What we can learn from the Pace Setters who ran with Kipchoge

the power of championship

“No human is limited” said Eliud Kipchoge, the Kenyan marathoner, Olympic gold medalist and the first human in history to run 26.2 miles in under two hours. I watched him as he broke through the barrier and I had tears in my eyes. Not because I’m an athlete (by any stretch) but because of the power behind his message. That with confidence and concerted effort, you can achieve anything. As an aspiring writer, his words rained on me like the monsoon on parched lands.

behind every man

I was overwhelmed when I heard that 41 athletes would support Kipchoge to achieve this world record, knowing that the event they were supporting would never really be about them. These weren’t just unknown runners looking for a bit of recognition or air time; they were some of the best distance runners in the world, Olympic and other decorated medallists.

Their sole focus in this task was to help Kipchoge to achieve his.

That is, their success was inextricably linked to and defined by whether Kipchoge would create a new world record or not. Their role was to ensure they executed their V formation meticulously to reduce drag; a single second’s delay could impact the final result. They would have trained for months, probably missing other athletics competitions and opportunities as they did so. But they did it – successfully. Whilst people may not immediately think of them, there is no question that they were essential contributors to creating world athletic history on 12 October 2019.

are you a pace setter?

Watching them reminded me of several articles I’ve read about the importance of championing others – with the often unexpected result of some personal success for you. We don’t have to specifically set out to do this or search for opportunities, but if we’re aware of the power of championing others, we’ll be more inclined to do it. I’ll share a recent example with you.

Screen Shot 2019-10-16 at 13.17.52 Mexican tales

In the summer I was in Mexico and had the once in a lifetime opportunity to swim with a whale shark – only I don’t swim well at all. Nevertheless, conscious that I may never get this chance again, I donned my snorkelling gear and life jacket and boarded a speedboat which took over an hour to get to the point in the ocean where the whale sharks congregate to feed. I was instructed to jump off the boat and swim hastily behind the guide who would lead me to a point where I could swim alongside a whale shark. Every possible alarm bell was ringing in my head; what if the vegetarian whale shark upon seeing me today, decided that he’d like to try some meat? What if I bob away with the current and can’t keep up with the guide, ending up somewhere I can’t be found? What if my life jacket deflates? It’s possibly the most counter intuitive thing to do for someone wracked with fear, to jump from a boat and plunge into the ocean – but I did it.

And it was the most horrendous experience of my life.

My heart was racing so fast that I thought it would burst out of my chest, simultaneously I wanted to vomit but needed my snorkelling tube to breathe and whilst I was paddling quickly, I was barely keeping up with my guide in his red wetsuit some feet ahead. I saw the gentle giant that is the whale shark (fortunately it was around 10 ft long so I couldn’t exactly miss it) and was ushered back to the boat where I resigned that this experience wasn’t for me. I relayed this to my husband and said I wouldn’t do my second dive and he could have an extra one instead. He looked at me and knowing me as he does said “you’re one of the strongest people I know; you’ll regret it forever if you don’t go back in”.

solidarity

As I was deliberating what to do and conscious that my name would be called in a matter of minutes, a lady climbed the ladder into the boat, visibly flushed, upset and bordering on hyperventilating. In an attempt to show some solidarity, I said “it’s tough out there isn’t it? Took my breath away too having to keep up”. She replied “I don’t do the sea, swimming pools are fine, I can swim for ages but the sea, no way. I knew it would be difficult but my husband insisted I give it a try because he loves these things but there’s no way I’m going back in; I don’t do the sea”.

I looked at her and responded: “that’s not true. You can’t say you don’t do the sea. You just jumped off a boat in the middle of the ocean and swam alongside a 10 ft sea creature; in fact, I’d say you didn’t just do the sea, you rocked the sea”.

She looked at me and for the first time since she’d returned to the boat, she smiled at the realisation of my words. It was fact, I hadn’t made it up; I’d just pointed out the magnitude of the achievement she’d just accomplished.

lifting others

Why is this relevant?

Because when we champion each other, we grow ourselves.

In the above situation, my husband championed me and I championed the lady. By pointing out her achievement I realised my own in plunging into the ocean despite every instinct telling me not to.

So what happened next? I jumped back in for my second dive, this time consciously switching off the negative internal chat and focusing on the beauty I was surrounded by; the crystalline ocean, the graceful whale sharks, the warmth of the beating sun on my shoulders. It was utterly incredible; I jumped in right next to a whale shark and swam with it, admiring it as we travelled together. I actually started laughing when we were face to face, marvelling at this most extraordinary situation.

