us who are used to always “doing”, being busy, and having lots of structure in our lives, it can be challenging to NOT DO, but instead to slow down and BE STILL. Many of us believe that to be valued and loved we need to be “doing” and accomplishing important things. Being what I call “in the void” or “in the space between” is quite foreign to us. That said, it can be an interesting journey and valuable experience to learn to feel comfortable with uncertainty.
So how can you change your relationship with “Uncertainty” and perhaps even make it your friend?
Here are some lessons I’ve learned (often the hard way) to “befriend” uncertainty.
- Acknowledge and Accept that you don’t know what to do and that is okay
- Trust that everything will work out for you and the greater good
- Believe that in time things will become clear
- Know that you can’t force clarity
- Remember that creative processes require time and space
- Learn to listen to and trust in your body’s wisdom; it always knows what is best for you.
Below are some strategies to assist in integrating these lessons into your life.
- Learn to listen to and trust in your body’s wisdom. A good place to start is to begin to integrate some mindfulness practices into your life. These practices help take you “out of your head” and “into your body”. They also focus on “being” rather than “doing”. One example is body scanning. On awakening scan your body from the top of your head to the tips of your toes. Notice if there is any tension, discomfort or pain in any part. If you sense any of these breathe into each part and visualize the tension or discomfort releasing or melting away. Another practice is mindfulness walking meditation that I recommend you do three times a week for 15 to 30 minutes each time.
- Spend regular time in nature. This can be going for a walk in a nearby park at lunchtime, hiking, running by the ocean. Finding your special nature place and going there when you feel stressed or would like some guidance.
- Do yoga regularly. Find a style that works for you. I recommend you do it at least three times a week.
- Communicate with others who are close to you. They will then understand how you are feeling and often “cut you some slack”.
- Reach out for support from family, friends, a coach or a health professional.
- Get lots of sleep. If you’re feeling really tired experiment with going to bed earlier.
- Pamper yourself; have a bubble bath, massage, pedicure, make time to read a favourite author
- Move your body. Put on some of your favorite music and dance around your kitchen or living room.
- Connect with your inner child. Do something you used to do as a child that “filled you up” (e.g. painting, drawing journaling) OR try something you’ve always wanted to do but never took the time for (e.g. dancing, learning to play a musical instrument, singing)
- Don’t worry about what anyone else thinks. Remember that when you follow your heart and acknowledge how you feel, you give others permission to do the same.
I’d love to hear from you about your experience with Uncertainty and what strategies and lessons you have found useful to help you deal with it and perhaps even make friends with it. I welcome your comments below.
 A mindfulness walking meditation enables you to get out of your head and into your body. When you walk outside in nature, slowly press one heal and the toes of one foot on the ground followed by the next, being totally present with your movements rather than thinking about all you have to do or reviewing a recent argument with your child or significant other. Focus on all of your senses. Notice the wind on your cheek, the sound of birds chirping, the smell of the salt sea air, see the beautiful vistas that surround you. Notice how you feel while doing the mindfulness walking meditations and after. Over time doing these walking meditations on a regular basis, notice what you notice.
In many organizations regularly working overtime is still a badge of honor.
I have a number of close friends who have been high achievers in academia, brought millions of dollars into their institutions, and who have been harshly mistreated by certain “higher ups”.
I have also experienced colleagues who have been undervalued and made to feel they are in jeopardy of losing their positions because they have proposed a creative solution in an organizational culture where maintaining the status quo is the norm.
Increasing numbers of high performing younger and younger women (e.g. in their late twenties and early thirties) are coming into my life having been diagnosed with breast cancer, mono, and/or on stress leave and antidepressants. Burnout and adrenal fatigue continue to be rampant and yet are often “kept under the covers”.
Since I launched my coaching business in 2009, I’ve coached a number of high achieving women and provided them with tools and support to change their lives from constantly driving and striving to healthier, happier, more balanced lives. I’ve recently realized that this is not enough. It is one thing to provide a person with tools and support, but if they return to a work environment that does not enable them to put those tools and strategies into action, it is rather like sending someone on a training and having them return to a workplace that doesn’t enable them to apply the new skills they’ve learned. It is frustrating, unsatisfying and doesn’t address all of the issues.
I realize that it is only part of the solution to provide high performing women and men with tools and the vision of a healthier, happier life. The other part of the equation is to change our organizations so they are healthier.
I would like to start a conversation on this. What is a healthy organization? Is it possible to create healthy, successful organizations?
To start “the ball rolling”, here are a few characteristics of what I believe constitute a healthy organization. A healthy organization:
- Treats their staff and management with respect
- Is clear on their values and “walks their talk”
- Values creativity and innovation and creates space to enable this to happen
- Values and fosters collaboration within the organization and with outside partners
- Is lead by balanced and mindful leaders ( See –https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/balanced-mindful-leadership-time-new-type-leader-pamela-thompson/ )
- Recognizes that many of today’s issues are complex and require multiple disciplines and ways of thinking to address them
- Embraces change and supports its staff and management to better understand and embrace the change process
- Provides a physical environment that supports well-being; for example, a meditation room or garden, indoor plants, on-site gym, yoga and childcare
- Makes a healthy profit
- Gives back to the community
These are a few of my thoughts. I welcome yours in the comment box below.
