#MeToo, racism and other difficult topics (and a guy who isn’t the least bit creepy)

I got a notification on Messenger the other day, saying that I had a message from someone who wasn’t my Facebook friend. It happens relatively often, people I don’t know contact me every now and then about my blog or my art. So I checked it out thinking it was probably something like that. However, when I clicked on the notification, the message had been deleted. The person must have changed their mind. The sender was still visible though, and I was curious to see who this person was and what it was all about, so I clicked through to get a better look.  

Having public profiles on social media, I get my share of creepy messages. They are often from guys who must think I look ‘hot’ or something and are looking to be ‘friends’. Their messages usually just contain a ‘Hello there’ and nothing else, and they never change their minds and delete their messages, so I really didn’t think this was anything like that.

So, I clicked through to see who this person was and I thought I recognized him from his profile picture. As a matter of fact, I was pretty sure it was the dad of a sweet, little girl who was friends with my daughter almost two decades ago. My family was located in Sweden at the time and this dad and I were both on parental leave with our daughters and had met through a play group. Our girls got along beautifully and we would sometimes meet up in the park for play dates. I remember them well, I really liked both of them.

We only lived in Sweden for a couple of years. We moved back to Finland and lost touch with many of the people we had met. I had not been in touch with these particular friends since we left and had no idea where or how they were, so I was really happy to see that it was him.

I didn’t think twice. I shot back a message saying I saw that he had tried to contact me and is he so-and-so’s dad? He messaged me back saying yes, he is and that he had found old pictures and decided to see if he could find me on Facebook. But then he had changed his mind after messaging me. Whatever, I didn’t care, I was thrilled. What a blast from the past!

By now we’ve chatted over Messenger a couple of times about old memories of when our girls were little. Sometimes he apologizes in case it seems like he’s prying or if he’s messaged me in the evening. He really doesn’t need to, there has been nothing inappropriate about any of this, but I get the feeling that he just wants to be sure that he won’t offend me or make me feel uncomfortable. He doesn’t want to come across as a creep.

I appreciate that, but let me say right off the bat that this guy has never, ever been even remotely creepy or inappropriate in any sort of way what-so-ever. We had some good conversations as our daughters played and he was always just a really nice guy. 

Being the gender scholar that I am, I thought that was interesting. He was clearly apprehensive that I might misconstrue his motivations for getting in touch after all these years. Maybe it’s just who he his, I don’t know, but what I do know is that a lot has happened since we last met. #MeToo for example. 

The #MeToo movement has been, and continues to be, a hugely important movement. Sometimes I hear comments (mainly from men) about how it has gone a bit too far. I really don’t agree, it hasn’t. On the contrary, it needs to go further because awareness isn’t enough, we also need change and we’re just at the beginning of it. 

One problem, however, is that it is an uncomfortable truth and like all uncomfortable truths, it makes a lot of people feel like they don’t know what to say or how to act. It’s the same with racism, also a hugely important topic, but one that many white people avoid talking about. Many are scared they might say something wrong. I notice it when I write blog posts about difficult issues like these. Unlike other posts, they are usually met with almost complete silence. They hardly even get any likes. 

But back to #MeToo. Every once in a while, I will see frustrated posts and comments about how it is possible that men have become unsure about what is and isn’t appropriate when it comes to women. Do they really not know how to be respectful? Do they really not know what is and isn’t appropriate behavior when interacting with another human being? 

Although I really get where these frustrations are coming from, I also understand guys who all of a sudden feel unsure about what is and isn’t okay and are worried they might say or do something around women that may be considered offensive. How can they know if they’ve never been taught?

We live in a world where inequalities are built into the very structures of our society. Misogynism and racism can be overt, and when they are, they are of course relatively easy to detect and people really should understand that it’s not okay to treat others that way. But in this day and age (because a lot of people know it is not okay to be openly racist or misogynist) it is more often than not rather subtle and difficult to detect, although potentially just as damaging. 

Since #BlackLivesMatter became an international phenomenon in 2020, many white people have started to become aware that they need to listen in order to learn what is and isn’t okay. We are invariably racist, whether we like it or not, since racism is built into the very structures of society where we have been brought up. It’s the way we have been raised and we have to work at being better – at not being racist. 

