Friday, March 6, 2009

The New Women's Movement

“Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing him/
Leo Tolstoy

Richard and I were driving back from Charleston on Sunday. We were in the car with each other for three hours. No television, no music, no children and phones turned off.

We got to talking about barriers that limit our ability to reach our greatest human potential.

“What,” I asked him, “have been obstacles in your past or now that have limited your ability to reach your greatest human potential?”

“I’ve got to really think about that,” he responded.

We drove in silence for quite some time.
In that silence I pondered the question myself. What are the barriers that limit me, perhaps even actively restrain me so that I am unable to be?

I narrowed it down to two: internal and external messages.

Negative internal messages have been the barriers I have built myself. I may have acquired these personal views of myself from outside influences, but over the course of my life I’ve assimilated them into my psyche and made them my own. Some of these messages were “I’m not smart enough” or “I am not the organized type so I can’t possibly serve in any positive capacity” or “I’m not a strategic thinker.” In my 20’s the negative self-talk was often focused on my appearance. A recent addition is “I’m too old to do that”.

Negative self-talk does nothing but limit my potential. The focus is not on my strengths, but on areas I consider weaknesses. Achieving my greatest human potential can only take place when I recognize and embrace my gifts. Then, and only then, can I begin to tap into the “bigness” of my personal power.

External barriers that have limited my (women’s) potential over the centuries are far-reaching and include familial, social, cultural, religious, governmental or societal systems and institutions. Many institutions are controlled by a dominant group that, in its desire to maintain its dominant status, must position those that are in the non-dominant group as less than, weaker, inferior or incapable.

As I pondered the question I had asked of Richard, I realized that much of my life’s journey has been about increasing my awareness of these barriers. I was first aware of the internal barriers, because I could actually do something about those. The internal barriers were driven by me, spoken by me, and at times actually nurtured by me.

When I was in my teens and early 20’s I was completely unaware of my own negative self-talk. As a matter of fact, it was a tool I frequently (and unconsciously) used to bond with other women. Thanks to Girls on the Run and my evolving awareness, I am realizing that half the battle is getting out of my own way! By embracing my gifts and taking delight in who I am, I can recognize and position myself to see, hope and dream about my greatest human potential!

Ironically, once my awareness in this personal area increased, my awareness regarding where these messages were coming from increased as well. I can no longer open a fashion or pop magazine without literally feeling wounded, hurt and downright angry about the messages within and their demeaning and limiting affect on girls’ and women’s human potential. I often feel helpless when it comes to these bigger, institutional barriers. How can I possibly do anything to influence these institutional systems so that their dominating leaders can see and believe in the potential of girls and women?

But incredibly…this is where you come in. Girls on the Run and the reach of this organization are growing! We are self-aware women and men, each recognizing the power we have to create an environment that honors and celebrates girls and women! We do this by stopping our own negative self-talk and shifting our internal focus toward honoring our gifts and the gifts of those institutions and organizations that are systemically contributing to a culture that allows us to do so. A simple, yet powerful act.

The fruits of our labor are rapidly approaching. As our numbers grow and our awareness expands, there will be the transformational shift that Girls on the Run envisions…the shift, first at the personal level and then at the larger, cultural and societal level. We will no longer succumb to the external messaging we get from those familial, societal or cultural institutions that perpetuate our image as weak, inferior or in need of repair. When our numbers are large enough…when this movement is in full force…those systems that have controlled us and the generations before us, will have to transform. They will, as we have done, shift their focus toward embracing our gifts and honoring our power.

Deep stuff. Really deep stuff. Richard never did get to his answer, because I gave him mine. What barriers have you removed or what barriers are you still struggling with that limit you and your ability to achieve your greatest human potential?

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