Often when we’re facing a life change; it could be a job loss, retirement, separation, a health challenge; we feel anxious. Our heart begins to race and we feel like we want to run away from the situation. It is difficult to focus and often times we want to go back to the way things were. We feel overwhelmed by all that lies ahead of us, and are uncertain about our future.
When this happens, what can you do to get out of this cycle of anxiety?
Here are some proven strategies:
- Take slow deep breaths in through your nose and out through your mouth, keeping your mouth open and releasing sound when you exhale. Repeat this about five times and notice how you feel. This exercise releases oxytocin, the hormone that relaxes and calms us. When you have taken a few slow, deep, conscious breaths, you should begin to feel more relaxed.
- Do body scanning on awakening and/or before going to sleep. Lie in bed and scan your body slowly from the top of your head to the tips of your toes. While doing this notice any tension or pain. If you do, breathe into that area and set the intention to release the tension or pain.
- Spend regular time in nature. Find a special place you feel connected to. For me there is a place on the rocks by the ocean close to where I live. When I go there and lie on the rocks, I feel so grounded, relaxed and protected. Did you know that the Japanese have done longitudinal studies to show that when we walk among trees it reduces our heart rate, reduces our blood pressure and increases the number of natural killer cells our bodies produce?
- Do mindfulness walking meditations starting with three times a week for 20 to 30 minutes each time. When you do this, instead of going for a walk and thinking about all that has happened or all you have to do, instead focus on your senses. Notice the wind on your face, the smell of the salt sea air, the crunch of leaves underfoot, the sound of the birds, the beautiful vistas that surround you. When thoughts come into your head, which they inevitably will do, imagine they are clouds and let them float by or imagine putting them in a bubble and seeing them float away, and refocus on your senses.
- Repeat to yourself several times each day, “I am safe, it’s only change. “ (a favourite of mine from Louise Hay) Post this affirmation where you will see it, e.g. on the bathroom mirror, on the refrigerator door.
- Move your body. Put on some music you enjoy and dance around your kitchen or wherever. Feel the music and let it flow through you.
- Tap into and express your creative side. Do something creative that you enjoy. Perhaps it’s painting, drawing, playing the piano, gardening. It could be something you did as a child that you no longer do or something you’ve always wanted to try. When you tap into and express your creative side, you feel like a child at play, lighter and filled with wonder. This opens you up to exploring the positive side of the change you are experiencing, and to the belief that change is a creative process that opens us up to new possibilities.
I’d love to hear from you some strategies you’ve found helpful to reduce the anxiety associated with change. Feel free to post your comments below and to share this article with others.
In these challenging and uncertain times you may be feeling fearful, sad, angry and uncertain about your future, the future of your family and of the planet. You may be feeling there is little or nothing you can do to make the world a better place. I believe there is much each of us can do to be a force for good in the world, and it’s easier than you think. Learning about change, how you respond to it and how to navigate it, are important skills and tools to have in these challenging and tumultuous times.
Based on more than 25 years of consulting and coaching with people and organizations on 5 continents including living and working in conflict zones and managing uncertainty, I’ve developed the Art of Change framework. This framework is a proven model for embracing change whether it involves getting unstuck and moving forward when change is imposed on us, or whether we choose to initiate a change in our beliefs, attitudes and/or behaviors.
The Art of Change is based on the belief that embracing change is a creative process that opens us up to new possibilities. Think of the times in your life when change was thrust upon you; e.g. you were laid off; or when a boyfriend/girlfriend broke up with you. At that time, you may have felt caught off guard, angry, fearful and uncertain about the future. On reflection, these changes opened you up to a new and better relationship or a position more aligned with your values and talents.
Embracing change enables you to let go of patterns that are no longer serving you and to move forward with confidence, clarity, improved health, happiness, fulfillment, and inner peace.
The Art of Change framework is a 5-step process for embracing change that uses the metaphor of life as a dance. The steps are:
- Shine the Light –Explore how you respond to change and why
- Choose Your Dance –Identify the transition you want to work on and where you are on your transition journey
- Feel the Rhythm and Learn the Steps –Commit to embracing change in your body rather than resisting it, and begin doing the work associated with the phase of the transition journey you are in
- Practice, Practice, Practice! –Do the work that includes letting go, identifying lessons learned, envisioning the work or relationship of your dreams, taking action, and viewing change as a creative process that opens you up to new possibilities
- Consciously Share Your Dance with the World –Observe the positive changes in yourself, how others respond to you, and the positive impact you have on your family, friends, communities and workplaces.
Stay tuned for my next post where I will share more about the Art of Change framework and how you can embrace any change with less stress and greater understanding, and at the same time be a positive force for good in the world.
I welcome your thoughts and comments below and appreciate you sharing the article with others.