In the same way, there are probably men (and women) who need to learn what is and isn’t okay to say and do, because we have also been brought up in a very gendered society with very gendered social structures. 

So, when men do feel unsure and ask, we shouldn’t lash back and ridicule them for not knowing. The fact that they are asking is a sign that they are listening. They want to know and they want to unlearn and relearn. 

It is the men who don’t ask and who think they already know that we should be worried about. 

It saddens me that these things are so difficult to talk about. People tend to avoid them like the plague in the fear of seeming ignorant or saying or doing the wrong thing. But the fact is, it is only by talking about these things that we will learn and it is only through dialogue that we will see change. 

And if that old friend of mine is reading this and I completely misinterpreted whole the situation, I apologize. But it did get me thinking, so thank you for that!

Calling all like-minded people!

I haven’t opted out just once, I’ve done it twice. 

I first opted out of a career in consulting in 2009 to work on a PhD. And then I did it again sometime around 2017, when I realized that I didn’t want an academic career either, at least not the publish-or-perish-in-order-to-reach-full-professor kind. I didn’t leave the academic world, but I did step off the proverbial career ladder to do it on my own terms. 

I had a light-bulb moment when I was reworking a particular paper to be resubmitted to a journal for what felt like the millionth time. Several journals and even more reviewers had me and my cowriter jumping through hoops in what seemed like a never-ending loop of critical feedback, rewriting, rejection, resubmission… While the paper was undoubtedly getting better, much of the time it was also a question of nuances and reviewers’ preferences. And ironically, the actual research results remained the same no matter how many hours we spent revising. 

I realized I was working my butt off for the wrong audience (and not really having a very good time while I was at it). I came to academia from the business world and I have visions for what we need to do to make the world of work a better place for all of us. Reworking a paper ad absurdum and then to not even have it seen by people in the world that I want to impact, frankly just felt like a huge waste of time. 

It was then I realized that it just wasn’t what I wanted. I wanted to continue doing research, but I wanted to do it on different terms, on my own terms. 

When I started talking about how I wanted to work, some of my former colleagues seemed genuinely worried. Although I’m touched by their concern, I think it was mostly because I was talking about doing things in a way that they didn’t understand. It seemed unheard of. If you haven’t moved between worlds and seen different ways of working and living, it’s hard to imagine doing things differently and going against the expected. I know it is. Banal as it may sound, it was for me too before I opted out that first time and realized that there are so many ways to live your life and make a living. 

Besides, one of the things I have learned over the years is that there are several paths that lead to the same result. We don’t all have to do things in the exact same way.

At the same time my art took off and before I knew it my professional life had warped into something very exciting and unique. It wasn’t planned, but I thankfully had the presence of mind to let it happen, maybe because I was feeling so frustrated with where I was and what I was doing (or rather how I was doing it). My art was a breath of air. What started as a side gig suddenly grew into a part-time job. 

Now I was not only doing research differently, I was combining it with painting, which must have made it all seem even weirder and harder to understand. I still get asked about what it is I really do. Some ask me if I’ve left the academic world altogether (no I haven’t) or if I’m working as an artist full time (no, not yet anyway, and I’m not even sure that I want to). When people ask me, ‘so do you paint or do research or what?’, I just say ‘yes, all of the above’. I guess it must seem like a whacky combination, even though it makes perfect sense to me. 

But it can also make things tricky. If what you’re doing is hard to define, marketing yourself and your products and services can be challenging. People feel comfortable with what they recognize, and a researcher-writer-storyteller-consultant-artist may be hard to, recognize that is.

And then there is the business of finding your group. We all need supportive people in our lives and having your own reference group, be it colleagues, collaborators, friends or networks, can really make all the difference. You need people who you can discuss ideas with. You need people who can give advice when you’re stuck. You need people who can cheer you on when the going gets tough. This is hard to do for someone who doesn’t understand what you’re doing, so friends and family who may be hugely important in your life and who mean well are not necessarily helpful in this respect. 

I do have people in my life who can cheer me on, but being a researcher-writer-storyteller-consultant-artist with my own business can also be lonely at times. I’m thinking there are probably a lot of us out there who could really use each other’s professional input and support. 

So, in an attempt to grow my own reference group, I’m calling all like-minded people. If you’re doing things on your own terms and could use a supportive group, let me know. Maybe we can set up an international group of so-called opt outers. Or if you’re in the Helsinki area, maybe we could have a group meet up at The Art Place. Coffee is on me! 

