Authentic Masculinity. Recognizing external socialization. Discovering self. Giving up performing & mask wearing. Aligning with full authenticity & humanity. Living in integrity.

Men are socialized, as soon as we enter this world, about how we should think, feel, and behave as men AND how we should not think, feel, and behave as men. This gender socialization is so successful that my research participants couldn’t tell me when they first learned it, because they couldn’t remember not knowing it. People of other genders learn these rules and also help to perpetuate and reinforce them as well.

We are all socialized by the traditional hegemonic definition of masculinity. Critical gender scholars call this hegemonic because it places men above other genders, some men above other men, and limits all men. This is also called dominant or Toxic Masculinity. We have come to call this Toxic Masculinity as a way of pointing out how toxic it is to everyone.

We are all also socialized into many other cultural masculinities at the intersections of other identities. These include masculinities such as working class, gay, Black, Jewish, able-bodied, Latino, midwestern, and rural masculinities. Each of these masculinities is also plural because there are many different rural masculinities, many different Black masculinities, and so on.

Critically exploring masculinities can help illuminate privilege, address systemic sexism, and begin to create greater liberation for people of all genders. This includes liberation for men from the confines of masculinities that deny our authenticity and humanity.

There is a growing societal awareness of Toxic Masculinity. Many have tried to encourage a different version of masculinity, called Healthy Masculinity. For those just beginning to explore Toxic Masculinity, pursuing Healthy Masculinity, which is more pro-social, can certainly be helpful in guiding them in a different direction. In other words, this might be a good strategy, depending on where others are at in their learning. However, ultimately Healthy Masculinity is just another externally imposed set of guidelines that can also be restricting and limiting. What is Healthy Masculinity for me, might not be healthy for someone else and vice versa.

I’d like to make the case instead for Authentic Masculinity. This masculinity is individually defined and allows each person who identifies as a man to decide what is really authentic and genuine for him about his masculinity. This requires recognizing the gender socialization that is externally imposed by hegemonic masculinity and various cultural masculinities. Exploring who he really is beyond the faking, performances, and masks to live up to these external expectations. This is challenging to do. How does one explore who one really is when when has been taught to live up to others expectations for their whole life? To paraphrase how one participant put it:

I really like football. I played football. I like college football, professional football, fantasy football. But how do I know if I really like football or if I’ve just been taught my whole life that I am supposed to like football…and if I don’t know if I like football, how do I know if I really like girls?

So as you can see, once football is up for grabs, everything is up for grabs.

Encouraging Authentic Masculinity means recognizing the external expectations, exploring who one really is, and living in integrity by aligning what one values with what one does, consistently. In my research this evolved from learning external expectations, realizing that they couldn’t live up to those expectations and wearing a mask, to discovering who they really were, to living in integrity as who they really were consistently.

Discovering Authentic Masculinity is likely a life-long task to discover, re-discover, and live out fully. But anything else is simply living one’s life by other people’s rules. Authentic Masculinity means identifying as a man but making your own meaning about what that means for you personally, without needing for that to be shared with other men. It can change and evolve as you do and the world around you does. It is liberating.

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Supporting survivors. Safety. Believe. "It is not your fault. Empower.

When I speak about preventing sexual violence on college campuses, I often share brief definitions of different forms of sexual violence including sexual harassment, sexual assault, and rape. Once I’ve given these brief definitions I then ask, “How many of you know someone who has experienced sexual violence?” Again and again, on campuses across the United States and Canada, 75% of college students consistently raise their hand and say they know someone who has experienced sexual violence.

Those who do direct advocacy and support work get at least 40 hours of training and often times much more including on-going training, certifications, and advanced degrees in the areas of counseling, neuroscience of trauma, and more. It’s unrealistic to offer this level of training to college students generally, but it is critical to offer them some tips to support survivors. Especially, because 75% of them already know survivors and 80-90% of sexual violence on campuses go unreported to police or campus officials. We have to equip individuals and communities to be able to respond to survivors in ways that avoid harm and are helpful. Here are the four overly simplified suggestions I make to college students about supporting survivors.

1. Safety

Make sure the individual is safe. Are they injured? Do they need medical attention? Do they have a safe place to stay? If the person who harmed them is someone they live with, can you offer them another place to stay? Are they mentally and emotionally safe? Are they suicidal? Do they need immediate counseling and support to be safe? Make sure they are safe.

2. Believe

Very rarely do individuals claim that they experienced sexual violence when they have not. Many of us have an inflated sense of this happening, because of how the media portrays these things. Just because a criminal process didn’t find it beyond a reasonable doubt that the person identified was guilty, doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. Just because a campus process didn’t find a preponderance of evidence that the identified person was responsible, doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. Just because someone rescinds a report of sexual violence after being socially ostracized and isolated, or physically and violently threatened, doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. According to the FBI the incidents of individuals claiming they experienced sexual violence when they did not is about the same rate as people who said someone stole their car when that didn’t happen.

If someone shares with you that they have experienced sexual violence, believe them. It is highly unlikely they they are making this up. AND it is not your role to investigate, gather information, and share that information with decision makers. Someone else will be in that role. All you have to do is believe them. And tell them that you believe them.

