Creating safe and inclusive environments goes beyond eliminating obstacles; it requires building a world where everyone can thrive and reach their full potential. Maya Ford, a strategic marketing and mass communications veteran of 20 years, discusses intentionally creating safe spaces and promoting inclusivity in this episode. She talks about the importance of safety, authenticity, and assimilation when moving from survival to success. She also addresses how society can force people to hide their true selves due to certain norms and expectations. She thinks deeply about complex issues such as racism, classism, and the challenges of promoting anti-racism, as well as the barriers that hinder our efforts to build a more inclusive and fair society. She also discusses the role of suffering in human existence, and the difference between pain and suffering. Maya discusses creating inclusive paradigms and leveraging tools for success in life. Maya presents her system called the “Standard of Love”, which promotes safe spaces, emotional and physical agency, self-control, anti-racism, equity, economic power, positive change, justice, fairness, and balance, while acknowledging the effects of colonialism and hierarchies. Join us as we learn from Maya’s wisdom and experience and explore the pursuit of safe spaces and positive change in our world.
Listen to the podcast here
From Exclusion To Inclusion: The Pursuit Of Safe Spaces And Positive Change
I’ve been talking with this episode’s guest, Maya, and that has been a complete joy. I said to her that part of me wishes that we had been recording the whole time because there were incredible things that she said. The way that Maya articulates her thoughts blows me away. Simultaneously, I’m so grateful to have had that time with her. In fact, I felt resistant to starting the recording because I selfishly wanted to have Maya all to myself or our conversation together.
However, that would be a disservice to the listener because Maya has a beautiful mind and it goes beyond the words on the page. When I was introduced through her PR team, I saw a sliver of who she was as a human being. What I was interested in, Maya, is your intentional pursuit of creating safe spaces, of helping people understand and fulfill emotional and physical agency for themselves and others.
Also, using our voices to create the world that we want with inclusivity. All of those speak to me. All of those are topics I want to learn more about. I’ll pause there for a moment because one of the things that you said to me is you love finding out what’s important to others. I’m curious at the beginning of this conversation, what’s an important place for you to begin?
First of all, Whitney, I am so stoked to be here with you and your readers. Thank you for having me. Thanks for setting and establishing some cool boundaries that gave me a good expectation of a predictable way for me to know how to engage with you. I think a big part of it is that the universe is full of so much chaos, so many unknowns, and so many rules, and most of those rules are not enforced.
When we talk about where people show up and how they can show up, trust and predictability are one of the strongest. It’s one of the baselines and it’s different for each person. Where I start is with what makes me feel comfortable, which is safety. If I feel safe, then I’m more prone to exploring with others and if I don’t, I tend to go off and do my own thing alone until I can develop a semblance of safety.
What does safety mean to you?
I love that question because it is different for everyone. As I mature, what I learn is that I don’t need much. I just need potable water and a warm, dry, safe, and secured space to sleep. It could even be very small. I prefer smaller spaces to open areas. I prefer things that I can predict very easily. Elements where there are no surprises around a corner and rooms where I can see the doors. I like to see people in their most natural form if possible.
For years, while I love and adore caricatures of all types, I don’t have a preference for elements like clowns or sometimes even drag shows. Not because my friends who are performing are disturbing people but because I don’t prefer any person in a form that isn’t recognizable as their authentic natural self. I tend to go into spaces where I can be engaged with others in their purest, most natural, authentic form. That brings me a ton of safety.
There are some other elements too for economic safety. I don’t like to carry debts. I have a home that I can afford if I do very little. I don’t have car payments. I tend to pay for things in cash. Those elements allow me to control my day-to-day life. I own almost everything that I have outright. There’s this balance of the general rule for me to control what I can control because almost nothing in the universe is controllable.
That definition resonates with me a lot. I wonder what you mean about the clown, for example, I would interpret that as a mask. If there’s anything wrong with wearing a mask, putting a mask on, or even makeup, I have mixed feelings about makeup. There is nothing wrong with makeup, but for me, it still feels like a mask when I put it on and sometimes it feels like a mask when I’m around other people.
I want to know what their face looks like without makeup. I want to know who their raw, authentic self is, as you’re saying. There’s the literal mask in those cases, plus the figurative mask. You and I talked a little bit about this privately, about going through the world with a mask on and how that could perhaps limit us. I’m curious about what else masking means to you.
It looks like a lot of things. When we learn about concepts like ego or why people lie, they do these things for survival. Sometimes we mask because we are fearful that someone might offer some semblance of harm to us if we don’t assimilate or if we don’t say something that we’re supposed to say. We know that many people are wearing masks in workplaces because they have concerns about people getting too close or like, “Why is that your business? I should be able to do my work.” They don’t want to.
