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Episode Flyer for #48: Cutting Ourselves Some Slack

Guest: Doug Foresta                         Guest Title: Producer (Human Potential at Work)

Date: March 22, 2017                         Guest Company: Stand Out and Be Heard


[Intro Music]

Debra: Hello, this is Debra Ruh and you are listening to Human Potential at Work. Today I’m proud to bring Doug Foresta back on the program. I do have a bit of a cold so excuse my rugged voice today but, Doug, welcome to the program.

Doug: Thank you, Debra. I like your rugged voice.

Debra: It’s funny. I know today’s topic is about giving ourselves a break.

Doug: Right.

Debra: I have a little bit of bronchitis going and that certainly really blends into this conversation nicely.

Doug: Well, first of all, I’m sorry you have bronchitis and nothing blends into bronchitis nicely-

Debra: [laughs]

Doug: but I agree that the conversation and the topic is a timely one. I know that one of the departure points where we started talking about this topic is, at the time we are recording this, there is a viral video (that seems like everyone on the planet must have seen at this point) where this father had a BBC interview live via Skype. And he was in his office- or his bedroom or whatever it was- and his toddler walked in (he forgot to lock the door) and then his 9-month-old infant, I think son, came in with a walker and then the panicked mother came in and it was just hysterical.

Debra: [laughs] Oh my gosh.

Doug: But people were so uptight. It was funny, but at the same time the response from people was really interesting and it got us talking about this idea of “Can we cut ourselves some slack?”.

Debra: I agree. I am fighting this bronchitis thing. The other day I saw that video for the first time and it just cracked me up and sent me into coughing spasms because the little toddler walking in with the arms swinging- so sassy- and the father, you can see the father realizing there are children in the room.

Doug: Right. [chuckles]

Debra: When he’s having this very deep discussion.

Doug: My worst fears are being realized.

Debra: Oh, it was just- and then the baby comes in with the walker! It was hysterical. And the look on the mother’s face as she dives into the room and drags the children out. I laughed but not at the discomfort of the parents. I laughed because I work from home and I could totally see that happening to me. I could totally see that happening and so I laughed because their children (they are so cute) remind us that we are not in control. I know my son called me this morning and him and his girlfriend are heading to Philly and his car broke down in the middle of the trip.

Doug: Uh-huh.

Debra: And he calls and says, “My car- my car doesn’t work!” and I’m not exactly sure what he wants me to do. But I said, “Well, I’m so sorry but let’s get you a tow truck and the universe decided today you are going to have a different adventure”.

Doug: Right.

Debra: And so we aren’t in control, but I agree, Doug. One thing that I saw happen was on the internet that video went viral and then it got really ugly (as things sometimes do on social media). A lot of people assumed that the woman was maybe the nanny and then some people were saying, “Oh! you’re just assuming she’s the nanny because she’s Asian.”

Doug: Right. And to tell you the truth, I assumed she was the nanny. He just looked like the kind of guy who had a nanny. [laughs]

Debra: Right, right. When we were talking about it you said it was almost more of a-

Doug: It was probably more of a stereotype of him than of her.

Debra: Right, right.

Doug: But, yeah, I thought so, too. Right, people beating each other up: “Well, how dare you.”

Debra: Yeah, and making this, so now it’s not this… I don’t even know what word to use. But here you have this situation where the father is trying to have a very serious conversation and his children totally photobomb him. The mother realizes- “Oh no!”. He’s having this very serious conversation. And so [I was] empathetically seeing what happened and being amused by it because the children are so cute. No, no, no, Doug, we can’t do that, Doug. Instead we have to start attacking each other saying, “How dare you think she’s a nanny! Is it because she’s Asian?”. And once again it seems like there’s a lot of, “I’m just going to assume something is wrong. I’m not going to assume positive intent. I’m not going to be empathetic to the father”. I’ve heard a lot of criticism saying, “Why didn’t the father just stop and take the children out?”.

Doug: [laughs]

Debra: Well, I’m sure the father was just frozen.

Doug: I was just going to say, let’s see what you would do if you were on live television.

Debra: I know and I can see myself in that situation when [I] watched the video. And we’ll put the video in the link for anybody who hasn’t seen it- it’s so cute. Those children are so cute and just the panic- the pure panic.