3. “It is not your fault.”

Victim-blaming is all too common for survivors of sexual violence to experience. No one should be made to feel responsible for what someone else has done to them. Victim-blaming can contribute to hurt and trauma. Victim-blaming’s roots are in the rape culture in our society, our reactive approaches to sexual violence, and our own cognitive protective mechanisms. Our culture says, to women in particular, “don’t wear that, don’t drink too much, watch your drink, go with your friends, and come home with your friends” These messages are often intended to help individuals reduce their risk of experiencing sexual violence. However, they are strictly reactive and amount to telling women what they need to do to respond to being an environment and society where sexual violence is all too common, rather than being proactive and trying to prevent that sexual violence from happening in the first place to that individual or to anyone. These messages can also lead to victim-blaming.

Survivors of sexual violence often hear these messages, before and after experiencing sexual violence. We all want to believe that horrible things won’t happen to us. We want to believe in what cognitive science calls the “Just World Hypothesis.” We want to believe that the world is a fair and just place. So when horrible things happen, we scan for information that makes this situation unusual and therefore one that we don’t need to worry about. By doing so, we can maintain our belief in a just world. When we hear someone was mugged at 4 am, we think “that’s awful, but I would never be out at 4am” and then we can go on not feeling afraid and believe that the world is a fair and just place because we would never do that. But this leads to victim-blaming. We can even do it to ourselves. We may not want to believe that this horrible thing could happen to us again, so we may be tempted to find the thing that even we ourselves did wrong, hoping that if we just never do that thing, then this will never happen to us again. No one should be made to feel responsible for what someone else has done to them.

This is why it is so important to say to someone who has experienced sexual violence, “It is not your fault.” Even if they haven’t mentioned hearing or thinking anything that sounds like victim-blaming, say it anyway. Even if you have said it before, say it again. Even if you’ve repeated it endlessly, keep repeating it. Even if you feel like you are being ridiculously redundant, keep saying it. Survivors of sexual violence can’t hear those words enough.

4. Empower

Those who experience sexual violence have had their choices and ability to make decisions about themselves taken away. Make sure you are empowering them to make decisions about what happens going forward, both with their healing process and with any reporting they may choose. This can be especially hard when the person telling us they have experienced sexual violence is some one we care about deeply, and we feel we know what is best for them. Make suggestions. Make recommendations. Repeat them if you feel you need to. But, be sure you are empowering them to make their own decisions.




On Sunday evening I had the opportunity to hear Brené Brown speak in Minneapolis about her new book, Braving the Wilderness, which came out on Tuesday.

I’ve benefitted greatly from Brené Brown’s work including her previous books; Gifts of Imperfection, Daring Greatly, and Rising Strong as well as her TED Talks. Her ideas and concepts have been helpful in my presentations, my coaching with clients, and in my own life in relationship with others and myself.

On Sunday she spoke about how as individuals and communities today we are sorted (into communities with others who are like us), lonely, and afraid (of those who are not like us).

In the absence of love and belonging, there is always suffering. Always.

She calls this a spiritual crisis of disconnection.

Spirituality is recognizing and celebrating that we are all inextricably connected to each other by a power greater than all of us, and that our connection to that power and one another is grounded in love and compassion.

She calls for us to move toward true belonging.

True belonging is the spiritual practice of believing in and belonging to yourself so deeply that you can share your most authentic self with the world and find sacredness in both being a part of something and standing alone in the wilderness.

True belonging doesn’t require you to change who you are. It requires you to be who you are.


Stop walking through the world looking for confirmation that you don't belong. You will always find it because you've made that your mission. Stop scouring people's faces for evidence that you're not enough. You will always find it because you've made that your goal. True belonging and self-worth are not goods; we don't negotiate their value with the world. The truth about who we are lives in our hearts. Our call to courage is to protect our wild heart against constant evaluation, especially our own. No one belongs here more than you. - Brene Brown

She offered four practices for doing so, which also are outlined on the back of her book.

  1. People are hard to hate close-up. Move in.
  2. Speak truth to BS. Be civil.
  3. Hold hands. With strangers.
  4. Strong back. Soft front. Wild heart.

I imagine one of the reasons people cling to their hates so stubbornly is because they sense, once hate is gone, they will be forced to deal with pain.

-James Baldwin

She shared this quote to talk about how tempting it can be to distance and dehumanize others who are different from us. You might think of your uncle’s homophobic comments at Thanksgiving, white supremacists in Charlottesville, or the roots of genocide around the globe and across history. This dehumanization is there for sure. But I was also wondering about how those of us who aspire to work to reduce violence and the roots in oppressive systems, also use dehumanizing language and approaches in the name of social justice. bell hooks reminds us that these are tools of oppression. It can certainly be palpably tempting to dehumanize those who have dehumanized you or those you love and care about. It can even feel good. Being self-righteous and scoring points or kudos from others who share our thinking can be affirming and validating. But it rarely is effective in bringing about the kind of change and transformation we seeking to bring about in individuals, communities, institutions, and societal systems.

