Acts of Revolution with Nanci Luna Jiménez
Were you allowed to cry as a kid—or did someone tell you to toughen up and get over it? Nanci Luna Jiménez believes that too many of us were taught to shove our feelings down, instead of handling them in healthy ways—and that if we can’t release our feelings and process our hurt, we can’t dismantle oppression.
Nanci wants to change that. She’s the founder and president of the Luna Jiménez Institute for Social Transformation, where she inspires individuals and organizations to deepen their commitment to social justice and create transformational change. And she wants us all to understand why building intimate relationships and allowing ourselves and others the space to release feelings aren’t just feel-good tactics. They’re acts of revolution.
When we get hurt and there’s oppression coming at us, the responses we’ve normalized are all responses that eventually numb and isolate us. And if they don’t numb and isolate us, then they will come out and leak out in ways that become oppressive towards other human beings.
—Nanci Luna Jiménez, founder and president of the Luna Jiménez Institute for Social Transformation
We talk about:
- The Luna Jiménez Institute for Social Transformation
- How healing from institutionalized oppressions and social justice are connected
- Adultism—the systematic and institutional mistreatment of young people—as the training ground for oppression
- What constructivist listening is and how practicing it is beneficial
- Luna Jiménez Institute for Social Transformation
- The Transformational Communication Program and other LJIST events
- We’re launching an IRL community called Collective Strength in Philly! Check out the details and RSVP to our first event on salary, fair pay, and negotiation.
- Sara talks about why she makes a point to talk with friends about speaking fees, freelance rates, and salaries as often as possible.
- Remember our chat with Veronica Rex about the Philadelphia Community Bail Fund two episodes ago? Their Mother’s Day bailout raised over $135,000 this year and bailed out a bunch of moms for the holiday, plus they have plans (and the funds!) to bail out more moms soon.
This episode of Strong Feelings is brought to you by:
Harvest, makers of awesome software to help you track your time, manage your projects, and get paid. Go to getharvest.com/strongfeelings to get 50% off your first month.
Sara Wachter-Boettcher Have you heard about Harvest? It’s the best tool you can use to track time, manage projects, set schedules, and get paid. We use it here at Strong Feelings, and I also use it to track projects for my consulting company. There are solo accounts perfect for freelancers, and if you’re a larger company, don’t worry—Harvest can scale up to meet any agency’s need. Try it free at GetHarvest.com/StrongFeelings, and when you sign up for a paid account, you’ll save 50% off your first month. That’s GetHarvest.com/StrongFeelings. [theme music plays for 11 seconds and then fades out] Hey, everyone, I’m Sara!
Katel LeDû And I’m Katel.
SWB And this is Strong Feelings! A podcast about work, friendship, and feminism—and what happens when you bring them all together. And today we are definitely going to talk about feelings even more than usual because our guest is Nanci Luna Jimenez. She’s the founder and president of the Luna Jiménez Institute for Social Transformation, where she runs education and leadership programs designed to help people learn to break down oppression and racism by first learning to process their own emotions. It’s kind of an incredible approach, so you’ve got to hear about it.
KL But before we get to Nanci, we have a super exciting announcement to make, especially if you live here in Philly. We’re taking everything we’ve learned from this podcast and turning it into an IRL community. It’s called Collective Strength, which is perfect because it’s all about coming together and sharing all of our strong feelings, so we can be even stronger. And our first event is going to be on June 5th at Indy Hall in Old City. If you’re local, you have got to come! We are going to be talking about money, and we’re going to be talking about negotiating, setting rates, and how we can help each other get fair pay!
SWB And also, how we handle all of those weird feelings that come along with money talk. Because I can tell you, working as a consultant and a public speaker for the past almost eight years, I have had to do a ton of negotiating and a ton of honest conversation about dollars. But it’s still not an easy topic because I think money is weird in general for everybody almost, but also because people treat women in very specific ways [KL laughs] when money isn’t involved. I feel like it’s super screwed up! It’s so easy to be treated like you’re doing something wrong by asking to be paid fairly or by expecting to be paid fairly. And I feel like women are also trained to be so accommodating and make things easy for others that that extends to money too. So, it’s like, “oh, we don’t want to ask for anything or have any needs because as soon as you have needs, then you feel like you’re stepping out of bounds.”
KL Ugh, yes. I mean, I grew up with a people-pleasing mindset, which I think was partly because I’m a female and partly because it was a coping mechanism for a lot of women in my family. And that makes talking about money and asking for what you want feel really, really hard. And I think also growing up in a family with a scarcity mindset contributed to that because when I started working and was offered money to do a job, I just took it and I didn’t want to rock the boat and I operated that way for a really long time.
