How the World’s Big Pause Allowed Us to See Things More Clearly
What a Year It Has Been
So many anniversaries of strange, never before imagined life milestones have been occurring from the events of over a year ago. I have found myself reflecting during these past several weeks on what it has all meant to me when the world hit “pause” and forced us to just … be still.
“It’s in the Pause” ® is about Emotional Intelligence lessons and tips, and I found it ironic that the entire world was put into the very state of PAUSE that I have been focusing on in my business just at the time when I was expecting several aspects of my career to really take off for me. Instead, the opposite happened. Life slowed waaaaaaay down. I was suddenly in a speed that I didn’t recognize, forced into my very own pause. It has been an interesting journey, to say the least
Despite many negative circumstances stemming from 2020, I have tried to view whatever I can as a gift, as I often do in life. I have used the happenings of Times Like These (Foo Fighters song title shout-out there – I highly recommend the pandemic video of that song) to percolate and grow.
As an empath, the past year was incredibly difficult for me on many levels. I absorbed it all. As someone who lives life in the middle in more of a grey area, I found that the negativity, tribalism, and us vs. them of the past year all took its toll on me at an energetic level. We are all energetic beings, after all. I found that it zapped my creativity and shut me down in some capacities. Many times, it felt like it was just all too much to take in … but, I recognized this and accepted all of it, set some healthy boundaries, and then tried to understand how I could use what we were all experiencing to provide insight and push myself forward to be better in the future.
Buckle up … this is a long one. (It’s been a while … surely this is no surprise!)
George Floyd – R.I.P.
There have been so many things I have discovered over the past 13-14 months, yet some lessons are standing out more clearly for me this week than others.
Because the world had paused due to COVID-19, it enabled us all to see and experience the pain and injustice that was inflicted upon George Floyd last year. Distractions were minimized, and attention was easily drawn to this horrific event of 2020. Watching what we now know to be a brutal nine minutes and 29 seconds was a wake-up call for so many. The trial this week had all of us reliving what happened to him in May of last year, wondering if justice would indeed be served.
I want to be very clear. This is NOT a political writing, so please do not infer anything or read it as such –if you tend to view life from that approach, please gently remove those glasses and slip on your humanity spectacles instead. Those who know me realize I am rarely approaching something from that sort of angle. Rather, this is about people, and how we can all learn, grow and live more peacefully together. From an emotional intelligence perspective, we MUST get back to the place where we are able to have respectful conversations, examine issues deeply, listen intently, and explore things together as we look for our common ground as humans working collectively to improve our world.
My heart has been full of so many emotions this past week. Well, for the past several weeks, really, as I have watched the feelings being expressed by some of my black friends and their family members navigating the complexity of what the Derek Chauvin trial brought up for them. I have watched my friends of color feeling exhausted by their ongoing frustration, pain, hope and continuing concern. I have shed tears of sadness, relief and exhaustion with them as results from the trial were released, realizing it is a small step toward accountability and justice.
One of my dear friends said she was, “Tired, angry & mourning our brothers & sisters.” Another said, “If you have a black friend, and you don’t understand their pain right now, you don’t have a black friend, you simply know a black person.” I am grateful that I am blessed with some wonderful friends of color who allow me to see the world through their lenses. While I truly cannot understand the depth of what they experience, I can certainly empathize and stand beside them in their pain, wanting more for our human race.
How Did We Get Here?
Let’s take a step back from the trial to reflect upon the past year. Although it is already April, in many ways it has been difficult for many to embrace the new year because it started out feeling very much like 2020, a year that brought so many unimaginable changes into our lives.
The past year has truly been a year like no other. I had gone into 2020 thinking it was going to be my best year yet! Having just come off a phenomenal 2019, I had very high expectations for 2020. Ha! So ironic, looking back now. Little did I know then that 2020 would sit me down instead and say, “No, girlfriend. Be still. This is your time to learn.”
My last flight of 2020 happened in February, which was on the heels of my last business trip to Atlantic City. It was the last time that year I would be able to see my family in Oklahoma on the way home. Thank goodness my niece had a baby shower so I could celebrate with everyone. Welcoming the impending arrival of her twin babies, I didn’t know then that I would not see my family for another fourteen months (an absence joyfully remedied this month!). We had to protect my sweet mom’s health, so I stayed here in California for the first time ever over Christmas until she could get vaccinated.
