Remember the last time you read an article where it was mentioned that “The neighbours had no clue as they had never spoken to this person who lived right next door” or “This person was staying here for 2 years but had no friends”? When we hear of neighbours being strangers (especially n the urban context), the word “lonely” is often loosely used to describe how life is today. I say loosely because people often tend to confuse being lonely with being alone. And yes, there is a distinction. Being alone can be a choice and it can bring happiness.
For instance, a lot of people enjoy watching a movie by themselves or spend an evening reading a book. In fact alone time can actually be quite relaxing. Loneliness is when there is an associated sadness – an empty feeling that could be triggered by several factors.
For many, the loneliness is so uncomfortable, that denial of the feeling seems the easiest way to cope – in fact sometimes this reaction is almost instinctive. One tries to superficially engage in interactions/work. However it is difficult to sustain and sooner or later the hollow empty feeling comes back.
To really cope with loneliness, the first step would be awareness; to go beyond the denial and superficial engagement. However, that is not always easy to recognize and we keep ourselves too busy to even be aware that we are lonely.
Once aware, acknowledging and accepting the lonely feeling logically follows. In that awareness, sometimes loneliness makes people feel more critical about themselves -they criticize themselves for being unworthy of others right when the need really is for more self-compassion. It is ironic that while we are aware of our need for compassion from others, we often don’t extend it to ourselves!
To really engage with your loneliness, you can ask yourself a few questions:
Strange as it might seem, there are some benefits to loneliness. Your loneliness could be telling you that you don't feel too good about yourself, and could benefit from working on your own emotional state. Your loneliness can be a crucial signal that your relationships are not as emotionally close or supportive as you really want them to be. It gives you an opportunity to engage differently.
So, go ahead. If you are lonely, listen to your loneliness - It might be telling you something really important for you.
We met Marilyn(name changed), a few months ago - a 26 year old woman, a passionate software engineer, who married across communities and after two years in her marriage, found herself in a difficult pregnancy and after her maternity leave, had to leave her job for a little over a year to care for herself and her baby with very little help from her families. After the break, she wants to get back to work but finds it really hard even to get interview calls and finds the interview process tough with intrusive questions about her personal life. It makes her question her own capability needlessly, and affected her quite deeply.
There are thousands of very capable and highly trained engineers, designers, architects etc like Marilyn. I am sure each of us know many such people.
On the other side of the story, we hear in the news of a jewelry marketing firm that was in the docks for refusing to hire an otherwise perfectly capable person, stating his religion was the reason they refused to hire him we have been thinking about what makes diversity so hard for some organisations to incorporate, and if not for legal reasons, would companies bother about diversity at all.
What makes it so hard to build an inclusive work place for Marilyn, and for many others who are for one reason or the other, outside the norm?
In some ways, the push to embrace diversity versus the pull to stay as insular a group as possible is somewhat a given struggle. If one leaves things to evolve as they will, we will probably see a lot more very insular groups filled with very similar groups of people. While organisations such as the one in the news do survive, and sometimes thrive, history and evolution teaches us that generally such insular groups tend to not survive in the long run - not among groups of people, and not even species as a whole.
Of course, many forms of diversity are now almost mandated by laws that make certain forms of discrimination illegal. However, beyond mere legal compliance, we think many modern organisations recognize the homogeneity and tendency to homogenize is a threat, not only because the pool of resources within that homogeneous mass is limited, but also because operating in a world of diversity requires those in it to adapt, be creative, challenge itself and be nimble - something diversity brings much more than homogeneity can. Often, in long standing organisations, efforts on this front start on a lack of diversity being brought to one's attention (like with the firm we started this post with) and from that stems an effort to bring a greater diversity into the system, with special focus on the specific diversity need. This is very much needed, but isn't a pleasant or an easy task - not for those being brought in, nor for the system that has to adjust to the change.
On the other hand, how wonderful it would be to create spaces with a lot more mindful effort to build in greater diversity as part of the DNA of organisations. We in the 2010s are blessed with an ecosystem of a whole lot of brand new companies and business opportunities, and with them the opportunity once more to do so.