SWB I have heard that so many times from so many people—mostly from women—and I think it’s one of the reasons that I have been trying to have really open conversations with the women in my life about money, so that they can start to work out some of those feelings, and figure out what they want to do, and figure out how they can ask for more or how they can just advocate for their needs. Not sort of stay stuck in their heads, which I think is otherwise really easy to do. Actually, I just had a conversation this weekend with a woman who is a few years younger than me, and she’s doing more speaking and consulting, and she started being asked to come in and do workshops. A big company was like, “hey, would you come in and do a full day workshop with us” on a thing that’s her speciality area. And she texted me on Friday night and was like, “hey, what does pricing for something like this even look like?” And she had a number in mind that was a big chunk more than her typical day rate as a freelancer. And what I told her was that big companies are actually used to paying three to five times as much as that. And a full day workshop is a lot of work. There’s so much expertise that you need, you need all this experience with the curriculum; there’s all this stuff that you have to have built up before you can get in that room that it’s not just about the hours you spend that day. Plus you typically have to travel, which… should be a million dollars extra. [both laugh]
SWB So, we were kind of talking about it and I was like, “this is what people are usually expecting if they’re in the position to be bringing somebody in.” [laughs] So, then she goes in and she asks for four times as much as she had originally planned to ask for and they immediately were like, “yep, that sounds great!”
SWB Because that’s what they were expecting!
SWB And I think that it just speaks to how many people don’t really know what the context is and it’s so hard to get that information. And I think it creates a lot of fear and lack of confidence because she’s super smart and these companies need her and she absolutely deserves to be paid for that expertise.
KL Yeah. Even in the business I run, which is a fairly traditional product business in that we sell goods for a set cost to customers, when I first started setting up big bulk orders with large companies who want to buy a bunch of books at once—companies who have money—I would agonize over whether I should give them a discount or throw in shipping for free because I thought I had to accommodate them. And in reality, they weren’t expecting anything except for me to tell them what my product cost. [laughs]
SWB Right. And I do think sometimes companies will ask for all kinds of big discounts on bulk orders—
SWB —and maybe you do negotiate a discount and that’s totally fine, but there’s this idea that you have to start out with making this thing like, “oh my gosh, how do I make it so desirable to them? How do I make myself somebody that they can’t say no to?”
SWB I feel like it just takes us down this path that is so limiting. This is why I think it’s just so important to talk about money more. Particularly, we live under a capitalist system that doesn’t work very well, but given that that’s where we are right now, I want more people who don’t have access to resources to understand sort of what other people are getting and try to get a little bit more equity or parody there. And, in fact—I just remembered—I actually met up with another friend this weekend [both laugh] who is considering a new job. And she’s in the final conversations with them, it’s a company she’s excited about, and she’s not sure if she wants to leave her current gig, etc. And so we talked about salary too!
SWB And I realize how often I have these conversations, [both laugh] I don’t even think about it anymore. [laughs] Because one thing I realized is that I just like to gather data points. I don’t have a job, and so I have a lot of people who come and talk to me about different salary numbers for things that they’re considering, or talking to them about different rates for different kinds of projects or speaking fees. And I just retain all these little individual data points. And they’re imperfect because everybody’s context is different like location, and job titles can be so weird—
SWB —it’s certainly not a perfect picture. But because there’s so little transparency around how much people are making for what, and there’s so little information that so many people seem to have, I feel like the more I can kind of collect that stuff, anonymize it, and then be able to share it with people who need that info, I feel like it’s one little thing I can do to make sure that when my friends are out there in the world having to talk about money, they’re better equipped.
KL I love that; it sounds so incredibly helpful. It’s like ongoing market research and you’re building up this resource that those friends then don’t have to start from scratch when they’ve got that question. And I feel like that can be especially challenging to do when the way in which we work is always evolving. So many folks in our industry and others are freelance or remote or we’re just not in traditional offices, we’re in less corporate structures, so it can be really all over the place, like you said.
SWB Yeah, and I’ve also talked to a lot of people who are maybe creating a new practice area at a company or they have a job title that doesn’t really exist in a lot of places yet—there’s a lot of that stuff happening. And that makes it really hard because it’s like, “what is equivalent to that?” And nobody really knows and so you have to be able to advocate for saying, “oh, this is actually equivalent to this very important job and not to this [laughs] low level job.” And I just think that’s it’s so important that there is more transparent information about money. And that’s one of the reasons I’m so excited to start hosting these events because I want to be able to have that kind of extremely real talk, and then also at all of the Collective Strength events, something I’m really hyped about is that we’re going to have people practice stuff.
SWB So like goal setting or role playing or small group discussions. Something that you can come out with some concrete ways of using what you learn and not just listening to a person talk for an hour. I think that’s going to be super valuable because these are the kinds of things that people can really use some more confidence in and I hope that we can help people gain that confidence.
KL Yeah, I do too. So, before we go any further actually, if you want to come to the first event, you’ve just got to RSVP. That’s all you have to do. If you go to StrongFeelings.co, you’ll see there’s a new link for Community at the top. So, just click that for all the info and definitely don’t forget to RSVP.
SWB Ugh, I am so excited to start this community because for a long time I have just been so frustrated at how crappy most career advice for women is.
KL [sighing] Yeah.
SWB That’s something we talk about on here a lot on the show, but I want to bring that to more people. And also, I’ve been thinking a lot about how insular our fields can be—like in tech, for sure; tech can be incredibly insular. There’s this problem I think where people who work in tech often make this assumption that people who work in other fields don’t have anything of value to give us—
SWB —which has created huge problems in tech like all of the biases we see in technology, all of the surveillance state stuff. It’s because we didn’t really want to consult experts who could see these problems.
