The Subtlety of Racism

A while back I was contacted by a very conscious individual. She was a blog reader of mine and she had managed to make many changes in her life that were very beneficial. One of the things she had gotten quite good at was feeling her day. Every student has their own way inside what I’m teaching them and that was hers. She was good at ignoring her word-based illusory thoughts in favour of focusing on her feelings.

788 Relax and Succeed - Love and compassion are necessitiesThat ability to sense herself and her emotional reaction to her day lead her to an awareness. What initiated her call was that she was developing a consistently negative reaction to any Muslim woman wearing a niqab (the face and head scarf), or for that matter even a hijab (the head and neck scarf).

She knew the feelings were coming from her thoughts but she felt so strongly about the subject that she was unable to alter the course of her anger. It’s no secret to anyone that world tensions are a bit high and that in the most general terms Islam is seen as some sort of general threat. This plays out in big and obvious ways as in the case of governments or even armies. In smaller ways it plays out in everyday life, as with this woman.

I started off by noting the very un-racist-like reaction she had to her concern that she might be racist. She’s a very conscious mother and she didn’t want to teach her children to judge others based on appearances and she knew they learn from your actions not your words. Wise mom.

788 Relax and Succeed - Darkness cannot drive out darknessI simply explained that she had a firm narrative about the scarves and that we needed to replace it with a natural, real empathetic connection. The woman was clearly a feminist and so I offered examples of two feminists I know who have chosen to cover their faces with a niqab.

The first is a very classically beautiful, slim, high-cheekboned elegant woman who was raised by very spiritual parents. Back at home her parents would have been considered hippies. And her husband will laugh if you suggest he has any sort of control over his wife. He’s not that keen on her wearing a niqab himself but he respects his wife and he knows she takes her spirituality very seriously–and one aspect of it is humility. Inner beauty is what is valued and the ego is to be suppressed. On top of that, as a beautiful woman she wants to be sure she is succeeding by her abilities and not her appearance. That all sounds pretty healthy, doesn’t it?

Like the liberated woman sitting in front of me, the friend who wears the niqab does not believe that a woman should be judged based on her appearance and yet study after study proves that from dating to job prospects, that still happens. She also wants to respect herself as a creation of God. If you’ve read my previous post Loving Balpreet you’ll know that this is similar to the Sikh practice of allowing the body to exist as a creation of God’s, without any intervention–including haircutting or shaving. It’s a sign of respect for inner beauty and natural holiness.

I also added that my friend never needs to purchase or apply makeup when she goes out. That raised some eyebrows in envy.

788 Relax and Succeed - The cultural icebergThen I also told her about another friend who left Canada to move to the arabian peninsula. I told my student about how I asked that friend why she chose to wear her niqab. She very confidently noted that as a 240lb woman in Canada she found men never paid any attention to her, but where she lived she was often asked on dates and treated very respectfully. She felt she was being valued for her personality and not her appearance.

In both cases the women subscribed to the idea of the niqab as an expression of their values, not of oppression. It wasn’t that their husband wanted them covered, it was that they valued human spirit and expression more than appearances–these are the exact same values my student extolled to her children and the same ones most of us say are noble.

In the end the niqab is much thinner than a winter scarf. It’s certainly not a barrier to these women being able to see each other for what many of them really are: true feminists. Once my student could see that connection between her and these seemingly different women, her veil of thought made no more sense and she dropped it in favour of her new awareness.

788 Relax and Succeed - Before you assumeIt’s important to note–had we not intervened in that thinking when we did she could easily have expanded the narrative of her incorrect assumption into a full blown story that would result in bigotry and hatred. And she would then have taught that to her kids. It’s that easy. We all need to be vigilant.

We all love everyone. If you think you can’t love and respect someone and you really want to grow spiritually then I would suggest you look more closely at their life. Because if you do so honestly and openly you are certain to find someone just like you. Someone who’s had to overcome great hardship and who has felt great love. Our differences exist only in our thoughts.

