Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Dear Oprah, give me 500-

Dear Oprah;

Inspiration is a fantastic emotion. When the well of emotional energy living at our core finally gathers enough energy to explode upward into conscious awareness and we feel compelled - there is something grand about watching a volcano erupt and something equally grand about feeling inspired.

And then there is the aftermath. The emptiness that is left once all the energy has been expelled. When the molten rock cools we are left with a barren landscape. Let's face the aftermath of our inspirational experience and get our hands dirty. Do the work.

Hard work. Work that plods forward outside of the eyes of social media and work largely unrewarded - which is by no means a bad thing. In your acceptance speech, you acknowledge the hard work. The years of toil under oppression whether the oppression be about race, or gender, or both.

You also applauded the #METOO women for their courage - what have they gained for giving their voice and sharing their experience? Individually- perhaps a moment of inspiration. And an experience of strength for walking past the shadows of misplaced blame and its sister shame - maybe that as well. Not small moments.

But Oprah; what has changed? Yes...I hear your argument about how change takes time and we need to dig in and be an agent of change regardless of reward. I hear you. I speak those words and I agree.
What will be your unrewarding efforts? Now that the inspiration has past, where will you work?

Here's an idea. Give me 500 women from the North American Continent. Not all at once - 20 at a time is do-able.  500 women I can train in essential elements of self-defense specifically for women. 500 women who will know how to explain prevention skills, how to read the early warning signs of escalation in behavior and pattern. 500 women who will understand the context of violence in a way that is honest, straightforward, without ego of "I know all the answers" because as women, we absolutely know we do not.

These 500 women will understand the social, tribal training wired into the behavior of both men and women. They will know how this creates a context for violence and what it requires to step outside this context. They will be able to communicate this understanding and be able to invite other women into this wisdom.

These 500 women may be able to tag themselves with the #MeToo campaign, but it is not a requirement. I can. I didn't. Having been targeted for violence is not a prerequisite for an effective self-defense instructor. It does not automatically make me knowledgeable. It does not make me an expert in any action of violence except the specific events I have personally experienced and this may - or may not - be transferable.

These 500 women will know there is nothing glorious to be gained by experiencing violence. They will know the scars left behind are permanent. They will know too, the scars can be reinterpreted into strength. And this will be their invitation. Strength is more than a hashtag.

Strength is a choice.

Give me 500 women. In a year, each of the 500 will reach (and by reach - I mean train/teach) 100 women and in short order there will be 50,000 women with basic self-defense skills. That is the beginning of a tipping point. Add 500 more instructors in Europe and another 50,000 women. And let's keep going. Let's go to places where violence against women is far more indemic.

The potential for this to be exponential is in the math. Not in the inspiration. Change is in the work. Work we can do now - not in 50 years, not when legislation and sentencing laws change, not in safe spaces.

Maybe instead of coming forward in a band of violated sisterhood we can stand in strength. #500


  1. "You also applauded the #METOO women for their courage - what have they gained for giving their voice and sharing their experience? Individually- perhaps a moment of inspiration. And an experience of strength for walking past the shadows of misplaced blame and its sister shame - maybe that as well. Not small moments.

    But Oprah; what has changed?"

    We have ripped the bandaid off a festering social sore.

    A lot of men who were unaware of the extent of the problem and how close to home it had hit (yes, they shouldn't have been, but they were), now can't hide from it.

    A lot of men who were unaware that they were part of the problem now can't hide from that.

    A lot of women who thought that they were alone in their circle now know that they are not, that they can reach out to people who will understand them and support them.

    A lot of women have learnt that the shame lies in being a rapist, not in being the target of rape.

    Yes, this won't help women defend themselves against the stranger who leaps at them from out of the bushes and hits them on the head with a brick. But that isn't the most common problem most women face most often. It isn't helping women defend themselves: it is making it less likely for them to have to be. And yes, because the results are not immediate, they may benefit future generations more than they benefit us here and now. We get the work, other people will reap the bulk of the results. That's how social change works, and to ignore its value is to ignore how privileged we are to be here and now, in a society that is full of flaws and problems, but is infinitely better for at least a proportion of us than any of its previous incarnations.

  2. Thanks for your thoughts. I like being disagreed with. It makes me think. The short response is ...Agreed! The long response is...

    I don't have a problem with the MeToo campaign for what it is. It has created the opportunity for many, many women to shake off a little blame and shame. And you're dead on - the majority of assaults and violations come in close proximity relationships (which is one of my face-palm moments with SD training that only focuses on the end game of the physical fight). Oprah, and others who carry her influence have the power to take movements forward at a deeper level. To push things in new directions and it would be fantastic to see the people who have that level of influence say something about what's next - how else they're going to keep this ball moving forward. Historically, we have had a lot of campaigns like this and the statistics largely stay the same where sexual violence is concerned- they've moved very little in the past 30 years. But if 'historically' looks back across a couple of millennia they have moved a great deal.

    I'm a super goal directed human so it's my default to go boots-on-the-ground and want that people who have influence support actionable goals as well. Awareness is huge. It's a first step. On the other side of this muddy little coin is my experience as a shrink. Shaking off the shame and redirecting misplaced blame can be a momunntal struggle. It is usually a cyclical struggle that needs to be revisited at different moments/intervals/transitions in the survivors life. Posting a hashtag can feel like stepping off into alient territory. It is not going to stop the nightmares, or the change the rewiring trauma has created in the neurology. That it doesn't do those things doesn't make it bad or wrong.

    As life shifts, the way the scars are interpreted also shifts and requires another look, another round of shaking off that socially driven internal interpretation. IME, which is by no means the sum total of reality, shifting that internal conversation of shame/blame lands at the most transformative level when it's hit from as many fronts as possible - mental, cognitive - emotional - psychological - physical and again just my experience, I've seen people (men too) make profound changes in their relationship to violence after a little exposure to SD training.

    I'm a little greedy maybe. Been around more than 50 years at this point and I have had the opportunity to live through at least one noticeable social change for women and this tells me awareness can become more, it can create change and it can do it in the course of a couple of generations. Oprah and other's like her could put their weight behind that, and it would be huge. That being said...I'm pretty sure my thoughts are not on Oprah's radar and given I'm not a particularly insightful human - I am damn sure there's someone out there who can find a much - MUCH better solution.