Like so many people, I remember the early weeks of the pandemic and how unsettled I felt with everything. My work traditionally had me traveling quite a bit, usually at least once or twice a month. Suddenly I found my business trips being canceled and postponed, week after week after week. With those cancellations were of course the cancellations of the revenue I had planned to receive with those trips. It was all quite unnerving.
I had to spring into action to be the CFO of my small business, trying to figure out what assistance was available and what I could do. I pivoted and offered different types of programs online to try to get exposure through the audiences that were accessible. All of this while trying to figure out what COVID-19 was and how to better protect myself and others. It felt like I was constantly researching!
How Our Nation’s Pause Opened Our Eyes
I found my normally steady emotions were on a bit of a roller coaster at the beginning of the pandemic. About the time I started to adjust and began to settle into the odd quality of being stuck at home, that is when we all saw as Derek Chauvin kneeled on the neck of George Floyd and broke our hearts.
Watching the trial these past few weeks brought it all back anew …
I believe that because our nation was in a unique state of pause due to the pandemic, because we were all still, eyes were clearly opened. With other deaths of black and brown people stemming from non-violent offenses or encounters with police leading up to this event, people everywhere were now fully able to see, receive and process what was undeniable in a way they had perhaps not been able to before.
As confirmed by the jury this week, we had all witnessed a murder that was drawn out for nearly 10 minutes. At the time it happened, and for months thereafter, I was in disbelief and so shaken by what I knew I had seen. When all of the protests sprang up afterward, it seemed we were suddenly thrown back to the 1960s, a time I had thought was simply part of our nation’s past.
While I believed we had made much progress since that time – and of course there has been advancement in many areas – after this there was no denying that additional improvement was still needed. Despite the prior lives lost, many weren’t able to see the desperate need for change so obviously until we all saw what happened to George Floyd. People sprang into action, calling for justice! Our nation’s history has shown that when citizens band together for change, voices are ultimately heard, and action is taken. Many just couldn’t see it all clearly previously.
As a coach of mine once told me, “A blind spot is, by definition, a blind spot.”
What My Black Friends Taught Me Last Year
I had some incredibly meaningful conversations with some of my black friends last year, and I am so grateful to those wonderful, generous friends who opened their hearts to me to share some of their experiences through the years. I cherish those conversations. I wish I’d had some of those talks sooner. After these vulnerable conversations with my friends, I found myself experiencing sadness for not knowing what they had dealt with so frequently in their lives. It truly impacted me, and I have found myself thinking about it all quite often.
I discovered things they have struggled with daily, despite the “progress” in our world – things they have assimilated into their lives as just a normal part of having darker skin. Some things I had known on a general level. There were also experiences they shared that I could not imagine facing, because those types of things simply don’t happen to me … a tall, fair-skinned brunette. Things like being followed around the store by someone fearing theft; being singled out in a traffic stop despite not being the driver; being stopped while walking a bicycle up the hill; being looked at or treated differently in a group; knowing racists were in the room but walking in with head held high and bringing the magic, anyway.
In looking at my wonderful friends with their beautiful black skin, I was not seeing that other layer that was so deeply a part of them yet had been somewhat hidden or invisible to me. After our conversations, I was finally able to see all of it clearly … because I was still. I could pay attention. I could have these talks. I could read important articles. I could watch eye-opening documentaries and movies about black history. I listened to stories I had never heard before. I saw and heard many things for the first time, things that broke my heart. The entire nation – the world, even – could finally see more clearly, because we were all forced to be still due to COVID-19. The pandemic snapped all of us to attention.
When we are still, we can open our eyes and be aware of the things we may have missed beforehand, or we may find ourselves able to notice things that were perhaps unseen or buried from us. I am grateful for expanded vision, because it creates more compassion and empathy.
Moving Toward Change – The Importance of Accountability
The initial and misleading police report was titled, “Man Dies After Medical Incident During Police Interaction.” The report read, “Two officers arrived and located the suspect, a male believed to be in his 40s, in his car. He was ordered to step from his car. After he got out, he physically resisted officers. Officers were able to get the suspect into handcuffs and noted he appeared to be suffering medical distress. Officers called for an ambulance. He was transported to Hennepin County Medical Center by ambulance where he died a short time later.”