The woman left feeling comfortable that she would no longer create the negative reaction that had been attached to her thoughts. With better understanding came empathy and from that came connection and a lack of desire to judge. It’s really that easy. You’ll see that if you try it. 😉

peace. s

Scott McPherson is a writer, public speaker, and mindfulness facilitator who works with individuals, companies and nonprofit organizations around the world.

Driving People Crazy

I was riding in a friend’s car a few weeks ago and the guy beside us made a crazy no-look, no-blinker lane-change and had my friend not nailed the brakes hard it was a for-sure accident. I was a bit surprised when I heard my friend yell at his front window, “Stupid #*@%ing Asian driver! Go back to China you moron!” We were pretty pumped on adrenaline after the near miss, so the outburst itself wasn’t surprising, but I found it amusing that an Asian guy had just been yelled at and called names by another Asian guy.

Similarly, years ago I was driving with a brown friend who had a similar interaction and he pulled up at a light, had me roll down my window so he could tell the “stupid #*@%ing Paki” next to us to learn to drive like a white man. Like a white man?! My buddy was also Pakistani. So are these two people self-hating or what’s going on here?

What’s going on is that we think when we’ve heard the words that we understand the idea behind them but that’s ridiculous. As I’ve often noted here, when I told my university and college classes that “last night I shot a man in my pyjamas,” every class agreed that they’d understood what I’d said—odd as it was—but in reality they couldn’t have understood it because the sentence has four possible meanings. So what they mean is that they presumed they had understood it correctly because they had found an idea that made sense to them. They never looked past that self-confirmation to see if there were other possible meanings.

So what’s happening to you, me and my Pakistani and Chinese friends is that we are having an experience via chemistry which we interpret as an emotion that we then convert into language. This isn’t to say the language is accurate, sensible, logical, or even decent. We’re rarely good when we hurry at anything. So our response is just what’s instantaneously assembled in the face of the immediate chemistry. It’s why people that don’t usually swear will often cuss like a house on fire if they hit their finger with a hammer. So my Chinese friend wasn’t insulting Chinese, he was simply using the man’s Chineseness to help point the resulting chemistry at the appropriate cause. But when that chemistry is adrenaline etc., we can get a little broad in our applications of language.

493 Relax and Succeed - Don't be in a hurryIt’s like when my relatively short, 280 lb friend complains about the fat people taking too long at the grocery store checkout. He’ll start attacking their food choices even if he has the exact same stuff in his basket. Again, he’s not really attacking them, he’s just reacting to his thoughts that the process is taking longer than he expected. Well what was he doing expecting anything? Does he think he’s a prognosticator? He doesn’t know the future, so he’d be better to just wait for it to unfold, but because we have words we tend to time travel and build futures that won’t come true.

So my over-tired friend compared what he thought would happen at the checkout to what did happen and the result was a burst of adrenaline and an instantaneous anger that he wanted to point at someone. And so fat was the word he used to do the pointing at the person he was blaming for not making his imagined future come true. And even when he said it he knew the skinny cashier was more the reason we were going slow but the other woman was simply more convenient to attack. He’s not assigning actual blame, he’s just having an emotional experience that’s emerging as words.

When people suffer they will want to blame. It’s a natural reaction. It doesn’t mean anything because it’s just the immediate reaction. Once they calm down they’ll process the event as themselves. When it first happens they’re a drugged version of themselves and the drugs don’t help. The fear comes out as a combination of neuro-chemistry that has you feeling angry when in fact you’re afraid. And that anger is what comes out of us at some velocity, and it’s natural to want to focus that energy somewhere and the words are what defines the target.

So does my Chinese friend hate Chinese? No. Does my Pakistani friend hate Pakistanis? No. And does my overweight friend hate overweight people? No. So if you’re still re-living some schoolyard fight where some kid referred to you as anything—it doesn’t matter what identifier they used—then you just can’t take that personally. Not and be healthy anyway. People say all kinds of things they really don’t mean.

