Being true to who we are means carrying our spirit like a candle in the center of our darkness
– Mark Nepo
I have had writer’s block for the past few months. My objectives for creating a blog were to write about some of my life observations, to connect with others, and express an appreciation for diverse beliefs. Over the past few months, it has been hard to see connection among diverse beliefs.
For most of my adult life, I have lived in two very different worlds. A world where I nourished my ambition and a world where I nourished my spirit. My curious spirit enjoyed connecting with different types of people. I discovered my ambition when my foreign language skills led to an almost 40 year career in the defense industry. This work exposed me to Americans whose life experience was often very different than mine. The first half of my career was focused on international projects in Europe, Middle East, Asia and South America, further exposing me to cultures and beliefs different than my own. Until recently, most of my peers and customers in my work environment were male.
My ambition to succeed made me want to fit in to a male oriented professional world. Sometimes it felt like part of my spirit was disconnected from the world where I worked. To keep balanced, I explored activities that nurtured my feminine spirit. Yoga from the age of 16 helped me to find a deeper connection to myself that I never found in the Church of my birth. When my inner feminine would feel disconnected in my work culture, I escaped to retreats that were the polar opposite of my daily life. I’d seek out local events with an eastern, spiritual message, or take an extended retreat to Kripalu – when it was still primarily a yoga ashram.
I never told work colleagues what I was up to because I didn’t think they would get it. When asked, I’d say I was going to a spa. I later learned that lack of information about my absence was translated as “Denyse is off to a fat farm.” I discovered this when someone remarked after a retreat away that I didn’t appear to lose any weight, but I looked better. My self-perceived differences made me believe that focusing on my work and not sharing my private world was necessary for professional career success.
By the mid 90s, I was in a visible leadership position on a major international project. Our project’s success was paramount. It was challenging and stressful. Several men on the project’s cross functional team made it clear that they didn’t understand why a “girl” was assigned to my role on this important project. My wise husband, after hearing my daily rant about the latest sexist behavior at work, suggested that I needed to spend more time with women. As luck would have it, we came across a locally run Women’s Wisdom weekend training course. My weekend life became a protected secret. When a female HR manager asked my secret for remaining focused in the tough work environment, I shared with her what I was doing on weekends. She urged me to keep the secret and not share it with other members of my team least I lose any credibility that I had.
My weekend women friends knew about my work life. While some took a dim view of both the defense industry and men in general, most were curious about my work experiences. I enjoyed my work and I didn’t see men as the underdog. Many men mentored me throughout my career. If discussions with women friends became contentious, I joked “The reason I worked with men in the defense industry is there is never a line in the ladies room on meeting breaks.” I didn’t try to defend the men I worked with or the work place I was part of.
Over time, I realized that I either used humor or I self-censored myself to avoid deep discussions about what was important to me. Too many people just didn’t understand. Heck, I’m not sure I did. For people who know me for making irreverent comments and stating out loud what others only think, I know this seems unbelievable. When I encountered people who were overly sensitive or argumentative with opposing views, I became silent and avoided confrontation.
My writer’s block kicked in during the final countdown to the election cycle. Feelings emerged when values I cherished were berated in the guise of critiquing a political candidate. I chose to keep silent while I sadly read outrage expressed on social media. Black and white soundbites, hate filled statements and beliefs were filling my social media feeds with no factual references or room for debate. Even humor had a dark undertone. My opinions, too, were based on my perception and values. I channeled the self-censor with a desire to not publicly state something that could offend the diverse beliefs of friends and family.
For many, this election was more about our beliefs, our values and what we will tolerate than it was about electing an individual to be President. Both candidates were human and flawed. We dwelled on their flaws. Intolerant language was wide spread across the news and social media outlets. Post election, protests erupted before any administration change even took place. As I mingled with diverse acquaintances, they were either overjoyed that lies, crookedness and status quo had been defeated or filled with fear and outrage that sexism, racism, nepotism, homophobia and xenophobia are alive and well in America.
If you are overjoyed by the election results, I pray that you have compassion for those who have genuine fear. If fear is leading you to the perception that there is only darkness ahead, I pray you find a way to contain your candle to lead you through that darkness. Let’s remember that our nation was founded on principles of tolerance, not intolerance. Let’s use our right to protest when there is evidence of intolerant action not the fear of intolerant action. And, if you are like me and trying to make sense of your self-censorship, find a way to nourish your spirit and express values that matter.