You can message me through one of my social media accounts or email me at theoptingoutblog@gmail.com

I look forward to hearing from you!

Knowing when to say yes and when to say no

Many years ago, I was approached by a company that wanted me to be the representative of their coaching method in Finland. As a part of that process they invited me to take their test to find out exactly what kind of a person I was. It was a relatively short questionnaire and I admit I can’t really remember very much about it, except that based on the questions you were defined either as a ‘yes-sayer’ or a ‘no-sayer’. In the discussion that followed the test, it became clear that yes-sayers were considered good and desirable in the work environment, no-sayers weren’t. 

I was told I was a no-sayer.

I found this mildly amusing, although also somewhat irritating because based on the test they obviously didn’t know me at all. On the contrary, I have always had a hard time saying no, to a point of it actually being problematic for me, and especially around that time in my career I was definitely not one to say no in work situations. 

It seemed, however, that critical thought, which is so important in any situation, was easily translated to no-saying. Needless to say, in that situation I did have the presence of mind to say no and I didn’t take on the representation of their method. It was an easy decision, flattered as I was by their interest in me. I just didn’t believe in it. 

But always saying yes, being a yes-sayer as that coaching company would have it, isn’t necessarily always good. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard mainly people in the corporate world talk about how they don’t want to work with people who always say no to anything new and innovative and that they want to have people around them who say yes. Yes, I can see the appeal of that, but let’s also not underestimate the value of having people around you who can think critically. 

I’ve actually had to practise saying no. I have easily ended up taking on too much, or just been dragged into things I don’t really want to be a part of just because saying no has been difficult for me. A former colleague of mine used to celebrate the times she managed to say no and made a mark in her calendar. 

But just like always saying yes, saying no all the time isn’t good either. If we always say no we never take any risks and we never find ourselves on unexpected but meaningful and potentially successful paths. We never do anything out of our comfort zone and we may miss important opportunities that may not have been on the horizon.

The trick is to know when to say yes and when to say no. In fact, a wise friend of mine, Amanda Backholm, said the other day that knowing when to say yes and when to say no is actually a superpower. 

Those who follow me know that when I’m not doing research, I paint on silk and it has become a second job for me. It’s deeply fulfilling, not to mention fun, and I’m thankful every day that I had the presence of mind to just let it happen when the opportunity presented itself. I ignored all those voices of doubt in my head and I quickly said yes to queries of commissions and exhibitions before I could change my mind. 

I don’t always get it right, I’m not sure whether I have that superpower or not. Maybe that is something I will know only when looking back at this part of my life. 

However, getting it right every time isn’t crucial. Every once in a while, you will miss an opportunity you should have taken, or turned something down that you maybe shouldn’t have. But don’t worry. Mistakes can be corrected, minds can and should be changed if needed, and new opportunities always come a long. There are many roads out there that you can take (if you want to), you just have to keep your eyes and your mind open in order to notice them. 

And if you just don’t want to, that’s fine too.

You’re on the right track

I feel like I just scaled a mountain. I launched my webstore yesterday. 

Getting the webstore set up has been on my to do list since last summer when I first decided it was what I wanted to do. When I first started looking into it, I felt like I was standing in the middle of a jungle and had no idea in which direction to start walking. I just didn’t know where to start and I suddenly acutely missed all the tech support departments I have worked with and have had access to during my professional life, departments that I am embarrassed to say I took for granted. Now that I am on my own and have to do every single thing myself, I finally appreciate what I no longer have. Little did I know the amount of work that goes into what they always make seem to effortless. (I apologize profusely to all the wonderful tech support professionals who have helped me over the years!)

Fast forward to the present. I can tell you I have really learned a lot. I have had to figure it all out: shipping solutions, payment methods, return policies… not to mention the actual software that I had to get my head around just to get the information on to my website. At times, it has been really frustrating and I have all but changed my mind about the whole thing. When I haven’t been able to figure something out or struggled to get something to work to the point of it feeling almost hopeless, I have learned that it is best to just stop, take a break, and come back the next day.

