Category Archives: Life Coaching

Let’s Talk About Privilege…

Responsibility I believe accrues through privilege. People like you and me have an unbelievable amount of privilege and therefore we have a huge amount of responsibility. We live in free societies where we are not afraid of the police; we have extraordinary wealth available to us by global standards. If you have those things, then you have the kind of responsibility that a person does not have if he or she is slaving seventy hours a week to put food on the table; a responsibility at the very least to inform yourself about power. Beyond that, it is a question of whether you believe in moral certainties or not.”
~ Noam Chomsky

If It Is Inaccessible to the Poor, It Is Neither Radical nor Revolutionary” ~ Unknown source

Sometimes discrimination and oppression comes from inside the activism itself!

So many things have been said about privilege: from who has the “right” to use it against others, who needs to carry the title (whether they like it or not, agree with it or not) to those who argue that the continuous emphasis on privileges divides us even further, making it easier for the real powers-that-be to continue controlling us all…there are those who feel defensive when we point out their privileges, and those who can’t talk without bringing it up every second word. Others say it is a distraction and even other ones say the opposite (claiming lack of privilege) is being used as an excuse to not to act, change or stay as a victim…

I particularly find that those who don’t want to accept that privilege is real and that it comes in different shapes, complex layers and shades, are the ones who can’t see their own privilege, behave in self-righteous ways, patronize, blame or judge others for being stuck, frustrated, trapped and disempowered.

I have been involved in many causes, projects and groups in diverse capacity, from volunteer to organizer, from paid staff to supporter, observer, member or assistant, learner, apprentice or facilitator. The organizations themselves have been diverse: from formal NGO’s to grassroots community groups to private initiatives and institutions.

What I have found is consistent everywhere:

  • Firefighters and urban planners designing plans and making decisions in closed rooms about the vulnerability, hazards, risks and assets of entire communities (and not a single community member present!)
  • “Authorities” blocking my efforts to put together neighbourhood and grassroots workshops for those same communities’ prevention, response and recovery disaster/emergency plans
  • City-hall workshops and task force think tanks “working” to reduce poverty, hunger, homelessness, discrimination and the like, full of people with Masters Degrees and PhDs with no clue of what’s to go to bed without a meal, not having reliable access to water or electricity, suffering constant abuse and neglect by just being in this world, etc.
  • “Grassroots” community resilience groups with charismatic leaders who filter all the information and decisions on what’s done and by whom, where and why
  • Government of privately funded programs designed to support refugees, immigrants, indigenous peoples, LGTBQ people, youth, etc. completely top-down designed and focuses on pre-stablished outcomes with zero or minimal consultation with the individuals of the groups they are supposed to serve n what their real needs, assets, opportunities and desired outcomes are.
  • Groups of (well intentioned and super nice and caring people, but otherwise clueless and lacking on real impacts and experience…or ignoring their obvious privilege around the topic), talking, sharing and designing about potential impacts of climate change, resource depletion, pollution, social inequality, nature disconnection, spiritual engagement and the like…
  • Money everywhere: workshops, courses, apprenticeships, conferences, gatherings, retreats, etc. are all costly and (many) also require travelling (with the added pollution and resource depletion), creating an invisible barrier for those who may need these tools (permaculture, wilderness and survival learning and engaging, ecotherapy and ecopsychology, etc.) the most (i.e. people in crowded cities, overwhelmed by concrete, noise and pollution, full-time abusive jobs, commutes and family responsibilities, the chronically ill, the disabled, the poor, the too old or too unfit, etc.)
  • Other invisible barriers: to be part of these task forces, groups, conferences, events, to be heard and taken into account, you need a Masters or a PhD, having “experience” in certain organizations (not necessarily on the actual topic you need to learn the most, example: you need experience working in food security agencies and programs, but your experience with real hunger and real challenges to access ethical food doesn’t count)
  • “Invisible membership”: in many of these groups and initiatives, formal or informal, you need to “look like the tribe” or you will feel left out and rejected, your comments ignored, not invited if you don’t look thin, fit and of certain age-range, if you don’t meditate or practice yoga, don’t eat organic, ethic and healthy food (because you can’t), ride a bike, wear the “right” gear and clothing…
  • Invisible judgement and blaming: the self-righteous who has already crossed the bridge of purity or those who were lucky enough (i.e. privileged) to buy land, learn to bike at the right age, have a supporting and tolerant family who provides for all the expenses to look “right”, or “woke up” to the issues of the world at the right time and left their jobs (and sometimes partners) behind are quick to tell you (sometimes in very subtle ways, so subtle that they may not even be aware of) how dirty, lazy, ignorant, stupid or full excuses you are for not being exactly like them!
  • Bullies are everywhere and they don’t have to the “openly bully” to be so: many close the doors to others by not sharing, ignoring, “ghosting”, filtering their potential, leaving them behind, making them feel vulnerable and miserable, blaming or judging, etc.