Brené Brown quickly and rightly pointed out that the burden shouldn’t fall to the traumatized to invite the traumatizers to the table. Others of us can do that, especially those with systemic privilege. The kind of connection that makes change and transformation possible isn’t always possible, especially when someone’s physically safety is at risk. Some times the goal is not learning and transformation but simply interrupting and stopping harm. This calls for different strategies. And other times efforts at creating change and transformation can’t continue because one side continues to dehumanize the other side. In these cases we can prioritize our own self-care and healing by choosing battles and focusing our energy where change may be possible.

For more on Braving the Wilderness, you can read Brené Brown’s snippet in Fast Company here.


Do you have a voice inside you that you trust? Could getting more clarity about that voice help you access it more readily? Could it help you trust your instincts or connect with what your brain is processing right below your level of conscious awareness?

One of the things I learned in my coaching certification program through the Coaches Training Institute (CTI) is how to help people connect with their Inner Guide. This helps them identify and connect with their own inner wisdom and separate it out from the external shoulds and the undermining and chiding voice of their Inner Critic.

Sometimes it can be hard to explain this to new coaching clients. We aren’t trying to create something new. We are trying to help put you in touch with a voice you’ve had all along. It can sound a bit gimmicky, but this Shel Silverstein quote really helps explain it quite nicely.


Last week I had the opportunity to read an advance copy of Kathy Obear‘s book In It For the Long Haul: Overcoming Burnout and Passion Fatigue as Social Justice Change Agents. Her book is out today and available for free download.

In It For the Long Haul is a much-needed look at burnout and sustainability in social justice work. Kathy explores the challenges and systemic roots of burnout as well as strategies for healing and sustainability in social change work. A great tool to help readers recognize, normalize, and address burnout in themselves and others.

As with her previous two books, Kathy generously agreed to do an interview for her book launch.

Keith: You describe your own life experiences with burnout as well as the experiences of your clients and workshop participants. What is pushing you to address this topic now? Do you see this issue worse now than before in yourself, in social justice circles, or in the broader culture?

Kathy: I am finding more and more people in deep burnout these days ~ and they are still getting up every morning to work for social justice. The challenge is they are depleting themselves, endangering their health, and undermining their long-term capacity to sustain activism and change work.

The cumulative impact of the increasing oppressive dynamics in society and in organizations is taking a deep toll. For decades, change agents have been resisting and creating greater liberation in the face of seemingly unrelenting systemic oppression. AND, in recent years, I have observed a significant increase in incidents and institutionalized oppression (whether there really is more occurring or we are just hearing about them more through social media and cable TV). For example, the seemingly daily or weekly news about another people of color, especially black men, being killed while interacting with police and the complete lack of justice in most every single death; the pervasive racism in the anti-immigration rhetoric that seems to be exponentially expanding everywhere I look; and the assault on health care that will endanger millions of people across intersecting identities, including age, disability, socio-economic class, immigration status, race, gender, etc. I could keep going because this current administration and their accomplices across the nation are persistently dismantling decades of progress through shifting policies, laws and practices that have created some degree of access and social justice over the decades.

It is time for everyone to step up their game, to do more, to be more, to create true equity and fairness for all. And we can’t do this if we are exhausted, overwhelmed, and burned out. We need immediate self-care and community care to sustain our change efforts for the long haul.

Keith: You described how much better you are when you are “spiritually grounded, emotionally present, and physically healthy.” Are these the three-legged stool of sustainability in social change work?

Kathy: Yes, though at times I may need a 6-legged stool! It seems easiest for many to start to create better balance in their physical health. Shifting how we eat, drink, sleep, exercise, play, and rejuvenate ourselves can result in a pretty rapid change in our energy and stamina.

As we eat nutritiously and cut back/cut out foods and beverages that deplete our immune system and energy, we most likely will notice we have more emotions than before and are more easily triggered. When we stop using food, alcohol, sugar, and other substances to cover over emotions, our feelings will resurface, often when we least expect! Deepening our capacity to effectively experience and navigate our emotions is critical to sustaining our change work. For most people I know, this will involve doing some deeper healing work to identify and resolve past issues and traumas that fuel our unproductive triggered reactions so we can be emotionally grounded and present in the work.

Finally, for those who have a spiritual practice, it may be useful to explore how you are currently using spirituality and/or religion to support your social change work. When I engage others out of ego or resentment or fear, I am far less effective and usually escalate dysfunctional dynamics that undermine my goal of greater equity and inclusion. However, when I ground myself in my faith and show up in ways that are consistent with my values, I am far more useful in the work. When I come from a space of respect, passion, compassion, empathy, authenticity, relating to the people I am engaging, curiosity to understand ~ then I am more likely to build relationships and deepen understanding, two critical criteria for creating and sustaining social justice.

Keith: You also describe seeking to engage with “compassion, humility, and accountability.” Is this another key three-legged stool?

Kathy: Compassion is a fundamental element of self-care and social justice work. I need to nurture deep compassion for those I am supporting and serving, including those with whom I disagree. People do not usually change when they are confronted out of anger or shamed into changing. One might see a short-term shift and “win the battle” as they say, but you will lose the war. I am in this for the long haul. I believe we need to build meaningful connections and relationships with people whose behavior we find disruptive and unacceptable. I find people only change when they are coached and supported by people they know and trust. We can be these change agents in people’s lives, but only if we engage them out of compassion and humility.