It was at a time like this when I received an uncannily well-timed email from Susan David. You may have heard of her. She is a psychologist and an expert on emotional agility. I have signed up for her newsletter. If you want you can do so too here

This particular newsletter was about emotional difficulty and how it isn’t necessarily an indicator of anything actually being wrong. Susan talks about how one shouldn’t mistake “an uncomfortable part of the creative process for a symptom of dysfunction that must be stamped out.” In reality, according to her, it actually often means we are on the right track. 

She had my full attention. Did the fact that I couldn’t seem to get my head around how the shipping template worked just be a part of my creative process? It was stressing me out, to say the least. However, when I read the newsletter, banal as it may sound, it was like Susan was telling me not to let it get to me, that feeling the way I was, is completely normal. It wasn’t just me, and it didn’t mean that I was on the wrong track. Thank you for that, Susan!

Her advice is to first let yourself process these emotions. They are valid and they are bound to emerge. Second, she recommends to try to reframe these experiences not as roadblocks but as evidence that you are actually taking steps to achieve your goals. 

Well, that was definitely what I was doing, I was setting up a webstore for crying out loud! And, as it turned out, the next morning, after having slept on it, I had a light-bulb moment and figured the whole shipping thing out. 

And I did it! Yesterday I finally crossed ‘webstore’ off my to do list and I can tell you, it felt pretty great. 

So check it out! You can find it at www.theartplacefinland.com

Learning about men and what they have to live up to

When I set out to research men, I admittedly felt a little daunted by the task. I mean, would I as a woman be able to really understand what it means to be a man? Would I be able to give an accurate account of the opting out and in experiences of the men in my research project? This is something that gender scholars spend a lot of time thinking about. For example, how do I as a researcher affect the research and how does my position and perspective color the way I see the world? These are important things to reflect over. Although researchers strive to be as neutral as possible in the face of their task, we are all human and how we understand and interpret things are invariably affected by who we are.

Anyway, so when I embarked on my research project on men opting out, I set out with the intention of learning as much as I could about men and what it is like to be a man from as many sources as possible. I basically read everything about men that I could get my hands on, from research to fiction, hoping to become enlightened and better prepared for my task. I was expecting to learn a lot.

Well, the feeling of a new world opening up to me never really happened. It was almost a bit anticlimactic because I kept looking for that source that would provide me with some Earth-shattering insights, but it never came. I was starting to wonder whether I was missing something or just not seeing whatever must have been right in front of me all along. 

I mean as a sociologist and a person who has just always been interested in people and psychology in general, I already knew a lot about the societal expectations we place on men. I mean who hasn’t heard about what a ‘real’ man is and should or shouldn’t to. You know what I mean, things like men don’t cry, men shouldn’t show weakness, the strong silent type… But I thought there must be something more. 

Okay to be fair, I did learn a lot. For example, I did learn about social codes among men that I had no idea existed. That is, how men interact with each other. But on a whole, I have to say I was really struck by how stereotypical everything I was reading about really was. 

The social expectations on men are to this day really very one dimensional. Men are in a nutshell expected to be manly, strong, competitive, stoic, unafraid and definitely not show too much emotion or any weakness of any kind. The media depiction of men, whatever the genre, is also very stereotypical. It was actually quite disheartening to tell you the truth. The reason is that I know as a researcher who has interviewed men and as a person who knows men that these one-dimensional ideals of what a man should be don’t even nearly describe what real men in the real meaning of the word really are like. They are also difficult to live up to.

Men and women alike are multidimensional. We are all human, and part of being human is experiencing the whole range of emotions that are available to us. We are strong and we are weak, and we are all vulnerable at certain times in different ways. We all need love and closeness and we all have meaningful relationships we want to nurture. And we all cry. It’s part of being human.

The fact that men and boys are discouraged to partake in much of this saddens me. Researching men has taught me that social masculine ideals are very problematic in many ways as they foster violence on many levels in society (including in the home and at work) and have a negative and sometimes detrimental impact on men’s health. I put my hope in younger generations. Research has also taught me that, thankfully, there are a lot of young men who are breaking these unrealistic and unhealthy masculine norms.  

The truth is, that talking about the difference between men and women is actually not really very helpful at all. Even though there are biological differences, obviously, the actual differences in what we are like as people and what we need are really not that great. There are greater differences within the sexes than between the sexes. All men are certainly not alike, nor are all women, and thank goodness for that! So, the idea that all men should act in a certain way is simply ludicrous.