To be fair, I have also observed the following:

  • People who have lots to offer but are stuck in what I may call “self-oppressive” attitudes, looking for signs of privilege, oppression and abuse in others when they may be rare or non-existent
  • People using their “automatic membership” to any of the un-privileged groups as excuses for not to challenge themselves, for not to belong and not to participate in initiatives, efforts, etc. that would allow them to become empowered and help others. If in doubt, these unprivileged groups include (apart of the most obvious ones such as blacks, indigenous, refugees and certain immigrant groups, the disabled, etc.) all the individuals who don’t have the “right” education or experience, who suffer from chronic and many times invisible (bot nonetheless debilitating) ailments, including spiritual, emotional and relational, those who are overweight or don’t comply with the accepted average for “attractive”, those whose working hours, commute, debt or other obligations keep them overwhelmed and stuck, etc.

Fairness, accountability and responsibility:

Think about these examples:

Is it fair that a permaculture instructor asks every participant to ride a bike to visit the different demonstration sites? Is it fair that he/she allows for other ways of transportation so those who don’t feel safe riding in the city or don’t own a bike can also participate or would this create a visible “separation” between the group who enjoys riding together under the sun and the “left out” who need to ride a bus instead and are therefore late for all the presentations? Who is “right” and who has the responsibility to make adjustments here?

If a person who has much to offer is stuck in a situation where she/he can’t fully participate in meetings and activities of a certain group, who is responsible for making adjustments and offering options? Are they necessary or is this person to be dismissed and disempowered because of his/her situation?

If someone has no means to pay for a course that has the potential to change not only his/her situation but that of his/her community or family or may increase the global resilience in light of all the current world predicaments, who is responsible to offer this person a chance and how that chance may look like so the person is not invalidated and disempowered but can fully learn and participate as those who can pay will?

 

Clarifications:

Lack of privilege or differences in the access to a privilege may be real (a real barrier put by others to your access, use, enjoyment, etc. of a resource, tool, opportunity, relationship, etc.) or may be perceived (by you, your “group” or even the others who imposes this on you). It is important to understand that whether real or perceived, the impact over you and your chances to be or do are more or less the same. I.e.: an overweight and unfit person may avoid getting into yoga because each time she tries, she sees that others are thin and fit and the activities seem easy to them and super challenging to her. While nobody is really rejecting or blaming her, her perception and their continuing asking for exercises that are inaccessible to her act as a privilege barrier for her to get fit and practice yoga.

Privilege differences are systemic: they may be culturally or ecologically defined (example, someone with a real chronic ailment is ecologically unprivileged compared to someone who rarely experiences physical or mental issues; someone who doesn’t have the expected degrees to participate in an activity, is socially or culturally unprivileged compared to those who had the luck to access to a school, means to sustain themselves while study, etc.). They can also be imposed to the person by the system: someone who was sexually abused as a child, was born in a country struggling for democracy and equality or was abused or neglected by her parents has a systemic underprivilege compared to someone who was born in a nice and stable family and country and never abused or neglected.