When I judge others, I am rarely effective as I interact with them. Yet, if I ground myself in humility and “see myself in them” instead of judging and distancing myself, then I am far more likely to build a fruitful connection. When I am stressed and burned out, it is so difficult for me to find any compassion or humility. I usually react with a depth of self-righteous anger and arrogance that completely undermines my ability to be useful and effective. I find more humility when I remember how I am just like those who I am judging OR how in a split second, I could say and do oppressive behaviors just like they are.

Accountability is critical to forward movement, yet so lacking in my experience. I need to hold myself accountable for my self-care and health so I consistently show up as a powerful, effective change agent. We also need to create greater community care among those with whom we work so we are all accountable for helping each other maintain the depth of stamina, passion, energy, and follow-through that we need to create meaningful institutional change. In addition, we need to hold each other accountable for our behaviors so that our actions do not collude and contribute to perpetuating the very oppressions we say we are committed to dismantling. This includes how we interact and engage other change agents as well as those whom we hope to educate along the way.

Keith: You cite a Brené Brown quote about how when we are overwhelmed we not only suffer but we get resentful as well. I can relate to feeling that myself. Do you think feeling that resentment can be an indicator of burnout?

Kathy: When I feel resentful of others or myself, it is a clear sign I am in dire need of self-care and healing work. I have an old pattern of over-doing and care-taking for others as I sacrifice attending to my own needs and desires. My guess is many people can relate!  Many of us are socialized to ignore ourselves and taught that setting boundaries and meeting our needs is selfish. I think these messages perpetuate oppression and maintain the systems of privilege and power. If we push ourselves past exhaustion, feeling resentful towards others, then we often stop out, possibly drop out, or if we stay in the work awhile longer, our resentment and rage fuels unproductive behaviors that undermines group effectiveness and team morale. We may keep showing up to planning meetings, but others will drop away. And without consistent, persistent effective organizing and strategic action, oppression continues to escalate.

It is critical that groups create the space to discuss how people are feeling as change agents and explore any sources of resentment that may be creating dysfunctional team dynamics. If we don’t, resentment and anger will fester and corrode efforts to create change.

Keith: I have been thinking a lot about “healing” and “self-care,” both as concepts and terminology in the context of social justice. You use both. Do you see them as interchangeable or different?

Kathy: I see self-care and healing as overlapping to a great extent. And both are essential to sustaining our change work. I need to focus on the more current dynamics of my life to create greater self-care: the quality of my relationships, how I take care of my body and spirit, how I balance work and rejuvenation, how I navigate conflict and triggering situations, etc. And I also have to hold space for doing deeper healing work so old issues and unresolved dynamics do not fuel any unproductive choices or reactions in the moment.

For me, healing work includes identifying and shifting old assumptions and beliefs that drive my workaholic tendencies as well as untangling old traumas and wounds so I take back my power, release pent up emotions, and rewrite my stories about those experiences.  Self-care and healing are so inter-connected. We need to focus on them both as we commit to reclaiming ourselves and our lives as we create the stamina, clarity, and passion we need for the long haul.

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A couple of months ago, I had the opportunity to read an advance copy of Jessica Pettitt’s book Good Enough Now. The book is out today!

Good Enough Now is a great book explaining how to really do the personal work to effectively raise awareness and engage in action around diversity, inclusion, and social justice. I really appreciated the focus on not being perfect and allowing for messiness. That is so important and often gets in my own way. Jessica has a great framework that is easy to understand and can be applied in a wide variety of situations to more effectively engage with ourselves and others.

Jess generously agreed to do an interview for her book launch.

Keith: In your book Good Enough Now, you explore how people can connect their head, hearts, and action to bring about more good in the world. Given all your work as a speaker, trainer, and facilitator, how did this format and framing for the book come about?

Jess: After doing diversity trainings, workshops, retreats, and answering questions after keynotes, I began to notice patterns of excuses as to why folks didn’t feel like they were good enough to intervene or interrupt oppression, let alone advocate for others and at times even themselves.  I developed a model that illuminated our response patterns and wrote the book to encourage readers to “do their own homework” and uncover the roots of the behaviors they are responsible for, how these were developed, and to leave room for someone else’s intentions.

Keith: Who is the audience you had in mind for this book as you were writing it?

Jess: Honestly, all of my products started with a problem I was having and couldn’t find another tool to lead me to a solution.  If it works for me, it could work for others, by sharing this tool with others paired with my own journey to problem solving, we could meet in an authentic and vulnerable space.  Anyone willing to meet up in this space can then be curious about others’ experience and generous.  This is the heart of social justice work.  The audience therefore got wider and wider and now includes anyone interested in doing something different leading to a different result.

Keith: Can you explain briefly head, heart, action as you use them in your book?


HEAD – doesn’t mean intelligence or academic – it references a need for or getting hung up on small details, vocabulary words, statistics, data, content.

