All change starts when we decide to forgive ourselves and others for what we perceive to be our and their shortcomings. So simply put, be more compassionate and forgiving, and kindness will follow naturally.
As part of our series about 5 Things That Each Of Us Can Do To Help Unite Our Polarized Society, I had the pleasure of interviewing Laura Michelle Gray.
Laura Michelle Gray is a 24-year-old life coach and entrepreneur based in St. Charles, MO. She is part of a growing community of young individuals attempting to change the way we interact with our society through a more compassionate and love-based approach. She graduated top of her class under the Dale Carnegie human relations program and has spent her entire adult life studying the ins and outs of human behavior and the key steps to achieving inner peace and personal freedom.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive into the main focus of our interview, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?
I spent my life up until the age of 19 living in a small 2-bedroom home in Amsterdam, riding my bicycle to school and spending summers swimming and boating over the city’s canals. My father is American, and my mother is Dutch. They met while he was a street performer juggling chainsaws in Amsterdam, and he picked her out of the crowd to help him with his show. They ended up getting dinner afterward and fell in love quickly. My favorite part of their story is that after he returned to Los Angeles, they had a brief romance and did not think they would ever see each other again. My mom did not live in Amsterdam at the time, but she was visiting with a friend shortly after my dad left and stumbled upon a small tourist shop in the city. She says there was a book on display right at the entrance. She flipped it open to a random page, and right there on that page, was a picture of my dad juggling chainsaws. That story gives me goosebumps to this day. She chased him to the States after that, and they got married, had my sister, and moved back to the Netherlands. I feel very blessed with the life I have had, although it wasn’t without any hardship. I think people meet me and assume that because of my outlook on life, I must have never really known struggle. I think they’re right to a certain extent because I never felt that anything I experienced was especially difficult or unfair, but I think it has more to do with my mindset and ability to see the good in everything that I have carried with me ever since I was a young child. Despite their seemingly fated meeting, my parents struggled a lot and would get into fights that would result in days of them not speaking. My father, coming from a family of alcoholism, had a hard time expressing his emotions in a healthy way, while my mom (an incredibly intelligent, but stubborn woman) would often lack the patience and compassion to deal with his outbursts. They married without knowing each other very well, but they are still making it work after all these years. I appreciate everything they have given me because it is through watching their struggle that I learned about the importance of empathy and critical thinking in healthy relationships. My relationship with my father taught me so much about self-love and forgiveness, while my relationship with my mother taught me the importance of family and unconditional love. They have both grown so much over the past few years, and their dedication to always grow and better themselves inspires me to do the same for my life.
What or who inspired you to pursue your career? We’d love to hear the story.
It is hard for me to pinpoint a definitive moment in time that inspired me to become a Life Coach. Looking at my life, I would say that there were a plethora of signs pointing me to this career path, none of which became clear to me until recently. From always playing middleman between my parents (and being oddly good at resolving their fights for a 14-year-old girl), to being the go-to friend (and family member) for any form of life advice ever, to the countless hours spent in the backroom of my 9–5 job, encouraging my co-worker to take risks and to release his old beliefs about pain and struggle so he can experience the true beauty of this world. It all just fell into place one day. I do very distinctly remember the day that I found out about what a Life Coach was. I remember my entire soul being lit on fire thinking “this is a job?!” I still feel that way almost every day, but now I freak out and go “this is MY job?!” Helping people heal and transform their lives is the most rewarding thing I have ever done. I am so grateful for this career and the opportunity to help people.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?
I am currently working with my Business Coach on developing a new coaching program which I will be launching within the next 3 months. The program is going to be aimed at helping people who feel unhappy or stuck in any aspect of their life in setting goals, breaking through their blocks, and creating their dream life. The program also focuses on a lot of the things we will touch on during this interview. It is going to be a completely transformative healing experience suited for anybody that is ready to take responsibility for their own happiness.