Well, that’s one view, I suppose. It was, however, obviously not an accurate report as proven in the trial. These things unfortunately make people doubt police accounts, attempting to paint a picture that is different or more “acceptable” from what actually happened. Thanks to young Darnella Frazier, who had the bravery and strength to record the video on her cell phone, along with other multiple witnesses, the truth was discovered and available for others to see. While the guilty verdict on three counts in Chauvin’s trial does not bring back George Floyd or others who have been lost unnecessarily at the hands of violent or careless police officers, it does create accountability and offers hope that perhaps change is finally on the horizon.
The beauty of accountability in this scenario is that it calls out those in law enforcement who are not doing their jobs properly, which will allow the principled officers out there like those who testified against Chauvin to lead and hopefully be more effective in their jobs. This is the change people are crying out for, because accountability is important. Training is important. Self-management skills are important. Being proactive and not reactive is important. Listening is important. Empathy is important. Yes, there are life or death situations that officers will unfortunately find themselves in due to the high-risk nature of their jobs, but this incident was certainly not one of those.
There have been justifiable calls to action because these types of senseless deaths resulting from use of deadly force by police officers against people of color must stop. I heard it recently said that “people should be able to survive their stupid mistakes.” Each one of us should be able to trust in those who are there to protect us, regardless of race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status, or disability (these are the federally protected classes under fair housing laws in case you were wondering – one of the many reasons I am always focused on equity, given my exposure to the law through years in the multifamily industry).
But What About “Them”?
Things get more complicated when we label people. When we lump people into an “us” vs. a “them” – as unfortunately many people are prone to do these days – it can make the pathway to workable solutions more difficult. Seeing several sides to a situation allows for the evolution of progress. One of my COVID-19 binge shows has been Madam Secretary. In one episode, Tea Leoni’s character said, “When only one truth prevails, everything is broken.”
We should try to see all truths, even when they are different from our own. Do you attempt to see more truths, or do you typically just stick to one view? I try to look at many angles, which allows me to see multiple viewpoints, therefore opening more possibilities for communication or resolution.
In addition to talking with my friends of color, I have also been having some thoughtful conversations with law enforcement friends recently regarding types of force used, how and when they are applied, other alternatives available, and specific communication that might help prevent negative or lethal outcomes. We talked about the unfortunate reality that when they or others are in dangerous situations, officers are sometimes literally forced to protect themselves and/or others with a split-second decision that could potentially lead to a lethal outcome. Critical thinking, training, muscle memory and the emotional intelligence skill of self-management are of particular importance during these complex circumstances.
An officer friend of mine and his colleagues mourned the loss of a friend on the force last year in my hometown after the shooting of two officers during an early morning traffic stop. The first officer had tried to use his taser before the assailant grabbed it, upon which the officer pepper-sprayed him while trying to get him out of the car. He was not using his gun. The man then reached under his seat for a gun and fired at the officer and his partner. The first officer was shot in his head and body, and he died from his injuries. The second officer was shot in his head, upper body, and lower body, and last I heard he was still recovering from the gunshot wound to the head. Like what happened to George Floyd, this was horrific.
This officer was doing everything “right.” It was a traffic stop for a paper tag on a car that had expired. The man shot them to avoid being arrested, and then even pled not guilty. There are many brave law enforcement officers who risk their lives every day, and there are good police officers in communities nationwide who deserve our support. At the same time, we have seen some non-violent offenses evolve into unthinkable situations, often involving people of color. So where does all of that leave us?
It is disheartening to me that so many people resort to the “us” vs. “them” mentality, thinking that if an individual wants accountability and positive change in policing, then it must certainly mean that person doesn’t support the police. Or that if someone wants to see Black Lives Matter, that they surely must not believe in policing. While that may be the case for some people, nothing could be further from the truth for the majority of people I know. It is often BOTH … NOT one or the other.
And what about our friends who ARE both. Our black law enforcement officers have been dealing with a lot this year. My heart goes out to them as they navigate these complex times.
