I am writing you this from day 20 and something that happened on day 18 – this day – had hit a nerve.
For good story telling I should tell you a lot of things that happened during the day and then bring you back to what I told you. But I won’t. I’ll get right into it.
It was our Toastmasters evening and as the president I get the privilege of opening and closing the meetings.
In the beginning of the meeting I get to say welcome, ask the guests who they are and what brought them to the night and at the closing I get to ask again how they enjoyed the meeting.
Every meeting we also collect the roles for the next meeting, this is done by vice president of education, who is my friend Elena in her pilgrimage. And I took over her tasks till she came back. And that adds another part to the closing I do.
I got handed the word and first asked people to take a moment and celebrate the beautiful new members who had done their first speeches. I said the first name wrong! Instead of Francesca I said Carola and I only understood I made the mistake when I saw the awkward faces of the people. I apologised and I think completely blushed.
After celebrating the other two members I went on asked people, the guests, to share their opinions about the meeting.
One guest said something like it is not my first time, so I asked him “are you a member of Toastmasters?”. He said “You don’t know what’s going on here, do you?”. I said “Sorry I don’t understand what you mean, what is going on, what do you mean?”. By this time I was asking to myself “Yeah, what’s going on?!?”. I was wondering if this person was an “auditor” sent from Toastmasters International that came to inspect us and I should have known it and do something about it but I didn’t. Maybe he was here for a purpose which I should know about. “You don’t know what’s going on, do you?” felt very accusing and I was wondering what was going on.
He said “Are you sure you are the president?”. I said “excuse me?”, or maybe didn’t, I don’t know but said something around that. He said “I am not sure if you are president, you don’t know what’s going on here, you don’t know who is a member of not so I don’t know if you are a president.” He might even have said “What kind of president are you?”. I said “Thank you for the feedback, would you like to take the stage and show me how to be one? I had offered the stage for the guests to give us their feedback”. He said no and we went to the next guest. I felt a punch in my stomach, I was shocked and also felt attacked. And I was totally unprepared, totally vulnerable. I couldn’t process what was going on.
We closed the meeting and after the meeting I talked with him and asked him what he meant, he was just joking. I understood that he was not attacking me, he was just making fun and thought it was funny. It was his style of humour. I understood him. We sat at the dinner table after the meeting and talked with him. I felt love and compassion toward him. But I still had the feeling of “humiliation”? (I am not sure if it is even that) that I could feel in my body.
At the dinner table we had a talker. He talked really well too. First it was about how IT work shifted to Nigeria now because it was much cheaper. He told us how he found a developer for his project for 2000 USD per year. That did not feel right. I don’t think I can throw a stone at someone hiring a professional from somewhere far because the services are cheap because I buy a lot of cheap stuff, I buy clothes from retailers not questioning how they were produced. I was not innocent. But, I was bothered by the tone of the story, how a fortunate thing to be able to do it for him. That felt wrong. Being happy paying someone a small sum of money upset me.
The second topic also alerted me. It was an interesting one about how one should communicate so people ally with you. He said he had been practicing a model and he saw the benefits of it. It sounded very interesting and had its foundations on social psychology: how people did not want to lose status, how people did not like change and uncertainty, how people did not like confrontation, opposition, rejection, how people wanted to have autonomy. When people feel their status, security, autonomy is at risk, they are negative, it is more difficult to make them your allies.
I totally understood the concept but I was bothered again by the “tactfulness” of this. I said “How can we create authentic conversations and relationships when we have these rules in mind”. He said it was pretty much like Toastmasters. Toastmasters have many rules about what makes a great speech and you practice, you practice and you inherit them, make them your own. That is true. Although that also feels too much like squeezing people into boxes. In our Toastmasters evaluations I hear the same advice over and over again, eye contact, usage of the stage, usage of your hands… yes, these are important but tell us about how this person’s story or the person himself touched you, where did you feel yourself being pulled into and where you felt lost, alienated… what do we learn from the places that pulled you towards the speaker so the speaker can use it more and take it into the next level… Coming back to the guy and the topic… What bothered me in this technique is the reinforcement of the belief “people don’t like change – don’t make it look like change, people don’t like loss of status – give them first the acknowledgement of their status. But the concepts themselves are not good for us. We need to embrace change, we are change, life is change, everything is change. We can acknowledge the feeling of the person about the change – the fear around losing what is valuable – we can feel with the person and be their ally, we don’t need to make them feel differently. About status… what makes it important in the first place? The idea that the things are scarce, love is scarce, food is scarce, money is scarce. In a world where everything is scarce you need to win, win over each other, you need to be able to decide who gets the bigger piece of the pie. In this world you need to armour up, you need to fight, you need to win, you need to have a high status. But when you know you can get anything you want, when something finishes, you can ask, you can create, you can find ways to get something else instead and even if you don’t get it it is still okay – then what does status serve? Just a token of your own self worth maybe – but you don’t want to fight with yourself, do you? That is a losing game.
And why do you need to make someone an ally? Why do you need to “make” an ally? You have an ally, you have the allies. All of us. All the humanity. We are in this together. If what you do benefit yourself and others we are allies. Does what you want me to join you in benefit me and others? If not, why do you do it?
I came home and I needed some self – care, to give myself time to process. But I did not. Fabio was at home, we talked. I opened the topic. He said “It was a joke, you took it very seriously, why did you not understand it was a joke?”. I explained him all my trail of thoughts and how I still feel said. He continued asking why. He also had a smile on his face. I felt offended that he was smiling. I felt he did not understand me. I did not want to speak. He went to bed. I wrote a bit, actually typed what I had written on my notebook and then fell asleep on the couch/ bed in my office – room.
How my focus had shifted during the day. It was a pretty amazing day. I read, I wrote, I talked to a potential customer and got excited for his life. I read about Amanda Palmer’s request for interviews in Germany and contacted the cool German blogs, channels suggesting them to get in touch with Amanda. I tweeted it and I got a thanks from Amanda fucking Palmer herself. It was amazing!
Before I went out of the house I contemplated with the idea of sharing a story with my Toastmasters Club when I opened the meeting. There were two possible stories: the story of the Icarus – the one I read in Seth Godin’s book The Icarus Deception or my own story of being afraid on the little boat and how I reached out for a hand to find comfort. I wasn’t fully happy with neither of them and I said I would go with the flow.
I was late to the meeting and I had rushed in and opened it with a hurry. I decided to forego the story part and started right into getting to know the guests. I felt a bit insecure about my decision, not having used the opportunity to share something I thought was important with my friends. I did not let that feeling go and then in the end another feeling hit me.
The urge to not to feel what I feel is high but thank god I know better. I know that the feeling serves a purpose. First it is a calling from my heart for attention to something that needs nurturing, second it is a reminder of how it feels when one is sad so I can approach another person with the understanding of how it feels when they are sad, or how it might feel (everybody feels it differently), third there is something that might benefit others in this suffering if I can transcend it. This last one I know in theory but I will need to practice and have guidance of wiser ones. I am here for it.