SWB But then I think that this is true for a lot of fields—there are all these people out there with different expertises and different backgrounds that could be really helpful for your perspective. And if you don’t hear from them, then you don’t learn from them. So, working on the show I think has really shifted my perspective because I’ve gotten to hear from so many different people, but I feel like it will be really amazing to see what happens when we do some of that in person. We can’t reach as many people, obviously, at an in-person event, but I do think it’ll really help people build stronger and different kinds of networks, which I hope are more resilient networks for them. And I also know a few people who have been talking about things like doing a little career pivot, and I think that having access to groups that are a bunch of professional women who have this shared feminist perspective, but different lives and different careers than you would be super valuable for that.
KL Yeah, I know! I’m really pumped too that we’re going to run these monthly through the summer, and I can’t wait to see what we learn about, and what people want to talk about. All the topics that have come up so far are so fascinating to me and ones that I am also super interested in—being a feminist and also a manager, or trying to live your ideals but also living in an imperfect system. Or talking about different types of leadership like if our model of what a leader looks and sounds like is based on some huge male stereotypes, how do people defy those, but still find success in leadership roles? Or how do we have difficult conversations at work without being painted as a bitch? [laughs]
SWB I mean…[laughs] we’ll see if that one’s possible! [both laugh]
KL We’re not as worried about that one, but worried still! [laughs]
SWB So, I’ve been excited about this for a while, but last week, we sat down with a little group of peers and asked them for feedback on the concept, and now I am even more hyped. Because we got so much positive response. We had like seven people come together and we just kind of asked them, “how does this sound to you? What would you be hoping to get out of it?” And it just felt like people were craving this kind of space. And then also, I just felt like connecting people was so powerful, even in that little room. So, seven people came together, and not all of them knew everybody, most of them knew only one or two people or no other people besides us. And by the time they left, there were friends of ours who didn’t know each other sharing their email addresses and phone numbers and I was like, “oh my gosh, I’m so happy!” [laughs]
KL Oh my god, I know. I felt like I was like, “alright, success, great.” [laughs] But something else I really loved about that was how we had this opportunity to really listen to the folks who are going to be in this community with us. They helped us brainstorm ideas and that was so fun, and hearing them talk about what they really care about just made it feel like we’re actually building this together because we’re starting with listening versus just putting something out there and seeing what happens. And coming back to today’s guest, I’ve been thinking a lot about listening since I went to Nanci’s workshop last month because we did this really cool exercise that we are gonna talk about in her interview and it’s called Constructivist Listening. And it’s just made me think about the act of listening more broadly and just really focusing on incorporating it into my life, and the way I look at the world, and connect with people, and heal myself as a practice.
SWB Yeah! I mean, the technique that Nanci talks about is really interesting. So, on that note, I think it is time we get to the interview. So, Philly folks, come out to Collective Strength on June 5th. Go to StrongFeelings.co and click Community to get more info. And one final note on Collective Strength—and this is a kind of a big deal—these events are totally free and Harvest is sponsoring them, so we are gonna have really good snacks.
SWB Now, let’s talk with Nanci. [short transition music plays]
Interview: Nanci Jiménez
KL Nanci Luna Jiménez is the founder and president of the Luna Jiménez Institute for Social Transformation, where she inspires individuals and organizations to deepen their commitment to social justice and create transformational change, one revolutionary relationship at a time. I’ve experienced it firsthand and I’m so excited she’s here to share her inspiration with us. Nanci, welcome to Strong Feelings.
Nanci Jiménez Thanks, Katel.
KL So, what is the Luna Jiménez Institute for Social Transformation and when and why did you start it?
NJ About 25 years ago, I attended a workshop that changed my approach to social justice and activism. And that’s really what was the impetus for forming what was then Luna Jiménez Seminars, but is now the Luna Jiménez Institute for Social Transformation. The woman who was leading that workshop—who became my mentor, and co-trainer, and eventually one of my associates before she retired in 2014, a woman named Lillian Roybal Rose—was the first person who helped me understand and connect that institutional oppression hurts people, and that without opportunities to heal from these institutionalized oppressions, we will internalize them. And that internalized oppression is the way that we become confused, or we give up a certain sense of our own power, or we play out again the very systems of oppression that hurt us. So, that really was the impetus for me. Everything about my activism up until that point had been about trying to get white people to feel as bad as I felt. I somehow was under the misperception that white people didn’t feel bad and that if they could just feel bad, they would stop racism. And it was at that workshop that Lillian opened a crack of a door, which I was really resistant to opening. She helped me see actually white people already feel bad—white people or any group that is a non-target. And that any of the places that non-targets feel bad is where they will once again collude with oppression. So, when she’s saying they quote “feel bad,” she’s talking about internalized oppression—the residue, the impacts, the effects, the confusions of these hurtful experiences. You can’t have institutional oppression without hurt and without feelings. And we live in a society that doesn’t deal with or address feelings or emotions as part of oppression. Or actually as part of a healthy, human existence. And so as a result, we will internalize these messages and we will replay them against ourselves and against people who have less power than we do. So, that really was a complete mind-blowing experience for me. It asked me to step into a different frame, a different approach for how I would do the work of ending racism, which was a commitment that I had made to myself years ago that I was committed to ending racism, and that I wanted to live long enough to see it. And in that workshop, I was really being asked to do my own work, not as a trivial aside to do my emotional healing, but to understand that any of the places that I continued to carry these messages of internalized oppression, that injury would run through my movement work. It would run through my activism, it would run through my leadership, it would run through every relationship that I have with any other human being. And it wasn’t trivial. In a funny way, it felt so empowering because it was the one thing I had some control over, right? We each have control over ourselves. And this idea of pairing together personal healing and transformation with ending oppression and social justice was a very radical concept for me to hear for the first time 25 years ago.