On that note, I have been going over the proofs for my book Men Do It Too: Opting Out and In this week. I don’t have an exact publication date yet, but it will be some time during the summer. In my book I write in-depth about all this, about men and the expectations placed on them; about how that plays out and the impact it has on their lives and life decisions; and what it is they want and need and how they go about creating meaningful lives. I will keep you posted!  

Remote working: why does it have to be either or?

When I opted out in 2009 to start working on a PhD, I also started working from home. My university department and colleagues were literally on the other side of the planet, because instead of enrolling at a university closer to home, I of course chose one that was pretty much as far away as you can get. I like to joke about that because it sounds so crazy, but actually it made a lot of sense, and in hindsight I clearly see what a wise choice it was for me in many ways. 

But the point is that I went from a job in consulting where I was expected to be at the office every day, to setting up a home office and always working there. For me personally it was wonderful. I like working at home. I like being alone, I find it easier to concentrate and I don’t get distracted by laundry or unmade beds or other non-job-related things that need fixing. Besides, my kids were quite young at the time and things tended to be so intense after school and daycare, that the quiet of my work day was pure bliss. 

However, in 2009, when I opted out, working from home, or any other place than the office, was not a widespread practice. To be honest, although some organizations have had a remote working policy and made it possible for employees at least some of the time, more organizations haven’t. Face time has been considered essential – you know, if you don’t see your employees how do you know that they are doing what they are supposed to be doing? (For those of you who haven’t realized this yet, seeing them is no guarantee. If they aren’t doing what they are expected to do the problem has little to do with them being there physically or not.)

It wasn’t until this past year when people were forced to stay at home, that many organizations that previously had been reluctant, had to try remote working in earnest. And surprise surprise, they realized that not only was it possible, for some it was better than working in the office. But many have also realized, that having people work in different physical places, puts new expectations on managers and work routines. You cannot lead people in the same way you would if you were all in the same location. This is the reason that the lockdown remote working experience of 2020 has generally been most draining and stressful for managers. They haven’t been able to just fall back on familiar routines.

But this is all fine and good. It is lightbulb moments like these that lead to changed behavior and new practices. However, one thing continues to baffle me. Just as many have previously held that their employees need to be physically present at all times for things to work, now I see debates about how always working remotely really can be a strain and difficult in many ways. I get the feeling it might be a defensive reaction of sorts to all the hype we’ve seen around remote working during the past few months? I mean, it turns a lot of the assumptions we’ve had about working life for a long time on their head. 

But who says working remotely has to mean never coming in to the office at all? Why would it have to be a question of either or? 

Even when employees are presented with the option to work remotely, some will want to continue going to the office every day. A study has shown that few people are like me, and most people prefer a combination of the two. And I think that makes perfect sense. It allows people to come in and meet colleagues, have face-to-face discussions, have in-person meetings…. But it also allows people to work from home or somewhere else when they need to and gain more control over where, when and how they work. My own research has shown that this is something people find extremely important, mainly because it increases quality of life. Simply put, it just makes life easier. 

So yes, having to work remotely all the time is not necessarily a good thing. We have seen that during the pandemic. Although many have reported that they are more productive, they have also reported that they feel tired and miss their colleagues. But that does not mean that we should forget working remotely altogether. Allowing people to have a combination – the best of both worlds – is very doable, as is allowing them to decide what they want their mix to look like. 

And yes, it involves a change of management routines.

What is the new normal anyway?

Have you noticed how everyone seems to be talking about the new normal? It’s like it’s a new catchphrase that people slip into their conversations when talking about life after corona, or rather during corona since it obviously isn’t over yet. Not even for those of us living in countries where it almost feels like life is going back to ‘normal’.

I put ‘normal’ in quotation marks because what is really normal about the life we lived before corona anyway? Is it normal that mental health is higher than ever before mostly due to workplace stress and insecurity? Is it normal to spend so much time sitting still at your desk that you have chronic neck pain and you have to schedule time to just move? Is it normal to deplete the Earth of its resources in the name of prosperity? Okay, you catch my drift.

Well, what is the new normal then? We are in a situation where we still don’t know what is going to happen and how the next few months/years are going to look. During corona, the situation has constantly changed from one day to the next. There is so much we still don’t know about the virus and we don’t know whether there will be a second wave, or splotches of outbreaks, which seems to be what the experts are talking about at the moment.

