Sunday, February 12, 2017

How Can I Help?

Years' ago, I got sucked into one of those downloadable courses with the headline, FOUR WORDS EVERY MARKETER NEEDS TO KNOW.

Bizarrely, I remember 2 things from the course - one is that people will excuse almost anything if you use the word "because." If you need to skip ahead in line, if you need special attention, whatever. We are a species that likes to make sense of things. If you give a reason, even if it is nonsense, people feel like they get it and are less likely to be angry, offended or taken advantage of.

The other thing is people who sound angry or swear are less likely to get help from other people. A lot of articles recently show that people who swear a lot are more intelligent, more honest, better able to handle pain and more in control of their lives, BUT when you are angry or seemingly volatile - other people can find you a little scary and just stay away. Studies also show that people who swear are imagined to be less competent.

I told this a friend and she said, "Wow. I wonder if that's why the last time I really needed help, I couldn't find anyone to support me." (I am ashamed to say that I was amongst her friends who wasn't present).

I had a friend who said when she had cancer, no one ever came to the hospital. She said she didn't feel like "broadcasting it" on social media. She was angry.

This also made me think of how some of my Muslim friends are reacting to the protests against the "Muslim Ban" and the Shepard Fairey, "We The People," illustration of a woman in hijab. Which I loved. [Not least because a couple of years' ago Muslim women who tried to show their patriotism by wearing flag hijabs (rather than flag daisy dukes) got them ripped off their heads or were massacred on social media.]

Personally, I have been moved to tears by the "Standing with Muslim" signs all over Brooklyn and New York City. As a Muslim in mainstream America, a lot of us were "stealth" practitioners You know, you let people get to know you a little. You show them how normal and regular you are - and then, when they're softened up a little - you tell them you are Muslim.

Muslim felt like a bad word. It was rarely said aloud on mainstream TV - except in describing terrorists or the misguided women who love them - on Homeland, Sleeper Cell or 24. Since I worked in fashion and beauty, I was at numerous events where Claire Danes was also in attendance. I always gave her a very wide berth. (It's a role, but I always felt creeped out.)

I was surprised by a handful of Muslim friends who hated the Shepard Fairey image (it's from a photograph of a women who does not normally wear hijab) or who felt co-opted by the Muslims praying in public. More than one person said, "They've never even stepped into a mosque in their lives and all of a sudden, they are marching in pro-Muslim rallies."

There are women of color who are insulted by the affluent white women who are marching and standing in solidarity. The white women often miss certain points of sensitivity.

My thoughts: One, from the perspective of advertising, since I have been steeped in it. Two, as a regular person, a single woman of a certain age in NYC.

One - Whether you veil or not, as a Muslim woman, you can't deny that it is a powerful socio-political symbol. It is immediately visible and it immediately aligns you with a group. Personally, I don't cover my head and don't believe it is necessary to my faith (a long blogpost explaining why). I do believe that if you want to, you should be able to cover.

I believe prayer and faith are personal choices and best performed in private. However, there is something powerful in the act of prayer or even meditation in a group, all that energy focusing on a greater good. On top of that, Muslim prayer is beautiful and dramatic because it is both physical and performed in unison. Watching hundreds or thousands of people prostrate all at once is a moving experience, that's why it's used over and over again in films and documentaries, both pro and anti-Islam.

In my opinion, Muslim prayer, performed as a flash mob is spiritually uplifting, beautiful to watch and can show people who are unfamiliar with it that it isn't sinister. It could inspire someone to join in. My taking part in a Jewish ceremony or saying a prayer in a church or a temple doesn't make me less of a Muslim, but it does make me understand, on a visceral level, that we are all human.

My experience has been a sense of love by my friends reaching out to say they support and stand with me. The people who have reached out to me have been Christians, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs, Atheists, Agnostics. They have been black, white, brown and every variation in the spectrum. They have been gay, straight and trans. Some are not even friends. Some are acquaintances. Some are people I didn't even think liked me.

If you were amongst those people, thank you. Thank you. Thank you. You are acknowledged and appreciated. My eyes fill with tears when I say that. My heart aches. I hug you.

Two - As a single person past 40 in NYC, I realize this fastpaced city can be isolating. Everyone works crazy long hours, the cost of living is so high that almost everyone - no matter how well off they are - feels pinched in some way. You have to walk long distances no matter the weather, climb up and down subway and building stairs (in often in heels), carry heavy bags. In everything you do, there will be someone younger, faster, prettier, cheaper, stronger, richer breathing down your neck. On top of that, the entire city is always under construction and shifting the demographics. People who like to say, "Back in the day... " will have lots of fodder as things change at breakneck speed.