HEART – doesn’t mean nurturing or parental – it references the connection between something small to something larger, be it an idea, mission, value, or even events or programs.

ACTION – doesn’t mean athletic or fitness – it references the reactive or proactive responses and not a lot of planning, talking, research, etc.

All three variables are equally good and frustrating to others.  All three are in all of us all of the time.

I can (re)claim responsibility for my actions when I understand the patterns of my behaviors and the roots of these patterns.  Moreover, I can notice my excuse patterns that limit my responses that I can also lean into when needed to behave in ways that are needed in the moment that may be outside of our habits.  Lastly, if I can do this work myself, then I can hold others at a distance to see them for their behavior habits instead of just shutting them down or out due to my frustration.   Now we can make a better connection.

Keith: What is the “third rail” in terms of head, heart, and action?

Jess: We typically respond from two of the variables leaving the third to fuel our excuses or, as I call it, gas pedal us through crucible moments in our life.  Like on the NYC Subway system, the third rail powers the system and can also be deadly.  Kryptonite and a Vaccination all at once – it is how we use our third rail and work with others third rails too.

Keith: What has shifted within you through the process of writing this book? How do you show up differently in your doing or being?

Jess: I am a head/action person, so heart is my third rail.  The model, literature review, and research got feed in the First section of the book, Good.  When I read other books about different types of conversations, the “Now What?” section came off to me salesy or at times manipulative and I wanted to really drill home the concept of self responsibility and the claiming or reclaiming of it instead of waiting to be perfect before doing something.  I also didn’t want the Now section to be about using this new jedi skill to impact others, but to understand one’s own impact on others.  The middle section, Enough, is all about trying to try and doing the best you with what you have some of the time.  My own excuse patterns are much more familiar to me after getting this project completed because I believe this matters more than ever.  I am much more open to hearing from others my patterns that I don’t know about, way less defensive, and comfortable with the reality that I will never be done with this self-reflection work.


A couple of years ago, I had the opportunity to attend a day long mindfulness retreat with Jon Kabat-Zinn, founder of Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction. This was a wonderful experience for a variety of reasons including the luxury of devoting a full day to building my mindfulness practice with wisdom and guided exercises (meditation, mindful lunch, mindful walking, etc.). However, the message from this that I have come back to over and over and shared with others is this,

This is far too serious a matter to take too seriously.


-Jon Kabat-Zinn

He was talking about this at the retreat in terms of the challenges of global terrorism as the retreat was happening shortly after bombings in Paris. I also heard him use this same phrase in talking with Krista Tippet in an On Being podcast referring to the challenges of being present and creating a healthy sense of self in an age of technology and social media.

I’ve come back to this again and again as I see myself, others, organizations, and society in general grappling with really critical and difficult problems. This quote has become a helpful reminder that holding on to challenges too tightly can prevent us from seeing possibilities, solutions, and space for opportunity. When we take our problems too seriously, we might be getting in our way of addressing them as effectively as possible. By finding space for humor, we don’t make them any less real or urgent, but we create space for creativity, innovation, and new thinking.

The Middle Path

I often am reminding individuals and organizations wrestling with really difficult problems, that they might be better off if they cared a little bit less. At first, many are shocked (or appalled) because they are so committed and passionate about the issue, the people, or the cause that to suggest that they care a little bit less feels like an affront to their values. However, I’m not suggesting that they don’t care at all.  I am suggesting that caring too much is getting in their way of being able to see new possibilities and solutions. I’m suggesting practicing what Buddhist’s would describe as non-attachment or the “the middle path.”

On one hand, we have the path of caring too much. On this path we are holding onto the issue or the need to address it SO tightly that we are unable to see any possibilities, new ways of thinking, or we end up paralyzed to inaction because any action could be too risky. This is a path of fear, anxiety, risk aversion, and the status quo.

On the other hand, we have the path of not caring at all. On this path we are indifferent to everything without values, commitments, or people we care about. This path leads up to inauthenticity and living a lonely and soulless life out of integrity.

The middle path is the path where we hold on lightly. We keep perspective. We realize that things are important but they are also impermanent and constantly changing. What and who we care about so deeply shifts and changes over time. Buddhist describe the middle path as the path of wisdom, because it allows for our commitments but it also allows for possibilities.

Could caring a little bit less about your job make you better at work by fostering less stress and more joy and more innovation and creativity? Could you letting go a little bit help you to become a better parent? Could you hold on a little less tightly to relationships that are important to you, so that you could be more present in those relationships, rather than constantly worried they might change or end?


The Book of Joy chronicled a week of conversations between His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu in Dharamsala, India to celebrate the Dalai Lama’s 80th birthday. The two spiritual leaders discussed joy based on the similarities and differences in their spiritual traditions and lifetimes facing hardship, violent oppression, and genocide. Douglas Abrams participated in the conversations as a journalist asking questions and provided the readers with background information on the two leaders as well as connections to scientific research and evidence related to joy, suffering, meaning, and perspective. Here are some key take aways for me.

