This week we celebrated Martin Luther King, Jr. day here in the U.S. While reflecting on MLK, I thought about my own lessons in choosing to show up in love even when I’m angry or scared.
One of the most popular classes at Stanford GSB is called “Interpersonal Dynamics,” jokingly referred to as Touchy-Feely by the students. In this class, you sit in circles of twelve classmates and two facilitators to talk about how other people’s behavior impacts you. It can be intense.
Getting a negative tap.
One day in Touchy-Feely, we did an exercise that involved each person silently walking around the circle and tapping one person on the shoulder to give them a “positive tap” and then tapping another person on the shoulder to give them a “negative tap.”
If you gave someone a positive tap, that meant he or she had said or done something that impacted you in a positive way. The negative tap meant the opposite was true.
This one guy, who I considered a friend outside of the class, gave me a negative tap.
I was shocked.
I couldn’t think of anything I might’ve said or done to upset him. Afterwards, we all shared why we felt negative or positive towards each person we’d tapped.
To this day, I couldn’t tell you who gave me a positive tap or what it was about. But I remember my negative tap vividly. Let’s call the guy who gave me the negative tap “Jake” for simplicity.
Several weeks prior, Jake had made a comment about an executive assistant at his office being a little overweight. He said something like; “Especially with her job, she should look good and not be fat.”
In fairness to Jake, this is my recollection ten years after the fact…so I’m probably misquoting him but you get the gist.
Overcome by anger.
When Jake made this remark, I was furious. My inner feminist couldn’t believe the blatant objectification of the woman at his office. I spoke my mind and said his comment was sexist and completely inappropriate.
Fast forward three weeks later as Jake explained why he gave me the negative tap; “You were so upset with me for what I said. Your anger was scary and intense. I immediately felt defensive and put up a wall. You may have had a good point, but I couldn’t hear your argument because your anger made me want to stop listening to you.”
That was a wake up call.
My anger made people stop listening to me. Yikes.
I suddenly had a vision of my mother and all the anger she has towards men because of her own life experience. And I realized how off-putting I find my mother’s anger.
I also realized that if I wanted to create positive change for women, I needed to find a way to inspire men to be part of the solution. Yelling at them probably wasn’t going to achieve this desired outcome.
(Note to self: this applies to yelling at my husband to do the dishes too. He doesn’t find that super motivating either. Shocking, right?!)
Don’t get me wrong, if someone treats you badly, anger is often the first and most appropriate response.
But if we’re trying to change people’s minds and hearts, if your goal is to advocate for equality or to convince someone to change their behavior to benefit the greater good, perhaps anger isn’t the best approach.
Anger is alienating.
Jake’s negative tap was a gift. It taught me the benefit of leading with compassion and curiosity if I want to be heard.
In thinking about MLK, I remembered this experience with Jake and how it’s impacted the way I show up.
There’s a fascinating (somewhat dense) book Power vs. Force by David Hawkins that talks about how true power comes from your level of consciousness. It uses the framework of kinesiology (muscle testing) to demonstrate why love is more powerful than hatred. It explains scientifically why leading with love creates a much greater impact than leading with fear or hate.
MLK is an example of Power rather than Force.
Martin Luther King, Jr. chose love, even when it was hard. His loving consciousness had a tremendous impact on our planet that we can still feel today.
During the last election, I wrote a blog about trying to send love and compassion to Donald Trump. Sitting still in meditation while sending compassion towards Trump felt incredibly difficult. And I learned a lot about myself in the process, and had to face my own shadow.
If we want to create positive change in the world, we must lead with love.
Our world suffers in many ways. Whether you’re upset about racial inequality, global warming, sexism, animal cruelty, gun violence, starving children, or D) all of the above plus several other issues…you’re not alone.
There’s a lot to feel angry, sad and scared about.
Honor your feelings, then take action from love – not fear.
If we can honor and feel our emotions and then consciously lead with compassion and love, we’ll have a greater positive impact.
Today I’d like to ask you; what are you upset about? Whether someone treated you unfairly at work or you’re scared about the future of our planet, how can you take action from a place of love?
Imagine Martin Luther King and his inspiring choice to protest peacefully to all the opposition he faced. There was so much hatred and ugliness around him, and he chose love.
Love + Action = Power.
It’s easy to feel overwhelmed or go into fear-based thinking when it comes to our world’s biggest problems. But even a small action or a tiny shift towards love will give you positive momentum and have an important impact.
I’m going to reach out to someone who I feel treated me inappropriately many years ago when I was working on Wall Street. I’ve wanted to hear his side of the story, and I finally feel ready to have that conversation from a place of compassion and curiosity.
I’m also going to call a battered women’s shelter in Oakland to ask about volunteering to teach mindfulness classes. These actions come from a place of love and a strong desire to create positive change.
What are you inspired to do? When it comes to something in the world that upsets you, what’s one small action you can take today from a place of love?
We’d love to hear from you! Leave a comment below and share your experience. Have you alienated someone with your anger or felt paralyzed by fear? What’s one small action you can take to help heal yourself or our planet?
Let us know!
May you create work and a life you love, and have a positive impact on our planet,
P.S. You can still join the 30 Day Meditation Challenge! It’ll help you choose presence and love over fear and anger on a daily basis.
P.P.S. Know someone who might enjoy this blog? Share the message to choose love by forwarding this article. Love + Action = True Power