Listening to people’s differing views on what’s going on in the world at the moment, I often find myself unsure of who I agree with. I am sure of who I disagree with and I am clear on my opinion. However, there are those grey voices in between that confuse me and who get me thinking.

I do not agree with any voice that is discriminatory or opportunistic when it comes to highly emotive issues around identity like race and racism. Understanding our identity has been my work for 20 years. For every one of us, no matter what our skin colour, our race and ethnicity is part of our essential identity so we have huge emotional attachments to these parts of ourselves. There are so many woundings attached to race and what that means for millions of people of all ethnic backgrounds around the world. This is what the #BlackLivesMatter movement has so starkly reflected.One can see the pain in so many people’s eyes and the need for healing is so clear. Ironically, wearing a mask for protection somehow focuses my gaze into people’s eyes; and what I am experiencing is a sense of connection to their emotions even more poignantly than I did in my previous life when I lived in an un-masked world; and I wasn’t primarily engaging with people online.

Building Connections Online

Clients have been asking me how to build connections with their teams, clients and colleagues on line to ensure productivity whilst working remotely. My response is, I think very easily, if they can be vulnerable with one another. Being online magnifies our being seen but also ability not to be (to switch off the video). If you are doing that, how many excuses can you make before your colleagues will start to become aware that you don’t want to be seen?

You cannot build authentic connections with others either online or offline without allowing yourself to be seen. With COVID, the overnight move to a life under a magnifying glass is exhausting and for many has not been good for their self-esteem, especially when until recently, we haven’t even been able to the hairdresser or barber. If you have noticed any your little voices being harsh on you, pay attention to what they saying, because they may be trashing your self-esteem.

Building Your Self-Esteem Is Critical

If you are having online meetings and consultations that you are finding difficult (not only because of the technology) because you are uncomfortable with being seen, I would invite you to consider why that might be. It has been interesting for me to observe over the last two months how often my coaching clients have not wanted to put on their video. The same has been true of some of my online classes, where I have asked people to put on video and they have not wanted to because they ‘didn’t know they would have to be seen’.

Not wanting to be seen is a very common human response to keeping things about yourself private, hidden and to yourself. Some humans aren’t even aware they have things about themselves they don’t like, they just know they feel guilty, ashamed, hurt and confused by how other people treat them. If you find you have to numb and hide your feelings a lot, or that you get into conflict either with yourself, others or situations a lot, you might have some work to do on yourself.

Conflict and the negative feelings that emerge as a result can negatively affect how we treat people around us; and actually, cause emotional distancing from others, which can make us feel rejected, isolated, misunderstood, frustrated, left out etc. Interestingly, because we are wired for connection, it is times of stress that we most need connections and our loved ones’ support, but is the most common time to get into conflict.

Building Your Self-Awareness Is Critical – even if you think you’ve ‘done that’

Conflict within yourself, with others, or with what’s going on in the world can be easily solved if we all just learn how to manage our pain. Perhaps distortions are a better word if you don’t like the word pain. Essentially, we all distort how we perceive things and therefore how we behave because of our feelings about that perception. Once we distort something, our brains are wired to start creating evidence to back up our distortions and that’s why I often say history is just a story and the version you get will depend on who’s telling the story.

I do believe we are living in an era globally where the dominant narrative is male, white, capitalist, middle class, spoilt, demanding, competitive, insecure, neurotic, self-obsessed and unattractive. It has been white, male and middle class for at least 5 generations but this unkind, immature, blaming, selfish, justifying, cruel narrative has becoming increasingly acceptable alongside the evolution of communication technology like social media, reality TV and now increasingly the birth of Prosumers. One of the fascinating things about how we unconsciously use shame and shaming narrative is when we don’t know how to hold others accountable.

My Master’s thesis explored how our identity; and the image we have of ourselves because of the narrative we hold around it, is conditioned by the gaze of those who shaped us when we were young. The gaze being the socio-political climate, the family beliefs (culture & religion), education levels, poverty, race, era, gender, and a myriad of other identity variables that do play a part in distorting our worldview and can play a part in undermining our self-esteem, especially in the work place. I think any South African who could argue they don’t have a distortion around race is simply not awake to their pain. That would be like an Irish person being oblivious to religion or someone from the United Arab Emirates being unaware of the inequality of women. There are other subtle and not so subtle cultural distortions around identity everywhere and I think we have mostly been too silent about them, especially inside large corporations.

I think we all need to be paying attention to our narrative, both the one we use on ourselves and for others. That’s why I urge you to consider kindness as the antidote to our increasingly damaging narratives about one another.

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