493 Relax and Succeed - The pendulum of the mindIn my initial example, two blocks down the road my buddy had chemically calmed down and he actually let that very same Chinese guy into traffic when he got stuck behind a bus. When he did it he said, “go ahead you idiot”—which made us both laugh. His tone of voice wasn’t mad at all, but he was being darkly comic because he needed a stepping stone between the angry place he was and the calmer place he was headed. Bottom line he was polite and helpful to the guy, so what matters? What he yelled at his windshield? Or how he actually behaves throughout most of his life? We all say all kinds of crazy stuff when we’re emotionally high. So no, my opinion of my friends does not change. Over time they have repeatedly demonstrated their good character. They are allowed to be human.

Try not to judge people for individual moments because that’s not who they are, that’s who they’re being under those conditions. And you’re the same way. When you’re expressing fear/anger you will absolutely think/say things you patently do not believe. So don’t assume other people really mean everything they say either. They might mean the emotion but they very well may totally disagree with their own words. So pay less attention to what they’re saying and more attention to why they’re saying it. Because bottom line, when you get right down to the nitty gritty, the vast vast vast majority of people are pretty decent. If you want to see how a person’s character can conflict with their words, simply watch Clint Eastwood’s brilliant film Grand Torino and you’ll see an excellent example of what I mean.

493 Relax and Succeed - There is no better test of a man's integrityTake the world less personally. And don’t be hard on yourself when you lose it for a moment or two. That’s human. Those emotions are useful in the right circumstances, its just that they can sometimes be tricked into showing up when they’re less useful—or worse, even hurtful. Let others and yourself have your natural bursts of fear/anger and then let them go. They are natural experiences. But you ultimately control your emotions, so it’s on you to reign them in well enough to strongly ensure that no one is physically intimidated, or injured, and there is no intent toward psychological or any other kind of harm. Because in the end people are people and they’re all pretty amazing and awesome, and if you ever did end up in a car accident, it might just be their blood that ends up saving your life. So then you and they can’t really be all that different in the end anyway, can you?

Have a great day and please be as courteous on the road as you can and everyone will get where they’re going more safely and more efficiently. All the best.

5 Random Driving Tips

  1. If you’re driving well you have lots to pay attention to. And you don’t want the nickname “Killer” in prison. Put down your phone. And yes you’re still driving when you’re sitting still at a red light. (See point 5.)
  2. It’s a natural impulse, but try not to speed match passing cars, nor race to fill gaps. Particularly approaching a zipper merge: if someone puts their blinker on, don’t race to fill the gap where they would have otherwise gone. Instead make room and maybe even flash your lights to let them know they’re safe to come over. Everyone will get home faster that way.
  3. 493 Relax and Succeed - Humility is not thinking less of yourselfIf you live in a cold climate and your side windows are always fogging in the winter, that’s because you have your climate controls set on inside air, so the air that’s supposed to come up your windshield and circulate around your car to clear the windows is instead pushed up the windshield, and then is promptly sucked back into the intake fan under the dashboard, so it never gets to hit the side windows. Switch to outside air and your side windows will clear. And if you want to reduce humidity to clear glass, turn on your air conditioning (with the heat still on).
  4. When driving down residential streets look for shadows under the parked cars to see if kids may be behind them, where they could suddenly run out onto the road.
  5. Always look around you when you’re stopped. 5 times out of 10 you’ll be in a situation where—if you moved just a bit—someone else could get where they’re going. I see this all the time. 25 cars lined up to turn right onto a clear road, but they can’t because the person going straight—the person at the front of the line—needs to pull forward a tiny distance to allow everyone through. But they don’t notice those honks are for them because they’re too busy texting. Or a guy wants to turn left into a side street but people lining up for a red light block the road entirely unnecessarily. We’ll all do better if spend a bit more energy on trying to make the roads run smoothly for all of us rather than just prioritizing what we’re doing and where we’re going.

We need to start driving spiritually. Meaning: as though we actually care about each other. If your commute sucks, then stop thinking about where you’re going and start thinking more about where they’re going. Because in the end, that’s far more likely to get you to where you where you really want to go.

peace. s

Scott McPherson is an Edmonton-based writer, public speaker, and mindfulness facilitator who works with individuals, companies and non-profit organizations locally and around the world.