SWB This is so interesting and I have a number of things I’d love to dig into. But first, I’d love to understand a little bit more about the workshops that you run themselves because Katel got to go to a workshop a couple of weeks ago! And I couldn’t go, I was here in Philly. And she came back and she was just like, “wow.” And she talked about how influential it was. So, for those of us who haven’t had the opportunity to attend yet, I’d love to understand more about what makes those workshops so special and how do you do that work of getting to this place where it’s not just, like you mentioned, white people feeling bad, but it is folks getting in touch with that hurt and then applying it to social justice work?
NJ So, Katel had the opportunity to go through our Transformational Relationships workshop. And we decided to launch that one-day workshop along with four other one-day programs that use our core teachings as part of our 25th anniversary tour. So, I would say that in all of our programs, we ask people to consider basically four premises. And they seem really simple in some ways, but they’re very hard for us, particularly those in the United States and I would say particularly those of us who have hurt that feels very justified—and it is justified—to really reach for. One of the first ones we ask is we ask people to consider that every human being is good. Even you. The places we feel bad about ourselves are not about whether we are good or not. And if we’re not able to start with that premise, what we find is that we continue to look for fault and blame, we tend to demonize others or defend ourselves because we want to make sure people know they’re not good, but I am good. That whole defensiveness has us falling into the trap of pretense because we’re trying to prove how good we are or how much better we are than those other people. There’s so much hurtful, terrorizing, violent behavior. And for people to be able to separate that behavior from people’s goodness is the first major step that we’re asking people to make. Secondarily, it’s that separation of people’s behaviors or patterns from who they are as human beings. We think of behaviors and patterns as a response to oppression that doesn’t get healed. That’s what we take on, but that’s not who we are. The second one is that oppression exists and that it hurts us. And again, this is a big leap for many people. We are asking people to differentiate between oppression and discrimination and prejudice, which most people can all agree exist. And, unfortunately, especially in the United States, we conflate those concepts. So, discrimination is basically a prejudicial thought or a biased, unconscious thought that then gets coupled with action. And that’s discrimination. And discrimination is protected, for example, in our legal system. The idea that everyone would be treated equally under the law. And even though we know that that’s not true in our legal system, it’s a premise that that is who we are, that we are a just and fair people. But that’s not what oppression is. And I think this is one of the challenges for some people to step into this work. Let’s take our legal system as an example. We have laws that protect against discrimination, but not against oppression because oppression is about power and dominance. And if you think about, for example, Title IX, that is discrimination on the basis of sex. And because sex protects discrimination whether you’re male or female—and this is, of course, a bigger conversation about transgender people, but if we just take the male and female sexes under the law—that’s why we have more males who have sex discrimination lawsuits than females. Because our legal system doesn’t talk about or understand dominance or sexism or equity. And I love the example I tell in my workshops to kind of make this point—is around bathrooms. Bathrooms have become this focal point of conversation, but if you were, for example, were in a building where a lot of people gather—like a sports arena or a conference center or a concert hall, convention center—what do you see at the intermission or the breaks?
SWB Well, a line for the women’s restroom. Unless, of course, you’re at a tech conference. [all laugh]
NJ Noted! [laughs] Context is everything, that’s a really great point. But yeah! You see long lines, right? Long lines at the women’s restroom because again, like our legal system, what’s fair? Fair is one to one, right? Someone thought that fairness was that if we’ve got 50% and 50% males in our society, then we should put one bathroom that’s for women and one bathroom that’s for men and that’s what’s fair. But that’s not institutionally what plays out because there was never an understanding of assessing for the context. And in this case, the context is how females use a bathroom versus how males use a bathroom. But I would expand that to the context of oppression. But let’s just take the example of how we use a bathroom. Then there was a study. They did a study and they found that for the most part, a man takes about one minute to use a restroom—and this is just process, this isn’t about makeup or changing diapers or doing other things—and for a female, it takes about 2.6 minutes to use a bathroom. So, if we just round up to three, “fair” now is one men’s restroom to every three women’s restrooms. Now, if you’re basing fairness on “I treat everyone the same” and you see this discrepancy, what’s going to be your reaction?
KL That it’s unfair.
NJ Right! Exactly. The idea now that somehow women now are getting extra resources, they’re getting special rights, they’re getting access to things that somehow men are not getting, without understanding that that’s now what fairness is. Fairness is accommodating and taking into your thinking, into how your policies work, into how you build your buildings, into how you create institutions that are fair, you assess for the context, you understand the power dynamic that’s at play. So, this example is literally about plumbing, but we’re also talking, obviously, about bigger systems at play. And this one, again, can be challenging for people to assume because, particularly in the United States, we have this assumption that we treat everyone the same and that that is what’s fair. But that is not what is fair, and we would say that’s the difference between equality and equity. And without acknowledging that oppression is at play and that those impacts of oppression are actually causing physical and emotional harm to all of us. And that’s another big shift that we make. We believe that oppressions demean and devalue all human beings. So, again, this goes back a little bit to the idea that we don’t use privilege because there’s this idea that somehow there’s some group that’s benefiting from oppression. And in our work, we don’t think oppression benefits any of us. If we hold that idea that oppression or privilege is a benefit, then those who have that are going to feel protected against it. They’re going to want to hold onto it, they’re going to want to see it as beneficial. And the message, of course unconsciously, that it sends to the group that doesn’t have that privilege is that somehow they could get access to those benefits the more that they become like the group that’s in power.