There are social norms and social abnormalities that force people to feel as though they need to mask and sometimes you have a lot to lose. When my children were younger, I was a single mom and while I didn’t feel that I was masking, I learned not to disclose. There was a lot that I did not disclose. I didn’t disclose to some people that I even had children. People never knew if I was in a relationship or not in a relationship.
I didn’t ever allow those elements or those conversations to even come up because the only thing that was important to me was to make sure that I was able to survive for my children. I think that we make masking like it’s always this ominous thing but you have to remember that humans are mammals and mammals are animals.
Animals are a genuine, authentic piece of the universe and this world that we live in. Many mammals mask for many different reasons. You got spiders that blend in and birds that blend in. Chameleons are the most common example. You have toads that do it. It’s a very natural thing. Humans have the ability to do it with imagination.
That reminds me of something you brought up in our conversation, which was this powerful story about a man in his shoes or lack of shoes. Will you retell that story for the readers because that led you to talk about the humanistic animalistic side of life?
It was such a brilliant story and I’m sorry that I won’t do you justice by retelling who the author was, but it can be located in The New York Times in February of 2023. The story was about a man who was a runner who stopped wearing shoes. He hasn’t worn shoes for more than twenty years. He lives in the Northeast of the US. He stopped wearing the shoes because he developed bunions that were painful and instead of getting the surgery, he just stopped wearing the shoes. It became more comfortable.
He’s not disturbed by it, but he was talking about this visceral reaction that people have to him coming into grocery stores or into restaurants without shoes. He stated two things that stuck with me. The first was he was like, “I’m a White male who has economic and social privilege and they treat me like this.” I can only imagine how persons are treated who make decisions to be of their own physical and personal freedom who are Black or Hispanic and can’t control some of these elements and the visceral way that they are treated. For me, not wearing shoes is not that big of a deal. I can control that.
The second thing that he said was that humans don’t like to be reminded that they’re mammals and that they’re animals too. That stuck with me because I love that I’m an animal. One of my favorite characters from The Muppets is Animal. I have an electric bike and its name is Electric Mayhem from The Muppets because I love Animal. Animal is my spirit animal, but it’s very true that we place ourselves in these positions of hierarchy as though we are not the nature that we are trying to control. To that, I say, “Control yourself first.” Why you always got to control everybody else? Mind your freaking business. Wear your own shoes are not. Don’t be worried about everybody else animal.Why you always have to control everybody else? Mind your business. Wear your own shoes. Don't be worried about everybody else. Click To Tweet
It’s interesting because it sounds like you’re saying there’s a personal preference that you have for control or at least, that’s how I interpreted what you said because I felt that way. In fact, people have referred to me in the past as a control freak, which was one of the worst things someone could say and it always hurt. Now, I have a better understanding of that because control has made me feel safe.
Yet, I’m also hearing from you that there are boundaries with control because there’s self-control versus the control that we try to extend beyond ourselves to others. I found myself doing that when I don’t feel safe and trying to control the circumstances so much and people don’t like that. I’ve repelled a lot of people in my life when I get to controlling and I wish that I could better express to them that I’m not trying to control them. I’m trying to control the situation so I can feel safe, but that’s a hard balance to find, isn’t it?
I’m so glad that you’re saying this because this show wouldn’t be authentic without difficult conversations. I want to talk about that. I’m having a very interesting space in my life where I’m a consultant and I do communications. I mostly work with minority communities and my clients are often White. Sometimes, they’re White women who I report to and exactly what you talked about is a major point of conflict that I consistently have with them. Also, it’s happening more in 2023 than it has ever happened before.
One of the things that I think it comes down to is that we don’t know what we don’t know and sometimes, when we’re engaging in new things or old things that are meaningful, we want to be accountable. I work with other standup people who want to be accountable and want to try to get it right. I’m estimating this. When they are in a space that they don’t know anything about, in order to feel safe, they need to control it.
What that’s doing is forcing some boundaries that are not appropriate to this time and space. Instead of leaning into the love, safety, and trust of like, “Sis, I hear and understand you, but there are so many nuances that I don’t know how to articulate to you in the amount of time that we have, therefore I need you to release your sense of what’s “safety” is for me to tell you that you’re swimming against the stream.”
I don’t know how to approach this. What I have done, Whitney, at the end of the day, has fired the client. It’s disheartening because, for example, a lifeguard will tell you one of the reasons you have the life ring is because oftentimes, when someone is flailing, they put both of you at risk for sinking. What you can do is create a barrier between you, capture them, and bring them along with you, but you have to create some space for them to feel safe and for you to tow them to safe waters.