At the outset, we have to begin with an understanding of what we are talking about when addressing the need to be more diversity-friendly. Are we talking about gender? Disability? Race? Sexuality? Language? Also, are we talking about greater access? Equality? Fair work place policies? Non-discrimination? Affirmative action? Needless to say, it can get quite intense quite quickly, but keeping a really broad commitment to diversity can help much more than a very specific focus.
The larger picture apart, the most basic of the challenges on the ground is about access to the workplace.
While certain aspects of diversity may not necessarily face hurdles in access (caste, community or sexuality, for instance) others face difficulty in joining or re-joining the workforce. People with disabilities face such challenges. Women, especially women who have gone through a maternity break are another group who find it difficult. Companies might be skeptical about skills, fitment or commitment, and tend to go with an 'easier' candidate, which restricts access. By providing bridging opportunities, both in full time roles and through internships, such access can be made available. Returnee Internships allows the person the time to ramp up, as well as time for the organisation to ready any structural support needed.
For women like Marilyn, there is some help at hand through organisations like JobsForHer, a portal that is specializing in such a market, and helping enable opportunities to women who are on a career break. Enable_India and Silverlinings have been working with organizations to provide corporate opportunities to people with disabilities. Companies like Snapdeal are adopting these programs, and providing policy and training support to their teams to make diversity and inclusion a reality in the workplace.
Once in the workplace, managing diversity is an ongoing activity. Making the workplace safe, secure and enabling for all people is a challenging task given that each of us might be in the majority in one dimension, while feeling the pinch on another. Developing and maintaining a culture of not mere tolerance, but active support and appreciation for all is a hard task, especially when it comes to the less easily perceived dimensions of diversity such as sexuality, food preferences, marital or parenting status etc.
Doing this through a system of policies and policing through strong anti-sexual harassment initiatives and safe space policies is needed, but at the same time, it helps to have a softer cultural change process that actually raises awareness and builds empathy within and between teams.
Without the focus on developing a broader cultural commitment to diversity and support, any specific focus or highlighting one aspect of diversity could easily be interpreted as being at the cost of others, and then it could have unintended effects where the majority might end up resenting others thinking they are being given 'special privileges' while really it is just attending to special needs so they can be as engaged in their job as others. That would defeat the purpose altogether.
To check whether such resentment is true, one only needs to see how maternity and maternity related leaves are treated in a team. While strong policies exists and people avail such benefits, does it leave some of the menfolk, or those choosing to be child-free, feeling a little short-changed, as if they work as hard for lesser? Some organisations have sabbatical policies and other times-off benefits, linked to length of service and performance, but does it become a burden for organisations? Is it then about fine balances, or about equality and justice? Where do the cost-benefit calculations shift the balance back in favour of some homogeneity and lesser diversity?
A lot to think about, for sure.
InnerSight congratulates Snapdeal on its commitment towards diversity and inclusion at the workplace, and is happy to have been an integral part of "Advitya".
Thank you, Snapdeal for inviting us to talk to your team about Diversity in the Work Place.
The Vishaka Guidelines of 1997 and the subsequent Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013, have gone to great lengths to specify systems, processes and protocols to make the workplace safer and our lawyer friends tell us, are among the best such laws in the world.
While the law is quite rigorous, the implementation especially at the local district and state levels is still nascent. However, many leading corporates and institutions have gone ahead and implemented the Act in letter and spirit, often going beyond the law to cover all genders and taking a larger workplace safety view beyond sexual harassment.
That said, all too often, reporting and getting action on sexual harassment is a real ordeal, even in work spaces where all the policies and protocols are in place.
Often, the idea of where the incident(s) took place and whether they were at the office premises become the first line of questioning, and despite the growing virtual workspaces and blurring of boundaries between work and private spaces, and the wide definition of 'in the course of employment,' there is a reluctance to fully investigate a complaint if the incident happened outside the office. Secondly, despite very specific guidelines on how cases are to be documented, confidentiality is to be maintained, closure obtained and communicated, often action is through undocumented meetings, verbal commitments and actions oriented towards creating a 'compromise' especially where no hard evidence exists. Thirdly, leaks in the process mean the 'news' gets out, other employees take sides or form opinions and the work environment could become hostile for either or both the parties.
In the process, the complainant who is reporting an offense ends up feeling victimized all over again, or - on the other hand, the one complained about finds their reputation tarnished even before they have had the slightest chance to defend themselves. Many times, the process is exhausting emotionally and the parties just want to close and move out or move on, and that then can leave the complaints committee with questions of what is fair or just, and if they really addressed the complaint fully.
Point is, creating safe working spaces need to go far beyond documenting policies and procedures. Sensitizing all the people involved in the process is critical to its success, as is ensuring confidentiality and maintaining rigorous documentation. Wide-spread communication and keeping up awareness on the rights & responsibilities of all staff is important.
That said, while there are some baseless and malicious complaints intended only to hurt, the larger reality is that most complaints are genuine and yet victim-blaming continues to be the norm. The complainant's personal history, habits, prior relationships, performance history at work, history with the person in question and everything else gets dredged up. That needs to stop for more people to feel confident enough about the system and the processes to report any issues, and for the work place to be fully safe.
This post is inspired by a social media campaign by Himani Auplish aiming to increase awareness among the people about harassment after the harassment
In the USA, May is observed as National Mental Health Month. For much of the rest of the world, October 10th is the Mental Health Day, and some countries like Australia mark all of October as Mental Health Month. In India, the central agencies do mark October 10th, but there is no specific mental health month as such.
Whether a day or a month, the aim is to increase awareness of mental health issues, the need for assessment & care, and to destigmatise mental health. Mental health conditions tend to be given the short end of the stick, with a little more than a sneer and judgmental comments such as, "You just have to decide," or worse, "You are just looking for an excuse for your laziness."
In reality, mental health conditions such as depression or anxiety are very real and quite common. If understood and addressed, recovery is quite possible.
Fact is, quite often, we speak of mental health issues as what the mythical 'others' likely have. When the MHA publishes statistics that say 20% of all Americans are likely to have a mental health issue each year, how many do you think would pause to consider if they might be among the lot? Irrespective of nationality, I would suppose that we ourselves do not want to think we may have an issue, while it is more comfortable to look at others and say they might have an issue.
There is too much of an expectation we have from ourselves that we must, at all times, be perfectly well especially mentally, even if not physically. And that, needless to say, is just irrational. Mental health issues can happen to anyone no matter what race, age, class or community. While certain social situations do create greater distress, even the most privileged of communities are not immune to mental health issues.
So, what can one do? The simplest thing to do is to a quick self-check. Mental Health America has a great set of specific self-use tools that can help you decide if you might have an issue and if you cold use some help. Go ahead, click on the image and take a few minutes to check in on yourself.
You owe it to yourself.
Mother's Day was a few days ago and we have been thinking about parenting in general, and motherhood in specific. The idea of 'Mother' is such a culturally loaded one, no matter what culture. Mothers are supposed to always be up and about, care deeply, cook and clean and dust and mop, and go to work, and everything else.
It really could be such a pressure.
What happens to those who find motherhood quite hard? I am thinking of mothers who go through post-partum depression, For many, the pressure to be a 'good mother' is so severe on top of their depression, with relatives and others commenting on them being 'weak' or 'uncaring' that makes it hard for them to seek help, and that leaves them vulnerable to chronic depression. I am also thinking of women who find it hard to enter motherhood, or those who do not wish for motherhood for themselves - and the degrees of emotional turmoil they might go through.
Even otherwise, for mothers well into motherhood, trying to balance their different roles as women, spouses, working women, housekeepers on top of being mothers becomes really hard. The pressure to be good at everything means that any small error of judgement on the child's part, say if the child bit another in the sand pit, or was caught sneaking a smoke outside school, gets a sharp reaction, and the disapproval falls squarely on the mother's shoulders. Disapproving eyes pass judgement that 'she was too busy at her job that she failed at her "real" job'.
In India, as in much of the rest of the world, child care is considered primarily the women's job. An involved father is lauded, and a not-so-involved one forgiven, but no such luxury of lenience for the mother though. At the work-space too, maternity often limits career options, and often this leads to very capable women leaving the workforce for years if not for good. Sometimes, it leaves the woman, proud and happy as she is in her motherhood, angry and upset at the workplace, stressed about it, and perhaps, frustrated at her struggles to reach her full working potential.
The point is: What is Mother's Day about? Should it really be about celebrating the 'super-woman' status of mothers, or can it also be about challenging our collective consciousness on our expectation that mothers must be super-human? Can we look at the pressures and stresses that mothers go through, and actually make it easier for mothers? Not merely by getting them breakfast and a bunch of roses, but to look at ourselves, the roles we play and the systems we have to help women through motherhood without needing them to be anything more than human.
For any body starting a relationship, there is such a lot of pressure to get (or to not get) physically intimate. This is not just for young adults starting off in their first relationship, though of course that is specifically more challenging, but also for others. Think of people starting a new relationship after a break-up, or after the loss of a long-term partner. Think of people with disabilities or other challenges.
It can be a challenge for anybody
Often, we hear scary stories of the effects that getting into it without full readiness can have, including damaging one's sexual expression, changing how one feels about themselves, or as simple and yet devastating as changing the relationship dynamics. Of course, when you are ready for it and take this step, it can be a beautiful and life-enriching experience.
So, how does one really know when to take this big step?
You should ask yourself questions like - Why do I want to get physically intimate? Is it because of peer pressure? Is my partner forcing me? Do I know the person well? Why with this person?
The most important thing is to listen to yourself, and trust yourself.
At any time, if the answer to any of the above questions is tentative or unsure, then perhaps wait a bit, and strengthen the relationship. Take the time to really know yourself and prepare, both emotionally and in other ways, including educating yourself on safety and being sure that you are in a comfort zone.
Take a minute sometime to observe any infant: No matter what they look like, they are surprised and delighted at their bodies. They coo and gurgle at discovering their toes, finding they can hold, and are constantly engaged with their own body.
What happens to that joyful, positive curiosity about our bodies when we grow?
The answer is that we learn to NOT be body positive. Every day, we are bombarded with images of perfect bodies, smiles, hair and smells in a million marketing commercials, showing those ‘perfect’ people succeeding while in the background ordinary people look on in envy.
Is it really true? Do better looks and six-pack abs actually guarantee you success? Well, there is no concrete proof of that, and in fact, the opposite has been shown to be true: If you don’t feel good about your body as it is, you are likely to be less happier.
Don’t get me wrong: I am not saying one should not exercise or be well put-together. I am saying you can be fit, healthy and smart no matter what your body is like – no matter your skin colour, hair volume, body type etc.
How to know if you are body positive?
Look at yourself in the mirror:
1. Notice 5 things you really like about your body
2. Notice 5 things you really dislike about your body
If 2 was easier, you have probably taken to heart many of the hurtful messages from the media, society or even in what you tell yourself, and it is time to come back to being body positive.
How to get back to being body positive?
Here are 5 basic things you can practice:
1. Stop commenting on others’ bodies. Assume that everyone knows their body and love how it is
2. Don’t assume anything by how one looks. Fat people aren’t necessarily lazy. Fair skinned people need not be fair in their dealings with others.
3. If someone comments on your body, just accept it. “You have become dark” is only a bad thing, if you let it be
4. Reject the media’s portrayal. Remember: The dark, very hairy & moustached Anil Kapoor was the hottest actor some 20 years ago!
5. And above all: Love your body. Be grateful for it
Enjoy what your body allows you to do. Treat your body with kindness & gentleness like you’d treat a good friend!
It is never easy when a marriage or significant relationship ends. A breakup launches us into uncharted territory. Everything is disrupted: your routine and responsibilities, your home, your relationships with extended family and friends, and even your identity. Grief is a natural reaction to loss, and the breakup of a romantic relationship involves multiple losses:
• Loss of companionship and shared experiences
• Loss of support (financial, social, emotional etc)
• Loss of hopes, plans, and dreams
Allowing yourself to feel the pain of these losses may be scary. You may fear that your emotions will be too intense to bear, or that you’ll be stuck in a dark place forever. Just remember that grieving is essential to the healing process. And no matter how strong your grief, it won’t last forever.
So what can you do:
• Don’t fight your feelings: It is normal to feel many conflicting emotions, including anger, resentment, sadness, relief, fear, and confusion. It is important to identify and acknowledge these feelings.
• Talk about how you are feeling: Even if it is normally difficult for you to talk about your feelings, it is very important to find a way to do so when you are grieving. Journaling can also be a helpful outlet for your feelings.
• Seek help if you need: Seeing a counsellor or joining a support group can help you come in touch with your feelings and express them. Seek least one place where you feel comfortable opening up.
• Give yourself a break: Give yourself permission to feel and to function at a lesser than usual level for some time.
• Make time each day to nurture yourself: Do something everyday that you find calming and soothing - a walk, music, enjoy a hot bath, get a massage, read..
• Stick to a routine: A relationship breakup disrupts your life, amplifying feelings of stress, uncertainty, and chaos. Some regular routine can provide a comforting sense of structure and normalcy.
• Take time out: Try not to make any major decisions (change of job, home etc) in the first few months after a separation. Wait until you’re feeling less emotional.
• Explore new interests: A breakup is a beginning as well as an end. Take the time to explore new interests/ activities.
• Remind yourself that you have a future: It is hard to let go of the dreams you had. As you grieve the loss of the future you once envisioned, be encouraged by the idea that new hopes and dreams will eventually replace your old ones
(previously published in the Frazer Times)
(Reposted with Permission from our column in Frazer Times)
We all have one — an inner voice that expresses criticism, frustration or disapproval about our actions. It might sound like, “you should,” “why didn’t
you?” “What’s wrong with you?,” or “why can’t you get it together?” The actual self-talk is different for each of us, as is its frequency or intensity.
It is a cultural norm to believe that criticism or guilt-induced comments will motivate behavior Over time, these comments internalize and become our “inner critic,” the persistent negative self-talk that keeps us stuck. Unfortunately, this type of communication is anxiety-provoking and shaming, which is the opposite of motivation. When we feel shame, we feel that something about us makes us so flawed that we don’t deserve to be in connection with other people. Shame disconnects us from others. The point is that shame and self-criticism keep us from doing the things we need to take care of ourselves and ultimately find comfort, connection and motivation.
Awareness is the first step to recognizing and letting go of your inner critic. Many of us don’t even realize its presence. Catch yourself the next time you’re aware of feeling anxious, distracted or numb. Identify the voice of the inner critic. Identify the situation that may have triggered the inner critic. What are your genuine feelings about this situation? Remember, the inner critic helps you to feel in control. So ask yourself, “What am I afraid of? What would it mean if that happened? And what would that mean?” Allow yourself space to dig deeper and find your most vulnerable feelings about the situation. This is what the inner critic is protecting you from feeling. Do you really need all that protection?
The inner critic’s self-talk tends to fall into one of two categories, “bad self” and
“weakness.” Bad self is shame-based. Those who struggle with it might feel
flawed, inferior, inadequate, deserving of punishment or incompetent. The weak self is based on fear and anxiety. Those who fight it might feel dependent on others, unable to support themselves, submissive, vulnerable; worried about loss of control, isolated, deprived or abandoned. These beliefs are neither useful nor helpful. They are generally destructive.
Practice listening for clues to these beliefs by paying attention to the self-talk of your inner critic. Go on, challenge those beliefs!
Ajanta, Mahesh and other InnerSight counsellors and guest contributors are happy to share their thoughts here.