1. Joy

These two spiritual leaders use the term joy over happiness. For them happiness is superficial and fleeting, while joy includes meaning and connection. Other authors have defined these terms differently, but discussed the same concepts. In The Book of Joy they describe hedonic happiness as fleeting and only positive states as opposed to eudaimonic happiness is set in an understanding of meaning, growth, and acceptance – including negative emotions. What is important here is to be clear that what we are seeking is not superficial and fleeting but also deep and meaningful over time.

2. Anger

A topic that has interested me more and more, particularly its connection to fighting for injustice, is anger. In The Book of Joy we are reminded that anger is a secondary emotion, usually with fear, hurt, pain, and injustice underlying the anger. If you work at dissipating the anger but the underlying emotions remain, your efforts will be futile. I’ve resonated with Robert Thurman and Sharon Salzberg differentiating between anger of resentment and retaliation and the anger of fierce compassion. In The Book of Joy they describe righteous anger as anger that is chosen in support of others and a tool of justice and compassion as opposed to a reactive emotion that is about the self.

3. Acceptance

I’m talking with coaching clients and others more and more about the power of radical acceptance. Joy is our natural state, the challenge is to return to it. Our own sadness is critical to our own empathy and compassion. Loss can also foster growth and learning or it can result in despair and depression. Focusing on you and what you have lost can result in despair and depression. On the other hand focusing on the one you have lost can lead to growth and learning. Grief is a reminder of the depth of our love.

I learned that courage was not the absence of fear but the triumph over it.

-Nelson Mandela

4. Suffering

Suffering comes from how we relate to each other. Envy, competitiveness, and contempt. We do need suffering to appreciate joy and grow and learn. Suffering can embitter or ennoble. The difference is if we can find meaning in our suffering. A great example of finding meaning in suffering is Nelson Mandela who found meaning and growth in his time in prison. Desmond Tutu and the Dalai Lama are also examples of this as they explore throughout their conversations.

5. 8 Pillars of Joy

The culmination of The Book of Joy is the outlining of 8 Pillars of Joy. I keep returning to these pillars in thinking about my own challenges, suffering, and attempts to return to joy.

  1. Perspective – Taking a sacred pause and finding the widest perspective helps us solve problems with creativity and compassion rather than rigidity and reactivity.
  2. Humility – Discover how you depend on others – your parents, those who made your clothes, or where you live, or the medications you take. You are only one of 7 billion people.
  3. Humor – Find ways to laugh at your faults, limitation, and foibles. Laugh at yourself. Laugh at life.
  4. Acceptance – Don’t argue with what was or is. Don’t argue with reality. “Why be unhappy about something if it can be remedied? What is the use of being unhappy if it cannot be remedied?”
  5. Forgiveness – Tell your story. Name the hurt. Grant forgiveness. Renew or release the relationship.
  6. Gratitude – Be thankful for what goes well and the learning and growth possible when things don’t go well.
  7. Compassion – Loving kindness: May you be free from suffering. May you be healthy. May you be happy. May you have peace and joy. Begin with yourself, then those you love, then those you know, then those you don’t know, and then those you fear or anger you.
  8. Generosity – Offer more and more and more to others (resources, compassion, forgiveness, understanding) and see what comes back to you.

Here is a mind map my friend and colleague Natalie Allen made based on her own reading of The Book of Joy and some of my notes. I love how Natalie can take the key concepts and bring them to life visually so well.



Last week at the ACPA Annual Convention, I was invited by the Commission for Social Justice Educators (CSJE) to share some history of the Commission’s coming into being 11 years ago. I was also invited to share some thoughts on the future of social justice education in higher education. I worked with several other good folks to help found CSJE 11 years ago and served as its first Chair. It was an honor to share with folks who are engaged now how that group came to be. On the other hand, it was pretty intimidating to share with these folks what I see on the horizon for social justice education. Here is a written version of what I shared with them about what I think I think about the future of social justice education. Much of this draws from and builds on a previous post on moving From Anti-Oppression to Liberation Social Justice Work.

Liberatory Visions and Strategies for Social Justice

Critical analysis and an anti-oppression understanding is critical to social justice education. If we aren’t clear about what was and what is, then we can’t effectively move forward. But we can’t just be stuck in critical analysis and anti-oppression either as it leaves us locked up, arguing with what was and what is. How many of us have been locked up arguing that someone shouldn’t have said that, or this policy never should have been enacted, or that person shouldn’t have been elected President? This is arguing with reality. Good luck with that. We need to be able to accept what was and is, not because it is good or right but because it is the current reality. We need to accept that it is reality – to be able to change it. We need to add to our critical analysis and anti-oppression understanding a vision and strategies toward liberation.

Liberation is about being able to see and move toward individual and collective freedom. As Cornell West says, “Justice is what love looks like lived out in public.”

Does your social justice work look like love lived out in public? At ACPA this year I saw so much social justice work grounded deeply with a clear understanding of injustice and clear direction moving toward individual and collective liberation. I also saw plenty of examples of mean-spiritedness and dehumanization justified, rationalized, and even applauded because it was framed as “social justice.” bell hooks reminds us that dehumanization is dominant culture. Binary thinking is dominator culture. Blame is dominator culture.

Shifts for Liberation Centered Social Justice Education

bell hooks calls us to shift from focusing on blame to cultivating transformation.