What happens if I try to do that, but if they’re still flailing, I got to let them go. I think that it’s a very uncomfortable position. I’m hired to work in spaces that have nuances and whole sets of rules and dynamic elements that, to be frank, Judy, Whitney, or Maya, none of you have experienced because you don’t even know that they exist. It comes off in this time that we’re in, but then am I racist? No, I’m not saying that. “Am I not doing my job right?” No, I’m not saying that. I’m not saying any of those things. I’m saying that you don’t know what you don’t know and it makes you safe to command and to own what you think you know, but this is different and I’m struggling there.
Thank you for sharing that. I love these types of conversations because they’re tricky. One thing I talked with you about before we started recording is, in general, I didn’t say it quite like this yet to you, but my experience is I am very eager to learn. I’m very eager for people to accept me and to accept other people. Those are big missions because I’ve gone about a lot of my life feeling unaccepted and like I had to be that chameleon and assimilate because I’ve been rejected a lot for how I think and talk. It’s a constant masking of my own.
Now, I’m at the stage where I don’t want a mask. I don’t want other people to mask it, but it’s fumbling through. One of the things I’m fumbling through is as a White woman, I want to learn a lot more about being anti-racist. It feels awkward at times because I catch myself wondering, did I say the wrong thing? Did I do the wrong thing? I think that what I’ve been practicing is taking the ego out of that.
For example, I had an experience with a Black woman and afterwards, I was like, “Did I say something microaggressive accidentally?” I grappled with, “Should I go back and ask her if I offended her accidentally?” I then thought, “I don’t know if I need to do that because then it’s still making it about me and my insecurities. I want to trust that if she was uncomfortable, she would tell me in the moment or maybe afterwards, but if I go back and say, “I’m sorry if I offended you,” isn’t that about me, that question?
It’s not your work to do and I think you’re right. Those are different things. I don’t do other people’s work. If you have something to say, say what you need to say. If I respond to that badly, that’s not your problem either. You did your part. If I respond to it well, then good for both of us. It’s good for you for saying what you needed to say and good for me for being able to accept that and wanting to move forward in a rapport with you.If you have something to say, say what you need to say. If I respond to that badly, that's not your problem either. You did your part. Click To Tweet
I think that’s another nuance. One thing I do agree with you about the masking is when do you do it and when don’t you? I don’t know that anyone has a defined answer for that or that we should because I would look to nature. Is it seasonal? Is it when you need it to be? It’s all a tool for you. Instead of seeing all of these characteristics that we do as inherently good or bad, why don’t we see them as a part of our toolkit for survival?
What happens when you make it through survival into thriving? That’s when you get to do it in a space where you’re leveraging it more metered to your temperament. Thriving is a cool space because it’s not forced. You have your basics in order and you get to slow down and make different decisions about how you’re using your tools. My bilingualism is a tool. My ability to see the world through a fly’s eye lens is a tool. It’s not all that I am.
My femininity and my practice of feminism is also a tool. All of the things that I have learned over the years are tools. If I abuse any of them to create an imbalance in my relationships, life, economics, or ways that impact my safety, then I think I’m misusing the tool. One thing that I find we’re critical of in ourselves is that if we say that we don’t do this one thing well, we are bad at it.
I’m great at making money and not great at spending money, but does that make me bad at money? I don’t think so. It means that I’m not leveraging the tools properly. It doesn’t have to be. Americans are very extreme people. We’re like, “Democrat or Republican.” Gender neutrality is screwing with people like, “You’re a man or you’re a woman.” I’m like, “I know how I want you to identify me, but if somebody else doesn’t want to be classified as that, so freaking what?”
I think that we are developed to a point where we can now practice using our tools to thrive. When you get into that type of flow, the masks become accessories, not something you must wear to make it through the world. Sometimes I’m extra Latina. Sometimes I’m that chick from Third Ward, Houston, Texas.
Sometimes, in some spaces, I’m the American girl. Sometimes I’m not. It depends. It’s an accessory and some people call that code-switching. I don’t care about the language in this case. I think that all of those things were given to me and I use every aspect, every tool, and every resource that is available to me to make sure that I survive and thrive in this short life that I have.
The way you have words is so stimulating. I am curious if you want to go back to what you were saying about letting clients go because I am wondering what would help you not let somebody go. Those moments where you said, “This is not working out.” It could be any relationship in life. When we’re at that crossroads, whether it’s personal or professional and we say, “This isn’t working out. I have to let this person go,” what is the opposite of that for you in which you said, “No. This is worth the effort and work. I want to keep this person in my life. A transition or a shift needs to happen in order to make that work.”
This is a cool question and again, this would not be the right show if we didn’t have to bare our souls. This is one of those things I’m guilty of. I have the privilege of being very well-exposed, so I don’t have a fear of missing out. When I say I’m well-exposed, I have visited for long periods of time, many countries. I know people from all over the world. I mingle amongst all of the social classes. I got on my phone, and I’m chatting with the people who don’t have homes, the mayors of major metro cities, and everybody in between.
