How to Be a Good Ally to the LGBTQ+ Community

The world is a beautiful place, filled with people of different age, race, religion, economic class, able-bodied status, gender, sexual orientation, etc. These infinite identities, in their various combinations, are the ones that make our everyday experiences unique and powerful.

In the case of gender and sexual orientation, over time, our ideologies have become conditioned to be more accepting of familiar binary identities while often disapproving those who identify beyond the binary. Identifying differently is not something that is up to choice and is simply the way they are. It is nothing uncommon and there are ample examples of non-binary identities throughout history and even mythology

While there has been a slow and growing acceptance of the LGBTQ+ community, they continue to face different forms of prejudice. This often forces the community into living a fearful and closeted life. Everybody, regardless of their choices deserve to live a life that is free of discrimination, which is why becoming an ally and standing up for what is right is of great significance and importance. An ally is a person who is genuinely concerned about the well-being of the LGBTQ+ community and strongly advocates for equal rights and fair treatment. While there is no such thing as a perfect ally, here are a few tips on how to be a good ally.

1. Understand Gender, Sexual Orientation and Gender Expression

  • Do not confuse sex, gender and sexual orientation. Recognize the range of identities that a person can associate with.  To know the difference between sex, gender and sexuality and to learn more about the various identities, please check out our blog article, Infinite identities – understanding sex, gender and sexuality.
  • Try to do your own research. It is unfair to ask the LGBTQ+ community to justify their identity for your better understanding.
  • Always use the appropriate pronoun to address people. If you are unsure of what to use, ask the person how they might want to be addressed. Also, get to know when/where it is safe to use the chosen pronoun. ( e.g. In front of the family / at their workplace)

2. Do listen when a person talks about their identity

  • Talk inclusively about sexualities in your everyday conversations, to make it easy for someone to know that you’re a safe person to share their identity with.
  • Be aware of the process of opening up about one’s identity and realize that the process is not a one-time thing and is unique to each person. It is okay to ask questions but make sure they are posed in a sensitive way.
  • Appreciate them for having the courage to tell you, do not judge them, and most importantly respect their confidentiality.

 3. Speak up for the Under-represented

  • Speak openly about the LGBTQ+ people in your life, if they have opened up and are comfortable with it.  Again, be aware of when/where it is safe to do so.
  • While social media is a wonderful tool for education and building community, take online activism further into real-life scenarios. Anti-LGBTQ comments are very hurtful. If you find yourself in a situation where such discrimination happens, speak up and say that you find them offensive.
  • When people speak up, it helps educate others and also reduces instances of intolerance from repeating again in the future. It will also give others the courage to stand up against discrimination.

 4. Check yourself whenever you’re “performing” as an ally

  • We have to acknowledge that we can still do harm, even when we’re trying to do good. Remember that it’s okay to make mistakes while getting to know the LGBTQ+ community. 
  • If you mess up, do not beat yourself up for it. What is more important is to learn from them and move forward. Apologize for your actions and aim to do better next time.

Being an ally is about embracing the differences and looking past them to create a better world. It is choosing to strip down all the different labels and to remember that we are all human. It is about being Otis to Eric [1] and Captain Holt to Rosa [2]. While one person by themselves cannot change the world or undo the past,  one can do their best and that’s good enough. 

 Here is a list of other resources, that you can refer to help you become a better ally:

 

REFERENCES

1 From the Netflix show, “Sex Education

2 From the Netflix show, “Brooklyn Nine-Nine

https://www.oprahmag.com/life/relationships-love/a28159555/how-to-be-lgbtq-ally/

https://engage.youth.gov/resources/being-ally-lgbt-people

https://buffer.com/resources/lgbtqia-resources/

https://www.cosmopolitan.com/sex-love/a27703265/how-to-be-lgbtq-ally/

LGBTQIA Resource Center:  https://lgbtqia.ucdavis.edu/educated/ally-tips

A look at LGBTQ issues – Relationships, Religion and Access to Resources

‘Who am I?” – This question has haunted thinkers and philosophers forever. We attach an identity to a person and aim to form a generalized opinion of the mass through this segregation. However, each person has multiple identities – a woman, a biracial person of color, a brother, a social worker, a queer man… the list is endless. It is when we feel supported and recognized in every aspect of our collective identity that we feel accepted as a person. This realization, that each of us have something or the other in common and that we are ‘brothers’ through some shared identity, allows us to empathize when we see others being shunned for their sense of identity, for example, being LGBTQ+.

The LGBTQ+ movement is focused on getting EQUAL rights, to overcome the disadvantages they face on a daily basis and to earn a place of respect just as any other person could but without hiding their gender or sexual identity. The road to equality and acceptance isn’t always the same for people of differing identities. Sometimes, it is an uphill struggle with no reprieve – especially for minorities and disadvantaged groups. This fact, in any way does not discount that it might be difficult for a person not belonging to these groups, but only that there is an added hurdle of discrimination that cuts deep into the progress by someone who is LGBTQ+.

This is evident in major aspects of any person’s life – relationships, religion and access to resources. In all these areas, scientific studies conclusively state that LGBTQ+ people are more likely to face hurdles and have less success in achieving a fulfilling life.

Relationships

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Photo by Anna Shvets on Pexels.com

Even in countries with a generally progressive view on LGBTQ+ rights, people belonging to the queer community are far more disadvantaged and having a lifelong relationship with a partner remains a distant dream. A 2013 Survey of LGBT Americans shows that only 16% of LGBT people, mostly bisexuals with opposite sex partners are currently married compared with about half the adults in the general public. We can safely assume that the numbers are even lower in conservative and religious countries such as India. Acceptance by family is another major aspect to the problems faced by LGBTQ+ people. The stories of prosecution and attempts at conversion therapy of LGBTQ+ youth who have come out to their family deter the many others still deeply closeted. It is cruel that even their family is no place of solace from the continuous stress and trauma owing to the fear of judgement from society. 

However, there is hope. The trend in urban India shows that there is an uptick in the activism and awareness surrounding LGBTQ+ issues. With the repeal of the colonial-era law criminalizing homosexual relationships, the support on social media and general public has increased. This move in India has also inspired movements in other former British colonies to throw out this outdated law. Support systems form an essential building block in the foundation of LGBTQ+ relationships. Many LGBTQ+ people’s accounts show that they received support and help from online platforms anonymously, opening up an avenue for closeted LGBT people to seek a sense of community. Hopefully, this social acceptance can also translate to more and more families accepting their children’s sexual and gender identity.

Religion

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Faith and hope can come from more than one place. Spirituality and religion can impart a sense of belonging and must be a safe haven for everyone who wishes to practice it. ‘For a member of the LGBTQ+ community , however, that avenue is also riddled with danger. The outlook for homosexuality’s acceptance in Indian religions is grim. Most religions either oppose or remain mum on homosexual relations and this lack of basis in written tenets alienates the LGBTQ+ population from following religion. This is exacerbated by the fact that most liberal religious leaders do not raise their voices for fear of prosecution. 

In our blog article, The Language of Love, we discuss how homosexuality and gender identity aren’t radically new concepts in the context of Indian history. This attitude is slowly changing; in an article published in Indian Express, there are examples of how acceptance by a local church father, temple priest, or Muslim cleric can make an impact at a wider level. As stories such as these are adopted and shared by the media, more and more religious leaders might step up to the need of LGBTQ+ people’s concerns in Faith. A study by GLAAD, Missing Voices, reports that mainstream media outlets were disproportionately reliant on anti-LGBT religious voices and provide a skewed outlook of general opinion. As an example of proof to the contrary, Catholics support marriage equality at 54%, which is higher than the U.S. national average. Faith and Spirituality must be non-political, open, and accepting to all, for it is a sanctuary for the emotionally and spiritually wounded to open up and that is not possible when there is fear of judgement.

Access to Resources

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Deprived of meaningful connections through relationships or religion, it is sad but not surprising to find that this has a direct impact on the mental and physical health of LGBTQ+ people. This issue is compounded by the fact that to access resources, a gay or lesbian person has to overcome hurdles of substantial proportions. Financial independence can be a strong factor in the decision to come out of the closet. A curated study by the World Bank in India, finds clear evidence of stigma and exclusion for LGBT people in India and that this stigma has a possibly substantial economic impact of lower productivity and output because of employment discrimination.The situation is far worse in the case of health resources. In an exhaustive guide and resource kit published by the U.S. Department of Health, it is stated that LGBTQ+ people are more likely to contract physical illnesses such as heart disease, cancer, and obesity and mental health issues such as suicide and substance abuse. 