Finally, my long-winded point: how to get and accept help.

Unless you can accept people at whatever level they are willing to help, and accept it without judging their motives, you don't open the door for that help.

Lots of people are insincere. They help just because it's trendy or to bring attention to themselves - but maybe that's their way in. Everyone deserves a point of entry. Maybe all those "nice white ladies" marching will run screaming away when push comes to shove. Or maybe they will use their position of privilege to help others. Give them a space to do that. It looks like they are trying.

Maybe all the men marching at the "women's" rallies will think about women differently. Certainly the more bodies you get at a rally, the more effective it is at making an impact. We need men, too.

If you are angry - even if your anger comes from sadness, pain or loneliness, even if its justified - people will stay away from you. Most of us are scared of anger spilling over on to us. We all learned as toddlers to get out of Mummy's way, if she's in a bad mood.

I'm not saying don't be sad or hurt or angry - anger can motivate us to powerful action - but it also can isolate us. If you often say negative things about people you encounter, the people listening will wonder if they are up next. You leave your social media friends or listeners with a bad taste in their mouths and a sense of discomfort.

If you speak well of people - not flippantly, but consciously - what you say is nicer to be around. Being completely pollyanna is nauseating, but when you hear yourself getting in an "Oscar the Grouch" mood, try to stop it. Unless you can be as clever and funny as Fran Lebowitz, probably better to lay off.

If you ever want help, that is.

On top of that, you can only get help and support if you ask. Amanda Palmer wrote a book called the Art of Asking which had a brilliant premise - if you want help, you need to ask. If you are not a public person on social media and don't feel comfortable letting your friends know when you are struggling, then you need to call/email/text them personally and ASK (without bullying or intimidating).

First, as social animals, we are hardwired to want to help each other. It makes you feel good when you make someone else feel good. When others see you helping someone, it makes THEM feel good. That chain carries over into the actions of the others who see your actions. Each person who witnesses someone else doing something caring is likely to behave with compassion and/or empathy in his/her next social interaction. There is scientific data to back this up.

Next, it is a powerful thing to be vulnerable. Not all the time, because you can be a black hole of needs. It's great to be self-sufficient and independent. But sometimes, let your guard down. Let someone - or lots of people - know that you are struggling. In the end, we are all human beings. Appeal to someone on a human level and they will want to help you. When you let your guard down, you open yourself up to abuse, but you also give someone a safe space to step into. You let them rise to the occasion.

NYC is isolating. Social media makes FOMO out of control. Everyone else's life is infinitely more fabulous and wonderful. They all seem to be at parties or on amazing vacations while you are home in your raggedy, stained pajamas eating chocolate and lying in your unmade bed looking at their pictures. However, believing someone's life is their instagram feed is like believing you are as wonderful as your dog says you are.

Really want help, connection and love? Go help someone else. It's great to write in your gratitude journal, but then go help in a domestic abuse shelter. Do something for someone else that you wish someone had done for you. What goes around, comes around. It really does.

For all my friends of color who think white people hate them (not that lots of them are not scared of us), go find one or two and talk to them about what's really going on for you. Listen to them in return. Hug them if that makes sense. Don't beat anyone up, open a dialogue. If you talk to people about what you are feeling, without blaming anyone else for your feelings, it allows them to connect. It makes a bridge.

Ever notice how if your bag spills open on the subway in NYC, people will all get up and help you collect the contents? Some people won't because they have their own issues. But most people will look under those grimy benches and pick up your lip gloss or packet of tissues and give them back. They might ask you to check if your Metrocard or IDs are still there so you can get home.

One day, I was late for a class. I ran down the subway stairs, shoved myself through all the people who couldn't get on a packed train car. I threw myself into the crowd. Unfortunately, I slipped out and my leg got caught in the space between the train and the platform.

A huge group of people - most of whom I had just shoved aside - came forward and pulled me out of the gap. They dusted off my bags and helped me to my feet. They asked if I was all right.

No one asked about my religion or my political beliefs (even though I have badges all over my backpack).

That is what it means to be a human being.

We will only get through the next few years if we learn to be indivisible and use our different experiences and access to help each other. BECAUSE it's crucial to stand together.

We are here for you. Just let us know how we can help. Let us in.