That has created a knowing in me that I always have access to whom and whatever I need. I don’t fear not seeing people again. I can come off as someone who is not sentimental, but I also love my life. It is about a numbers game. I find success usually in numbers. I’m very accustomed to failure. I don’t think people understand how much I fail and they probably don’t understand that because I pop up like it’s almost a game. It’s almost like the whack-a-mole for me, but I’m the mole getting whacked and I keep popping up.
I know there are 8 billion people on the planet and if you are not one of them that’s going to align with me, my chances are pretty good statistically and by evidence of my many years on earth that I’m going to meet at least 100 other people I’m going to get along with. What does the opposite of that look like? I don’t feel that I am someone who is irreplaceable and I don’t feel that way about others. As I say it, it never sits right in the social standings because it sounds too linear and I don’t feel that people are disposable.
I’m very direct and one thing Whitney, that the world doesn’t like are women that know what they want. Usually, by the time I come to someone with a concern or a complaint, I am also showing up with what I want instead. I say it the first time, but people can’t hear me tell them what I want. They’re usually hearing the dissatisfaction and because we like each other, they feel all those things that you talk about like, “I’m not safe. Did I do something? Is it about me?”
Even though I told you what I wanted and most people also don’t know what they want, I do. I don’t come to you with a problem unless I know what I want. It’s a rule for me. I come the second time and try to address it and say, “I did say this,” but again, because I’m not that kind of person, I’m never going to be the person screaming at you. I’m never going to be demeaning you. I’m not going to abuse you to get what I want. You’re going to give me what I want because it’s mutually reciprocal for us. It is valuable for both of us. Likewise, I want to give you what you want too. It’s not just one-sided.
The second time I come and I express it, they might hear me a little bit better, but because I said it nicely, I find that sometimes it’ll change, sometimes not. On the third time, I don’t repeat myself. I got to move on. I don’t know what the opposite of that would look like. It would look like, “Are we hearing each other? Are we listening to each other?” It’s because I want what you want and this is how I’m telling you I can get there. If you can’t hear me and I can’t get there that way, then let’s not waste each other’s time. Call Jojo or Maria or somebody else and I’ll make a recommendation for you.If you can't hear me and if I can't get there in that way, then let's not waste each other's time. Click To Tweet
I feel like there’s so much to learn from you because you and I seem to have a lot in common, given that we could talk for so long and find all this synergy here. However, one thing it seems like we don’t have in common is that I am sentimental, almost to a fault. I have trouble letting things go. I wonder if that is the ego saying, “Don’t let this go because I’m always trying to make things right.”
That gives me a lot of anxiety and stress to live that way because I’m constantly concerned I’m doing things wrong and I’m always trying to make up for it and get it right. The older I get, I feel like the farther away I get from getting things right. I’m thinking like, “I don’t know if getting things right or perfect exists.” I want to be less attached because I aspire for that realization of, I can move on from things that are not fit or don’t get me closer to what I want because there’s something else that will get me there or someone else without it being transactional.
It’s because I think we can also veer to the other side, where I am very uninterested in things that are transactional. I do not like it when I feel that someone’s using me for their own gain. Going back, when you use the word accessory, a negative definition of accessory would be if someone’s only using me because they like or want something from me, but they’re not interested in the depth, exchange, and connection. I want to find more of the balance in between, not transactional but not super attached all the time.
This is my own fight also because while there are eight billion people in the world, all of them cannot matter to me. That same attitude that I’m expressing has also impacted me quite negatively in my familial relationships. Oftentimes, my children will tell you that I can be very transactional. I have two daughters who are remarkable, young, and powerful women who feel that I’m not maternal and who feel like I don’t possess some of their needs for the more socio-emotional components.
I don’t think that they’re wrong. I think that it’s complicated. It’s complex and we’re not all one thing. In some of their developmental years, I have felt that their emotions, my experience has been the things that they are feeling overly emotional about, have outcomes that have solutions. I’m like, “That’s an easy fix. Why would we spend our feelings on that?”
Feelings are a currency. Give them to people who deserve that. Don’t screw around with feelings you don’t need to have because it causes anxiety and suffering. One thing that I know for sure, Whitney, 100% statistically, emotionally, socially, and environmentally according to the universe’s fundamental design, the United States of America has every tool, resource, and asset that we need right now to solve the globe’s strongest and wildest issues.
We have the tools, resources, and assets to solve poverty, environmental injustice, suffering, production, and consumption outside of the abuse of others. The United States of America is the most powerful nation on Earth because it has all of these tools and resources and assets. For us to not use them is our biggest problem. When it’s come to my children, I’ve been very linear about that.
We don’t need to suffer. You don’t need to carry that. That’s not your work to do. Your ancestors already did that for you. How do we focus on the other elements? This is my persona. My mom might tell you that I use it as a mask, but I don’t agree. I think that my mom’s over-sentimental. I’m like, “Why do you care about that? That’s not a thing.”