However, In the same guide, it also finds that culturally sensitive mental health services have been shown to be more effective in the prevention, early detection, and treatment of these conditions. At the height of the gay rights movement in the U.S. the fight for access to resources to combat AIDS was a strong motivator. Providing these resources contributed significantly to improving the overall health of the population and bringing about awareness of the deadly disease. A research study published in World Development which analyzes economic data from 132 countries from 1966 to 2011, finds that there is a strong sign that economic development and LGBT inclusion are mutually reinforcing. Just one additional point on an 8-point scale of legal rights associated with a whopping $2000 per capita GDP increase. This shows that there is a strong basis for governments and industries to fight against LGBT discrimination and secure their rights in the workplace.

Open LGBTQ+ people are a minority. The majority of the population might feel inclined to not support their rights or that their problems are exclusive and trivial to a straight person. The research and data however paint a picture to the contrary. Inclusion of LGBTQ+ people has a direct positive impact on the overall health and economy of a nation. If data and statistics aren’t enough to convince you to be a supporter of their rights, we must look past the identity of a gay man, a lesbian woman, a transexual or queer person and see that they too hold an identity that you might associate with; a college student, a sister, an Indian, a neighbor in your community. It is through this shared identity that we must motivate ourselves to be compassionate and empathetic to their cause. Only through this attitude of acceptance and approval can we truly become open and accepting to our own identities and those of others’.

The Silent Crisis

TRIGGER WARNING: MENTIONS OF SUICIDE

 

There is no right way to begin talking about something like this. And that is exactly why it should be talked about; because conversations surrounding mental health issues are uncomfortable, need vulnerability and most importantly take a damning amount of courage. 

You see, the fight against the stigmas surrounding mental health dialogue and creating awareness about mental health issues is an everyday push-and-pull. India has one of the highest suicide rates in the world. There are days when the world seems receptive to conversations, seems accepting of mental health issues, but some days just go on to show just how much of an uphill battle it actually is. LonePack was started with the very purpose to fight to start getting people to talk about mental health and to normalise mental health issues and their treatment. But it is absolutely gutting to see so much insensitivity and dismissal that still shadows mental health. It makes you think just what does one need to do to tell the world that they need help? And this is essentially what it is – this is the heartbreaking yet sobering reality that millions who are battling their own demons face every single day. 

If you scream out for help with everything you have but no one listens, you forget how to speak with time. 

It is high time everyone joins the battle against de-stigmatising mental health. It is not a taboo, it is a crisis. And it is time that the world starts recognising that. 

To bring to attention a few things that need visibility, especially now.

 

  • Be extremely careful of the words you use. It is very easy to throw words out there that in reality can deeply affect and trigger someone who is battling mental health issues. Be very sensitive to the content you share on social media. Be mindful of your language and educate yourself on the proper way to address those who reach out to you for help or talk to you about their mental health. Here are a few resources that you can refer to

Ten Commandments for How to Talk About Mental Health

Mental illnesses: Terms to use. Terms to avoid.

  • Do not misuse hashtags on social media. The aim as a collective is to bring attention to the issues surrounding open dialogue on mental health. It is not to be taken lightly and not to be used as an exploitative tool for any sort of personal of professional gain. 
  • Talking is definitely  a great first step but if you wish to open yourself up as a listener to those who need it, do keep in mind the accountability and responsibility that come with it. It is not to be taken lightly. You have to provide a non-judgemental, safe and inclusive environment for people to talk to while taking care of your own mental health. Here is a document that outlines some of the do’s and don’ts of being a listener https://lonepack.org/blog/index.php/2020/06/15/talking-to-someone-who-is-suicidal/. Again, let it be known that it is not an easy task. Instead, gently guide them to professional help and resources.
  • Please, please be kind. Battling mental health issues is not easy in any sense. Mental health is often romanticized as being quirky, moody, or anti-social and its portrayal in media is only now slowly changing. It is not pretty, it is not cute, it is not an adjective in any sense. It is raw, it is messy, it is uncomfortable, and it is wrenching. Be kind to those around you. 
  • The road to recovery is long and winding. Be patient. Anyone who has battled or is battling mental health issues can attest to the fact that recovery is not simple, it is not easy and it is not linear nor definitive. It is not a switch that you can flip and consider yourself to be “cured”. It is an everyday battle and every single, small step taken towards getting better counts.  Please be patient and understanding. 
  • Reach out. Mental health issues are silent. Those who are battling them might not feel ready or comfortable or safe to talk about it. The stigma surrounding mental health issues has made it incredibly difficult for those who battle mental health issues to come out and talk about them. And most often than not, they are driven to believe that they are alone in their battles. It is important to let them know that they aren’t and offer unyielding support. Reach out and check in on people with kindness and gentleness. 
  • Educate. Both yourself and those around you. Use your platform, no matter how small, to spread awareness by sharing proper established sources of correct information. This is one of the most important things to do if change is to be brought. Here are a few resources to check out.

Mental disorders

Health Topics

 

It feels unreal when someone who battles mental health issues gives up on it. That is someone’s friend, sibling, parent, partner, colleague but most importantly a genuine human being. Life is not to be taken lightly. Empathy and understanding is often dismissed when addressing issues such as this in the press and on social media. It is sickening to see the way a person’s life is turned into a mockery of sense in the wake of their death. And it has to stop. They are more than their achievements, they are more than what we see. There are so many who need help and are unable to have access to it. It is up to us to become allies and fight against the stigma. Fight for changes at the grassroots levels. Fight to normalise mental health issues and its treatments. If not now, then when will change happen? How many more lives do we have to lose to see change? Do your bit in helping. Here are a few ways you can be a strong ally

  • An audiovisual representation of what does it mean to be an ally 

How to be a mental health ally

NAMI Infographic – Helping Others Along the Road

To reiterate, mental health right now is not a taboo but a crisis. We need change and we need it right now. 

Talking to someone who is suicidal

Talking about suicide is never easy. 

While you might want to help, it is important to first ensure that you are comfortable talking about it; if you’re not, it is bound to reflect in the conversation. If talking about suicide makes you feel uneasy, then it’s a good time for you to reflect and ask yourself why. Is the fear of saying the “wrong thing” stopping you? Then hopefully this document can serve as a comprehensive starting point. Beyond this, it is also suggested to read testimonials of survivors, to truly understand what it means to feel suicidal.

What pushes someone over the edge?

The thought of suicide is a consequence of feeling like there is no other option – that there is no other way out other than ending one’s life. It may sometimes come from a place of loneliness, a place of punishment, guilt and even pain.

Know that talking about suicidal thoughts rather than keeping it inside is a positive sign, because it means that the person is reaching out for help. They are reaching out for someone who can understand their pain. And reaching out always means that there is hope.

Hence when someone mentions that they feel suicidal, do not go into panic mode. Although it is completely natural for us to have this “default reaction”, understand that staying calm will help you think more clearly and to be actively present. If we equip ourselves with proper awareness and knowledge to deal with the situation, then we can trust ourselves to be better at providing support. Remember, all we need to do is to be there for the person on the other side. Because, that is all THEY need. But what does “being there” mean? It means to actively, whole-heartedly and truthfully pay attention to the person and to take them seriously.

Let us remember that contrary to the popular notion that talking about suicide can increase its risk, if the topic is addressed in a sensitive manner, it can encourage an individual to share their experiences and feelings.

Here are some myths and facts about suicide –

https://www.samaritans.org/how-we-can-help/if-youre-worried-about-someone-else/myths-about-suicide/

 

Assessing the level of risk

Assess the immediacy of acting on a suicidal thought. Does the person have a weapon nearby and can they end their life immediately (extreme risk)? Or are they calm and just talking about their suicidal thoughts as a way to share and reflect (mild risk)?

In the case of the former, understand that this extreme risk is driven by an intense feeling that “everything is too much to handle”. So try to lower the intensity of this feeling. Some de-escalation phrases are discussed below (re: Pt. 8 of “What should you say”). Engage the person in conversation, even if it is about the suicidal thought itself (given they want to speak about it; refer pt. 4 of “What should you say” below). Just keep the conversation going. And, when appropriate, calmly insert a suicide helpline.