Most privilege in the world is not fully acknowledged because people can’t see what they don’t know: people perceived their own challenges as huge and this is normal because they are the ones suffering through them. If they have never experienced what it is to be of a different colour, shape, size, age, gender, educational level, etc., they may feel that what they have achieved and have access to is because of their own efforts and values, while the only thing separating them from the others is luck: being born in a certain way, place, time, etc.

 

What’s the solution? How we can help ourselves and others?

History shows that it does not matter who is in power or what revolutionary forces take over the government, those who have not learned to do for themselves and have to depend solely on others never obtain any more rights or privileges in the end than they had in the beginning.”
― Carter G. Woodson, The Mis-Education of the Negro

 

The solution is not just one, but a combination of many different things. While I personally believe that emphasizing too much on who has and who doesn’t have privilege hurts our opportunities of working together for common causes and against common enemies (i.e. climate change, resource depletion, inequality, power-over, etc.) I also believe everyone in this planet has different shades and levels of privilege compared to others, and these differences may hurt, disengage, discriminate or oppress others even when those were not our intentions.

Not talking about privileges at all won’t make them go away, the same as ignoring climate change, resource depletion and pollution/waste won’t make those challenges go away either…

Here is what we can do to engage more and reduce privilege-related challenges for others:

  • Be humble and acknowledge that you do have privilege. Privilege is not the same as being “guilty”. Most of the privilege we have is not something we did, but something inherited by the system that was created before we were born…or by nature!
  • Reflect on what those privileges are and how you can use them as a strength to help others through advocating, learning new ways to approach people and issues, etc.
  • Work towards reducing barriers for unprivileged people by reducing costs and requirements, making events and causes truly inclusive, etc.
  • Engage those who need (by nature or by circumstances) to be included: homeless people need to be present in any program to reduce or eliminate homelessness, people struggling with food security need to be including in programs about food sovereignty, those struggling with the system need to be able to access permaculture, wilderness and other resilience-building programs. Try to get away from preaching to the choir and into engaging “the choir” to go and share/engage (not preach) among the “unconverted”
  • Speak up to authorities and those with power-over when you see privilege-related challenges (they always are privilege related): either gently and engaging or loudly (you choose depending on the occasion, but usually compassion and engagement are more convincing), but let them know what is happening, why people are not having access or feel left out
  • Educate yourself in non-oppressive, inclusive and engaging approaches, dynamics and strategies such as NVC, the WTR, the Art of Hosting, the Circle Way, etc. Important to note: all these approaches are also privileged, as they assume “the other” knows them and will accept them. Some carry privilege activities and language that has to be acknowledged: for many people in the world, asking them to be grateful may sound as a really bad joke, given their current circumstances…so be sensible and reflect on those too
  • Accept feedback and apply self-regulation: if things are not working for you or your group as you expected, if you are not getting enough people from minority and/or unprivileged groups, what is in your approach, language or practices that is 1) not reaching them and 2) making them to avoid you/your group?

And here is what we can do to overcome our own real or perceived lack of privilege:

  • Acknowledge that as we have areas where we may be underprivileged, we may also be privileged in many others
  • Reflecting on our privileges and lack of them, finding points of leverage (opportunities to break the circle of depletion, oppression, etc.)
  • Selecting where, how and when we will be pushing our own boundaries to overcome our lack of privilege and what may be the helps or supporting systems and resources (internal or external) we can use to do this gently but surely
  • Asking for what we deserve without becoming belligerent or oppositional. The more you give others (institutions, people, etc.) power over you, the more unprivileged you become: see yourself as empowered and deserving, not as less or victim, even if you are in a victim situation
  • Learning about methods and strategies that can bring about more privilege and power-with to us (see recommendations in section above). Do not discriminate yourself out, reclaim your right to understand, learn and change (when necessary) those methods and strategies to empower yourself and others

Any other suggestions? What are your thoughts?