It was a truly exhilarating experience and one I’d happily have again.

sisterhood

Selene Kinder* says:

“I wish that more women realised that helping another woman win, cheering her on, praying for her or sharing a resource with her does not take away from the blessings coming to them. In fact, the more you give, the more you receive. Empowering women doesn’t come from selfishness but rather from selflessness”.

Traditional images of masculinity at work subscribe to brutishness, crushing others to get to your goal, the end justifying the means and all that, but as many have attested, it can be lonely at the top if you’ve trodden on everyone around you to get there. Kipchoge’s pace setters defy this image; they were running for someone else’s glory.

Comparatively, women have been depicted for centuries as self sacrificing, subservient and inhibited. We know the tide’s changed and to a degree, it’s a more level playing field with opportunities abound for those that strive, irrespective of gender. But as we collect our baton, it’s important for us to also consciously bring others along with us on our journey so they may follow in our footsteps and eventually take over from us.

can you feel it?

There seems to be a subtle movement underway, bubbling away under our feet so gently we barely know it’s happening. Things are reverting from the complicated to the simple.

We’re moving away from highly processed food to growing our own vegetables.

We’re scheduling our screen time to make way for more wholesome pursuits or to be more present.

We’re stepping out of the whirlwind of commercialism to pause and question what we’re spending our money on and the true meaning of our existence.

We’re realising that true happiness comes not from obtaining but by yielding, in direct proportion.

We’re starting to see each other not as commodities to achieve a decided aim but wholehearted beings, repositories of infinite talent and potential.

mirroring

Coach Emily Madill*, articulates this:

“…When I see the goodness and potential in you, I’m recognizing that it also exists in me. When I champion you, I also champion me – we rise together.”

So it seems that there is something ethereal yet completely practical about using our language and intention to recognise the efforts of those around us, to acknowledge them for it and to champion them in their cause.

We can be a voice that celebrates the victories of others regardless of gender for in doing so, we are retraining our own internal language and behaviour to:

  1. exemplify the qualities and attitude which will ultimately feed our own inner contentment;
  2. not use others’ perceived failures as the basis upon which we measure and extol ourselves and our abilities but instead create a foundation based on knowledge of our true worth;
  3. be a living example of authenticity in thought and action, thus enabling ourselves to feel truly aligned and live our ideal life.

This all may sound pretty deep and arguably intangible, however when we break it down to its simplest form, all it means is that:

♦  we do our thing to the best of our ability; and

♦  we champion those around us who are trying to do theirs.

When we reach our destination, we’ll see that along the way we’ve created our own community of well-wishers whose happiness is genuine and directly drawn from our accomplishments.

Being a pace setter actually seems quite glorious when you see it through this lens. Where do I sign up?

 

Acknowledgements:

photo credits – whale shark: copyright Walt Stearns, https://underwaterjournal.com

Kipchoge and Pace Setters: https://news.sky.com/story/eliud-kipchoge-marathon-star-bidding-to-make-history-with-sub-two-hour-run-11832252

Selene Kinder: https://empoweringwomennow.com

Emily Madill: https://thriveglobal.com/stories/when-women-champion-each-other-they-rise-together/

 

 

 

The Disease of Slander and How to Cure it

Bollywood times

As an Indian Gujarati, I grew up watching Hindi movies depicting stereotypical gender roles and personalities such as: the domineering mother-in-law who believes no woman is good enough for her son; the dutiful daughter-in-law submissive, obedient and never speaking out for her rights; the interfering aunt who makes it her business to know everyone else’s; the son with no real backbone who just wants to be adored by his wife and mothered by his mother; and either the quiet and deferential father-in-law or the father-in-law who rules the household with an iron fist and against whom no-one can speak.

And the typecasts go on.

is TV an influencer?

This isn’t a one woman crusade against the Indian film or TV series industry, however I do believe that given its pseudo worshipped status amongst the Asian community, it has a role to play in how it depicts the various familial characters on screen, and the typical conflict and conspiracies which transpire between the personalities.

In a study of the effect of TV violence on children’s behaviour, Palermo* concluded that: “…it is not the programming per se that creates violence, but that the violent programs may influence negatively those individuals who are already violence-prone…”.

Taking the essence of this, would it not be fair then to say that if you were gossip prone and regularly following those TV series which promote patriarchy, familial infighting and power struggles, then you’re more likely to be negatively influenced and exude those same qualities in your own daily life?

keeping up with the Patels

Growing up, I noticed that in my community there was always a lot of interest in what others were doing; be it comparing one’s station in life or their children’s academic  performance. The effect of this was that others’ successes became the yardstick against which one had to measure up to show that they were equal, good enough or worthy to be in the same company.

