I can’t let International Women’s Day pass without acknowledging this beautiful and remarkable woman, Alice. My Grandmother who I shared with 4 other grand kids who loved her dearly, and mother to my brilliant Dad and my Aunt Ju.
Alice was the most wonderful Grandmother. She was so kind and gentle. She made the best pancakes, told us made-up fairy tales as we ate them and tap danced for us in her kitchen.
She was also very brave. I didn’t know at the time, but Alice fought cancer for 30 years. I don’t think there was a moment I spent with her, even when she was very ill, when she didn’t sparkle joy from those eyes.
And yet I also heard this beautiful woman told to “shut up Alice” on far too many occasions, by my Grandfather, her husband…
I wish I had had the courage to quell those words. I wish she had too.
You see, despite her bravery, she didn’t have the skills to stand up to verbal abuse, to a controlling partner, to someone who, at his worst, was a bully.
Alice is part of my compassion story because she has both shaped and inspired me. We grew up in a family who shied away from conflict, we sought harmony. We were taught to respect our elders, not to stand up to them. In case you are wondering, when we heard Alice being told to shut up, we didn’t do anything about it. I’m embarrassed to admit, we all looked at the floor. I loved my Grandfather, and I don’t think he meant to be vicious, or even realised the impact he had. That doesn’t make it okay though.
For a very long time, like Alice, I wasn’t able to find the courage to stand up to bullies either. I could list off events- from fairly minor to quite major – from the playground, to my first job to actually far too recently in the workplace – when I allowed myself, and others around me, to be treated badly, to be bullied. Instead of calling out behaviour as wrong, I brushed it under the carpet. At its worst, I simply froze. I lost my shine. A combination of lacking the skills to address it combined with low self-esteem, left me putting up and shutting up.
Alice is part of the reason I do what I do today. I don’t believe anyone deserves to be shut down, to be bullied, at home or at work.
If we are to create workplaces that survive and then thrive, we need to build our capability to create, innovate, communicate and connect. We have to create environments that value diversity, encourage difference of opinions, that make it safe for people to speak up, to give and receive feedback, to question the status quo, to have brave conversations.
We need to move away from dominant workplace cultures where a command and control style of leadership breeds fear and causes our workforce to metaphorically “freeze” and move to create workplace cultures where uniqueness and courage can thrive. The courage to stand up, to demand truth, to have difficult conversations, to ask for help, to change. Creating cultures where standing up for what we believe in does not compromise our ability to belong.
So, thank-you Alice for your grace, your sparkle and your joy. For giving me some memories to cherish, as well as ones I can learn from. Above all, thank you for inspiring me to choose to champion compassion.
Happy International Women’s Day.
I choose to challenge the notion that compassion is light or weak. It is courageous, caring, strong and effective, and necessary if we are to make our workplaces, our lives and our planet better.
#compassioncounts #compassionatecultures #courage #choosetochallenge