NJ And that sends a message of assimilation, it sends the message that, “oh yeah, we’d love to hire you, as long as you”—and I’m going to use the example here of sexism—“as long as you talk like a man, negotiate like a man, think like a man, have needs like a man, dress like a man, we’d love to have you in our organization.” That’s the message that we continue to bump up against as females who don’t want to assimilate into those particular ways of being. So, this is, again, why we really hold out that all oppressions demean and devalue all human beings and that our best allies are actually the non-targets, who are able to connect to how they have lost a part of their humanity because of oppression. So, this is a big shift. And so, the best example I have of this moment—and it was a really powerful moment—Lillian was presenting at a national policewoman’s conference. And it was back in the eighties, actually probably early nineties. And this was such a testament to how insidious sexism is—it was a national policewomen’s conference, but the majority of people at the conference were males. And she was just about to complete her talk and this female police officer interrupted her and she said, “I have to tell this story.” And Lillian said, “please, you have the floor.” And this woman was shaking with rage and she proceeded to tell this story of a fellow female police officer in her department somewhere in the Midwest who had reported on an incident of sexual harassment by a male police officer. And for those who are familiar with the internalized oppression of police work, one of the patterns of internalized oppression of police work is the code of silence, which is you never tell on your fellow police officer, no matter what. You protect them, you have their back. And, obviously, her reporting the sexual harassment violated the code of silence, so when the police officer came back to the department, he launched a retaliation campaign against this female police officer. And it’s true that not all the men in the department were on board with it, but none of the men would cross over to side with the female police offer. So, the department was completely split down gender lines. And the retaliation campaign was horrible. They would put used condoms in her desk drawers and used sanitary napkins in her locker. They would smear dog poop on her car. And she would report incident after incident and nobody would speak up. They would go into the computer where she had put down her reports and they would either erase her work or they would scramble her reports, so she would have to stay late to redo her work or come in early. And it was just exhausting and draining. At one point, she was out in the field and she called on her radio for backup and her radio was jammed. And she was shot at in the field. And even then, nobody would step up or step forward to identify who was doing this campaign and who was involved in this. And this woman in the audience, she turned to the group, she turned to Lillian and said, “if just one man had stepped across and stood with us, it would have made all the difference.” And I remember Lillian turned to the group of about probably 80-100 police officers and she asked, “are there any men who were in this department during this time?” And there was a male police officer way in the back of the room. His personal integrity wouldn’t let him not raise his hand, but he raised it in a way like praying to God Lillian wouldn’t see him. And she said, “would you please stand?” And he stood and she said, “tell me what you were feeling when all of this was going on.” And because men have been so viciously hurt around connecting to their emotions—I think it’s true for all non-targets, they have to be disconnected first from the humanity in order to agree to target another human being. And you could see it so visibly on his body; he went straight into his head, super intellectual, he put his hands in his pockets, and he started to shift from foot to foot. And he said, “I did witness these occurrences and I felt they were highly unprofessional.” And, of course, anyone listening to this knows “unprofessional” is not a feeling, but it was the best he could access at that moment. And Lillian just stayed with him and it was so powerful to witness her staying with him, knowing that somewhere in there was a human being who could notice and feel something. And I don’t know how many times she said, “keep talking, tell me what you were feeling.” Eventually, he said, “well, I guess I felt confused.” That was the first kind of feeling word he was able to identify and she validated that. Then she said—I don’t know how many times later—she said, “what were you feeling? Keep telling me what you were feeling.” And he said, “I guess I felt sad.” And this is when she changed her question and she said, “what did you lose?” And this six-foot-three, 300-pound I’m guessing, white, male cop said—and I quote—“I lost the ability to be kind, I lost the ability to ability to be just, and I lost the ability to be soft.” And she said, “that’s right, that’s what you lost.” In that moment, this man is no longer going to fight sexism for me, my poor female—that idea that somehow I’m on the target end and woe is me and you need to come in as my male protector and savior and rescue me from sexism. By him connecting to what he loses as a non-target on the non-target side of sexism, we now become peers. And together, we can ally to end the oppression of sexism because he’s tired of not being kind, and soft, and just. Because it demeans his humanity to do anything less.
SWB Yeah, this is such a powerful story. And it makes me really want to ask more about this process of learning to reaccess our feelings when we’ve been shut off from them. What does that look like? Where does that begin?