Factors for comparison between families could be anything tangible such as money in the bank, property owned, accolades achieved, countries travelled to, parties hosted – if it was measurable, it counted – and was talked about.

The problem with this is that the bar isn’t static; people keep achieving things, buying things, travelling to new places. As such, many of us Asians are constantly striving, never being content with what we’ve achieved and where we are in life, because it doesn’t fare as well compared to some other person in the community.

Growing up, it was rare to see or hear someone simply being happy for another at their success – and leaving it at that. It always became the gauge for the next endeavour.

I recall as a child being unjustifiably chastised that so-and-so’s child had achieved 10 A’s at GCSE and am I really doing enough studying to ensure that I bring home the same results?

Constant comparisons.

About everything.

It was like being in a race – I an unwitting participant – and every time I approached the finish line, it moved.

self-examination

What is it that stops us from simply celebrating another’s success without immediately employing it as a barometer to measure how we’re doing? And why do we look for the negative in every success story – and then talk about that with others?

Blogger Angi* says:

“… When I’m suffering a scarcity in the fulfillment department, seeing others thriving can sometimes create a twinge of jealousy. That’s a subtle tap on the shoulder for me, a reminder that it’s time to search out more purpose in my life.”

GoodTherapy* says:

“People might gossip for a variety of reasons. Sharing negative information about others can be a method some individuals use to feel better about themselves… Sometimes gossiping can also be a way to get attention—knowing something no one else knows about another person can make a person feel important. In some cases, people may engage in gossip in order to feel accepted. If other people in a social group are spreading gossip, it may feel necessary to participate in order to fit in.”

Could it be that inherently, we feel a sense of unworthiness or a lack of purpose in our lives and the only way to reconcile this with ourselves is to look outwardly and bring others down to our miserable soul level? Is this so inextricably weaved into our culture that we don’t know how to function, i.e. how and what to say to people, if we don’t have gossip as a common denominator as the basis of our conversations?

If this is true, then it’s time to take stock and change gears if we want to leave behind us a culture which is all embracing, unified and wholehearted.

that aunty

Growing up, I recall an animated aunt (who doesn’t?) who’d circle the room at weddings  and download exactly what was happening in everyone’s lives; where the kids were studying (and what, after all, media/business/travel studies weren’t proper subjects), how many bedrooms their house had, what holidays they’d been on, extracting every bit of information which could be cooked up into salacious gossip and then redistributed to listening ears.

There was a running (not publicised) joke amongst us that if there was any key announcement to be made such as a birth, death or marriage, one needn’t inform people individually, simply let this aunt know and the news will have spread to all and sundry by nightfall.

Human nature is such that people love to talk about themselves so when my aunt was  providing her undivided attention, people wouldn’t think twice about responding to her intense and persistent questioning.

It was only after she’d left the conversation that they’d realise they’d imparted information their own extended family didn’t yet know and that apart from learning that the aunt’s son was marrying a doctor (“by God, they’re so wealthy; they live in a six bedroom house in Windsor, far out of our humble league”) they hadn’t gleaned anything about her family’s movements.

And then after all the mingling, the well wishing of the bride and groom and goodbyes to everyone who should know that she’s now leaving, she’d get in the car and and before the car exited the car park, the post mortem would start. It would go something like this:

“Did you see Chanchal Masi? She’s walking with a stick now. Her legs must be giving up on her. Anyway, she’s 72 now so she’s had a good life if it all ends tomorrow. God, Bharthi has put on so much weight! She had her baby three years ago so she should have lost it by now. After I had Manisha, I was back in my clothes within six months! And Harsha’s son is going to Oxford university this year. Funny how she was less quick to talk about her other son who was recently cautioned on drugs charges I heard. And that Magan Kaka’s son has bought a villa in Spain. His dad must have left him a good inheritance to suddenly be able to afford that. I remember when he got married, Magan Kaka only gave saris to Kaki’s sisters, no laani* or gifts for anyone else. It’s all people could talk about for ages; doesn’t bother me in the slightest, just what everyone else was saying. I tried to tell them these things aren’t important but you know how people can be…”.

And so on, recounting every last detail of the conversations had and her take on things in a one way diatribe all the way from Birmingham back to London.

who’s gossiping? we’re just sharing information

Those of you from a similar background can possibly identify corresponding members of your own family who resemble my late aunt. In fact, there are some who expect and even consider it endearing when they hear their elders rambling on about others in this fashion.