Yes, a lot has happened since the outbreak, and we have had to reinvent the way we do countless things. Things that have previously been considered impossible are suddenly a necessity. Working remotely is an example. Other examples include consumer habits; we have cooked our own food more, as opposed to eating out. The staycation has become the new vacation.

And the environment has thanked us. We have seen reports of clear waters and starlit skies in cities where there have been none. However, although many of us, me included, hope for a lasting effect regarding this, a few weeks ago I read that the air in some Chinese cities is actually worse now after the lockdown has been lifted than it was before corona.

In a study conducted by YLE in Finland, about half of those who have been working remotely during the pandemic would like to continue doing so, at least sometimes, as they feel it increased their quality of life. According to a study conducted by KPMG, 64% of office workers and managers in the US have said that their quality of life improved thanks to the disruptive impact of COVID-19 (although it has been harder on managers).

But what does this really mean? Does it mean that we will take all our new insights and improve both the world and our lives?

Unfortunately this won’t happen by itself. It is simply too easy to just slip back into old habits and routines. Besides, I think a lot of people don’t want to change, but are rather just waiting to be able to go back to doing things in the ‘old normal’ way.

But seeing what the alternative could be, which many of us have done these past few months, is what makes change possible. So, I do hope we take what we have learned with us and implement the good stuff, I really do! But we have to do it consciously.

In the meantime, I think it’s a bit early to be talking about a new normal. Unless of course the new normal is that there is no normal. Yes, maybe that’s it. I mean what is normal anyway?

Racism

When I was working on my PhD, quite a few years ago by now, I read a book that made a deep impression on me: The Impossibility of Sex by psychoanalyst Susie Orbach. This was an important book for me in many ways, maybe mainly because I got ideas for how to interweave real people’s narratives with theory and debates in a way that really engages. Another thing that made an impression was Orbach’s open and unpretentious way of sharing her personal thoughts and feelings.

The book has really been quite groundbreaking, mainly because Orbach writes so openly about her work and experiences as a psychoanalyst. This is a rare treat. Doctor-client confidentiality makes it tricky, but Orbach solves that by creating fictive characters based on real-life experiences she has had during all her years as a therapist. None of the clients in her book are, in other words, real, but they are based on real situations.

However, gaining insights into the ongoings in a psychoanalyst’s office isn’t the only thing that makes the book so special. It’s also Orbach’s openness and candidness when it comes to her thoughts, feelings, and reactions in therapy situations. It’s quite unique, really. She’s so honest, open, and thoughtful about it. It’s powerful, but also helpful and valuable, not least to other therapists or those training to become therapists.

But that’s not actually what made such a great impression on me when I read the book. It was rather what she wrote about racism. When Orbach analyzed her reactions to different clients and situations, she at one point kicked herself for being racist. She had a client of a different ethnic background and skin color than herself, and she noticed that she was extra careful not to do or say anything that that would seem racist and to treat this person just as she would treat anyone else. I was baffled by this because I just couldn’t see how that was racist. Wasn’t that what she wasn’t?

Well, years later, I now think I know what she meant. The reason it was racist was that she was so conscious of the other person being of a different race, that she invariably ended up acting and treating the person differently anyway, Maybe she concerned that her client wasn’t perhaps getting the best possible care after all; at least not the care a white person would have gotten.

I have grown up abroad and gone to school with kids from all over the world. I have had friends with all possible different shades of skin color and I have never considered myself racist. I mean, how can I be racist since I don’t care where people come from or what they look like?

But the truth is, it isn’t that simple. The reason is that we aren’t just individuals, we are also all a part of our cultures and the social and societal structures that surround us. We are given values to live by as we grow up – sometimes explicitly, sometimes implicitly. Much of what we have learned and gotten, we aren’t even aware of. And even if we are aware of it, it isn’t something that is easily changed or unlearned.

I know this now. I also know that I can’t just say that I’m not racist. The reason is that racism is such an integrated part of what I have been given in my culture, even though it hasn’t been conscious or consciously racist.

We know that racism is ubiquitous, but still no one – or few anyway – consider themselves racist. We are not aware of it, or if we are, it’s very hard to admit because most of us don’t want to be racist.