None of us can achieve success without some help along the way. Was there a particular person who you feel gave you the most help or encouragement to be who you are today? Can you share a story about that?
My fiancé has been my greatest supporter on this journey. I had been considering quitting my 9–5 job for a long time before I finally put my notice in, but I was feeling an immense amount of pressure from both my and his family to keep my job for security and benefits, the same pressure I am sure a lot of people deal with when considering starting their own business. It did not matter how well my fiancé, who is also an entrepreneur, was doing financially; anytime I mentioned quitting my job and focusing on my own business, I heard the same response… “Just wait a little longer.” Or “What about your healthcare?” Though this came from a place of care for our wellbeing, it immobilized me when it came to pursuing my dreams because I was so afraid to disappoint them, and ultimately, disappoint myself. One of the biggest lessons my fiancé taught me was to let go of other people’s opinions and expectations when it comes to your life or pursuing your dreams. Though they are always well-intended, you are the only person who will live with the consequences of your decisions. This lesson also brings me back to a poem my business coach shared with me recently by Theodore Roosevelt titled “The Man in The Arena.” Do not take advice from the critics in the stands of the arena, because they do not know the triumph of achievement or the disappointment of defeat.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting mistake that occurred to you in the course of your career? What lesson or take away did you learn from that?
When I first became interested in becoming a coach, I had all the concepts for personal freedom floating around in my mind, but I had no idea how to teach them or use them to impact others. The coaching industry can also feel very overwhelming to get into because there is no real regulation on the profession, so a quick Google search on “how to become a life coach” will lead you down a thousand different rabbit holes with courses ranging from 200 dollars for a PDF packet and certification to more than 10,000 dollars for an expansive six-month course that teaches you all the ins and outs of the coaching industry. It is very easy for an aspiring coach to get lost or confused as they attempt to embark on this career path. As a result of my own feeling of overwhelm, I downloaded a free 50-page book through Amazon Prime which was meant to teach me how to become a successful life coach. The author talked about how she approached her friends and family asking them whether they wanted to be coached by her, and that is how she got her first few clients. Cue, her success story. So, in a similar attempt, I approached a friend from my hometown who I thought might be interested in working with a coach. After she signed up, our sessions lasted about a month with zero change and progression. I felt like I had wasted four weeks. In the moment, I felt so defeated, but looking back it is so easy for me to see where I went wrong. You may have all the skills, experiences, and knowledge you need to teach someone to excel, but that does not mean that you are automatically a good coach. I’ve learned that coaching is not about teaching or “lecturing” or telling your clients what to do; it is about asking the right questions that will inspire change within them. It is about allowing them to find those “AHA” moments for themselves and to use those moments of self-realization to change their habits and thought patterns towards a better future. So of course I did not make an impact with my friend, all I did was sit on the phone and lecture her for an hour about the changes she should be making when I could have created an environment in which she would come to these realizations by herself. It was a huge lesson for me in my career, and thankfully I later found some incredible programs to get certifications that have helped me become the coach I am today.
Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
This question is hard for me to answer. My mind feels like an accumulation of chapters, passages, and paragraphs from dozens of books that I have consumed over the last few years, all profoundly impactful for different reasons. If there is one book that I would recommend everyone to dive into, it would be The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz. This book was gifted to me by a dear friend, and it was especially impactful for me because it holds the four basic principles for personal freedom. Ruiz’s teachings are based on ancient Toltec wisdom, and reveal the source of self-limiting beliefs that rob us of joy and create needless suffering. Applying these four principles can transform our lives to a new experience of freedom, true happiness, and love. Before reading this book, I felt like the pieces of this same puzzle were scattered among my thoughts, and though I could comprehend them, I could not always find the words to teach them to others. Don Miguel Ruiz describes these principles through such beautiful and impactful examples and metaphors which allow the lessons to resonate so you can truly apply them to your own life and share them with others. For anyone in search of freedom from their suffering, this book is a great place to begin.