I think that people deserve to be treated, loved, and safe according to how they want to be. Digging into a less emotional space that causes me suffering for no reason doesn’t make me feel safer. It makes me feel worse about myself. It’s then my job to do things that make me feel safe and work with other people that will allow me to do that. People who do want to lean into the other ways to do it, if that makes them feel happy, pleasurable, and safe, amen. More power to them. I won’t be hanging out with them. I’m going to go find 7.5 million people.People deserve to be treated, loved, and safe according to how they want to be. Click To Tweet
That clarity is so empowering and there’s so much to what you said. The part that resonated and piqued my curiosity is to hear more about what you think gets in our way if we have so much power as individuals and collectively in our society. Specifically, you and I, both US residents, witness this. I told you how I’m on a mission to see as much of the United States as possible and then I want to go beyond.
However, right now, I’m interested in the United States because this is where I live. This is what I’m a part of. This is where I probably have the most power because I can get involved and I haven’t felt that motivated to get involved until lately. I don’t know if it’s just getting older and/or it’s noticing how many messed up things are happening in this country and suddenly I’m like, “I don’t want to be part of the problem and I also don’t want to be silent.” I want to get involved and become active, but I’m still trying to get a grasp on the problem itself and it doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. I don’t understand the obstacles, in other words. Do you?
I’m glad to know that I have a lot of friends. People that I consider sisters and brothers who understood Malcolm X’s direction that a form of protest is non-participation. Sometimes, you’re right. You are like, “What are all these obstacles? They seem confusing. Why are they so confusing?” One thing that I have spent the past few years doing is not trying to uphold the current infrastructure or anything that does not serve me.
Instead, trying to create more options for people to convert or pivot to that serve what it is that I do want. When we started this conversation, it was about inclusivity. In the United States, the root cause of why you are still 2023 adhering to conversations about race inequity and the absolute idiocy of one’s skin color or gender is because of colonialism and trans-Atlantic slavery. Fundamentally, that hasn’t changed. The rules were based on protecting White men’s sovereignty, joy, assets, and power.
It was always intended to put women of any ethnicity and anybody who was not White male as subordinate to that. The laws themselves, the actual Constitution, is still based on that. One might argue that we’re talking about, “But it’s been edited.” The numbers, 247 years later, show that those edits have not created inclusion or equitable distribution of said tools, responsibilities, or the benefits of it. The shift is still there.
Instead of us constantly working to modify this system, in the data world, “We say garbage in, garbage out.” If you put in bad ingredients or bad data, you will 100% of the time get out bad ingredients and bad data but what if you increased those variables to incorporate more inclusion? What are the values, assets, and resources of all Americans and people who want to engage with America and you put that in? What will you get coming out?
You will get a more inclusive system. These are the elements that I’ve stopped trying to uphold because it’s consistently garbage in, garbage out. It’s not able to be edited in that way. One may think that it’s incredibly radical, but it’s already happening whether I think it or not. When you talk about conversations like gender neutrality or gender reform or gender consciousness, it is a fundamental disruption to something as basic as the Constitution.
When you talk about elements like who gets to own or who doesn’t get to own, the birth control pill was a huge conversation in the ownership of reproductive justice and reproductive rights and the fight towards that. However, it’s already been unlocked. You have more ways to control reproduction now than we did 50 years ago. The Pandora’s Box is already open. You’re not reversing all of that. You got spermicide. In the 21st century, you got to really want a kid.
You got spermicide, female condoms, Plan B, and all kinds of stuff. I’ve used them all. There are a lot of options. These are fundamental ways to create new paradigms in new systems. One thing about humans that I am so fascinated by, if you think about it, Whitney, we’re all struggling with the same basic fight every single day. That fight is against gravity. Humans are particularly strange mammals. We lie down to sleep. You need a certain amount of it to be of optimum care but to get up and compete against gravity for your entire 60-plus years is a feat.We're all struggling with the same basic fight every single day. That fight is against gravity. Click To Tweet
Also, you’re not only doing that. You’re doing it with millions of other elements in nature and you’re creative. Human has so much going on in the brain that they can foresee what can make them crazy. If they can get it out, it can build. We can do remarkable things all against this force called gravity and we’re doing that. The best way to beat gravity is to create an order for yourself. Humans are also constantly trying to go for the shortest option like, “Whatever’s going to make this easy for me.”
That’s why we love things like widgets. We like square boxes in America. You like things that increase your efficiency. Why do you want to increase your efficiency? It’s so that you can gain more and go to sleep. It’s all the fight against gravity. It’s production and consumption. Make me happy while I’m fighting gravity.