NJ So, we believe that adultism is the training ground for all oppressions. And adultism is essentially the systematic and institutional mistreatment of young people. And a big part of what happens to us as young people is we get hurt. We get hurt by being made to think like we’re not fully human. And the messages as part of the not feeling fully human are absolutely connected to our ability to access to our emotional healing, which is a natural process. So, for example, we actually believe that the emotional healing process—releasing and through discharge these emotions mostly through laughing and crying and shaking and talking and sweating—that is our theory of change. And yet, the messages that we got as young people is that it was not okay to do any of those things. Those feelings got suppressed. Actually, many of us were violently treated if we tried to show any of those feelings. In the early stages of infancy, they’re slightly more tolerated; little ones will start to cry. But we get messages through suppressive society that we’re supposed to shove those feelings down. Literally from the form of a pacifier that gets put into our mouths and we literally swallow back the feelings, but also from emotional messages. What are some of the messages, Katel and Sara, that you got if you started to cry as a young person? What did you hear adults say?
KL I mean, my grandmother was extremely stoic and I don’t think I ever saw her cry until I was an adult and something traumatic happened in adulthood. But yeah, it was like, “don’t…you’re weak.”
SWB Or “you should go to your room.” That was one I got, definitely—[it] was, “you need to keep calm and together.” You can’t be in society basically.
NJ Exactly. So, you are identifying so powerfully—and this is just one of them. In our workshops, we go through all of the emotional responses that are really human and all the messages that we internalize, but just those two are really powerful. One is you will get isolated. If you show too many feelings, you are not okay to be in society. That’s a very heavy message. And the other one, of course, is that we’re weak. The idea that somehow we’re now a victim if we somehow show feelings. But in their earliest stages before they’re made to feel self-conscious or the effects of adultism become internalized around this, they’ll naturally do all of those things. They’ll laugh, they’ll strike, they’ll cry. I think it’s beautiful! They’ll do a full-on raging tantrum. It’s not like they’ll be like, “ooh, I think I’ve been hurt, I might need to have some tears.” They know they’ve just been hurt and the body goes into a response to clear that emotional hurt with feelings by emotionally discharging it. Our society is confused by that and instead what we’ll do is, “stop crying,” thinking that somehow if they stop the healing, they’ll stop the hurt. The hurt already happened and the young person is just trying to do what they would do if they got hurt, which is to heal. And they’re going to heal through these main mechanisms of emotional discharge or release. So, every time we interrupt that process, the hurt records. The hurt gets internalized. Until pretty soon, we as young people start to believe that we’re not supposed to show those feelings and we start to internalize, “if I start to have feelings, I will literally want to leave the room.” Or I will be like, “ooh, I’m being weak. I must shove these feelings down to be strong.” Or one thing that was really popular in my house is if you started to have feelings, you got a cookie to make you feel better. So, I start to have feelings and I want to go have a hot fudge sundae. These are the patterns that go in place to numb the feelings. Until pretty soon, that’s what we think is now quote unquote—I’m going to use this word definitely in quotes—is “normal.” That when we get hurt and there’s oppression coming at us, the responses we’ve normalized are all responses that eventually numb and isolate us. And if they don’t numb and isolate us, then they will come out and leak out in ways that become oppressive towards other human beings. And sometimes they’re oppressive towards other human beings in our same group, which is what we would call internalized oppression. So, that’s one place those feelings will go. For example, if I was just made to feel weak as a female, I might pick up the phone and call another female who I trust and then talk crap about another female who I think is a little bit weaker than I am. That’s a classic version of internalized oppression. The other place, of course, the internalized oppression will go is against myself. I just mentioned I want to make a hot fudge sundae when that happens; I want to shove the feelings down with sugar because that was the message I got—that it would comfort me, that it would make me feel better. It doesn’t end the oppression, it doesn’t heal the experience, but it numbs the experience of it. And then the third place that they’re going to go, of course, is to anyone who has less power than I do. So, you’ll see this dynamic: I’m now an adult, I’m not a child, but I still carry those messages of internalized sexism. If I’ve been made to feel bad about myself or weak, now let’s say I go into a store and I’m interacting with the clerk behind the cash register and I don’t like—whatever the pretext is, it doesn’t matter—I berate them or I yell at them or I’m impatient with them. In other words, I’m now acting out in a reaction that is now classist because that person is in a position of serving me. And it wasn’t my intention to be classist, but because I didn’t do my healing work, it’s going to leak out in a way that I become colluding with oppressive society.
SWB Gosh, that’s so powerful. And I definitely know I have been guilty of having my frustrations and feelings that are not processed leak out at somebody in a customer service role. And it’s helpful to frame it exactly as it is—as a classist thing to do.
NJ And this not about bad and good people. If we can hold that we’re all good, but we have oppressive systems that create hurt and we’re not in a position to release those hurts, the hurts have to go somewhere. And I often say in any of our events and our sessions, I will congratulate people. “Thank you for figuring out how too numb. How wonderful that you figured out how to survive in a system that doesn’t let you have any emotions and to feel the effects of oppression on you.” And until we do that work, we will continue to rehearse those very hurts. We won’t be able to shift outside of that system and we will be vulnerable to continue to replaying that, or believing that, or staying numb to that. And so, that is why we really center this core methodology—we use constructivist listening specifically in conjunction with emotional healing.
KL Yeah. Actually, I wanted to dig into that a little bit because that was one of my favorite parts of the workshop. And that is a little unexpected for me, thinking back on it, because it involved talking for [laughs] long periods of time and then listening for long periods of time, and just kind of learning to do it in a new way. So, I would love to hear you talk a little bit more about how constructivist listening and healing go hand in hand for making progress in those areas.