Doug: Yeah, the panic on his face. Right.

Debra: Yeah and it was really, really adorable. And of course we can be so empathetic of the panic of both of the parents but the children were like, “Hey!” and it was just really cute. Why can’t we just enjoy this moment of the parents thinking they have any kind of control, when really the kids are in control, which is cute? Just look at this family and say, “What an adorable family!” and “What a normal family, just like everyone else!”. I think we got to really, really focus on more positive intention. Somebody looks at you and they look at you the wrong way and you just assume they are thinking something negative about you. Maybe they don’t see so well, or maybe they’re thinking of something else and it doesn’t have anything to do with you at all. Right, Doug?

Doug: That’s correct. That’s right. Yeah, most of the time it doesn’t. And the cutting ourselves some slack and cutting other people some slack. I think the other piece that, to me, there is a way in which we want to present ourselves to the world, right? We all want to present ourselves to the world in a way that is our best self- our most buttoned-down self. Right?

Debra: [chuckles] Yeah.

Doug: But then of course, life doesn’t always cooperate and then the other parts kind of seep out. And as long as we don’t allow people to really express who they are; as long as we don’t allow for those other parts to kind of come out- then I think we do ourselves and others a disservice.

Debra: I agree and I know that we all like the idea of thinking that we’re in control.

Doug: That’s right.

Debra: And so, once again, my son and his girlfriend, Emily. They’re in control. They have their car. They’re going to drive to Philly. Got up at four o’clock in the morning- they’re in control. Well, are you really in control?

Doug: Right.

Debra: Nope. Today you are, instead, going to stop on the side of the road in Greenbelt, Maryland. You’re going to get a tow truck. Even with me: this little yucky stuff that turned into bronchitis. I was talking to my doctor yesterday and she said that I’ve probably been walking around for the last few months with a low-grade virus and then the more I pushed myself [the worse it got] and I did just get back from a lovely trip in the UAE. Anytime you’re traveling that far, it can be intense.

Doug: Yes.

Debra: And so a lot of times we don’t have control. I don’t think we have control often. I think a lot of times we have the illusion of control, which is good, but I remember when Sarah was growing up. And there would be times when people would look at Sarah and we, in our own minds, could decide what people were thinking when they saw Sarah. Were they smiling? You can try and decide where a person is coming from when they are just looking at your child. And I always try to assume positive intent. I remember we’d be in the mall and she’d be walking down the mall with her headphones on and singing. And people would walk by her and they would just smile. Now, if a person without a disability was doing that people might look and grimace or something- once again, assuming positive intent from everybody. I heard this wonderful story in a book called Adam and I’m going to forget the name of the author- Martha Beck.

Doug: Martha Beck, yeah.

Debra: Martha Beck wrote a story about her son, Adam, that was born with Down Syndrome or Trisomy 21. She said she had gone into a store and this older gentleman saw her son and he squatted down and he was talking to her son really intently and they were just having this wonderful conversation. And the man stood up and he looked at her and he said, “I have an adult child with Down Syndrome”. She said that she realized that we’re just a big family.

Doug: Mm-hm

Debra: I remember, at the time, Sarah was very small and I felt comforted knowing that not only am I part of the human race but I am also part of this community- the Trisomy 21 (or Down Syndrome) community and this community of people with disabilities and I’m part of the American community and I’m just part of so much more than just myself.

Doug: Right.

Debra: I took a lot of comfort from that.

Doug: Right. Yeah, it makes a lot of sense. And you’re right about assuming positive intent. I think it’s hard because we do get, unfortunately, very caught up sometimes. I think there is a way in which we obviously need to examine our own biases and do that stuff, but I think it’s the spirit in which we do it. I mean, there are colleges now- I don’t know if you know about this but- a lot of colleges they are not allowing many comedians to come on because they say, “Well, that joke is sexist” and “That joke is racist”. Come on. If we can’t laugh, if we can’t find some humor in these things, how on Earth are we ever going to get past it? I struggle with that. Yes, we have to, obviously, take things seriously and make sure that bias and discrimination against disabled persons and other people is serious but at the same time we also have to have compassion for ourselves. Compassion for others and a sense of humor. I think that’s the biggest piece of what we were talking about, like that viral video. It’s like, “My god, it’s funny!”. You know? [laughs]

Debra: It is funny and the little kids- they’re both so sassy.