When you do that, then you’re like, “What did I do all of that for?” We’re told that if we don’t do it properly over all of those years, then we’re not successful. I question if that’s true, and I know this is a long-winded tangent, but even in that disclosure and that fight for order and the need for order, there’s the chaos that you absolutely can’t control. I think that it’s a very natural thing to want to have the regularity of it as humans because we’re fighting forces beyond us, but they’re not as regular as we want them to be. To be honest, Whitney, I forgot what we were talking about because I got stuck on gravity and then my brain went someplace else.
I think that’s where the magic is and the willingness to forget makes sense in the context of this conversation. It’s because sometimes, the things that are the most complex make the most sense to me and the things that are the most simply don’t make any sense to me at all. You used that beautiful metaphor of a fly’s eye and I’ve never really thought about it that way, but it makes sense to me because what we have in common is something very simple. We don’t think about it simply.
It’s like any topic can become incredibly complex and there are so many directions to go in. It’s only a matter of which. It’s a fascinating way for the mind to work because I often realize how I’ll try to be linear. There’s something comforting about being linear and simple. That’s an aim of mine. If I can just make something concise, if I can make something make sense to everybody, that’s a win, but it’s very rare that that happens because I’m thinking of all the variables.
You were talking about data. I’m also very data-driven. I enjoy data. It’s comforting to me as well as exciting. It’s like, “If I put this in, what happens? What’s the output?” I’ll look at the output and I’ll think about something else I can put in, but I could spend all day doing that and not get anywhere. It’s like one experiment and then you wonder, “Is it about the experiment or is it about the results?”
I think, based on the data, a lot of people in life say life is about the experiment and the joy of the journey, not the destination. As you were saying, we’re very success-driven and output-driven as a society, but a lot of the wise people in life have said the output and the endpoint are not where the happiness, the joy, and the satisfaction is. The joy is along the whole journey. Who cares if it’s scrambled, disorganized, and doesn’t make sense? What if that’s where the gold is, after all?
I love any question that’s a what if. Before I got lost in my own brain on my gravity part, I think that where I was trying to go was that you have to convert, you have to pivot. We’re such habitual people. We do tend to create order and I think every species does that. However, if you want to create a new system or order, you have to give people something to go to. I wonder in that what if, what does it take for people to pivot and recreate their own system?
If we were to remove the horror of the trans-Atlantic slave trade and we applied for the colonialist who is coming from Europe to the Americas and pioneering a new space, what did that require? It then becomes migration. The conversation of migration and immigration isn’t lost. I think that is something I do ponder. I can’t look at the founding of the United States without looking at the horror of the trans-Atlantic slave trade because that’s my direct lineage.
I have current living wounds from that in my family, but if I could imagine what that might look like, I think it would look something more like West Africa where I spent six months and everyone looked like me. They have bad and awful problems about being the purveyors of selling persons that looked like themselves into slavery. It became about classism, not about racism. When I ponder those things like the what ifs, what if we could create a system?
If we were able to create a system built on the backs of others suffering and pain and toil, could we also create a system built on the assets and the best of everyone and what might that look like? The same way you asked me. What’s the inverse of me being vivacious? There are 7.5 million people waiting for me. What’s the inverse of that? However, relative to an American system that was inclusive, I don’t know. I think that’s where we have so many more uncomfortable conversations to go through. We need to ask millions more people.
Yes, we do and I think also getting comfortable with the sad fact that either may never happen. Are human beings destined to suffer and to cause suffering? I was having a conversation with somebody about Viktor Frankl’s work with his book, Man’s Search for Meaning, and the horrific suffering that he encountered and learned through and the meaning he found in that. I think the way my friend was talking about it said that suffering is essentially important and the more you can embrace suffering, the less in a way that you even experience it.
It’s going through hardships in order for them to feel less hard or accepting the hardships, accepting the suffering. It’s complex to address at all and do our human brains even have the capacity to figure this out because we’re so in it? Maybe we need a higher power and maybe that’s why people are so drawn to religion. I’m not currently in my life focused on religion, but maybe the desire for a higher power is we need something outside of ourselves to look at this unbiased mess that we’ve created and say, “Here’s the way.” However, if we don’t ever have access to that higher power, can we accept the chaos? Can we accept the suffering or are our lives about not accepting it even though it’s never going to change?
I love existentialism.
Yeah. It’s very existential.
Let me ask you. Do you think that there’s a difference between pain and suffering?
I’m not sure. Where my mind goes is I don’t want to suffer, but if there’s a purpose to suffering, then I feel like I don’t mind. If it’s bigger than me, then I’m willing to do it. It’s like something you said where without a purpose, it feels completely uninteresting to me. I’m a big why person. If you can tell me why, I’m more likely to do it. If I don’t understand why, then I generally struggle with taking action or putting myself in hard situations. I guess I’ll pause there for now. I don’t know if that answers your question.