From self-righteousness to righteousness.

Buddhist teachers Sharon Salzberg and Robert Thurman call for a shift from anger of resentment and retaliation to anger of fierce compassion.

Activist Ngọc Loan Trần calls for shifting from calling out to calling in.

Brené Brown reminds us to shift from blame and shame to guilt and accountability.


Kristi Clemens & Brian Arao call for us to shift from aiming to create safe spaces to cultivating brave spaces.


These shifts are not new and are not innovative. They can sound like tone policing – and can be if used superficially. But if we look at these more deeply than superficially we see these approaches at the core of the US Civil Rights Movement, Buddhist activists facing genocide, anti-apartheid in South Africa, and movements toward freedom from Soviet control. Perhaps they are just what is needed for us now. 

Moving from Activists to Strategists

Years ago at the ACPA Residential Curriculum Institute, I heard Larry Roper point out the need for fewer activists and more strategists. As social justice educators, will we stand on this side of the bridge where we get it and are right and demand that others be where we are? OR will we cross the bridge, connect, and be good company for the journey for those who are learning?

It’s important to point out that this approach isn’t always possible. For those who are struggling to survive themselves or seeking to interrupt immediate harm for others a different approach may be necessary. However, if our goal is learning, growth, and transformation, which is what broad, systemic, and sustainable change requires on the micro and the macro levels, then we need approaches that will push, challenge, support, and foster learning, growth, and transformation.

This all has me thinking about my 5 year old daughter Nina. She is just on the cusp of being able to read. As she wrestles with this, I don’t scold her with, “DO BETTER!” I connect with her. I read to her. I try to remember what it was like to not be able to read to help her where she currently is. I support her efforts even when she gets it wrong and I give her grace when she is frustrated and wants to give up.

It’s also important to remember that dehumanizing someone because they haven’t had the same formal or informal learning opportunities you have had is not only ineffective as a strategy to foster growth, it is classist.

We also need to remember that learning toward social justice is wholly different from other learning, like learning to read.  Mostly when we are helping others learn, we are helping them to gain new knowledge or understand something they don’t know anything about. Learning is hard. But unlearning is even harder. Those who have internalized oppression and dominance are not naive, ignorant, or uninformed. They are exactly the opposite. They are very well mis-educated. Unlearning something you’ve come to believe is true is much harder than learning something where you previously were a blank slate.

Healing & Spiritual Grounding

I’m more and more convinced that healing and spiritual grounding are essential elements as we move toward liberation work as social justice educators. Hurting people hurt others. We all need to do our own healing so we don’t take our pain (for what has been done to us) and shame (for what we have done to others) out on the learners we are aspiring to help grow and transform. Taking our pain and shame out on learners is understandable given our hurts and how we have hurt others, but it is also educational malpractice. We need to do our own healing through therapy, self-work, coaching, learning, meditation, and many others forms that fit each of us differently.

We also need a spiritual grounding. I do not mean religious. This is a distinction that is important but often gets lost. I think about it as Vincent Harding does when he says,

Love trumps doctrine.

Social justice work centered on moving toward individual and collective liberation is not centered on our critical analysis (although that is needed). It is also not even centered on our doing (although that is needed). It may just be centered on our being. To my surprise, David Brooks, New York Times conservative columnist captures this for me so well as he shares,

Radical self-awareness from a position of other-centeredness. Awareness of the equality of all human beings because each of us are broken in similar ways. Grace – the receiving and giving of unmerited love. Ways of being.



Earlier this week I had the opportunity to read an advance copy of Kathy Obear‘s book …But I’m Not Racist: Tools for Well-Meaning Whites.

…But I’m Not Racist is a wonderful exploration of whiteness, white identity, white supremacy, and anti-racism work from Kathy Obear. Kathy shares her wisdom and insight from decades of experience facilitating workshops on race, which are tangible, memorable, and useful. She also brings her life’s experience being a white person to connect and relate to the challenges and struggles of being an aspiring ally. A helpful guide for white folks who are trying to do better but keep bumping up against obstacles, including themselves.

Kathy generously agreed to do an interview for her book launch. You can download the book for FREE January 19-22, 2017.

Keith: Your new book, …But I’m Not Racist expands on your decades of experience leading workshops, trainings, and coaching on exploring whiteness and anti-racist work. I loved how you openly shared some of your own racist socialization and obstacles to help relate and connect with the reader. It helped me to recognize some of my own internalized racism. What has helped you to be able to shift from avoiding, resisting, and running from your own internalized racism toward recognizing it, facing it, and moving through it?

Kathy: I spent decades fronting, trying to be the “good white” and falsely believing I was successfully hiding any racist attitudes or behaviors from my colleagues and participants. I may have appeared to be a white ally, but I knew down deep I still harbored unexamined racist beliefs. I am indebted to several colleagues who cared enough to confront me and give me very clear, direct feedback that my unproductive behaviors were negatively impacting people of color and supporting the racist status quo. I could no longer fool others or myself that I was doing enough and that I was a good ally.