NJ So, constructivist listening is a term that was coined by a Professor Emeritus of Mathematics, a man named Julian Weissglass—he’s one of my mentors. And I’m going to share a quick quote if you don’t mind because I really love this explanation of constructivist listening. So, constructivist listening essentially is a timed, confidential listening exchange where a speaker and a listener get the same amount of time in both roles. So, it’s important to know a couple of things about constructivist listening. It’s really disrupting hierarchy of power because a person’s time is seen as equal to another person’s time. And this is really important for interrupting oppression because listening and racial healing are terms that are now a little bit becoming trendy in the world of diversity, equity, inclusion, and racial justice. And I’m little concerned that people do timed listening activities everywhere, but without the understanding that emotional healing is part of that and without giving people the framework for that, and that it’s confidential—that is really key—a timed listening activity is not the same as constructivist listening. So, I really think that’s important to highlight what makes constructivist listening constructivist listening—in addition to the timed part and being confidential—is understanding that the accumulation of emotions that are left over from oppression is the primary reason why people act out behavior that’s irrational or uncaring or perpetuates oppression. So, that’s the first part that needs to be added to the understanding of constructivist listening. And I’d say that the other piece that, again, I want to emphasize is with constructivist listening and the framework that we use constructivist listening within is that we’re supporting people in the speaker role to express and release the emotions in order to recover from the effects of oppression. So, that’s really an important distinction in my mind. Not just listening for listening’s sake, but actually listening for the purpose of healing. But I love what one person—a brilliant participant in one of my workshops—said is that, “oh I finally get it. In constructivist listening, I am listening to learn but I’m speaking to heal.” So, constructivist listening is really set up around meaning, making, and healing for the speaker in the speaker role. And that’s really crucial to understand the impact and effectiveness of constructivist listening. The confidentiality is what allows us to not be confused that what we might be experiencing in the constructivist listening experience as the speaker is a set of feelings that aren’t necessarily who we are, but need a place to be released. And I tend to think of constructivist listening a little bit in terms of wildfires. So, certainly this last period, we saw the devastating effects last summer of these wildfires and a misunderstanding of what I would call forest management, many people would agree. That somehow the idea was—and I grew up with Smokey the Bear—don’t light fires. The whole thing was “suppress any fires. All wildfires are bad. We shouldn’t have wildfires.” But what we have seen happen after years of having this policy in place is that without controlled burns, these wildfires become super fires and they take out everything in our path, including ourselves. And I think of undischarged or unhealed feelings and hurts from oppression as a little bit like wildfires that never had controlled burns. Once they get tripped and something flares, they take over, and it burns everything in our path, including ourselves. And when I say including ourselves, it means that that’s internalized oppression and that also we become a wildfire out of control. And then our wildfire catches with someone else’s wildfire and then we see the devastating effects of these super fires, where one major upset connects with another until pretty soon, we’ll all subsumed under it. So, the process of constructivist listening is the controlled burn. It’s the understanding that we build into our lives as a practice—for many people it’s daily, I think you said to me after the workshop, Katel. You were like, “I don’t understand how people don’t do this daily!” And it is our belief that oppression is happening daily and we need places to release our feelings around oppression daily as a practice. So, part of that work is setting up an understanding around constructivist listening dyads or triads—sometimes we do these in small groups. But it’s the idea that these are the places to bring these feelings and to release them. And to know that through releasing them, we are fundamentally ending oppression.
KL I really love thinking about it that way. And I think I walked away with that somewhere in my body and my head, [laughs] but thank you for putting it into words. Touching on the emotional side of things, it takes a lot of emotional labour for you to put on these trainings and you’re in the presence of a lot of other people’s emotions. Thinking back to when I was there that day, I went home that night and I kept thinking, “I feel like I did a week of it.” [laughs] It was a lot! And being in the presence of other people doing it was simultaneously overwhelming, but also I felt like this sort of instant kinship with people I was complete strangers with, so I think that’s why it was really powerful. But I think just touching on that, how do you navigate it? How do you keep your own emotional health in check?
NJ It’s really important that I and my whole team commit to do this as our own practice. I mean, part of it is being value-based and being in integrity with the work. So, for example, even though we all have numbing behaviors and I’m not pretending that I don’t, one of our commitments when we’re on the road a week before we deliver and during the delivery is that we don’t engage in the numbing behaviors. And having the perspective that when people have that emotional release, that there’s actually less oppression on the planet is what I think makes my work not so exhausting, but actually joyful. That’s one less alcoholic drink someone’s going to take tonight or one less child that gets yelled at. Or maybe one more way someone can stand up when they hear an oppressive comment or joke or slur at work the next day or on the street. Or one more curiosity when they get on the bus or the light rail or interact with a clerk to ask them a question about how their day was and to spend a little time listening to them because they got a little bit of listening. These human connections, these human relationships I believe are the acts of revolution that will undo oppression. We are so much bigger than any institution or oppression because institutions are just made up of human beings. And we can’t change systems unless we can change human beings and human hearts. And I believe that a fundamental way that that change happens is that we are intimately connected with other human beings. And that, I believe, breaks the isolation of oppression, which has us believe that it’s my human failing, that’s why I’m struggling to make a difference or to stand up against oppression or break this addiction or compulsion that I have to numb or to shop or to isolate or whatever the version for any of us. It’s not a personal failing, it’s institutionally how we’ve been set up. And that’s why relationships when they’re authentic and intimate like that are acts of revolution. Because we’d never stand for oppression that would impact someone we care about.