I am grateful for the officers I know in my own life and the things I have learned from them. The last thing they want is to be put in a difficult life or death situation, yet they are required to protect and serve in ways I cannot conceive that could result in demanding, life-changing decisions. Many of these officers want to continue to train and try to do things in the best ways possible, and they are open to conversations and change that can help. Of course, as we saw with Derek Chauvin, there are also some who do not have those intentions. The hope for so many is that some clarifications in policy and accountability can identify any disparities and hold people to a higher standard.
It’s important to keep in mind that when a difficult circumstance or event initially occurs, we should try to avoid drawing immediate conclusions. Look first for all of the facts to fully understand any actions. With emotional intelligence and self-management skills, we try to focus on facts vs. feelings first, as much as those feelings try to lead.
As citizens, we can approach things from an observer perspective, understanding one another and working together to make things better instead of vilifying each other and creating further division. That will allow progress to surface. I have found that when we can have actual thoughtful and (here’s the key!) respectful conversations – when we look at things through a bigger lens with a focus on solutions – people have little choice but to listen and learn while opening themselves to new possibilities.
Law enforcement and the community will need to come together, not as an “us” or a “them,” but as a “we” with everyone accountable to one another as we move forward into a new era. My hope is that everything we encountered in 2020 will ultimately help us rise together.
Building a Foundation of Change
Many other lessons were gleaned from the past year of stillness, but given the close of the trial this week my mind has been here. The gift of stillness can help bring clarity. 12 people were very still these past few weeks as they listened openly to testimony after testimony. With their unanimous verdict they brought peace to a heart wrenching situation.
It is not the end, but it will perhaps allow for the building of a foundation of justice. As Philonise Floyd, George Floyd’s brother, said, “This is what justice feels like: gut-wrenching relief, exhaustion. It’s not sweet or satisfying. It’s necessary, important, maybe even historic.”
What can we all do during these times to make things better? Ensure you’re not speaking into an echo chamber made up only of people who think and look like you. Be part of groups and have friendships where you can hear different voices and perspectives. Those voices should not be “yelling” their position to you on your (or their) timeline, but should instead be heard through thoughtful, respectful conversations. Pose questions. Be curious. Don’t judge. Be open to ideas that aren’t the same as yours. Interact with those who are different from you, but respectful of those differences. Grow. Engage. Watch. Learn. Love.
Equality and Accountability go hand in hand, and they are part of a greater cultural change. My friend Kelly Ingersol, whom I have known since junior high, is a minister these days. I thought he summed everything up well with what he had written this week. I share his words with permission:
“No group of people can be all right and good. It is time for us to move beyond blanket acceptance. It is time to honor those who do well and live right–even if they are part of ‘them’. It is time to hold accountable those who mess up and live poorly–even if they are part of ‘us’. Us is not always right and Them is not always wrong. Let’s widen our perspectives.”
Tonight at the Academy Awards, Tyler Perry won the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award. During his acceptance speech, Perry told a story about helping a woman in need who just needed some shoes, and the lesson and gift of withholding judgment. He said something that resonated with me and completely complements this post.
Perry stated, “I want to take this Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award and dedicate it to anyone who wants to stand in the middle,” concluding, “… because that’s where healing happens, that’s where conversation happens, that’s where change happens. It happens in the middle. So anyone who wants to meet me in the middle, to refuse hate, to refuse blanket judgment, and help lift someone’s feet off the ground, this one’s for you, too.”
Thank you, Tyler. I’m with you. I hope many of the rest of you reading this will join us here in the middle. Let’s all be a force of good in the world.
Until next time in Volume 2, when we will deal with self-care, mindfulness and healthy boundaries … Sending peace and love to you all.
Valerie M. Sargent is a dynamic speaker, trainer, consultant and executive coach. A natural and engaging motivator, Valerie is a Level I and Level II TalentSmart Emotional Intelligence Certified Trainer and President of Yvette Poole & Associates. She helps individuals and organizations increase their EQ, managing emotions and relationships better on the job for maximum performance. Her signature message, “It’s in the Pause”® focuses on the need for Self-Management skills to preserve positive relationships in the workplace and beyond – follow her blog: https://itsinthepause.com/). For more information: http://ypooleandassoc.com/ or http://valeriemsargent.com/.