Doug: Yeah.

Debra: So many of us just stepped into this family’s life and from looking at that video I immediately assume those are good parents

Doug: Yeah.

Debra: And they’re raising really cool, sassy, kids.

Doug: Right.

Debra: I just love the walk when the toddler comes in. The toddler is just swinging-

Doug: See, you like the toddler. I thought the baby comes close to like a- [laughs] like a mad person.

Debra: The baby was hysterical. [laughs] Oh my gosh, it’s so funny. The jaunty walk that the toddler was walking in- every time I’ve watched it (I’ve watched it like ten times) I just think it’s so amusing. I think you’re right. We’re trained so hard to be politically correct we don’t even know how to engage with each other anymore. I really enjoyed going to the United Arab Emirates. In some ways, I think their culture is so different from my culture. And then I get there again and I remember these people are people. They love their children. They love their families. They want to make a difference. They are concerned about how many people are looking at the Islam faith and deciding that everybody in Islam are terrorists- which is so not true. And I had really, really deep discussions with different people during that trip and we were talking about the misunderstandings. I had the pleasure of meeting several members of the royal family over there and one woman I was talking to was just asking me a lot of questions about Americans, generally. I can only speak for myself as an American. You know, I said, “Americans are good people. They’re good people. Americans are tolerant people. Americans, we do want to do the right thing in society. Are we perfect? No. And do we have extremists in our politics, extremists in religions, and people that are making really bad decisions and hurting others? Absolutely. But overall, I think that American are good people”. And I just really think, Doug, and here’s this- once again, going back to this video- video of a family that got put in a really awkward situation, it wound up being funny, and we’re not laughing at them. I know I wasn’t laughing-

Doug: No. Right. It wasn’t schadenfreude.

Debra: It was adorable.

Doug: Right.

Debra: It was adorable.

Doug: Right. In fact, I think what’s awesome about it. This is a piece about cutting ourselves some slack, too. We take ourselves so seriously. I mean, I would too if I was live on BBC-

Debra: Yeah.

Doug: I’d be like, “I’m live on BBC”. I would have my ego invested in that. And a four-year-old doesn’t care about BBC-

Debra: [laughs]

Doug: or television-

Debra: [laughs]

Doug: or people are watching. They just enjoy their life and I think they are closer to the truth, you know- that it doesn’t really matter.

Debra: Right.

Doug: We just make it important. [laughs] You know?

Debra: I know, I know. And here’s this father-

Doug: [laughs]

Debra: having a very, very serious conversation about South Korea.

Doug: [laughs] Right about North Korea. Right. About North Korea. About North Korea.

Debra: Yeah. Right, right, right. Yeah, a very, very serious conversation and here comes this toddler and then the baby in the walker that was totally owning the room. That was really, really cute.

Doug: [laughs] You know what it is about that baby that I loved? Being the oldest of six myself, it’s the little sibling syndrome. Like, “Oh my god, my sister is in the room! I got to get going! [laughs] I can’t miss out on this!”. [laughs]

Debra: That is so cute and [laughs] when the mother realized what was going on-

Doug: Oh, yeah, that.

Debra: just the shock; the panic.

Doug: [laughs]

Debra: My heart went out to her. I guess I wasn’t surprised (but still I was surprised) at how then it became this really negative “Oh, you’re assuming this” or that, instead of just taking this experience for exactly what it was. And I hope the parents are taking it and saying “Oh well”. I’m sure the dad would think, “Uh, yeah… That’s what they make locks on the door for”:  [laughs] so he doesn’t get photobombed.

Doug: As you said that, the other thing I was thinking about is:  the reality is, I definitely fell into some biases about why I thought she was the nanny. But even then what should by inner response be? Should it be to beat myself up? And how are we ever going to get past our own biases if all we’re doing is yelling at each other about how bad we are? I think even then, even if we do notice, “Well, you know what? Why did I think that? Why did I think she was the nanny? What am I assuming about class and ethnicity?” And-

Debra: Right.