But as long as we don’t see it or admit it, we are a part of the problem. Because as long as we don’t, we are part of maintaining the existing structures instead of building new ones. This is actually not only true for racism, but all questions pertaining to different aspects of equality. It feels uncomfortable to think that you can both believe in equality and be a part of the problem.

I recently read an excellent book that explains all this very well: White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism by Robin DiAngelo.

DiAngelo is a sociologist. She has been a professor but now works as a diversity educator. She writes openly and disarmingly, without pointing fingers. She explains how our society is built on a racist foundation and how racism is integrated in the very structures that surround us. With us, she means us white people.

Racism of course exists elsewhere too, not just among white people, but this book is explicitly about white people’s racism and white supremacy. DiAngelo is able to explain, in a way that is easy to understand, that our actions and what we say can be unconsciously racist even though we don’t mean them to be. Most of us don’t want to be racist and consider ourselves good people, but also good people do and say unconsciously racist things just because we have grown up with racist principles and assumptions without even being aware of it.

If we realize that this isn’t about whether or not we are good people, but about societal structures that we need to learn to recognize and question, we can work with ourselves and learn to gain a greater understanding of these underlying processes without feeling wrongly accused. If we can assume that we are good people and that this isn’t about our character as individuals but about the society that surrounds us, we don’t have to feel uncomfortable or insulted when the word racism comes up. Only then can we have a constructive dialogue around racism and work for a more open and equal world.

Let’s do that! Oh, and please read DiAngelo’s book!

Ode to my Maple

There are so many things I could write about today that are related to my work and research. I mean, we are certainly living in extraordinary times. People and organizations have been forced to reinvent working routines and solutions in ways they never even considered before. For me this is, of course, fascinating because organizations that have, for example, said that working offsite is impossible or impractical have had to try it and now realize that maybe it’s not such a bad thing after all. For someone like me who has seen how one size fits all really isn’t the best solution – not everything works for everyone nor for all types of work – this is of course satisfying to see. Hopefully we’ll take some of the things we’ve learned during this pandemic with us and see more individualized solutions in the future.

And then there’s my book on men opting out, I could write about that. I could let you know that I have now basically completely the first draft of the manuscript, which is absolutely mind-blowing for me. It is something I have been working on for so long and now it is finally coming together. But I don’t feel like writing about that either. I want to write about the maple tree that stands in my garden.

These weeks of social distancing have, for me, meant slowing down. In a way it feels crazy that it’s only been a few weeks, it feels more like months. A lot has happened. I’m definitely one of the lucky ones. I live in a house with a garden, close to a forest where it is safe to be. I have work that I can do from home and I have teenagers who have managed their distance schooling very well. So apart from the anxiety of following all the horrendous news from around the world and worrying about the safety and health of loved ones, this social distancing thing really hasn’t been that bad for me.

One of the wonderful things I have experienced, thanks to the lockdown, is the spring. I am at home more than I’ve ever been before and I go out into the garden to just get out of the house and get some fresh air. I don’t have anywhere else to be so I take time taking everything in and I just love it. I have witnessed all the birds and flowers and trees come alive after the winter: cranes circling in big flocks over our house; more tiny spring flower than I have ever known existed, and the buds of our maple bursting open before my eyes.

I have always loved my maple. I can see some of its branches from my bedroom window and I often just lie there in my bed looking it at it as I contemplate whatever it is I’m thinking about at that particular time. I love it all year around; all the colors in the fall, the bare branches against the sky that are sometimes covered in snow or frost in the winder, the buds and the delicate, yellow flowers that bloom in spring, and the big leafy leaves that provide shade in the summer. This spring I noticed how beautiful the big, velvety, brown buds were for the first time; it felt weird that I hadn’t really noticed them before. On one particularly warm and sunny day last week, as I was standing under the tree admiring the millions of buds, they started bursting open before my eyes.

Because there are no airplanes in the sky at the moment and hardly any cars on the road, our garden is quiet. And as I was standing there, I could hear the tiny snapping sounds of the bud bursts, click click click click all around me in the air.

It was amazing. I feel honored to have been included in this beautiful event. Thank you, Maple!

Create, create, create!