Here is some food for thought and resources:

https://medium.com/@lauralemoon/neither-radical-nor-revolutionary-the-preservation-of-privilege-in-social-justice-activism-790870b43c88

http://efp-umich.squarespace.com/notes-from-the-field/

http://organizingforpower.org/anti-oppression-resources-exercises/

https://www.trainingforchange.org/tools/diversity

http://aorta.coop/workshops/

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The Gig Economy: My Presentation and Notes from the CDC @ BCCDA 2017 Conference

My father had one job in his lifetime, I will have six jobs in my lifetime, and my children will have six jobs at the same time.” ~ Robin Chase, founder of Zipcar

For many, the quote above makes no sense at all; some think it doesn’t apply to them as they have traditional, stable jobs and careers…for others, that is already an everyday reality. For me, coming from places where collapse and change were so common that people made jokes and songs with them (and where you had to be creative about how you got your basic needs met), and with a deep understanding gained through permaculture life-design and observing (sometimes also coaching) unusual people live diverse lives, this concept is not only not new: it is seen as an opportunity, a waking call to re-think what we are, how we live and why we work.

Here, for those of you attending my presentation at the CDC Conference organized by BCCDA yesterday (March 27) and today (March 28), and for my usual readers, I post as promised my PPT and notes. You are free to connect with me for further exploration of these topics, having a tea together and talking about how to change the world, creating a social business together or just brainstorming ideas of what’s needed and what’s possible.

In the upcoming weeks and months, I will be sharing more details about my integrated vision of how to make this work for us and the clients we serve. A version of my posts will appear as articles at both the Canadian Immigrant Magazine (one of my “gigs”) and the Canadian-Filipino Magazine (again) in case you want a printed or more “polished” version.

I want to credit Diane Mulcahy, the author of “The Gig Economy” with whom I’m in contact via email, for her amazing and innovating book which served as a main source of inspiration for this presentation; I have taken the liberty of adding my own ideas (mostly coming from my permaculture systems thinking) to her “10 rules” of how to survive (and thrive) in this emerging economy. I also want to acknowledge Bill Burnett and Dave Evans, university professors and authors of “Designing your Life” as I took some of their ideas and spiced them up with my own knowledge and experience as a certified career councellor and life coach. You can find information about how to get their books and materials at the end of this post.

Finally, as a permaculturist and social justice activist myself, I will add some ideas that go beyond career counselling: I see the Gig Economy as both a result of our times (and a sign of deepening inequality, loss of values and the emergence of potential abuse and exploitation of those less privileged ) and as an extraordinary opportunity. If we leave it be, we will see more and more of the former (abuse and exploitation and the celebration of unhealthy, unethical and selfish as a “model” to follow)…but if we “design” the change and intervene in the right places, we may end up with a re-distribution of work, a re-evaluation of why we are here and what our priority are and a focus on holistic and global health and equality, ethics and co-operation instead…

Without more preambles, here is my presentation, enjoy!

“Look to this picture above for a minute…what do you see? What’s the first word or thought that comes to you?

Some will see this as a sunset: the day is over and darkness is approaching…others will see it as a sunrise: the sun is raising after a long dark night.

What about the tree and its branches? What season is that? Again, some will see this as the start of the fall: the tree branches look bare, as if all the leaves have fallen…others, will see that it may actually be spring, and the bare branches are now beginning to cover themselves with small buds…

I chose this picture to represent my views on the emerging gig economy because it can be seen as both: the start of a dark period for workers or the rebirth of independence and the opportunity to re-think career, work and even life design!

In the next hour and a half, we will explore the options and you will decide whether this is an end, a beginning or both and what is our role as career practitioners, program developers and managers, funders and social advocates.”

You can download the entire PPT with my notes here: Navigating the Gig Economy PPT with Notes by Silvia Di Blasio

The Books:

The Gig Economy: http://www.dianemulcahy.com/

Designing Your Life: (for book and materials you can download): http://designingyour.life/

Note: this presentation was recorded. If the video is good, I will be publishing it here too for those interested.