In the latter case of mild risk, while the person shares these thoughts, please refrain from trying to “solve” or “fix” the problems causing those thoughts or an immediate attempt to “lighten” the mood. These efforts, although well-intentioned, may stagnate conversation. Pay attention to what the person needs through actively listening to them.

What does it mean to actively listen? It involves:

  • Not trying to talk the person out of their thoughts or feelings.
  • Not professing to understand a story that is not yet known.
  • Not offering superficial reassurance.
  • Not problem-solving.
  • Not giving advice.

In some situations, it is helpful to plan a buffer – a “safety plan”, in case the person contemplates attempting suicide again. This is essentially a plan of action which consists of identifying one’s triggers (for increased awareness) and devising a set of internal and external coping strategies that can be used when needed. This plan enables them to have more control of the situation.

Please read more into this so that you can learn and maybe coordinate making such a plan with the person. 

Here are some links to read up more on what a “Safety Plan” is:

https://www.suicideinfo.ca/resource/safety-plans/

http://suicidesafetyplan.com/uploads/SAFETY_PLAN_form_8.21.12.pdf

https://www.nasmhpd.org/sites/default/files/SAMHSA%20SPI%20SMI%20PPT%20final_2.pdf

 

Safety plan template : https://www.getselfhelp.co.uk/docs/SafetyPlan.pdf 

What should you not say?

These are not meant to be a strict set of rules but rather guidelines that should be kept in mind while conversing with a person who is at risk.

 

  • “Suicide is selfish/Think about what your family and friends will go through” – This just adds on to the guilt that the person is feeling because they already think they’re a burden. And in their distressed condition, they may feel that they would be freeing their friends/ family of this burden. How to use empathy here? Understand that it is normal for anyone in excruciating pain to just want to escape. Haven’t we all experienced being in pain and just wanting it to go away? Think about those times and try to grasp the pain the person is going through.

 

  • “Suicide is cowardly”– This statement does nothing but add shame. It does not help the situation but instead can make the person feel judged and cornered.

 

  • “You don’t mean that. You don’t really want to die.” – Often out of panic, we might say this to the person, but it can be really dismissive and invalidating of the person’s experience. At ANY circumstance, it’s always better to believe someone is suicidal rather than dismiss it, because even if there is a morsel of truth to it, taking the person seriously can avoid the danger.

 

  • “You have so much to live for”– Although in some cases, this might convey a sense of hope, it is important to remember that the top reason someone resorts to suicide is because they DON’T think they have anything to live for. In such cases, this can communicate a lack of understanding of their feelings and situation.

 

  • “Things could be worse”– Yes, things can be worse but pain cannot be compared. Pain is a SUBJECTIVE experience. Someone’s whole world can be crashing even if they are relatively “well-off’.

 

  • “Other people have problems worse than you and they don’t want to die”– True, but don’t you think the person has already considered this? Compared themselves and felt more shame and guilt that they couldn’t handle it while others could? In fact, this can make them feel like they’re broken or defective. Reality will then just seem like a sick joke.

 

  • “Your problems can be solved/Your problems are temporary”– Although some problems may be temporary, there also exists problems that can be long lasting and all we can do is learn to cope with them in a better way. This statement just shows a blatant assumption which again may push the person further away, making them feel like you don’t understand their situation.

 

Here’s a link to read more – https://purplepersuasion.wordpress.com/2014/04/09/ten-things-not-to-say-to-a-suicidal-person/

If you feel you have already said something referring to those listed above, don’t panic. It’s okay. Just go back to the person and convey that you did not respond helpfully and apologise for it. Let them know that you want to understand better and that you will henceforth try your best to be a better listening ear, an ally, a buddy who will be there for them.

What should you say?

Please do not take this as a “script” to be followed word-by-word but try to grab the essence of what needs to be said. Also try to refrain from over-using the phrase “I understand” and instead use statements/ phrases that SHOW you understand. Ask yourself, “What can I say right now that will show the person that I understand what/how they feel and that I care about them?” The following statements are some examples for the same.

 

  • “I appreciate that you told me about your suicidal thoughts. This must’ve been so hard for you”– Acknowledge and appreciate the person for opening up. This will reinforce them to talk about it more and to also reach out more in the future.

 

  • “I’m sorry for all the pain and hurt that you are feeling. It must be eating you up inside to feel this way” – Use empathetic statements that show you understand how tiresome and burdening it can be to continue living with suicidal thoughts.

 

  • “I know you feel scared, but I’m right here and we can talk about this” – Reassure the person that you’re here with them- real time. That you will be there to virtually “hold their hand” through the whole process.

 

  • “If you’re comfortable talking about this, would you like to tell me what makes you want to die?” – Sometimes, talking about what makes one feel suicidal can serve to vent the frustration, increase engagement and help understand one’s triggers. Also keep in mind to use phrases such as “Are you okay with this?”, “Can we do this?”, “Are you comfortable with this?” to ensure that you are not pushing the person too much.

 

  • “What can I do to help/ make you feel safe?”– It is always better to ASK someone about their needs first, instead of assuming. If they reply with a “I don’t know”, reassure them that it’s okay and you both can figure this out together.

 

  • “It takes a lot of strength to decide to wake up and fight these painful thoughts everyday”– Acknowledge how difficult it is for someone who is suicidal to DECIDE (by using this word, you reinforce that they have a choice, that they can choose to live and work towards a better life) to continue living despite the difficulties they face.

 

  • “Sometimes we can feel trapped by our thoughts- like there’s no way out. But you are not your thoughts. It can seem hard but don’t let them limit you from reaching out and seeking more options” – Again, try reinforcing the idea that there are still options out there.

 

  • Some de-escalation phrases when they are threatening an attempt on chat- “I’m right here, although not physically, I’m listening and I’m here for you. We can take this one step at a time”. Ask them if they have anything that will cause them harm near them. If they respond with a yes, gently ask them if they can trust you and if they can listen to a small request. *Note: Emphasize on words/ phrases such as “small step”, “tiny request”, “just this one thing” because this makes what you ask sound achievable and is met with little resistance* Wait for their response and then ask them to put the instrument far away in a drawer or even under the mattress. Then gently try to calm them (if they are feeling overwhelmed) through grounding. 

Grounding is a technique that can be used to calm someone by increasing awareness of their senses – what they see, hear, smell and feel. This is also a great way to keep them engaged in conversation and to distract from the immediacy of a suicidal thought.

Once relatively de-escalated, you can ask them to lie down, drink some water or to eat something (mindfully pay attention to whether this is what they need) because the intensity of the emotions can make them feel tired and light-headed.

For more info on grounding and related exercises-

https://www.speakingofsuicide.com/2015/08/20/tips-to-calm-anxiety

 

  • Follow up: Persistence is the key here. Dropping a message or giving them a call, can go a long way in reaching out to the individual. Even if you don’t talk on a regular basis, let the person know that you are there for them.

Highly recommend reading this article- https://www.speakingofsuicide.com/2013/06/06/how-would-you-listen-to-a-person-on-the-roof/

If you’d like to read the original sources/ inspiration of the above article, kindly look at these links

What Would You Say to the Person on the Roof? A Suicide Prevention Text- https://guilfordjournals.com/doi/pdfplus/10.1521/suli.31.2.129.21509

How Would You Listen to the Person on the Roof? A Response to H. Omer and A. Elitzur- 

https://guilfordjournals.com/doi/pdf/10.1521/suli.31.2.140.21518

Hopefully, this helps you feel a bit more confident about responding to mentions of suicide! Please reach out at engage@lonepack.org if you’d like to share some feedback on this or if you’d like to suggest improvements!

The Language of Love

While many assume that homosexuality and homoeroticism are Western concepts that diluted Indian traditions, there has long been a question of how and from where these seemingly radical ideas originated. And even though Indians can’t possibly take all the credit, we have had a fair share of gender-fluid characters and relationships in our history, mythology, and literature.

Contrary to popular belief, our ancestors were extremely far-sighted and liberal. I’m not talking about our parents and their parents or even a generation before them. Think older than that. Let me help you out; picture the oldest generation of your family who you know of, go back three generations, and you might be where I’m at.