Doug: so forth. But even then, I think we still have to have compassion for ourselves and be able to explore those things. If we’re just pointing the finger at other people- and I know you’ve had this experience, Debra, of people in communities doing this- [saying] “You’re bad. You’re against autism. You’re against Trisomy 21. You’re against people with disabilities and you’re a bad person”. How is that going to create a larger community of stakeholders?

Debra: I agree, I agree. A friend of mine, her daughter also has Down Syndrome- or Trisomy 21 as Sarah corrects me in calling it- and I remember she would say, “All my neighbors hate us and they hate us because my daughter has Down Syndrome”. And I remember when she first said that to me, I was really, really surprised. And I said, “What? What do you mean?”. And she said, “Oh, they all look down on us”. And this woman really struggled with self-esteem issues. but I was just so surprised because her daughter really was a lovely girl, and I’m just going to assume that her neighbors really didn’t look down on her just because she had a daughter with Down Syndrome. But it made me sad for this woman when she said that because the way I looked at it, all my neighbors love us because- at least partially- because I have this charming daughter.

Doug: Yeah.

Debra: That was born with Trisomy 21. So I guess it’s like anything else: is that glass half empty or is it half full? and I know that on- we have a Facebook page now a Facebook group called Human Potential at Work-

Doug: Yes.

Debra: and I really encourage the listeners to go out and join conversations there. I posted something the other day, just a discussion question, what can society do to really be sure that people with disabilities are more meaningfully included? and some of the discussions were very, very powerful. I’ll tell you, some of the best discussions came from individuals with disabilities that are adding such wisdom to the conversations so it would be sad for these people’s voices not to be heard because there [are] so [many] amazing things happening. We’ve got to break down the barriers- the barriers of ‌including people with disabilities. For society to work better we all have to be a meaningful part of it. You know, Doug?

Doug: I completely agree. I think compassion is really the word that I think about if we’re going to change hearts and minds. If we’re going to engage people we have to come from a place of compassion. Have you ever been in a situation, Debra, not with your husband (I know that you guys have a great relationship), but I know that I certainly had relationships in the past where every time your partner is critical of you: “What are you stupid? You can’t take out the trash?”. You know?

Debra: [laughs] Yeah.

Doug: You know what, you’re right. I am stupid. [laughs]

Debra: [laughs] Yeah.

Doug: Thank you for helping me see. When we talk to ourselves that way or we talk to other people that way, it’s not helpful. it doesn’t even actually accomplish what we think we want to accomplish.

Debra: I agree. And you know, Doug, I think it goes back to what we talked about in an earlier program. Many of us are traumatized right now for a lot of different reasons. I imagine if you’re a person that is, you know, practicing certain religions.

Doug: Right.

Debra: You might be a little traumatized in that people are going to attack you because they don’t like that you’re [a Muslim]; or maybe they don’t like you because you’re Jewish; or maybe they don’t like you because the color of your skin; or you love the wrong sex. I think, right now, people are so traumatized for a lot of different reasons and I think we need to really, really cut each other a lot more slack. When you have a situation when all of a sudden you totally lose control of your situation, like the parents who lost control of the kids during a BBC interview or when you’re driving to Philly and suddenly your car decides today is going to be the day it’s going to break down. I’m not going to break down in your driveway as you’re leaving the house. I’m going to wait until you’re in Greenbelt, Maryland.

Doug: Right

Debra: And I know it was funny I told you that, Doug. You said that your sister was born in Greenbelt, Maryland

Doug: Yes. Yeah, she still lives in Maryland.

Debra: I think it’s hard right now, in a lot of ways, so we have to give each other room to grow and make mistakes and to bloom and really stop deciding people are less than someone else because “fill-in-the blank”, which we have talked about a lot.

Doug: You know it’s funny it also comes down to, I think- you know who Robert Ellis was? Have you ever heard of Robert Ellis?

Debra: The name sounds familiar but-

Doug: Robert Ellis was the founder of rational emotive therapy.

Debra: Ok.

Doug: He was quite a character. He wrote a book called How to Absolutely Positively– something like this- How to Absolutely Positively Refuse to Make Yourself Miserable About Anything.

Debra: Oh!

Doug: And what Ellis said was that we have all these “musts” and “should” and we make ourselves miserable because we get stuck in these “musts” and “shoulds”. You know, children should not come in during a BBC interview.