More than ever, we at the end of the last century were finding ourselves with big houses and broken homes, high incomes and low morale…we were excelling at making a living but too often failing at making a life. We celebrated our prosperity but yearned for purpose. We cherished our freedoms but longed for connection. In an age of plenty, we were feeling spiritual hunger.” ~ David Myers

Stages of Change

Why is so difficult to help others change? Why is so difficult to change ourselves? Why are some people so resistant to change?

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There is the promise of a butterfly in every caterpillar”… we can change ourselves and others with compassion or we can try forcing things. Change may happen by social or peer pressure but is that a real change? Is it lasting and is it rewarding?

As many readers of these blogs know, I have been talking of necessary change myself, but for one reason or the other, I have advanced only tiny little steps, sometimes sitting in the fence indefinitely.

One of the things I know I need to change is my health routine, or how do I take care of myself. I have now a few mentors and one of them (Susun Weed, the well known herbalist and women mentor) shook my foundations last week: she ask me to take specific steps towards my health and self-care, and she accepted no excuses. Only time will show if that strategy helped…for now, I can only say I needed it. I had been in the contemplative stage for too long…

It is said that nobody can really change anyone else, only themselves. However, there are ways to support people through change: whether you are a career or life coach dealing with resistant clients, a partner dealing with a spouse’s challenging transition, a parent of a stubborn child, a member of a grassroots group that seems stuck in the wrong rail or deal with a difficult co-worker or boss, learning to identify where in the process of change each one of them are will help you to minimize anxiety and decide the next steps.

The stages of change happen to us too, so if you are struggling with change yourself, this may help you to seek help, explain what you need or even see your blind spots: those areas everyone else seems to see (and the need for you to change) except yourself!

Why do people change and how change works?

People change when the cons of staying on the current situation outweigh the pros of the new or are bigger than the perceived discomfort that change may bring. In other words, people change when they feel uncomfortable enough with the current situation or way of being.

In general, change may be supported by:

  • Increasing awareness of advantages of new behaviour, situation, etc.
  • Providing coping strategies and supporting confidence by reminding them inner strengths and skills
  • Helping them o identify and reduce, avoid, mitigate or accept risks
  • Encouraging self-evaluation: who they want to be? What values are they supporting with the current behaviour or situation?
  • Allowing them to see how their change (or being stuck) is affecting others they care about
  • Creating environmental changes to support them (changing where they live, work, etc. to avoid slipping back and encourage change by imitation)

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According to the authors of “Changing for Good” , people go through six stages (and in many cases, can become stuck for ages in one of them, regress, etc.):

Pre-contemplation: “change, me?” “Why?” “There’s nothing wrong with my situation/behaviour/etc.” “ It’s ‘X’ fault not mine””I was born this way” “It’s in my genes”(ignorance is bliss? resistance to  change)

Usual behaviours: avoidance, denial, rationalization, internalization (self-blame, low self-esteem), passive-aggression and displacement (blaming others), resistance, withdrawal, demoralized (they may think/feel the situation is hopeless)

In this stage the person (you, others you try to help) don’t see the need for change or think is impossible. They may get some nagging from those around and that starts discomfort, but there’s nothing inside the person that triggers change…why? because they are comfortable or obtaining more rewards (even if negative) from the present situation and underestimate any potential rewards from changing.

What you can do to help:

  • Validate their lack of readiness
  • Remember that is their decision, not yours
  • Encourage re-evaluation of current behaviour
  • Encourage self-exploration
  • Explain and personalize the risk of staying the same

What not to do:

  • Don’t nag
  • Don’t push into action
  • Don’t give up
  • Don’t enable

Contemplation: “I want to stop feeling so stuck” “Change is too risky, difficult, challenging, I don’t know how to go about it” “what if I change and things are worse than now?”(sitting on the fence)

People in this stage may want to change but find it overwhelming. They may see the pros and cons as weighting the same. They may still need time…some have indefinite plans but don’t feel yet ready.