I follow Elizabeth Gilbert on Instagram. You know who I mean, the author of best-sellers like Eat, Pray, Love. Although I have to admit I have never read Eat, Pray, Love, nor did I see the movie. But I have read a book by her titled The Last American Man. I have a beat-up copy that I bought at some flea market once when I was starting out on my research project on men opting out. At the time, I devoured any books about men I could get my hands on of any genre in order to gain insights into the strange and mysterious world of masculinities (I’m kidding about the strange and mysterious… sort of 😉 ).

Anyway, The Last American Man is a biography, or maybe rather an ethnographic account of the somewhat legendary Eustace Conway’s life and existence (no I hadn’t heard of him either until I read the book). And this might not sound like the most exciting read, but it was really an excellent book. The way Gilbert approached the whole situation and her style of writing was funny, entertaining, insightful, thoughtful and just so good. It was certainly a good read, and I became curious about this best-selling author that I of course knew of but who hadn’t really piqued my interest before. When things become hugely popular and everyone is talking about them and you’re constantly told that you have to read, see, try, do something, I get a little bit put off and then I just don’t. I know, I can’t really explain it, but there you go…

So after that, I stumbled across Gilbert’s Instagram account @elizabeth_gilbert_writer and I have to say, I really enjoy her posts. Again, what a funny, generous, positive, insightful and sensitive person. The other day she was interviewed live on Instagram, which I watched part of, and something she said just resonated with me. I can’t remember it exactly word for word, so I might get this wrong, but what it in essence was, was that we all have a natural drive – a need – to just create, create, create. Not just people, but also nature, nature of course creates too. It includes everything from creating life, creating order where there is none, creating art, creating beauty, creating meaning, creating connections, creating music… It’s what we do; we create, create, create.

I don’t know if I’m able to convey this in a way that makes any sense, but it just made such perfect sense to me as I was sitting there in my kitchen on a Sunday evening, preparing myself for another week of social distancing and distance schooling (my kids) and (what feels like) a million meals and absolutely maddening amounts of dirty dishes. Ironically, or perhaps not, this feels like one of the most creative periods of my life, which kind of sounds funny since I’m not painting nearly as much as I usually do.

About three weeks ago, like for so many others, my calendar was wiped clean. Everything I had planned, events, talks, silk painting courses, my exhibition… everything was either canceled or postponed. That is generally bad news for entrepreneurs (and I know there are so many entrepreneurs out there really struggling right now), but in a way it was a blessing in disguise, because I finally had the time and space I so badly needed to actually finish writing my book. And I am making great progress – I’m planning on having my first draft of my manuscript done by the end of April (I know can you believe it?! I barely can).

That is of course very creative to say the least. And I want to point out to those of you who were thinking you were going to work on that book you always dreamed of writing during the Corona lockdown but haven’t been able to get started: this isn’t that. There is so much to deal with both practically and emotionally during this time that just managing to get what has to be done from one day to another is more than enough. It really is, so don’t beat yourself up about it. This is my day job, what I am supposed to be doing but have been struggling with due to a lack of time. It’s not a dream I’m finally making happen (although in a way it’s that too, but that’s a long story).

But that’s just my book. I think for all of us, this is a time when we really have to be creative and do things differently, and I think people are rising to the occasion in a way they probably never thought they had in them.

I’m not doing the heroic work that health care workers are doing, or my kid’s teachers who are absolutely amazing. For me it has entailed being creative in the kitchen and cooking a variety of meals like never before. It has meant walks in my nearby forest, which have become so important to me. It has meant activities with my teens. And for the past couple of days it has meant sewing a whole bunch of face masks for family members who need them.* It has meant doing things I have never done before, and it has meant doing them in a way I have never done before. All of a sudden, I’m at home and I have time on my hands because I have nowhere to be. It means that I allow things to take the time they take. I do them slowly and perhaps not surprisingly, doing things slowly makes the process both more enjoyable and more meaningful.

As I sit here, and wait this situation out, I’m not dreaming of all the things I could be doing instead. I’m just here, and I create, create, create. I create so much that I have little creativity and energy left to paint. But that’s okay. My upcoming exhibition has been postponed, so I’ll have all the time in the world to do that once my book is written.

The point is, we all create, and whether you have been defined as a creative person or not has nothing to do with it. So, in that spirit, remember: create, create, create! And while you’re doing so, stay safe and well!

 

*If you want to make a face mask of your own, you will find a free pattern here: https://www.craftpassion.com/face-mask-sewing-pattern/