Yeah. There’s no wrong answer. I’m just wondering. This is a tricky one for me too. When I gave birth to my son, I found childbirth to be intense. It was not painful. None of my births were painful. It was like having a hurricane squishing my body with such force and intensity that I couldn’t move. It would be like being picked up by a tornado but forced into place like some X-Men and that was my experience. I didn’t have drugs like an epidural and some of the other things that other women talk about.
I asked other women. “Was painful the word that you would use,” because I found that the pressure was excruciating. I literally thought that I would pop, but you can’t pop when the pressure’s down on you. It was a supernatural force that I have never been able to explain and I’ve done it three times. I’ve been stupid enough to give birth three times.
That never incurred pain for me. That wasn’t a term that I would use. On September 11th, when I was driving my kids to school, it rained that morning. On our way into school, the way that the sun hit the ground was through these paved bricks and the sun reflected off the ground. The sun was so bright, but it made the bricks with the raindrops on them look like a road paved of gold. I said to my children, “Our creator came down to say good morning to you before school.”
That was September 11th and I went home after that and I saw all of the devastations of the families looking for their loved ones in the streets. They kept playing the clips over and over. I suffered. I was clinically depressed. I could not get out of bed. I was desperate to try to do something. I felt helpless. I didn’t let my children go out. I kept them from all of their extracurricular activities. I suffered an amount of loss and devastation even though it didn’t impact me. That was suffering and it lasted for months. I spiraled.
It was this unimaginable sentiment and feeling of how afraid people must have been and how desperate. It was the desperation that caused me unreconcilable mental anguish. There have been very few times that I have suffered so deeply other than September 11th. Other times are usually relative to my children or times that I feel insecure, but the word is not pain. It is not physical like, “Ouch, I burned my hand,” or, “I got a cut.” It was a sense of lamenting, mourning, and gnashing of the teeth that my brain couldn’t wrap around how to make it okay.
Thank you for sharing that. The questions you asked about the difference between pain and suffering take me a while to process and the examples you’re giving are helpful in clarifying that. I also say that there was something about September 11th that, at this moment, I can’t think of anything that’s impacted me to that amount or that extent. I felt blindsided by it. That’s the best word I could use for incomprehensible.
It ties into this conversation about the chaos of life in general. Those moments where our brains can’t even make sense of something because it goes beyond what we might have thought was possible. I can’t imagine what these different time periods we’ve touched upon and the suffering that we’ve imposed upon one another, I wonder what it was like to be around in World War II.
To be present and the crazy suffering that was caused during the other time periods in which we’ve inflicted horrible things. I watched the Oscar-winning movie All Quiet on the Western Front, which is about World War I. It was hard to watch that movie. The movie is based on a book and it’s not the first time they’ve done a movie on it, but one of the big themes in it is how there were people’s egos at play that didn’t care about all the suffering. That ego was allowing that suffering and I think that’s been a theme of our conversation. It’s how our ego gets in our way and causes our personal suffering and also sometimes massive suffering outside of ourselves.
That movie kept pointing out. It would cut back and forth between people in war, losing their lives in an instant. There are so many moments in that movie where a soldier would stand up to get on the battlefield and you would immediately watch the soldier be killed in front of you. In an instant, they lose their life and then it would cut back to the men that were in charge of the war casually doing things.
The comparison and contrast of the men out in the field dirty and sick and suffering, versus the men eating these elaborate breakfasts are one of the scenes. You’re thinking, “How can this go on?” However, that is still happening at this very moment. You were sharing with me, Maya, about something you witnessed in West Africa. You were driving to the bank and saw children getting food, passing it on to their mothers, and witnessing the contrast between their lives.
That’s happening all the time, but we rarely see it. Many of us have the privilege of not witnessing the contrast between our suffering and others. When you do witness it, your brain doesn’t know what to do with that information. Given everything that you take in on such a regular basis with your work and your life, how do you process it and what do you do with that information? When you talk about taking data and putting it into your own system as Maya, what is that process like with all of the beautiful elements of life and all of the horrific suffering elements of life?
I have a system for that. I don’t remember what era at this point. It must have been in the late ’90s or maybe early 2010s. There was an app for that. That’s what Apple was promoting. I have a system for cataloging all of these sentiments and how I will make decisions. It’s called the standard of love. The standard of love is based on five pillars that help to categorize, organize and then create this order of operations just for you. It’s not necessarily for anyone else. The first is naming that thing.
Oftentimes, many of us don’t witness the contrast of suffering. I would argue that it’s not true. I think that we don’t recognize suffering in others because it’s different for everyone. That’s why I was asking you, “Is pain and suffering the same for you?” I don’t know that we are familiar with asking each other those types of questions. “What do you call pain and what do you call suffering?”