My drive to live a life of integrity, to have my actions aligned with my core values, was stronger in that moment in time than my fear of facing the truth about my racist socialization and my current behaviors and attitudes that perpetuated racism. Slowly, over time – with intentional, focused self-work and increasingly honest, authentic dialogue with myself and others – I more often choose to see the truth of who I am today and how I am showing up AND how I am impacting others, regardless of my conscious intent. And in the process, I have been blessed with a wide variety of friendships and connections with people of color and people who identify as multiracial or biracial – and so today, I also find deep motivation to partner to create racial justice, a world where people I know and love do not face the violence of racism that I have, and sometimes still do, perpetuate.

Keith: This book is built on decades of your own learning and professional work on diversity and social justice facilitation. What has shifted for you in how you do this work over that time?

Kathy: As you may remember, I used to facilitate white caucuses and engage whites in trainings out of a sense of self-righteous anger and judgment. I was far more concerned about looking good, being seen as the most competent white ally, and getting the approval of colleagues of color. I thought I had to aggressively confront other whites and, with some feedback from a white colleague, realized that my approach was not very effective.

Today, instead of “telling” others much of anything, I talk about my own feelings and experiences and invite them to relate in. I share times I have thought and acted on racist attitudes and stereotypes and ask them to see themselves in me. Out of a grounding of care and compassion, I engage other whites and offer them a mirror to see themselves and offer them some feedback about their impact – I call this “gentle nudging,” though in the moment some whites may not experience me that way!

I believe each white person I work with is a loving human being who deserves to be treated with dignity and respect. AND, I feel a deep responsibility to identify and confront their racist attitudes and behaviors so they can realize their unintended impact, and learn how to unlearn their racist and white supremist socialization so they can choose to live differently today.

Calling someone out may feel good in the moment and possibly interrupt a racist dynamic at the time, but it may do little to help educate other whites, much less develop meaningful relationships to continue the dialogue and learning over time. I am in this for the long haul. And I need other whites to be in community with me so I can be accountable for doing my part to dismantle racism. In a learning community, we can learn from each other if we have built the depth of trust and connection needed for deepening authenticity and vulnerability. I am grateful to have learned these other ways of engaging whites over the years. I deeply believe they are far more effective and productive than the more confrontive and aggressive style of my earlier years.

Keith: If you could gift white folks who might say or even just think to themselves, “…But I’m Not Racist” one awareness, insight, or tool what would that be?

Kathy: Why do you resist the possibly that you might have racist attitudes? That you act in ways that negatively impact people of color? There is a spiritual saying, “What we resist, persists.” When I got willing to recognize, and admit, the depth and breadth of racial stereotypes and racist attitudes I still held onto – I felt such relief to know 1) I wasn’t alone. Most whites, when they get honest in my sessions, acknowledge the racist beliefs they still struggle with; 2) It was liberating to honestly share these with other whites FOR THE PURPOSE of releasing them; and 3) The only way out is through: we have to admit the internalized racist beliefs in order to continuously work to shift them and learn the truth about race and racism in our lives. This was, and is, not an easy journey for me at times, but let me tell you, it is so worth it!

Keith: In the book you mention several painful but critical moments of being held accountable as a white person from people of color and other white folks. You also mention how important your own healing and self-work has helped you respond better (more compassion) both when held accountable and when holding others accountable. What has that healing and self-work looked like for you? I think many white folks recognize a need for this but aren’t sure where to look or how to do it.

Kathy: I have done my deepest self-work and healing in white caucuses where whites get honest about our racist attitudes and actions and then explore new ways to think and behave. Telling stories about my socialization over the years helped me to realize I was intentionally taught racism from every institution in this nation. And what I was taught, I can unlearn. A key aspect of healing work has been to recognize the benefits I receive from white privilege and white supremist beliefs. While a lie, I got to believe I was smarter and superior to people of color. This illusion helped me believe I was worthwhile and countered some of the negative messaging I learned about my marginalized group identities. I needed to recognize each and every racist thought that was rooted in internalized dominance and learn tools to interrupt these thoughts and beliefs in my daily life.

Reading books, watching movies, and talking to others were critical ways to learn about the history of racism and the current manifestations…these were foundational to my healing work because they fueled my passion and commitment to create a different world. But I had to look inside and see how I was perpetuating the very racist dynamics I railed against when I saw them in others or in society. I needed to do my personal, internal work so I could be more useful and of service supporting other whites to do their self-work as well.

Keith: This is your second book in a year. Congratulations! I’m curious what has motivated you to pursue your work in this way, what has made that possible, and what you have learned along the way?

Kathy: I have been training trainers and developing the capacity of change agents for the past 30 years. With each year, I am more aware of how much more work needs to be done, and how older I am getting! I am deeply committed to supporting the leadership of the next generations and I hope these two books (and 1-2 more this year!) will be useful resources. I want to leave a legacy of liberation and I hope my books and training resources help thousands of others create greater racial justice and social justice in their own lives and in their organizations.

I believe we each must contribute what we can and do our part. I wanted to share as much of how I do this work in accessible ways so others can use them and then build and create new and innovative ways to create the world we envision!

You can download the book for FREE January 19-22, 2017.