SWB This is so powerful. I’ve been thinking a lot about small systems and the human level of change recently, so I’ve been loving this conversation a lot. But we are just about out of time and so before we go, I do want to make sure that we can get some info from you about what’s coming up for the Institute. So, are there some workshops or events that are on the calendar this year that maybe our listeners could go to or maybe I can go to? [KL laughs]
NJ The Transformational Communication Program is our signature and our entry level prerequisite longer program. So, that’s going to be happening in Washington DC. It happens August 6th through 9th. So, it kicks off with a three day intensive in-person retreat in DC and then it’s followed up with a ten week Just Listening program. And in that Just Listening program, you will meet weekly with the listening partner that you get during the intensive workshop part. So, you’ll get to practice constructivist listening, you get weekly micro learning videos with me doing little bits of teaching, and then at the midway and end of the program, you get a small group coaching session over video—live coaching session—with one of our team members. So, that’s the next time that you’ll have the opportunity to join us. We will be doing some public offerings in 2020, but don’t have our dates and locations yet, so feel free to get on our newsletter and go on our website. It’s ljist.com.
SWB Awesome! Well, there’s a lot that I think I could learn from this and I hope some of our listeners too. Nanci, thank you so much for being on the show!
NJ Thank you so much, Sara and Katel, it’s been a delight!
Promo: Jenn Taylor-Skinner
Jenn Taylor-Skinner [music playing in the background] I’m Jenn Taylor-Skinner, the host and producer of The Electorette podcast. The Electorette explores politics, social justice, civil rights, and feminism all through the lens of women. When I decided to start The Electorette, I knew that I wanted to elevate the voices of women and bring listeners deep, smart, and thoughtful conversations from groups that had been previously marginalized. The women that I interview on The Electorette are some of the most brilliant, passionate women on the planet. They are activists, politicians, academics, and authors. They’ve been on the ground helping to fight border suppression, and they’ve helped get women elected. When you listen to The Electorette, my goal is that you will always leave knowing something that you didn’t know before. Or, at the very least, think about something differently. That is my promise to my listeners. So, please subscribe to The Electorette wherever you listen to your podcasts. Or find the latest episodes at electorette.com. [spells url] And I hope to see you there! [music fades out]
Fuck Yeah of The Week
SWB Okay, Katel, are you ready for the Fuck Yeah of The Week?
KL I am so ready.
SWB So, first off, you know it was Mother’s Day last weekend?
SWB Fuck yeah to all the moms out there.
KL That’s right.
SWB I hope you enjoyed your day. I hope you enjoyed breakfast in bed [KL laughs] if you like that kind of thing. [laughs]
SWB I hope you did not have to have breakfast in bed if you’re like, “ew crumbs.”
KL [laughing] That would be me. [SWB laughs]
SWB Yeah, same! But I also want to give a fuck yeah to something very specific that has to do with Mother’s Day and that is a follow up on something we talked about two episodes ago when we had Veronica Rex on.
SWB And that is the Mother’s Day Bail Out that a whole bunch of bail funds were doing across the country bailing out black mamas for Mother’s Day. So, the campaign just ended and, fuck yeah, they raised a lot of money and they bailed out some moms! So, here in Philly, the Philadelphia Community Bail Fund had a goal of raising $100,000 and they raised over $135,000.
KL Oh my gosh, I am so happy about that.
SWB I know, I know! And that was a big goal because last year, I believe they raised around $90,000, so it’s a huge increase.
KL Mhmm, mhmm.
SWB They bailed out eight mamas last week, but they have a second round of mamas that they aren’t going to be able to bail out until later in May. So, they have a lot of money to still go bail out some more people, which is rad. And then nationally, they raised about a million dollars!
KL Oh my god.
SWB I don’t know the final number yet because as we’re recording this the day after Mother’s Day, it looked like it was going to top out over a million, but it’s unclear. And that’s amazing! But by Mother’s Day, they bailed out about ninety mamas in 34 different cities.
KL So incredible.
SWB Yeah. I mean, if you haven’t listened to that episode yet, please go and listen to it because the whole idea of bailing people out of jail who cannot afford to pay for their bail is so powerful, so meaningful, and I think you’re going to love Veronica Rex. Which, by the way, fuck yeah to her. She came on the show and she shared her story, which can’t have been an easy thing to do, and you know, at least three different people told me that they donated to Philly Community Bail Fund because of our show and that makes me so happy.
KL I love that so much.
SWB Fuck yeah to all of you who did that!
KL Ugh, fuck yeah. Well, that’s it for us this week! Strong Feelings is recorded in Philadelphia and produced by Steph Colbourn at Edit Audio. Our theme music is “Deprogrammed” by Blowdryer. They are an awesome Philly band you should check out at blowdryer.bandcamp.com. Thanks to Nanci Jimenez for being our guest today, and thank you for listening! If you liked the show today, don’t forget to subscribe and rate us wherever you listen to your favorite podcasts. And hey—get some strong feelings delivered right to your inbox! Sign up for our newsletter at strongfeelings.co. See you again next week! [theme music plays for 15 seconds and then plays out]