I’m talking about Moghuls and Sufis, and going further than that, even gods, angels and demons.

Yes, you heard me right, we have homosexual and transgender gods across the Hindu pantheon. Ardhanareeswar, the perfect combination of God Shiva and his wife Goddess Sakthi, is the patron god of many transgender communities in India. We also have a god born of a union between a homosexual couple. Lord Aiyappa (who is ironically celibate), is said to have been born between Mohini, a female avatar of Lord Vishnu, and Lord Shiva.

Hard to believe? Let’s step into solid history, then.

‘When I see my friend I am abashed with shame,

My companions look at me, I look away sans aim’

(Babunama Translated from Turkish by Annette Susannah Beveridge)

There are many accounts of Babur, the man who single-handedly brought the Moghul dynasty to the forefront of Indian history, being bisexual. In fact, Baburnama, his poetic autobiography, mentions how we was once attracted to a man named Baburi, and how he became lovesick even after he got married to his first wife, Aisha Sultan Begum.

And while we’re on the topic of poetry, let’s not disregard Rumi, the great Sufi poet, whose verses blatantly disregarded the idea that love and sexual desire were taboo.

When someone quotes the old poetic image

about clouds gradually uncovering the moon,

slowly loosen knot by knot the strings

of your robe.

Like this.

If anyone wonders how Jesus raised the dead,

don’t try to explain the miracle.

Kiss me on the lips.

Like this. Like this.’

(The Essential Rumi translated by Coleman Barks)

 

Still need rock-hard proof?

Look no farther than the Khajuraho temples in Madhya Pradesh. Built sometime in between 960 AD and 1050 AD by the best sculptors in the Chandela dynasty, this Jain temple complex has explicitly sexual figures and sculptures that would put the Fifty Shades Trilogy to shame! The most surprising thing about these temples? A good part of them pays homage to homosexual love.

And it’s not just Hinduism, Islam and Jainism; homosexuality and homoeroticism exist in practically every culture in the world.  But so do prejudices and condemnation.

For example, ‘Love hurts,’ is a popular opinion.

‘Unrequited love festers and wounds,’ is also accepted by many.

But something that hurts even more? Not being able to show your love.

It’s taken us 72 years to rid ourselves of our old-fashioned beliefs and practice acceptance by doing away with Section 377. And in those 72 years, a lot of us have suffered because of what others deemed ‘wrong’ and ‘impure’.

How many of us have had to bury our feelings deep inside because of our fear of what society would say? How many of us have felt depressed and wounded because of that repression of our love? How many times have we wished that we had never fallen in love with that particular person?

But let’s face it; society is flawed. It is an imperfect system created by humans to regulate and control each other’s activities. From love that defies the ‘rules’ to lower-than-acceptable marks in your boards, society will keep judging you. There’s no point in worrying about it and spoiling your health and future.

Mahatma Gandhi once wrote, ‘Where there is love, there is life’. Accordingly, love is one of those things that will transform your life. Love, by itself, gives you happiness and peace. Apart from that, biologically speaking, the feeling of love releases dopamine, the feel-good chemical that your brain releases when it feels rewarded or happy, which also eases the negative emotions of sorrow and stress.  And all this happens despite your beloved being older or younger than you, or the same gender as you, or of a different religion, caste or race than you.

Of course, there will always be that fear of judgement from your own family and friends, but then again, what you need to ask yourself is this: Is your love worth all the stress and the effort? If the answer is yes, we suggest you pick up a rose, climb a balcony, and pull off a Shakespearean romance.

After all, what’s in a gender?

Team LonePack wishes you happy life filled with love and prosperity!

Infinite identities – understanding sex, gender and sexuality

“Wahhh…” A newborn cries as it leaves the mother’s warm womb to face the baffling world. The doctor joyously announces, “it’s a girl” or “it’s a boy.” The baby is identified by the pronoun -she or he, based on which the life of an infant is mapped out. From the clothes they wear to the toys they play with, from the emotions they can express to their probable profession, the seemingly distinctive categories of male and female becomes a pertinent determinant.  Further, our society traditionally expects that only a man and woman can be attracted to each other. Sounds familiar, right? But just because we are conditioned to look at things a certain way, it doesn’t tell us the entire story! It is now time to move beyond the binary vision that makes us comprehend the world in black and white, or in this case pink and blue. When we perceive things through a prism of possibilities  rather than  a non-dichotomous lens, the rainbow of sex , gender and sexual identity  emerges. Wait, what? don’t they all mean the same? Absolutely not! Come, let’s try to unravel them one by one-

‘Sex’ entails physiological characteristics like genitalia, chromosomes, hormones, and genes that we are born with. But guess what? Our biology can blur the line of distinction between “male” and “female” bodies with the diversity and variation it offers. Yes, intersex individuals have physiologically reproductive traits that do not conform to the “typical” sex assignment. No, there is nothing faulty or unhealthy about an intersex identity. So, do our genitals dictate our ways of being? To answer this, let us put the spotlight on the term ‘gender.’

1) Gender–biologically determined or socially constructed?

 An increasing line of evidence shows that the experience of gender is a complex interplay between nature and nurture. A meta-analytical study by Todd et al. (2017) revealed that a preference for “male typed” toys or “female typed” toys cannot only be attributed to cultural expectations but also biological predisposition. Despite variations in the geographical location of the study, culture setting, provision of gender neutral toys, presence or absence of adults and the year of publication, there remained a significant difference in toy preferences among girls and boys. These differences remained consistent across countries that rated high on gender inequality and those that scored low on the dimension, suggesting an innate influence on the toy selecting behavior. However, fundamental differences embedded in biology should not confine individuals to a particular way of thinking, feeling, or behaving. Our intrinsic differences are plagued by rigid gender norms that society propagates. This is where the social forces of gender steps in.

Rhoda Unger (1979), a feminist psychologist illustrated that the terms ‘sex ‘and ‘gender’ are not synonymous. While sex suggests biological differences, gender is a socially established role arbitrarily allocated based on this biological distinction. We let the labels, female and male, guide our everyday behavior and choices across situations through the process of socialization. “Why are you weeping like a girl? Learn to play it cool (it doesn’t matter if you are dying inside).” “Who is this horrible driver? Must be a woman.” These are the voices of the everyday gender roles and stereotypes that we subscribe to. We invariably assume someone born as a male to epitomize “masculine” qualities associated with being assertive, unemotional, dominant, and daring. On the other hand, someone born as a female is expected to embody “feminine qualities” recognized as sensitivity, dependency, gentleness, and passivity (Williams and Bennett, 1975).  However, instead of regarding “masculinity” and “femininity” as two ends of a pole, androgyny implies a union of both. On the Bem Sex Role Inventory, designed by psychologist Sandra Bem (1974), high scores on femininity don’t necessarily mean low scores on masculinity. Yes, one can score high on both the dimensions simultaneously! In other words, you can express your gender in ways that renounce the rigid dichotomy of “man” or “woman.” This also brings us to the next concept.

2) Gender identity

Gender identity is one’s self-conception or internal sense of who one is based on their association with “feminine” and “masculine” gender roles.  A transgender individual might feel that their biological sex doesn’t do justice to their subjective experience of gender, elucidating that we are more than our anatomy. Our identity brings with it a universe of possibilities, existing across an infinite continuum. Gender diverse individuals can move across this spectrum, feel they belong somewhere in between, or choose not to associate with any gender at all.  They may identify as non-binary, gender-queer, gender fluid, agender (to name a few), or not label themselves at all. What matters at the end of the day is that self-expression can be myriad, varied, colorful and yet valid!

Sexuality

The discussion around multiple forms of expression remains incomplete without addressing sexuality. Our sexuality is the romantic, emotional, and /or sexual attraction (if at all there is any) towards others. Just like the rest of the concepts discussed here, there are no prizes for guessing that sexuality too exists on a spectrum. Alfred Kinsey (1948), devised a rating scale that ranges from exclusively ‘heterosexual’ to exclusively ‘homosexual’ (the term is outdated and considered offensive. Avoid using it!). This suggests that people can experience their sexuality in ways extending far beyond our listed categories. Gay, lesbian, bisexual, bi-curious, asexual, aromantic demisexual, and pan-sexual are just a few of these diverse identities, each adding its own unique hue to the rainbow. 