This stage can last years and make both the person and those around her, feel despair

Usual behaviours: complaining, making excuses, anxiously looking for more information, taking more courses, researching more, accumulating more without actually making the change.

What you can do to help:

  • Understand they are still not ready
  • Remember decision is theirs
  • Encourage evaluation of pros and cons
  • Show result of change in others, promote positive outcome

What not to do:

  • Don’t force action, they are not ready, be empathetic
  • Don’t give advice or quick solutions, be there to listen
  • Don’t impose conditions on your support
  • Don’t confront or threat

Preparation: “I’m trying but I’m still scared and unsure” (testing the waters)

People at this stage are starting to take small steps, even if that only includes telling their loved ones that they want to change.

Behaviours: announcing the change, ambivalence. Going cold turkey (not recommended in all cases as it may bring them faster to relapse)

How to support them:

  • Identify and assist in problem solving: worst case scenario, risks and how to minimize or avoid them, obstacles
  • Help them to identify support networks: family, friends, organizations, etc. who may be able to support her through this process
  • Help them to gain confidence by assessing together the skills and strengths that they possess and will help in this process
  • Encourage and support small steps

What not to do:

  • Don’t keep asking how they are doing
  • Don’t nag
  • Don’t abandon them at this stage, they need you more than ever
  • Don’t minimise their efforts, tell them how proud or happy you are with their advances, even the small ones

Action: “I am practicing the new behaviour, lifestyle, etc.” (practice makes perfect)

People at this stage have already changed but change is still too new and they may feel that they don’t have the strength to continue changing or resist slipping back to old behaviours.

Behaviours: removing tempting stuff, getting away from what needed to change, visible showing new behaviours.

How to help:

  • Provide ideas to restructure structures and processes around that may help to stay committed (example, diminishing triggers, moving, rearranging routines, etc.)
  • Help them deal with obstacles
  • Combat feeling of loss that may arise and reiterate long-term benefits

What not to do:

  • Don’t let them alone in this moment: offer to do things with them (example, if someone wants to do more exercising, offer to exercise with them to support their efforts)
  • Don’t provide triggers: don’t come with a beer to a friend who just left drinking!
  • Don’t ignore efforts: encourage them to put things in writing or take pictures or share in social media
  • Don’t let guard down: stay aware and vigilant and help them to cope with potential relapse
  • Don’t blame or allow them to blame for what was before

Maintenance: “This is the new me, but when I see ‘X’ I fear I’ll fall back” (relapse is always a risk)

People in this stage have changed some time ago but stressful or challenging situations, people and structures may send them back to relapse.

How to help:

  • Be there when they need you
  • Reinforce internal rewards of change: they didn’t change to please others
  • Bring up the possibility of relapse and anticipate it by sharing coping strategies

What not to do:

  • Don’t abandon them now. Don’t withdraw your support and encouragement
  • Don’t think is over and time to move on. They can still relapse. Be “on call” for them and review the ways you can still support them
  • Don’t bring triggers and temptations to go on the old behaviour or lifestyle

Relapse: “I went back to my old ways, I can’t help it” (fall from grace?)

In this stage, people may have slipped back once or more times, or even regained the old behaviour altogether. They may feel guilty or inadequate, as a failure and may react with resentment or being passive-aggressive or withdrawn.

How to help:

  • Help them evaluate triggers of their relapse
  • Reassess motivation and barriers
  • Plan stronger coping strategies

What not to do:

  • Don’t blame or complain
  • Don’t nag or withdraw your support now, they are not “weak”, they may require extra help (professional or long-term)
  • Don’t challenge or threat them to leave. If you need to leave, don’t use their relapse as an excuse

For more specific details in how to help (yourself or others) through change, I recommend the book “Changing for good” by James Prochaska, John Norcross and Carlo Diclemente

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