A crowd of people standing in front of a cloud, pondering "Who’s side are you on?

Who’s Side Are You On

Many fall in love with my colorful parrot and request to visit or take pictures with him. I have been trying to teach him to sing to make my bird even more of a star. I would take him into the shower, singing the same nursery rhymes to him every day to help him learn. He sings along enthusiastically, albeit completely off-pitch and not universally adored. A neighbor slipped a complaint letter to my bird and me to stop singing the g%d!mn@ songs. Ouch 🙁   His complaint felt like an attack, and I admitted my hurt feelings to myself.  That step was important–it allowed me not to be defensive and hostile so that I could stand in his shoes. ( This happened at the beginning of the COVID lockdown when I often heard him screaming at his internet or arguing with his wife). I needed to make a deliberate effort not to treat him like an enemy and simply communicate on the issues rather than personal attacks. The conflict was resolved once we agreed on a new singing schedule, and neighborly baked goods were exchanged.  

It takes determination not to make an enemy.  It takes persistent and intentional perspective-taking, and we often fail to do that, even with people closest to us.  

A friend of mine who’s an operatic soprano went through a bitter divorce where her legal team claimed that her then-husband’s 6 to 8 hours of piano practice for his job as a concert pianist was emotional torture for her. They’re both professional classical musicians–paid to play, but the music turned sour and was unbearable to each other. It’s all about perspectives. Things would have turned out differently had they communicated before tension escalated to the threshold of divorce.

These two vignettes are my attempts to ease into more dangerous topics I’ve been wanting to post about for a few weeks– the human suffering in high-conflict regions.  The grief, fear and all the feelings of people in war zones are too much to bear, but they won’t be settled for a while. If their trauma is not properly tended to and healed.  How will it manifest in the next generation?  I fear hatred, violence, substance use, and more extremism will result. But as the leader of a social impact organization, I was strongly advised not to take any stance and risk getting dragged into politics.

Are You The Enemy

Is our society so polarized and social media so dangerous that so much deliberation has to go into expressing my sympathy for victims of the bombings and attacks?  That’s the unfortunate reality.   In fact, I teach my autistic, very black-and-white-thinking daughter the proper social norm of refraining from discussions on politics or gender identity in public because I know the danger when you even come close to certain topics.  

Let’s not create enemies. An eye for an eye leads to nobody having any eyes! For policies, peace treaties, or humanitarian laws requiring individuals to be effective, continual implementation assistance is necessary. People need to continuously and deliberately practice perspective-taking and conflict resolution–it is a day-to-day effort. This area is where I find a glimmer of hope when waking up to turbulences in the world. I threw myself into work last week, pushing to launch our adaptive emotional wellness coaching app. There’s not much else I can do to help the current conflicts. I hope this app can contribute at least a little so that even people in high-conflict areas can have unlimited support created and supervised by clinicians. Those who’ve lost their parents, children, and entire lives need basic supplies and counseling, but a lot more than weekly therapy. No humanitarian effort dependent on manpower will be sufficient. The need is just too great.

It’s easy to attack and categorize people. Are you Republican or Democrat, pro-life or choice, homophobic or WOKE, pro-Israel or Palestine, etc.? When curaJOY runs support groups for marginalized adolescents like LGBTQ, I get bombarded with questions from concerned parents, asking about our “agenda.”  “What do we intend to turn their kids into? Are we the kind of organizations that will persuade them to accept their sexuality? Our agenda is the same for their kids as for every human being–to build their social and emotional wellness by equipping them with problem-solving skills, self-awareness, perspective-taking, intrinsic motivation, and impulse control. These skills are essential and need to be taught, modeled, and practiced. People are not born with them. Hatred and tolerance can both be taught, and it’s up to us. Are you modeling exclusion or inclusion to your family, colleagues, and community?   Maybe you choose the road less taken–take a step back and remember that no matter what you think of your enemy, they all started out in life as unlabeled humans just like you, and in many and all ways, they still are human, just trying to survive. 

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