Some consider it a facet of our community – but I reject this.

Often people engage in this type of talk to feel good about themselves. But this isn’t true contentment; it’s oneupmanship at play and it’s superficial, so is quickly displaced compared to true happiness which yields “the experience of joy, contentment, or positive well-being, combined with a sense that one’s life is good, meaningful, and worthwhile.” (Sonja Lyubomirsky*).

For the Asian community to be a close knit one which our children will want to be a part of, we need to understand that inane and purposeless gossip is mindless and damaging.

We need to demonstrate and inspire our children to commend others’ successes and genuinely be delighted for them without drawing any reflective interpretation on themselves or their own abilities.

Furthermore, we need to teach them to filter out and consciously reject idle chit chat about others. But it starts with us.

all change!

Situations don’t change, people do – through the choices that we make.

We are each the custodians of our culture; we can choose how we react to information and situations – and we can choose to change our emotional responses too. It’s not just me saying this; there is significant commentary from people who’ve studied this topic, about the difference we can make to ourselves and others by reframing how we react to situations.

The incredible writer, speaker and research professor Dr Brené Brown says:

“… A lot of times, we share things that are not ours to share as a way to hot wire connection with a friend, right? …Our closeness is built on talking bad about other people. You know what I call that? Common enemy intimacy.

What we have is not real. The intimacy we have is built on hating the same people, and that’s counterfeit. That’s counterfeit trust….”

By being more mindful when we speak and by consciously rejecting low level conversations about others, we can empower ourselves to  feel healthier emotionally and psychologically as well as role model to those around us – young and old alike – what it means to be truly content and live in a positively charged state.

let’s be practical

“This is all very theoretical, how does this actually work in practice?” I hear you wondering. Here’s one suggestion, if someone starts tattling on about another to you, you can choose to:

  1. change the subject completely
  2. pick out the positives from what they’re saying and focus your discussion on those
  3. be bold enough to say it’s best not to talk about this because it’s nothing to do with you.

the BMW story

Not long back, my dad bumped into a family friend, Hansaben, whilst shopping for Indian groceries; he’d not seen her in about eight years. She and her husband had always been a quiet, salt of the earth couple and he received word that her husband had passed away last year. Hansaben exchanged a few words with my dad and then walked to her silver BMW 1 Series (latest reg) car. When recounting the interaction to me he said: “You should have seen that car, so beautiful and brand new. Bharatbhai must have had some good insurance policies to enable Hansaben to buy a BMW car!”.

Not wanting to instigate a conversation about what possible assets Bharatbhai may or may not have had here and in India, I replied “isn’t it lovely to see that since Bharatbhai’s passing, Hansaben has adapted to being independent and is shopping and managing all the things which he used to do. Well done to her”.

And that was literally the end of the conversation.

Gossip thrives when it has an active audience. But if the conditions aren’t present for it to grow, that is, if there’s no-one to entertain it and give it attention which enables it to spread, it’ll die its death swiftly.

be the change

“When words are both true and kind they can change the world” – Buddha

We’re so conscious about upgrading our technology; we need to ensure that we are also regularly checking in and upgrading ourselves; an internal audit where we question ourselves and our beliefs and check the needle is where we want it to be on our inner compass.

By doing this, we can consciously create a rich and wholesome culture for our children where they are fulfilled and energised by others’ accomplishments and where their own efforts are genuinely championed without worrying about how others may perceive or speak of them.

Now that’s something worth talking about.

 

Acknowledgements:

laani = traditional gifts given to all guests at pre-wedding functions often comprising organza bags of mixed nuts or sweets, something for the home, saris, money or other tokens.

Palermo, G. B. (1995). Adolescent Criminal Behavior — Is TV Violence One of the Culprits? International Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology, 39(1), 11–22.

Angi (blogger): http://www.mindfulandmama.com/blog/2017/9/12/when-women-support-each-other-incredible-things-happen

Sonja Lyubomirsky, positive psychology researcher and author of The How of Happiness

Dr Brenè Brown, The Anatomy of Trust, speech transcript available on https://jamesclear.com/great-speeches/the-anatomy-of-trust-by-brene-brown

GoodTherapy: http://www.goodtherapy.org/blog/psychpedia/gossip

photo credit: ‘Gossip at the West Gate’ by cowyeow on http://www.flickr.com/photos/cowyeow/8061307642/in/photostream/