While many individuals wish to express themselves in unique ways, they continue to face discrimination, injustice, and isolation because their identity doesn’t align with society’s definition of “normal.” A recent study conducted by UNESCO (2019) tried to understand the experiences of participants (18-22 years) who identified as members of the LGBT community in Chennai’s educational institutions. The results divulged that 60% of the respondents had faced physical bullying and 43% sexual harassment in school. Consequently, they suffered from depression, anxiety, and were more likely to drop out of school. How do we challenge this status quo? The way forward lies in questioning the hetero-normative narrative that promotes strict gender binaries and advocates heterosexuality as the norm. The essence of a pluralistic and inclusive culture is in celebrating differences and accepting all forms of expression as legitimate.

While navigating the evolving constructs of gender and sexuality is an ongoing process, may you define and redefine yourself in unbounded and unapologetic ways, breaking free from the pigeonhole!

                                              You told me the box is where I belong

But I could hear the rainbow call me, all along

You told me my identity is something to hide

But in being myself, I take immense pride.

Citations

  1. https://www.genderspectrum.org/articles/understanding-gender
  2. https://opentextbc.ca/introductiontosociology/chapter/chapter12-gender-sex-and-sexuality/
  3. https://books.google.co.in/books?id=pNUkDwAAQBAJ&printsec=frontcover&dq=sex+and+gender&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwi4iO6kwuPpAhUGOSsKHZ2YCHQQ6AEIQjAD#v=onepage&q=sex%20and%20gender&f=false
  4. https://everydayfeminism.com/2015/07/what-is-heteronormativity/
  5. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/lgbt-bullying-in-schools-takes-heavy-toll-reveals-unesco-report/articleshow/69718451.cms
  6. https://qz.com/1190996/scientific-research-shows-gender-is-not-just-a-social-construct/
  7. https://www.healthline.com/health/different-types-of-sexuality#d-l

Schizophrenia – An overview

 

What is Schizophrenia?

Schizophrenia is a chronic and severe mental health disorder that is characterized by distortions in thinking, perceptions, emotions, sense of self and behavior. Common experiences include hallucinations and delusions.

These experiences may be difficult to describe to friends and family members, yet seem completely real to the affected person. This may make it difficult for others to understand that these are the effects of the illness.

 

Who is susceptible?

Schizophrenia affects an estimated 20 million people worldwide. The disorder is relatively infrequent, about 1 in 2000 people are affected. Schizophrenia also commonly starts earlier in men. 

People with Schizophrenia are 2-3 times more likely to die early than the general population. The illness starts mainly in young people, ages 15 to 30, however it may start at other ages as well.

 

Why is someone affected by it?

It is widely thought that a combination of genetics, environmental factors such as stress or even psychological factors may contribute to Schizophrenia. 

Schizophrenia can be inherited but in most cases, children of Schizophrenic patients do not develop the illness. Stress can exacerbate the illness or cause a relapse for recovering patients.

 

How is it treated?

Schizophrenia is effectively treated by a combination of medicines and psycho-social support. As a family member or friend you can help by,

  1. Understanding the illness better
  2. Encouraging the patient to access treatment
  3. Encouraging the patient to get back to social roles as much as possible
  4. Taking care of your personal health and mental well-being
  5. Feeling confident to deal with the stigma and discrimination that you and the patient might experience

However, most patients with chronic Schizophrenia lack access to treatment. About 90 percent of untreated Schizophrenic cases are from low and middle income countries. There is also clear evidence that out-dated mental hospital treatment is not effective and transfer of care from mental health institutions to the community needs to be prioritized.

 

Where can you head to find out more?

This article has been derived almost exclusively from the WHO and SCARF websites. The following pieces can further your understanding of Schizophrenia.

Facts:

https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/schizophrenia

https://www.nhp.gov.in/disease/neurological/schizophrenia

Articles on Schizophrenia by NGOs:

https://www.whiteswanfoundation.org/search-result/?q=schizophrenia&tag=True

https://www.scarfindia.org/scarf-media/2019/08/what-is-schizophrenia.pdf

Opinion articles on Schizophrenia:

https://www.thehindu.com/sci-tech/health/people-with-schizophrenia-open-up-about-the-myths-and-assumptions-surrounding-the-condition/article27186122.ece

https://theconversation.com/the-concept-of-schizophrenia-is-coming-to-an-end-heres-why-82775

Report on status of mental health in India:

https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/lancet-report-mental-health-disorders-on-the-rise-in-india/articleshow/66156376.cms


 

LonePack Conversations—Rand Fishkin & fighting depression through an entrepreneurial journey

Putting one’s efforts, money, time, and passion into building a company is easier said than done. Not only does it give one the fame and glory of establishing big in the business world, but also drive them crazy over various step-stones in the process to stardom. 


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Aishwarya: Welcome to LonePack Conversations. I’m Aishwarya, your host, and today we’re speaking to Rand Fishkin, an established entrepreneur and leader in the start-up space. 

Hi Rand! Welcome to LonePack Conversations. It’s great to speak to you. 

Rand: Great to speak to you, as well! Thanks for having me.  

Aishwarya: Sure. Let’s begin with a little bit of a background. 

So, you’re just about to kickstart your second entrepreneurial venture. How is life and how are things? 

Rand: Exciting, yeah. I’ve been working on this new venture for a couple of years now; almost 2 years, exactly, and have a co-founder, we have raised a little bit of money, we’re just getting ready to launch our paid product, and so it’s busy, but in a good way. 

Aishwarya: That sounds exciting! So, as the founder of ‘Moz’ and currently ‘SparkToro’, if you had to pick a challenging and mentally exhausting moment in your life, what would it be? 

Rand: I have had many. Probably too many. I would say one of the most mentally taxing and frustrating parts of my career during my tenure as CEO of ‘Moz’, after we raised our $18 million funding round. And of course, you know lots of requirements around growth and exits come with that.  We had a team of about 50 people at the time, which was a wonderful size, I really enjoyed it, but we had to grow, right? We had to get much bigger, much faster, be able to do a lot more, produce a lot more software, delight a lot more customers. And so, over the next 18 months, we tripled the team size to nearly 150 people including contractors, and that process, those 18 months, from 2012 into 2013, those were one of the hardest, most difficult of my career. 

I think that building a team from the ground up is a hard thing, but scaling at a rapid rate, right; adding more people you have in a company is really really exhausting for the team , for the leadership, it’s really hard on your value and your culture; it’s hard on all the people who are there. That stands out in my mind as being a crazy difficult time. 

Aishwarya: Definitely, I think I’m able to imagine, the way you are describing, how it would be for somebody who has bigger aspirations and goals. At the same time, those 18 months would’ve been really taxing for you. And, I actually read about the fact that when Sarah came in as the CEO after you, how things were able to, you know, bring back into the picture; how there was a sort of unity in the team, and I really love that portion. 

Rand: I found it tremendously challenging to just maintain a culture; a company culture that I wanted to exist. I think that was a huge part of the problem. 

Another part of the problem, too, is this; the expectations that come from your existing team, right, from the people who’ve been there, and who’ve helped you along the way, and what they expect from a growing company, right, a lot of people who are individual contributors want to become managers. A lot of people who are managers expect their teams to grow, and their budgets to grow, and I think as a CEO, especially a first-time CEO, it’s really hard to say no. 

Aishwarya: True, yeah. 

Rand: You’re just not used to it; you don’t expect it, you know, you have all this money; people know you have all this money; expectations, and they say, ‘Hey, I want more budget, I want more people on my team, I wanna hire three more people. You’re expected to say yes, and it’s hard to say no. 

Aishwarya: Absolutely. Each company has its set of goals and expectations, and the people who make up the company again will have their expectations, and it’s important to sort of align these together, because everybody is definitely looking out for growth map and likewise with the company, and I think as the CEO, an important task, and the most contingent task for you would’ve been to align these two together. I can definitely understand that. 

Rand: Yeah, I think there’s this big challenge where people have multiple goals in mind, so obviously, the people who were working at ‘Moz’; they wanted the company to do well, but they also wanted their personal careers to do well. They wanted their personal careers to show growth. They want their title to get bigger, they want their pay to get more, they want more people reporting to them, because that looks more impressive to future employers. These are often at odds with what you should do as a CEO. The right thing to do as a CEO; your obligation to the shareholders, and your Board, and the company’s growth, is to say no to almost everything, except a few things. 

But the pressure in the moment feels the opposite.  When someone comes to you and says ‘Hey, I’ve done a loyal, great job over the last three or four years; I expect these things from my career; this is what I’m looking for,’ and you want to say “Yes, you deserve that, I want to give it to you.” But in fact what you’ve got to say is, “It’s not the right thing for the company, and if that’s not enough to keep you here, then good luck; let’s find you a new role somewhere else; I’m happy to make  introductions, or give a nice testimonial about you.” And if that’s not enough, here’s what you can expect from your career here over the next few years, and here’s how it gets changed. It gets really hard, right.  

Startups…startups are one thing, and as they get to middling stages of growth, they become another thing. People are really bad at change; people hate change. 

Aishwarya: Certainly, certainly. I think for people, as you grow, as you start up, as you try to grow that company big, the most important and most difficult task would be to prioritize and say ‘yes’ and ‘no’ to things that really matter. Especially in this case, when an employee walks up to you and asks for, say, a pay raise or a change in role, and you know that he/she is still deserving, but at that point, you might have to say no because you have certain aspirations; certain paths for the company to go through. So that’s totally acceptable, and it’s time that people start thinking about this; how to say no, because that’s one of the most difficult tasks. 

Rand: Yeah, absolutely. Saying no and saying yes; these are the hard things. 

Aishwarya: So, did depression have an effect on your physical health? If so, how did you realize it and what were the measures you took to overcome that? 

Rand: Yeah, the bad news for me is, it did have a significant effect on my health and wellbeing, I think both physically and mentally. Over the course of my…I was in my late 20s and my early-mid 30s and I had degenerative disk disease, which affects your spine and made it very uncomfortable and difficult for me to sit for long stretches, which is very hard when you have to get on a lot of planes and travel overseas for conferences and events and those sort of things. 

And it also had a significant negative impact on my sleep. Which, of course, you know, sleep and stress are very well-coordinated, and I think that that cycle of having stress, compounding physical pain which made it hard to sleep, which made every day even more stressful; that cycle, that loop, was really really difficult to break through. 

And eventually, I think the answer for me ended up being pulling back from the quantity of work I was doing; I invested in physical therapy, and mental health therapy, right—seeing a counsellor, a therapist, and a coach, and I also stepped down from the CEO role, and took another role inside the company, although I think that probably did not have a great impact on my mental health and physical health for at least a number of years. 

And it wasn’t really until I left ‘Moz’ and started my new company, ‘SparkToro’, that I think I got to a really healthy place. And so nowadays, arguably the best shape of my life, both physically and mentally; but it is… it can be really hard, and I think that people have to choose. They have to choose what’s right for them, and whether they can prioritize their health over their company. I think what’s wrong is that it’s often a false dichotomy, where you think you need to be working all hours when, in fact, a few very productive hours are probably far better than 60 or 80 hours in a work week. 

But that’s just not the general belief. I think that the culture of tech is to overwork people and we need to end that. 

Aishwarya: Sure. I think that’s quite some stress and physical toll on you, and kudos to you because you’ve managed it really well. And, you know what, you’ve set an example to a lot of listeners today because I’m sure most of them have thoughts today about starting up or they are in the process of running a company, and they are handling a lot of pressure on a day-to-day basis. 

So, I guess what you told actually gives them a good idea to reflect upon, especially when you said ‘Choose’ because, you know, as Jeff Bezos says, at the end of the day, you’re made up of your choices. And you have to make those choices in a right way; good, bad, whatever it is, you just have to analyze and try to come over it. So I think that’s a very strong point that I, along with the listeners, are picking up today for our own lives, as well. 

Rand: Yeah, yeah, I mean, my hope is that in the future, more people choose to prioritize their health first, and I believe that it will actually lead; that will lead to more successful business outcomes. 

I think there’s a mythology that by sacrificing health, and making that choice, if you will, to devote yourself entirely to your work and your business, that somehow you’re going to benefit from that; that your business is going to benefit from that…I think that’s not true. 

I think that the CEOs’ job, fundamentally the CEO’s job is to make great decisions. And every piece of research we have shows that when you’re sleep-deprived, and when you’re in pain, and when you’re not taking care of your body, your decision-making is worse. 

So I would argue that you should work less, you should sleep more, you should exercise and eat and enjoy your social life so that you are mentally in a good place, to make great decisions. Because that is your core job. 

And I know I made a lot of bad decisions when I wasn’t sleeping, when I was working 60-80 hours a week; I know I did. 

Aishwarya: Spot on! I think it’s straight from a founder’s life, and you know, these are some gold points, and I’m sure that the listeners are just going to pick this up and try to relate this with their lives, and start practising them already. 

Rand: Yeah. 

Aishwarya: From a workplace front, do you think workers and peers can be supportive about your mental wellness at the times that you need? 

Rand: Yeah, absolutely! I think that you, as a founder, can craft a culture that reinforces and supports the idea that it’s results and quality of work that matter, and not the amount of work that matters, or hard work or the number of hours in the office or number of hours online; I think those are useless matrices. I would instead reward work that is high quality, and work that gets results. And I would recognise and reward people investing in their health. 

I think that if you do those two things, craft that type of a culture, you can do that from the bottom-up or the top-down, both, and you will get a workplace that delivers really good quality results. 

Aishwarya: Wonderful! I think a little bit of a praise and appreciative behaviour of one another would definitely help in succeeding. Not just sticking on what the results are, and how much time it took for the results to come in, but actually the quality work that comes in after somebody works on it; just a small appreciation would go a long way in building team spirit. 

Rand: Yeah, yeah, and I think recognising; I mean, somebody puts two hours into a project, and the results are high-quality; I think recognising and rewarding that, more so than if somebody puts 20 or 30 hours into the same project and gets the same quality of results; I think that’s an excellent thing. 

One of the things that’s definitely true, especially in most high-tech work, is that when you are well-rested, and well-fed and in a good place mentally, you tend to contribute far better quality work in much shorter amounts of time. 

A lot of times you get back from vacation, and you’ll find that, “Wow! I got so much done in one day after vacation, compared to a whole week when I’m in the middle of a slog.” 

Aishwarya: True that! I think these are some gestures that most of us should keep in mind, and a contribution of this kind can actually boost the morale of the team. 

You would’ve met a lot of C-suite leaders, venture capitalists and startup founders. Do you see a common pattern of depression or mental trauma among these leaders, simply because all of these roles demand much energy and pressure to deliver the best? 

Rand: Yeah, yeah, I’ve definitely seen many, many entrepreneurs, founders, executives;  folks tell that they are struggling, mentally and emotionally and often physically. And I hope that’s a culture we can change. 

Aishwarya: Mm-hmm. Definitely, I think the struggle is real, and it’s important that…Actually, I have discovered that somebody has to first recognize that there is a struggle and that there are these mental traumas that are happening because I feel at this time, most of us don’t recognize that. That is the first problem, rather than the mental issues being there as a problem. The major problem, I feel, is not accepting, or refusing to recognize that there is even a problem like this. 

So, what are your thoughts on this? What do you think about people who have to recognize that something is happening, which most of them don’t do?

Rand: Yeah, I would agree. I don’t think you can solve a problem until you recognize it’s there and come to consensus about the fact that it is a problem. It is only after that recognition that you can address it. And this is why I think a lot of this has to do with regards to representation. If you don’t have leaders in these companies talking about these issues, saying that they faced it, talking about how they fixed it, I think you will continue to get a culture that frankly, rewards sacrificing life for work instead of balancing. 

Aishwarya: Definitely. So have you invested and secured in the mental health benefits for your employees and company leaders, now that we’re talking about team benefits, and how we should be mindful of each other in the team?

Rand: Yeah, I think we did a number of things at ‘Moz’ while I was still there and I think the company is still continuing to invest in that. So I think that includes paying for counsellors and mental health, making sure it’s a part of the company’s healthcare packages and benefits, it includes wellness rooms, it includes being more flexible with time off for mental and emotional health days, it also includes trying to nudge people more towards taking their vacation.

For SparkToro, it’s just Cassy and I; there’s only the two of us, we’re founders. We have a very very healthy work-life balance, so I think we’re sort of in a lucky position to be able to invest upto what we can and want to do and in some weeks and yeah, that’s a ton of time put into business. And, some weeks, it’s like “Hey, Cassy has kids and is busy with the family one week and I have relatives that I’m responsible for and taking care of and sometimes that all overtakes the some of the work that I wish I could get done in a week, and that’s okay!” We allow ourselves the freedom and flexibility to do that and we know that every other hour of every day is not important; what’s important is doing quality work when we’re at the peak of our performance.

Aishwarya: Awesome. I love the fact that you mentioned work-life balance, and you and Casey set the right path for people who joined SparkToro. I’m sure they would look up to the founders to see what kind of goals, or what kind of objectives you’d have, and most of them get inspired from that.

So you and Casey setting that example of having a good work-life balance, taking some time off for some personal duties is important, and I’m glad that you guys are doing it, so congrats on that. 

Rand: Oh, thank you. Yeah, we really hope so. I expect to keep the company relatively small and remote only, which I think allows people to work from wherever is most comfortable for them.

Aishwarya: Oh, that’s nice.

Rand: Yeah, and work when it’s comfortable for them and I think that’s honestly the future of work. Yeah, I think the future of work is doing from wherever is most comfortable for you.

Aishwarya: Definitely, and I think that’s the first step on the path to being mindful. I’m sure if people are given that little freedom to do work at the time that they are intended to do, when they can actually contribute much to the team; I think that paves the way for better work to be done.

Rand: I agree 100 percent. 

Aishwarya: So, in your book ‘Lost and Founder’ which, I’d like to document, is one of my recent favourites, you’ve spoken about the ways to invest in behaviour, without trying to focus on the outcomes. Beautiful thought, I should say. Could you elaborate a bit on that and tell us how this act helped your mental wellness?

Rand: Yeah, yeah, absolutely. So this comes from the idea of personal investment, and this works really well in the business world, as well. So this is essentially saying, “My focus is going to be on contributing the highest quality work that I can, rather than focusing on whether I immediately got the outcome that I was seeking.” 

And what happens in a lot of business practices is—marketing, for example; let’s say that I’m working on building up a great content marketing channel. And so, when you put up your first, say, blog posts, or articles, or newsletters, or content pieces of any kind, and when you see that they don’t perform the way that you want them to; when they don’t attract enough traffic, or the traffic that they do attract doesn’t convert, it’s not doing well on certain channels that you hoped it would; there’s a temptation to either give up, and stop making that investment, or to try and change the way that you’re doing things. 

And I think that you can, in fact, learn from your past experiences, and use that to form the future, but I think it’s a mistake to exclusively track results, as opposed to tracking high-quality work. If you put out a great post; great content piece, you’re proud of it, you know that the people who consumed it, it resonated with them; the answer could be that you need to keep doing that more, over time; you need to give it time to have serendipitous outcomes in the future. And a lot of the time, it’s about taking the shots and missing until one hits. I think unfortunately luck and timing are downplayed in the business world, when they probably shouldn’t be. And this is why I tell folks to invest in quality work rather than exclusively investing in results and outcome.

Aishwarya: Certainly. It comes down to enjoying the whole process of doing something because the journey is more important, and it’s important to stay connected to this journey. In fact, when you talked about how to use past references and how to tailor your future, that really made sense, both in professional and personal self; to constantly analyze the things that you’ve done, things that have really helped you achieve something, and sort of replicate that, or use some references from there in your future work. That doesn’t mean you’re dwelling in the past, but at the same time it also means you’re taking control of where you want to go in the future. 

So to invest in potentials is a very very good thought that you had put forth today. 

Rand: Oh, thanks, yeah. And I would also say that you have to be careful of small sample sizes. So one of the things I see people struggle with a lot is that they make a small number of investments, right. “Hey, we tried content marketing, we invested in ten content pieces, but they didn’t work for us, therefore we think that content marketing is not right for our audience.” And in fact, the problem is, ten is too small a sample. You might need a hundred pieces, before you can truly say how effective content can be. 

Alternatively, you may be making the investment, but not putting out quality work, and instead thinking like a check-list item, just to be published and pushed out. And that’s not wise, either.

Aishwarya: True, that! I think you shouldn’t be judgemental in the first place, and as you said, ten versus a hundred; it’s important that a lot of time and potential is invested into it, rather than just tying up with the short-term outcomes. It’s important to step aside and look at the longer run, and the bigger picture. 

Rand: And this is a really hard thing, right, I don’t want to downplay how difficult it is to make investments when you don’t have results to prove. I think one of the toughest things is to ask executives and leadership to make space for failures and investments that have long pay-off periods.  But when they do, when leadership embraces that, I think you can get the expected results over time. 

Aishwarya: Yeah, I think this mentality starts with leadership, and if it’s set right there, I’m sure the startup is going to really function well because tying up to results is a problem with the urges that tend to happen to companies. Obviously, you’d be questioned about the results, about what you have done to validate your work, but it’s also important to note the fact that failures are required for you to do some quality work in the future. 

Rand: Yeah, yeah, absolutely.

Aishwarya: So now that we’re towards the end of the conversation, I have a quick something to ask you. What’s the thing that seemed like the one; that would bring the world down for you, back then, but now brings a laugh at the very thought of it?

Rand: Oh, gosh. I’m not sure I had something around quite that stark. Hmm, you know, there was a time at ‘Moz’ when we were getting, I don’t know, sort of subtle threats, from Google. 

People who worked at Google, like, there’s this one guy who worked at Google who would occasionally email me or say something to me like in person about how they didn’t like what ‘Moz’ was doing, they didn’t like the blog posts that we were publishing, or who we invited to our conferences, or they didn’t like the experiments that we were running, and I remember being really scared; we had board meetings where we talked about how this was going to be a big threat to the company and what we did there. 

And then it really turned out to be nothing at all. I don’t even think it was Google’s policy at all. It was just this one person, or this one team at Google who sort of got annoyed and thought, “Well, maybe I’ll mention that I’m annoyed” and we just took it really really hard. 

I regret making concessions and changing our business tactics and strategies to please some far-off person from Google that we really didn’t have to. 

Aishwarya: I see, wow. It’s a little creepy to hear as well, right, somebody personally attacking you, and obviously as you said, it’s not going to be the other company’s terms for them to directly reach out to another person of another company, and this seems like more of a personal attack than it seems from the company. 

Rand: Yeah, and Google’s done this a bunch, right, use some combination of carrot and stick to gauge behavior, and now they’re powerful company, you know, now much more so than back then, but even then they were much more powerful in terms of the web, and web traffic, and people being able to find you and trust you, and especially for an SEO company, which ‘Moz’ was, you know, we thought it was so important to have good relationships there. Yeah, I wish I had been a little more mature. 

Aishwarya: You don’t have to regret much, Rand, because at that time it would’ve definitely taught you something, which you can pick up for the next couple of your ventures, as well. 

Rand: Right, I think one of the things I’d definitely do for my future companies, is not feel bullied by bigger players. 

Aishwarya: Yes, that’s such a strong part, actually, thanks for mentioning that.

Rand: Ah, it was my pleasure. 

Aishwarya: So thank you so much for your time today, Rand. It was such a pleasure to talk to you about dealing with depression through an entrepreneurial journey. I picked up a lot of lessons today, and I’m sure the listeners would also know about the struggles before starting up, and coping with everyday pressures at work, and shattering the stigmas while they function, or try to function as an organisation together.  

Rand: Well, thank you so much for having this great conversation with me, Aishwarya. I appreciate it. 

Aishwarya: All the best from LonePack for your SparkToro journey; I’m sure it is going to be really really interesting and exciting.  

Trauma for Two

No one in this world is truly independent – a fact many of us would love to deny. Intentionally or not, we all form relationships with people for a variety of reasons, ranging from friendship, love, and support, to professional purposes. In fact, some of us are blessed to have several fulfilling relationships – romantic, platonic, and familial – which we depend on at some point of time in our lives. Is this reliance on others to fulfill certain needs a bad thing? Let’s dig deeper.

You might have heard of the term ‘codependency’ – often used with a disregard for its actual definition. Much to the despair of relationship therapists, the widespread incorrect usage of this term has resulted in a plethora of misconceptions. This has, in turn, skewed our perception of what independence means and what a healthy relationship – with others and our own emotions – looks like, making it vital to clarify what codependency actually is.

Let us begin by establishing what codependency is not. This affliction is far from being equivalent to being clingy or simply depending on someone; codependency is not a blanket term for a person’s reliance on another for help or support. Any relationship has a certain level of dependency. In a healthy one, it comes from comfort and understanding; for a codependent, it stems from a dysfunctional mindset. Codependency is also not synonymous with merely having emotional needs. All human beings have emotional needs. To reject or be in denial of those parts of ourselves and others is to deny ourselves of true compassion and intimate bonds.

A codependent relationship is one that is dysfunctional, where one or both partners rely on the other to meet all of their emotional and self-esteem needs. They are painful and destructive bonds that are marked by a lack of self-sufficiency, self-worth, identity, and autonomy.

The roots of this affliction are sometimes traced back to childhood, particularly for those who were emotionally abused or neglected by their parents. They are taught to go out of their way to please a difficult parent in order to obtain affection, establishing a pattern of trying to obtain love and care from a difficult person in a similar fashion. Codependency can also arise when children are forced to assume the role of a caretaker or enabler owing to an unreliable parent, having to focus on their parent’s needs and never their own.

A classic model of a codependent relationship is that of the alcoholic and their enabling spouse; the enabler encourages dysfunctional habits in order to feel needed and becomes emotionally exhausted, and the other is encouraged to maintain their destructive behavior, impeding the growth of both individuals.

Codependency is identified by the following symptoms:

  •       Low self-esteem: feeling unlovable or inadequate, along with shame, guilt, and often perfectionism. The codependent’s self-esteem arises from sacrificing themselves for their partner, who may be just fine with receiving this “special” treatment.
  •       Mixing pity and love: needing to ‘save’ others, fix situations on their loved one’s behalf or protect them from all harm.
  •       People-pleasing: having a hard time saying no to anyone, going out of their way to sacrifice their own needs and emotions to accommodate others. A codependent will do anything to hold on to a relationship and avoid the feeling of abandonment.
  •       Poor boundaries: feeling responsible for other people’s feelings or blaming their own on others. Some codependents enmesh their self-image with their partner’s, not knowing where their identity ends and their partner’s begins.
  •       Defensiveness: feeling threatened by disagreements and reacting to people’s statements and opinions as personal attacks.
  •       Control: feeling safe when they can control the actions of those close to them. Codependents find comfort in other people behaving in a certain manner; a lack of this may cause anxiety and/or depression.
  •       Anxiety: suffering from constant anxiety about their relationships.
  •       Obsessions: fed by dependency, anxieties, and fears. A codependent may lapse into a fantasy about how they would like things to be or the one they love so they can be in denial of the pain of the present.
  •       Dependency: fearing rejection or abandonment. Codependents need people to need them in order to feel okay. Some may need to constantly be in a relationship, making it hard for them to end things even if they are with someone abusive.

As one can imagine, the impact of codependency is severe – for both parties of the relationship. A codependent suffers from emotional exhaustion and may even neglect their other relationships for one person. Deep down, many codependents feel they deserve the mistreatment they get in their relationships and hardly assert their own needs and desires. For the partner of the codependent, this relationship promotes their own dysfunctions and prevents them from learning common life lessons as they come to rely on the codependent’s sacrifices and neediness. Unless told otherwise, they may never learn how to be in a stable, two-sided relationship.

The good news is that one need not suffer from codependency lifelong. There are several ways in which this behavior can be reversed, starting with seeking professional help. By getting in touch with one’s deep-rooted hurt, loss, and anger, one can reconstruct appropriate relationship dynamics. It is also important to learn to set boundaries with the people one interacts with, and learn to find happiness as an individual. Most importantly, the road to recovery from this affliction lies in open communication.

The urgency to understand what codependency looks like stems from a deeper call to understand the psychology of relationships. The bonds we have with people in our lives – regardless of their nature – have a great impact on our emotional well-being. Our close circles are comprised of individuals who have different life experiences, baggage, and perspectives – all of which permeate into our interactions and relationships. Despite this, many of us either fail to understand or ignore the psychological aspect of relationships – either out of a fear of becoming vulnerable or merely ignorance. This leaves us in denial about the dynamics of our bonds with people, resulting in trauma for everyone involved.

For this reason, no matter what emotional baggage we may carry from our past, we must work towards having a healthy understanding of our own emotional needs and boundaries, and be able to assert the same while acknowledging those of others. Doing so is paramount for having a balanced, two-sided relationship – a treasured asset for us all.

 

 

 

Image credits: Gracia Lam

 

 

 

 

Safer Internet Day

As a millennial, I can say that I have been in two different millennia; that I am part of a generation that is currently the largest demographic; and most impressively, I can tell you that I have seen the days before the Internet and after the Internet and it isn’t all rosy. The Internet has changed the way we live our lives and more importantly, it is changing and evolving at a rapid rate. Sometimes, even the younger ‘Internet’ generation is caught off-guard with new innovations. Gone are the days when the Internet was restrained to computers and hand-held devices. From everyday kitchen items like microwave ovens, fridges to lighting, air-conditioning and even the plumbing, showers and taps are now ‘smart’. Each of these innovations has been enabled by the Internet and has already been adopted into our lives without realising any of the potential risks involved. How can we ensure a Safer Internet in this environment of rapidly evolving risks? The answer is to practice the key aspects of our basic defence to any unknown risk – Awareness, Mindfulness and Literacy. 

 

We have become so conditioned to instant gratification, that most of our everyday actions are to satisfy a need without ever analyzing the potential risks involved. True, the possibility of facing the risk might be low but having never even considered it in the first place can make us severely ill-equipped to handle a situation. We scroll through pages of privacy agreements without ever perusing a single sentence and accept the risks. We use delivery services without realizing the demeaning conditions and the meagre pay that workers are dealt on a daily basis. We support causes on social media that are trending for meme-worthy reasons and never factually analyze the situation. This is because we never ask the hard-hitting questions. “Who are the people behind the screens that are affected by your actions?”, “How are they affected?”, “Why is this important?”. Becoming aware of the effects of your actions on the Internet is the first step to ensuring a safer Internet.

 

Since technology is advancing at a faster rate than our ability to handle or fully grasp the risks, properly educating yourself and others can seem like an onerous and uphill task. As part of my course on Computer Networks, the professor used the analogy of mail to explain how the Internet works. It is a little difficult to use this with your children, who don’t know about post offices and mail in the first place but my point is that stories and examples are great tools to get started. Use exercises such as tracing the data from your smart device to how a request is satisfied, giving great detail to where the data is processed and how. This can gradually lead to a conversation about the privacy of data and the risk of exploitation.  

 

… That brings me to my next point, having open conversations. Putting in place child-locks, restricting the use of the Internet or taking away their phones might seem to cull the problem but only until an alternative that you haven’t thought about springs out. Having the conversation about the risks can alleviate and help children try to understand the reason behind your protective measures. It is always advisable to have the requisite protection in place. As teens, young adults or adults, ensure that children are protected against malicious content, disclosure of details to anonymous persons, porn and content which is violent or disturbing. Most devices allow you to parse the data through a firewall and it is money well-spent to invest on an Internet firewall software system for your home.

For the young users of the Internet, nothing can seem more validating than to be part of an Internet trend. However, know the import of your actions before posting a harsh hate comment, sharing negative content or generally promoting online abuse. Know that it is never okay to hurt someone or to be rude. Anonymity is a double-edged sword. Online abuse can happen to anyone and hiding behind a blank profile makes the comments no less hurtful. Do not take part in online hate culture. Be respectful, Look to the positive, Collaborate, Create and share positive content, Build up others. It is important to realize that critique can also be kind and respectful.

There are many other ways to promote a Safer Internet. Bring the conversation to the physical world. Create awareness campaigns and get policy and decision makers involved. Campaign for institutions and government alike to invest on fostering a Safer Internet. The risks of the Internet sure are multi-pronged and more dangerous than ever. Perhaps, not unlike a mythical creature of yore, the Hydra, which sprouted five heads in the place of one cut off. While the task of providing a Safer Internet might seem Herculean, it is not impossible as long as we remember and practise the greatest tools at our disposal – awareness, mindfulness and literacy.