Debra: [laughs]

Doug: You know- people should do this. You should do this. You shouldn’t be this. You should be like this. You must be like this. And that, in fact, when we have all these “musts” and “shoulds”; all it does is make ourselves miserable. It doesn’t change the world because, as you said, I’ve been there. You’re driving and your tire blows and your car goes out and it doesn’t matter what I think: “This can’t be happening! This must not happen! This should not happen!” and of course it’s like a child holding their breath. It doesn’t change the world around you it only makes us more miserable.

Debra: I agree. I agree, and deciding that the world is going to look like this.

Doug: Right.

Debra: I remember when I got pregnant with Sarah. My husband and I had been trying for five years. And when we realized we were pregnant, I was so excited and then I got so terrified: “Oh I’m not ready yet. I’m not mature enough”.

Doug: Right. No one’s ever ready. [laughs] Right?

Debra: Yeah! And it’s like,”Oh no!”. So then we have this beautiful perfect baby. And when Sarah was 4-months old- which is sort of unusual, usually they’re going to find out that the baby has Trisomy 21-

Doug: Right.

Debra: before they’re born or certainly right at birth. But they did not, the doctors did not, figure out that Sarah had Trisomy 21 until she was 4-months old.

Doug: Wow.

Debra: They started suspecting that maybe something was amiss and they did some blood tests and they realized that Sarah did have Trisomy 21 (or well known as Down syndrome). I remember when the doctor was telling my husband and I that Sarah had Trisomy 21. In my mind I was trying to understand it and process that information and [thinking,] “What does this mean to her life?”;

Doug: Right.

Debra: “What does this mean to our lives?”. And I was really trying to wrap my mind around it and what that meant and also watching the reactions of people around me as they heard the “news”.

Doug: Right.

Debra: One person asked me if I had taken drugs during my pregnancy and of course Trisomy 21 is not caused by drugs. I didn’t take drugs during my pregnancy, but it was that comment I fully understood was, “What did you do to cause this tragedy, Debra?”. I think giving each other a break and giving ourselves a break… because I think it’s great that most of the time we are in control of our lives.

Doug: Yeah.

Debra: but the reality is we are sometimes going to drive out of the driveway and our car is going to break down.

Doug: Right. And let me just stop you there for a moment. I hate to interrupt, but I really feel like I just need to for a moment. When you said, “this tragedy”, right? Think about this, too. Could you imagine? You said you gave birth to a perfect child, right?

Debra: Yes.

Doug: Could you imagine Sarah being anyone else than who she is today?

Debra: No and I still think that I gave birth to a perfect child.

Doug: I was going to say she’s perfect who she is, right?

Debra: She is.

Doug: She is perfectly Sarah- and all of us [are perfectly ourselves].

Debra: And she adds a lot of value

Doug: Right.

Debra: She adds a lot of value and I love the way she thinks

Doug: Right.

Debra: And I love the way she processes information and I love how patient she is with us. She will say a word or say a sentence and we’re not exactly sure what she means and she’s so patient at explaining it in different ways. I’ll tell you, sometimes she gets frustrated. It’s like “I’ve told you in three different ways, you’re still not getting it-

Doug: That’s right.

Debra: so now I’m not going to talk to you anymore”.

Doug: [laughs] Right.

Debra: So [laughs] I think, once again, even more so right now we have to give ourselves a break and others a break and we have to smile at life. Sometimes our kids are going to burst in the door and join the interview, [laughs] whether we want them to or not. Sometimes the car is going to break down. Sometimes our child is going to be labeled in a way we weren’t expecting and I think that maybe we can look at it and say “Life’s an adventure and how fun is it?”. That’s what I said to my son this morning. I said, “You know you can’t do anything about this but call a tow truck. Try and find the adventure in it. Look for the magic along the way.” And he said, “Well, there is really pretty snow on the ground.” I said, “Great! Look for the hidden treasures along the way”. Right?

Doug: Debra, that is so beautiful. For once in my life I’m at a loss for words. I couldn’t say [laughs] it better, myself. That was beautiful [laughs].

Debra: Aw, thank you, Doug. Well thank you so much, Doug, for this conversation and I hope we all will take the time to enjoy our lives and try to give each other a break, including ourselves. Right, Doug?

Doug: Absolutely. Amen.


[Outro music]

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