You cannot resolve or solve something that you cannot name. That’s the first step. It’s literacy or language, then values. Values are what’s important to you and how much is it worth? I guiltily admitted that I don’t always value long relationships because I know that I have access to lots of relationships and what is that worth? I place more value in the long-term invested relationships that I do have. I have a few friends that I’ve been friends with since high school and some in college for more than 30 years. We’re the do-or-die. They’re family at this point. They’re not just friends.
If you were to ask me, “What will I do to protect them because I value them? I’ll do a lot and I have done at times. That’s the second component. You have to name what it is and then you can claim it. The third is self-esteem, which we touched on a lot and I’m happy about that because we live in a developed world. In a developed world, it means that most of your production, most of how you’re earning your money and getting your assets and resources, are based on your intellectual property, not on your manufacturing things.
When that happens, you have more time. You have more space. You have more access to tools and resources that undeveloped spaces don’t. I think that’s important because it should tell us to remember that we’ve got options. We have a choice to lean into things that make us feel better to create and produce things that help others as well as ourselves to not choose to support and value things that harm others.
These things are not done to us. We uphold them. If you are in this constant cycle of diminishing your value and what values you are protecting for others, then you’re never going to be right with yourself. That then leads to economic power. Where do I spend that or where do I spend that? Who do I spend it with? That’s where I think we need to be creating more opportunities. If you don’t want to do this, what do you want?
You got to know what you want and that’s what economic power helps you to do. I don’t want to pursue any element that prolongs or amplifies suffering, but I do want to create and support elements, entities, and people that change this and can make that more inclusive or more environmentally friendly or whatever it is that you value.
When you go through those four steps, that’s when you have fairness, balance, justice, equality, and completion. It’s finished. You do that every day your whole life. It’s like the scientific method. It doesn’t tell you if your theory is right or wrong. It only gives you a guide to identifying if you’re on the right path and whether or not your theory is completely bunked. The Standard of Love or STOLO is the same way. It’s asking you, “What are your standards for your life? Is this something that you mean or is it something that you think you mean or is it something that somebody else wants to mean for you?”
If those are your standards, then in the South, in the hood, we say, “Put your chest in it. Stand up for yourself. Speak loud and proud. Throw your shoulders back. Put your chin up and own that because you are a part of the universe. You exist. You are a part of what is.” Your values matter too. You are important. You’re no less important, no less divine than the person who’s next to you than the person you report to, the person who lives down the street or who’s elected by you. We’re all in this equitably as a part of nature. The Standard of Love helps me to claim that.
I feel in awe of everything you said because I couldn’t have asked for a better way to put a bow on our delightful conversation in this episode, Maya. As much as I don’t want to end it, I would think that is such a beautiful ending note for this conversation. Giving somebody frameworks is so valuable because conversations like this can get existential and then you think, “But what next? What do I do with all these thoughts and questions?”
The fact that you have a system, that’s the best because, as I said, my brain can go in a million different directions, and systems help me bring it all together and do something with it. It will give me that momentum. I love how you said it’s a guide to identify if you’re on the right path and that’s so helpful. Even though there might not be black-and-white definitions of right and wrong, there might not be anything like perfection. Life might feel confusing and chaotic and full of suffering, but for us to have a sense of being on the path that’s right for us can keep us going and can give us hope. I’m so grateful that you provided that.
I am in awe of you, Maya. Thank you for being here and talking with me for hours. We have been talking for hours and I did not expect that, but I am thrilled that that happened. Thanks for being here for me, Maya. Thanks for being here. For the reader, if you’re wanting more, if you want the next step, I have some recommendations for you. Thanks again, Maya.
You’re a joy. You’re my West Coast homie.
That’s the best thing anyone could say to me. Thank you. Especially because I grew up on the East Coast, I feel like I can be both East and West and everything in between. I am smiling ear to ear.
You’re my coastal homie.
What does that make you? What do you call it? Are you my central something? What do we call you?
Let’s see after the next episode. Come back.
It’s to be continued.
This might get uncomfortable if I tell you where I am.
- Maya Ford
- Man’s Search for Meaning
- The New York Times – article
- Standard of Love
About Maya Ford
I’m Maya Ford, a 20-year veteran in strategic marketing and mass communications. I’ve proudly contributed meaningful work to organizations representing nearly every major U.S. industry. I’ve spent years learning to understand and hone in on the dynamics of Ford Momentum!
Today I practice servant leadership with organizations interested in improving good stewardship of their communities, strategic and culturally empowering program implementation, and continuous learning and improvement of myself for others.
My goal is to teach, include, and provide others with opportunities for the future. As a pioneer, I am intentional about including other subject matter experts and developing talent according to the community I’m serving. The FM! team aims to always be authentic to the environment we’re in so that our sweet results are sustainable.
Love the show? Subscribe, rate, review, and share!
Join the This Might Get Uncomfortable community today: