Election Protests & Reacting With Grace and Style : Lessons Learned From NYTimes’s Bill Cunningham

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I had one of my usual circuitous, yet brilliant, conversations with someone from my team this week.  You know those dialogues that starts going in varied directions but then comes full circle as we start to see how these different directions connect?  I love those!  During this particular discussion, we touched on a range of subjects — from human insights, to NYC traffic, to learnings from the recent election.  We also somehow got to the topic of the late and much-missed Bill Cunningham of the New York Times.  For those of you unfamiliar with him, he gifted us with wonderful images and videos of the people of NYC.  When we got to the topic of Bill, we must have spent 20 minutes just gushing over how great he was — all his great work, his sense of curiosity, and his humble but so-uplifting attitude.  Even his intro music to his videos makes me smile wide!

Ah, Bill.

Despite Bill’s simple, unpretentious personal style (he rode an old-school bicycle everywhere, wore something akin to my father’s ordered-from-Sears office uniform everyday, and never tried to hide his Boston accent), he had a deep but fun appreciation for others’ sense of it.  You could feel his energy and absolute love for people.  The streets were his playground and canvass.  The people of New York were his subjects, the camera his tools, and his columns and quirky, lovable slide shows were his masterpieces.  People loved getting photographed by him — you can see it in all of their broad smiles — and fashion designers looked to his work for a sense of current looks.  Essentially, he peered into the mini-world of street style and elevated it for us.  Bill gave the people of NYC an extra dose of dignity.  He shared the amazingness of people’s everyday behaviors.  And he saw style as a way for people to express themselves.  Bill would say things like: “Everyone can put fashion down and that it doesn’t mean a thing.  But it does!  Because each morning when you get dressed, when you go out, it just lifts your spirits!”

You can imagine why Bill’s work should be celebrated in this blog.  We are all about embracing beauty.  But I’m celebrating him for whole other reason.  And it’s this reason that he randomly made an appearance in work conversation about the election and human insights.  (Note: our brains don’t just leap to random thoughts for no reason.  We may not consciously realize the connection at first, but our brains do!)  Bill surfaced because he represents EXACTLY what we all need to do post election: be humble, observant, celebratory of others’ cultures.  While he was not a fashionista himself, he could see and, more importantly, appreciate, the beauty of others.  While he didn’t put a lot of creative effort in his own wardrobe, he took such pleasure in others who did.  He recognized the small but brilliant behaviors we express to give our selves happiness, meaning and fulfillment.  And we ALL do this in different ways.  We just need to start appreciating both ourselves and others for it.

So what does this all mean, really?  What is Bill actually teaching us …especially with regard to the election results?

I think it’s something like this: no one is totally stupid, wrong or misguided for living the way they do or thinking the way they do.  We have to stop looking inwardly and crying in our soup.  I’m not saying we shouldn’t protest changes in government that we don’t agree with, like Trump’s pick today of Exxon CEO as new Secretary of State.  What I am saying that we have start looking outwardly with a keen eye and respectful, considered mindset.  We need to be more observant and try to understand and appreciate the brilliant behaviors that we so often overlook in others.  We don’t do things for no reason — whether its wearing chevron stripes or voting for Trump.  We have to give others the respect Bill gave every person on the street, i.e., observe, dig deep, learn and understand, and even appreciate others.  And by doing so we not only grow but we also give others a sense of dignity.

Oh another thing we learned? We can’t forget to have a bit more fun with what we and others wear too, of course! 🙂

The Election, Ugliness and the Potential for Beauty that is Before Us

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Last week I wrote about the ironic, beautiful power of ugliness. This week I believe it that much more.

Like so many of us, I had no possible idea how this week would actually turn out.  I’ve seen so many of us in shock, so many of us horrified and so many of us saddened.  I saw many of my friends and co-workers absent Wednesday.  They were literally immobilized.

But, I’m seeing something beautiful too.  I’m seeing my older son irate, passionate and communicative about our leadership.  I’m seeing my community look deeply within themselves to ask “why?”  I’m seeing people realizing that their daughters’ confidence, the amazing diversity of our country, and are ability to show love for others, should NOT be taken for granted.

Of course I’m scared.  Of course, I’m in shock and sickened.  I was so excited to be able to demonstrate to my daughter how powerful we, women, are and can be.

But, I must see this election as a wake up call.  I must react.  This is a lesson for us.  We have to care of our country — which includes EVERYONE.  We can’t assume everyone is fine or agrees with our values.  If we violently disagree with people, we can’t brush them off.  We have to understand them, and work hard to connect.

The morning after the election, I sent this short message to my team:

No question this was a doozy.  But here’s how I’m looking at this:

We can’t look down on society, we just have to set the example instead.  We need to be super encouraging to our daughters/young girls in our lives, extra generous, and loving to everyone from EVERYWHERE.

Lots of love for you all, A

Let’s use this as an opportunity to open our eyes to our OWN behavior.  Of course we have to express ourselves.  Maybe I’m too much a product of being in a engineering company, but I truly believe that it’s way more important what we DO than what we SAY.   When you’ve finished mourning, make extra effort to be wonderful, open-minded, socially active people.  When we demonstrate generous behavior, others will mirror us.

We had an ugly week.  But that ugliness just may have given us the impetus to be and act more beautiful than ever before.

The Sheer Beauty of Ugliness — and I am not talking about #DonaldTrump or US #PresidentialElection

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Last week’s post, Can Images of War & Destruction Be Beautiful?, raised a number of interesting responses.  There’s no question war is ugly, but I wanted to know if beauty be found in all that ugliness.

Writing the post and the feedback I received on it reminded me of one of my posts from a few years back.   In it I asked whether ugliness could actually be a form of beauty.  What I wrote then still resonates with me today — actually especially today — when we see so much ugliness around us.  The election, in particular, has led to some very ugly statements, acts and responses.  Do I condone them?  No, but maybe they do offer us something positive in a way.

My post, All Hail Uglinessshows how.  Here’s what I wrote:

While I celebrate beauty, I also revel in ugliness.  Why?  Because ugliness isn’t a negation of beauty but another side of it.

Easy does it on the hallucinogens, you’re thinking. Let me explain.

I’m not here to declare what is beautiful or ugly. So much of these definitions are culturally and personally determined. Nevertheless, we all know beauty and ugliness when we see it, however we define it.

Yet, as Sara Halprin tells us in “Look at My Ugly Face!,” ugliness can be powerful.  Ugliness isn’t a fixed state but a creative and transformative process that “offers riches to be mined.”  While she points to various explanations of the role of ugliness, my favorite is this one: sourcing her thinking from ancient myths and current research as a psychologist, she says that being stripped of beauty is akin to being stripped of other societal expectations. Being ugly frees us!  Many times people who have been maimed or sick, and therefore appear ugly to themselves, actually look at the world and their abilities in different ways.  Being ugly opens up new doors and allows them to express new sides of themselves.

Ultimately, by being the other side of beauty, “ugliness” contains within itself the “spirit of beauty” she writes. Why? Because things of beauty force us to compare ourselves and our world to them. A simple example: when someone who lives in a worn down, beat up town full of dilapidated building sees a photograph of a town full of greenery, interesting architecture and culture, she can’t help but compare her town to this one. She will want something better, and hopefully find ways to satisfy her desire. Ultimately they can inspire, enlighten and push us to ask ourselves questions, like “is this all there is?” or “could things be better?” Ugliness, as I pointed out above, also inspires us to access or express different sides of ourselves and, ultimately, pushes us forward.

Back to today’s election season, we’ve certainly seen some ugly things. And they downright disgust and scare me. But they do motivate me, offer me a new perspective and in a way, inspire me. These ugly words forced me to discuss issues around entitlement, misogyny and prejudice with my friends and family. They compelled meet to write about them in this blog. They drew my attention towards problems I am fortunate enough not to experience, like sexual harassment. And they made me care that much more about who governs us. While ugliness may not uplift me, it can teach me something, offer a new perspective, and sometimes even push me to act. So, yes, ugliness can be beautiful.

But in the end, I don’t think we should strive for ugliness.  In the words of Alec Baldwin, as he stepped out of his Donald Trump character in yesterday’s SNL, “I hate yelling at you all the time… don’t you feel gross because of this?”  Let’s aim for beauty, love and peace.

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