Can you share your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Why does that resonate with you so much? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life or your work?
One of my favorite life lessons to go by is “Life is happening for you, not to you.” It is based on the idea that when you are faced with difficult circumstances or challenges, they are not happening because life is trying to beat you down and you are meant to be a victim of your circumstance. Rather, these difficulties happen because you are meant to accept the challenge to learn and grow from it. It pushes you to step out of your victim mentality and take back the power over your experiences and outcomes. I think this concept can be hard for people to grasp because the things they have endured feel so painful and unjust that the idea of there being a lesson in their suffering seems insulting. We fail to remember that sometimes the simple lesson of unconditional love and forgiveness is enough. Some challenges are only presented to strengthen our hearts. As for how that relates to my life and my work, it is truly the foundation of everything I teach my clients. By helping my clients step out of their victim mentality and change their thinking from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset, I help them take control of their narrative. It is the most liberating thing anyone can do for themselves.
How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?
To me, leadership is about bringing out the best in people. I learned some of my best leadership skills through my time spent studying under the Dale Carnegie Human Relations program. I used to work as a supervisor at a fast-food chain, and I would try to influence people by lecturing or penalizing them, and I was never able to create a team that produced the results I wanted. During my time studying under Carnegie’s program, I learned about the power of lifting up the people around you, rather than put them down, and appealing to a common goal or desire within them to want to be better. Leadership is not about dictating your will and expecting people to follow, it is about connecting with human beings and finding out what drives them and using that drive to help them become the best version of themselves.
Ok, thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. The polarization in our country has become so extreme that families have been torn apart. Erstwhile close friends have not spoken to each other because of strong partisan differences. This is likely a huge topic, but briefly, can you share your view on how this evolved to the boiling point that it’s at now?
It is a huge topic, but at its core, all conflict stems down to self-righteousness and the belief that we are the hero of our own narrative. As humans, we are all driven by the same force: the desire for the right thing to be done by ourselves and by our community. Whatever that “right thing” is, is entirely dependent on our family, upbringing, education, environment, and looks completely different for every single person, even within families and friend groups. These are some basic principles of psychology. Through our experiences, we all build our own individual unique reference point, or “pair of glasses,” through which we view the world. So, although we all share the same goal of personal and community wellbeing, we have differing opinions on how that wellbeing is achieved. Not because some of us are evil and others are good, but simply because our point of reference and genuine beliefs about reality and the way the world operates differ. The problem is that in our rising indignation due to an overload of information now available to us, fueling us every day as we watch the news and engage with social media, along with our continued social isolation due to the pandemic and the past century’s rise of mobile phone usage, it has become increasingly hard to be compassionate of one another’s experiences.
I have no pretensions about bridging the divide between politicians, or between partisan media outlets. But I’d love to discuss the divide that is occurring between families, co workers, and friends. Do you feel comfortable sharing a story from your experience about how family or friends have become a bit alienated because of the partisan atmosphere?
I have been very fortunate not to experience much political conflict within my direct family or environment, but it has been a very heavy topic amongst my clients, with some not having spoken to their family in years due to differing political opinions. While this isolation and separation has caused my clients much heartache, I always work to remind them that they get to be empowered by these challenges too. It is through struggle and duality that we learn and grow, and so sometimes, this conflict that we face within our family, friendships, and community teaches us a greater sense of compassion and unconditional love. I had a client recently who had not spoken to her family in over a year, and she was very resistant to having a relationship with them because she felt so undignified by their political beliefs. She said that every time she was around them, the conversation would erupt into a fight. Learning how to forgive her parents and have compassion for their ideals and beliefs did not only mend their relationship, but it released her from a lot of other suffering in her life. She finally decided to love herself enough to release this anger she had been holding onto for years, and her compassion for herself and others deepened beyond anything she had ever known. She is one of the most amazing women I know, and I’m so happy that many of my clients share stories like hers.
In your opinion, what can be done to bridge the divide that has occurred in families? Can you please share a story or example?
It all starts with compassion and empathy for both your family members and for yourself. It is okay for you to set boundaries for yourself, and you can remove yourself from a situation when it makes you uncomfortable. But similarly, you must respect and acknowledge the feelings and experiences of those around you, especially when your goal is to inspire change. We all seem to have this idea that if we just resist hard enough or fight to change someone’s mind that we will inspire change and growth within other people, but in doing so we are failing to acknowledge a very basic trait of human nature: we are not creatures of logic, but rather emotional beings, driven by vanity, pride, and prejudice. Dale Carnegie refers to this in the first chapter of his book How to Win Friends and Influence People: “If you want to gather honey, don’t kick over the beehive.” When someone feels their character being judged, they will always find a way to rationalize their own behavior in defense. People want to feel like they are the good guy, and they will rationalize that feeling by any means, for themselves included. If you look at some of the most famous killers in American history, you see that they all viewed themselves as some sort of “underdog” or “misunderstood public benefactor.” Although most of us are not murderers, we still find similar ways to justify our own behavior when it comes to the smallest decisions we make in life. We always believe we are the good guy, and this feeling only becomes more fueled and irrational when our motives or intentions are questioned. So, when you want to inspire someone to understand your viewpoint, begin by acknowledging and respecting theirs, and understand that although their actions or opinions may be misguided, they come from a genuine place of wanting to do the right thing. Allow this understanding to lead you to both compassion and forgiveness of those whose viewpoint may not align with yours, and instead of resisting them, take responsibility for your part in the relationship by encouraging an environment in which all people are heard and understood. Only then, conversation can take place. We may not be able to change our circumstances, but we can always change the way we respond to them. Therein lies our power.
How about the workplace, what can be done to bridge the partisan divide that has fractured relationships there? Can you please share a story or example?
Similarly, it all begins with a change within yourself. This all comes down to a very basic principle that most of us seem to have forgotten in the heat of recent events: be the change you wish to see in the world. If you wish for other people to look at their own ideas critically, you should view your own thoughts and ideas critically as well. If you wish for the world to be a kinder and more loving place, then you should approach the world with more love and kindness yourself. The things some of us are fighting for, like equal treatment and social justice, are the exact things we are preventing by becoming part of the problem. That is a hard pill for a lot of us to swallow because we are so passionate about the causes we are fighting for and our intention is always pure. But in seeking justice, we create the exact thing we seek to defend ourselves against. Now I don’t say this to disregard or brush off issues like systemic racism, sexism, poverty, or homelessness. There are many issues that each of us fight for, regardless of political party or belief, that we can and should stand up for. The question is, how are you choosing to stand up for those things? Are you creating more pain and suffering for others in doing so? Or are you creating the change you want to see in this world? Although this seems like a very simple concept, it often fuels a lot of resistance. I understand the desire to want to fight back when you have been hurt so deeply, and you have watched those around you suffer, and most of all, you are tired of staying silent. But you cannot save a burning house with gasoline. Instead, we must approach those around us with the kindness and respect which we wish to see ourselves. Stand proudly for the things you believe in but not at the expense of those around you. You would be surprised by how kindness and love can inspire change in others. Start by treating your co-workers with kindness and respect, and show them how your behavior reflects the issues which you are fighting for. Not because you have something to prove to them, but because you owe it to yourself to live up to your own values and beliefs.
I think one of the causes of our divide comes from the fact that many of us see a political affiliation as the primary way to self identify. But of course there are many other ways to self identify. What do you think can be done to address this?
Our political identity is merely a side effect of a much larger identity crisis we are facing as a people. No one agrees on who the victim is and who the victimizer is. With the two-party system and the way it has been in place for so long, fewer people take the time to educate themselves on key issues, but rather base their opinion on who they believe to be the good guy and the bad guy. When decisions are made under this rationale, the voter feels justified in their decision-making because in their eyes, they are the good guy and are simply standing up against the bad guy. To break free from this victim mentality, it is important to recognize that most people are operating and acting from this shared belief. So, when you look at your “enemy,” you must not view them as an evil person with evil intentions but rather as someone who is hurt or struggling and is lashing out because they believe you to be the reason for their pain. The way you view them is no different from the way they view you. Again, this is not to say that one should not stand up for their views: it is merely to highlight that there is no “good” or “bad” side, there is just two differing opinions on how the same thing should be achieved (the wellbeing of one’s self, their country, and one’s community). When you approach people with the compassion and understanding that they are sharing in your goal, they just have a different reference point as to the “how” that goal can be achieved, you open yourself up to a conversation in which you can find a middle ground that serves the greater purpose of all. But, to make this conversation possible, you need to separate yourself from the idea that you are the “good guy” and that there is a “bad guy.” It also serves us to remember that these principles do not require us to excuse unloving acts or injustice, they simply ask us to recognize that things are not as black and white as we like to believe they are. The most powerful example I can give of this is the child who bullies others. You do not have to condone bullying to see that the bully is simply coping with a pain that has been inflicted upon him by someone else (whether it be another bully, a sibling, or a parent). When a child bullies another child, their actions are a cry for love because they, too, are suffering. You may stop the child from being a bully by scolding and punishing them, but in doing so, you are not healing their pain, you are simply causing them to internalize it through guilt and self-hatred. While it appears effective, it is quite a cruel fate and will only lead to more pain and destruction in the long run. Alternatively, try helping the bully by showing them kindness and affection, and raise awareness about how bullying hurts people. Compassion does not equal silence.
Much ink has been spilled about how social media companies and partisan media companies continue to make money off creating a split in our society. Sadly the cat is out of the bag and at least in the near term there is no turning back. Social media and partisan media have a vested interest in maintaining the divide, but as individuals none of us benefit by continuing this conflict. What can we do moving forward to not let social media divide us?
The first step to putting a stop to this division is by understanding what is causing it. More and more people are becoming aware and educated on how social media and partisan media companies profit off our emotional responses. Without realizing it, we are allowing ourselves to become puppets in a game that cares only about money. With that knowledge, we have a choice to make. Are we going to allow these people to use our empathy and compassion to create division and fatten their wallets, or are we going to take back our power from this misdirection? The reason we engage with these social media posts and advertisements is because they stir something in us. We react because we care. That shows how capable we are of compassion and empathy. We become angry or triggered because we feel there is injustice of some kind. Anger, at the end of the day, is just a mask for pain. It is a way in which we can take an emotion that makes us feel helpless and give ourselves the sense that we can do something about it. Anger, however, only leads to more destruction. To seek vengeance or to hurt someone based on our anger may make us feel better temporarily, but it leaves us feeling empty in the long run. So, instead of allowing others to use our empathy and control us, we must recognize that our empathy empowers us to take action so we can become the change we wish to see in the world. Instead of commenting and engaging and trying to change other people, we can use this emotion to do good and to lead by example.
What can we do moving forward to not let partisan media pundits divide us?
Similarly, it serves us to realize that social media companies and news outlets get paid through advertisements, whose payouts are typically based on clicks and engagement. While this does not necessarily mean that the intention behind a media outlet is not pure, it just means that media outlets often create content that is “shocking,” to increase the likelihood of their audience engaging. My father was an artist and entertainer, and he juggled chainsaws for a living. One day while juggling, he caught the chainsaw by the wrong end and cut his hand. The cut to his thumb was so minor that he did not even mention the injury to us. The next day, we were bombarded by phone calls and messages from friends and family making sure he was ok, because apparently the newspaper had reported that he had almost cut off his entire hand. It may seem like a silly story, but this is a powerful representation of how media outlets operate. Understand that whatever you see in the news or online is often designed to give you an emotional reaction that will cause you to engage. Your emotional reaction makes them money. Next time, instead of reacting, take a step back and assess how your anger or emotion is serving you or the cause you are fighting for. Again, instead of allowing others to capitalize on your empathy, simply ask yourself: does my anger heal what I am upset about? Use your empathy to grow understanding and compassion amongst your community instead of allowing someone else to use it and control you.
Sadly we have reached a fevered pitch where it seems that the greatest existential catastrophe that can happen to our country is that “the other side” seizes power. We tend to lose sight of the fact that as a society and as a planet we face more immediate dangers. What can we do to lower the ante a bit and not make every small election cycle a battle for the “very existence of our country”?
I think it is especially hard to draw a line here because the two are so connected. For a lot of people, the pressure of the more immediate dangers make it even more important for us to elect a president that is going to lead us to our desired outcome. While this is 100% a valid and important step in the process, we cannot treat it as the end all be all. Because in that instance, when we lose, we immediately resort to this mentality that “the world is ending, all hope is lost…” Nothing ever changed because we all sat around moping and complaining about how we have already lost. If you truly care about the issues you are fighting for, find a way to make an impact in your direct community. Our responsibility as a society is more than just electing a president and expecting them to fix everything. Change on that big of a scale takes a communal effort and requires all of us to step up to the table and contribute.
Ok wonderful. Here is the main question of our interview. Can you please share your “5 Steps That Each Of Us Can Take To Proactively Help Heal Our Country”. Kindly share a story or example for each.
1. Let go of the victim mentality.
The first step in making any kind of change is changing your foundation or mindset. All results stem from your thoughts. This is what that 5-step process looks like:
– Circumstance: This is usually an event, person, or situation. In essence, every circumstance is considered neutral.
– Thought: Following a circumstance, we create a thought in response to this circumstance. This thought is our judgement of the circumstance: this is what makes it either positive or negative.
– Feeling: Our thoughts about a circumstance evoke an emotional response (e.g., anger, joy, sadness, disbelief, excitement).
– Action: This is what you do or don’t do based on your emotional response.
– Result: The result you end up with based on your actions.
Are your thoughts turning you into a victim of your circumstance?
Let us look at some examples:
– Circumstance: A family member posts something political on social media.
– Thought: This person is stupid and uneducated. They do not care about other human beings or this country. They must be evil and selfish.
– Feeling: Anger, disbelief, self-righteousness.
– Action: Respond to their post, correcting them and accusing them of being stupid, selfish, and uneducated.
– Result: More tension, anger, and a damaged relationship.
Now let us look at the alternative mentality: one where you take complete responsibility for your own thoughts, reactions, and results regardless of whether you can control a situation or not.
– Circumstance: A family member posts something political on social media.
– Thought: This person genuinely believes in what they are speaking about (regardless of whether it is true or false), and they are coming from a place of wanting to raise awareness to fight for a cause they believe in.
– Feeling: Compassion and understanding.
– Action: If you still feel the need to, respond to their post, acknowledging that you understand where they are coming from and why they care so deeply about this (again, regardless of whether it is true or false, they are still having a genuine emotional reaction to this). This is the evidence you have found on this subject, and that has led you to ABCD conclusion. Regardless of who is right or wrong, you hope that we can all find a solution which will be in everyone’s best interest and thank them for sharing their view on things.
– Result: A peaceful and empathetic discussion between two family members that may lead to growth on both sides.
Now obviously the result is not always going to be exactly the way you hope it to be, especially when there are other people involved, but regardless of the outcome, you will have the peace of mind that your actions reflected the change you wish to see in the world. Your relationship with someone else is not actually about the relationship between you two. It is about your relationship with yourself, and their relationship with themselves. In other words, nothing changes until you change.
2. Practice compassion for yourself and others.
This is something I have alluded to many times throughout the interview already. Practicing compassion for yourself and the people around you. Compassion for yourself is so important here, because as a lot of us wake up to the fact that we have been acting in counterproductive ways, we get overwhelmed with a feeling of guilt or frustration at ourselves. It is important to realize that this is just as counterproductive. It all starts with self-forgiveness. Understand that we are all doing the best we can at any given moment, yourself included. When you practice compassion, it helps to understand why people do seemingly hurtful things, even when they have good intentions. There are 2 key ideas to look at in this process:
– Only hurt people hurt people / everyone is a victim of a victim: while simple, this realization can often be life changing for people. Someone is not able to give or inflict pain unless they themselves are hurting in some way. The action they are taking to hurt others is just a way for them to ease a little bit of the burden of their own pain, and this is often an entire subconscious process. We all do it. The lady in line at the grocery store cussing you out for accidentally cutting her in line? She’s most likely dealing with a lot of pain and stress from either her current circumstance or a past source of pain that she has not healed yet. For another example, look at the previously mentioned story of the bully again.
– Pain is experienced through perception: our perception is formed by our experiences, and our beliefs about ourselves and the world are often subconsciously created with every experience and interaction we have, especially as children. When someone perceives something seemingly innocent as being a threat or as being hurtful, it is usually because that belief has been taught to them either through direct experience or by a parent, teacher, or peer. While it can be frustrating for us to see someone disapprove of something which to us seems completely harmless (because we do not share their beliefs and experiences), it is important to understand that these people are having a genuine emotional reaction to this issue. Just because you do not share their trauma or experience does not make it any less real or valid.
Based on these concepts, we can open ourselves up to wanting to understand one another and creating an environment in which we can all heal and potentially rewrite false beliefs to grow as individuals and as a society.
3. Reach out to your family, friends, and community.
We are not going to solve every world issue by trying to argue with people from halfway across the country or trying to change the minds of presidential candidates who may never see your emails. The most impactful and direct way to make a change is to interact and engage directly with your community. This is not going to happen when you cannot even stand to be in a room with most of them. If you are trying to inspire change, then why are you reducing yourself to an audience that is already in agreement with your cause? I am not saying that every relationship needs to be political or based on your desire to change anyone. As a matter of fact, that is the opposite of what I encourage you to do. Nothing good comes from trying to change someone. Instead, try to radically accept someone. Love them, see them, acknowledge them, respect them in the exact way that you want them to love, see, acknowledge, and respect you and the cause you are fighting for. If you wish to grow a tree, then do not pour poison on the soil. Instead, nurture, water, and care for it. You cannot divide a community that is rooted in unconditional love. Lay your weapons down and reach out to your friends, family, co-workers, and community so you can begin to rebuild the bricks of your foundation.
4. Connect to your community and be a source of positivity through volunteer work.
A lot of us have become very disconnected from our community and because of this it becomes hard for us to see what we are fighting for or to feel compassion for people with different backgrounds and beliefs. Instead of isolating ourselves within a community of people who share in our beliefs, we would benefit greatly from becoming involved in our community through charity or volunteer work (such as a soup kitchen or a big brother and big sister program) and to join together with people from all different walks of life in a shared goal of spreading love and positivity. Not only will this help boost morale and help you create the change which you wish to see in the world, you also open yourself up to the possibility of connecting and seeing the good in those who may not share in your political belief. This past Thanksgiving, I was visiting one of my in-laws in Texas who voted Republican this past election. That Friday, she drove us down to the homeless camps in San Antonio and handed out food to the homeless living beneath the highway. She explained to me that this effort was funded by the church, and that in doing so, they were able to reach a lot more people and feed a lot more homeless folks because there was not any money going into the structures that would require them to pay people or to set up eligibility programs. This was one of the main reasons she voted Republican: the party supports community aide on a small, local level, which through years of charity and volunteer work on all different scales, she had found to be most effective for the community. This is something that I would never have known or understood had I not opened myself up to having that conversation and wanting to understand what was driving her and the causes she is passionate about.If you are unable to offer aid by donating your time, consider an alternative such as monetary donations to a local cause.
5. Find out how you can support the causes you believe in locally.
Research how you can fight FOR the causes you believe in within your direct community, rather than how you can fight AGAINST those you do not believe in. It may seem like these are one and the same, but one carries an energy of anger and resistance, while the other carries an energy of positivity and change. Take the passion you feel when you are being triggered by someone with an opposing view and use it to create positive change in your community, rather than fighting against someone who will just push you back harder the more you push them. I have a client who embodies such a beautiful example of this in the work he is doing for himself and his community. He is a young black male living in St. Louis, and we had a conversation recently about the contrast he has seen within his community in response to George Floyd’s murder and the uprise of the BLM movement. Some of his friends have joined extremist groups and have chosen the path of anger and resistance. Again, it is important to recognize here that anger is a mask for pain. It is a way for us to take the often paralyzing pain from injustice and oppression and feel like we have some sense of control over it. While my client has been deeply hurt by the events, he does not see how more pain and violence is going to solve things for his community. Instead, he has been helping his community by building his business and providing job opportunities as well as other opportunities for growth amongst the black community to help raise himself and his people up. If anything, recent events have motivated him even more to be a source of light and positivity for his community. Not only is this a way for him to feel empowered in the face of oppression, but it also brings with it a sense of peace that he would not have found if choosing to pursue this anger.
Simply put, is there anything else we can do to ‘just be nicer to each other’?
All change starts when we decide to forgive ourselves and others for what we perceive to be our and their shortcomings. So simply put, be more compassionate and forgiving, and kindness will follow naturally.
We are going through a rough period now. Are you optimistic that this issue can eventually be resolved? Can you explain?
Absolutely. All the challenges we currently face as a society are also opportunities for us to learn and grow. While social media has divided us, it has also created an opportunity from people all over the world to connect and gain empathy for one another. It has provided us with a platform to learn and educate ourselves and to bring people together in mass amounts to stand up for the ideas we believe in. For a lot of us the issues we are currently facing have been wake-up calls, and I do not know if we would have woken up had they not reached this level of intensity. Everything serves a purpose, and if we can keep ourselves looking forward and stay optimistic about our future, we can conquer anything.
If you could tell young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our society, like you, what would you tell them?
This question brings me back to something I said earlier in the interview: be the change you wish to see in the world. If you are fighting for a society that is kind, loving, and just, yet you feel anger or hatred towards the people in that society, then regardless of your motivation, you have become a part of the problem. We can all do better, and we should always ask ourselves: does my behavior reflect the change I wish to see? I do not question for a second that we all long for a kinder, better world, but for a lot of us young people, it can feel at times like all hope is lost. Our parents or older generations seem set in their ways, and we feel like we are running out of time. This leads us to a lot of nonaction and feelings of hopelessness and depression. I would just encourage everyone to take back power over their own narrative. You can not change others, but you can change your own experience and take action to inspire others instead. This story is only over if we decide to give up, and I know that we are stronger than that.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
I feel very conflicted on this one. I would love to meet with either Deepak Chopra or Tony Robbins. Deepak Chopra because his research and teachings have been incredibly groundbreaking for me and have taught me so much about living a life aligned with love, as well as the importance of compassion and inner-child healing for gaining personal freedom. Tony Robbins, because of the incredible things he has achieved in this industry and the lives he continues to change every single day. To get to meet them and pick their brain would be absolutely incredible.
How can our readers follow you online?
Anyone interested in learning more about my work can find me at www.lauramichellegray.com or on Instagram @lauramichellegray
This was very meaningful, and thank you so much for the time you spent on this interview. We wish you only continued success on your great work!
Thank you so much for providing me a platform to speak on! This has been such an interesting and important topic to dive into. I appreciate the opportunity.