MELINDA: Welcome to Leading With Empathy & Allyship. I’m Melinda Briana Epler, Founder and CEO of Empovia, formally Change Catalyst. I’m also the author of How to Be an Ally, and your host for this show.
What is allyship? Allyship is empathy in action. We learn what people are uniquely experiencing, we show empathy for their experience, and we take action. As a part of that process, we learn and unlearn and relearn. We work to avoid unintentionally harming people with our words and actions. We advocate for people, and we lead the change on our teams, in our organizations, and across our communities.
In this episode, you’ll learn tangible actionable steps that you can take to lead the change to be a more inclusive leader, no matter what your role is. Want to learn more? Visit Empovia.co to check out more of my work.
All right, let’s get started.
MELINDA: Our guest today is my dear friend, Ritu Bhasin, who is Belonging and Leadership Speaker, Consultant, Author, and Expert at bhasin consulting incorporated. She is also the author of the new book, We’ve Got This: Unlocking the Beauty of Belonging. I love it, actually. So I’m really excited to talk about this book today, and the beauty of belonging in general.
So welcome, my dear friend.
RITU: Thank you, dear Melinda. It is so nice to see you. It’s so nice to have this opportunity to chat with you, and just energetically to be in your spirit.
MELINDA: Oh, thank you. All right, let’s jump in. First, definitely, listeners, if they have listened to your previous episode, they have a sense of your story. But maybe you could just give a recap of your story, and maybe talk about the journey of moving from The Authenticity Principle, your first book, to We’ve Got This as well, if you can add that on.
RITU: Thank you. It’s funny, Melinda, I put up a post on Instagram, where I’m very active, just like you, because I know we’re always checking out each other’s stories, yesterday about my first calling. I’m calling her my firstborn, The Authenticity Principle, who I always have near and dear to me; he’s like dear and close to me. I was like, well, I love you. But we have to make room for the second-born, and there’s not going to be any competition between you both, I love you both so dearly.
It has been a journey for me to not only write the books, but more importantly, come to a place where I can speak about living authentically and working authentically and cultivating and creating belonging for myself and others. My passion, my commitment to this really important area of life and work and play and more is directly connected back to my personal experiences. So if you follow me online or have seen me on this podcast before, you’ll know a little bit about my journey, which I’ll share now, which is that I am the daughter of Indian immigrant parents, who came to Canada, which is where I live, I am Canadian, now over 50 years ago. I was born in Toronto, along with my siblings. We had a quintessential child of immigrants upbringing, where my parents left a really nice life, mostly back in India. I say mostly only because both of my parents were born into the decolonization of India. In fact, my mom was a displaced person, her family and her. They exiled from now-Pakistan to flee to now-Delhi, to build a life and escape from harm. My father’s family had done something similar years prior. So they were born into the experience of India being decolonized. So when they left to build a life here in Canada, they wanted to do this for the betterment of their children, so we could have a better life. But also, they were leaving behind trauma based on what was happening in India to them, and that had historically happened to my ancestors. So when they came to Canada, leaving behind a class privilege, we were very working class growing up, like financially we struggled, it was always top of mind in our household.
My parents also experienced relentless racism. We are Punjabi by culture, and we are Sikh by faith. When I say Sikh, my faith is called Sikhism or Sikhi. I am a Sikh. As we try to decolonize language, it’s properly pronounced as Sikh and not Seekh. My father was turban, beard, full deal. So I watched them experience racism. But then I had my own experiences with it, which I’m happy to dig deeper into as we continue on. But I’m the survivor of relentless, traumatic, racist bullying, and it really hurt me. I didn’t realize how deeply it hurt me until I started to do intensive trauma work over the last several years. But I learned from a young age that I shouldn’t really be me, and that something is wrong with me. That’s the message I consistently received. But then I also struggled at home because my parents were also struggling with what cultural identity should they have us become. Like, should we be Indian Brown kids living in White Canada? Or should we embrace more Whiteness? Then sometimes, it was like, “Be really White. Oh my God, slow down, that is way too White, we are not a White family, calm yourself.” Then on the other hand, though, it was like, now be really Indian, and I got a lot of messaging at school about not being Indian. So I was just really confused.
I took my confusion and my shame about being a woman of color, being a Brown woman, into the most high-conforming profession ever when I chose to become a lawyer, which I initially did because I wanted to do social justice work. But then I ended up in the tech corporate towers, like the cool kids, what they were doing. I was like, I want to be a cool kid, and I want to make all that coin too. Because I grew up in an immigrant household, I’m like, “What? How much money will I be making and the things I can buy?” I just got swept up into that tide. The thing that I found in the corporate world is that the messages around “Don’t be different, be the same as us” dominant culture, were never as direct and as pronounced as when I was a child and being bullied, but they were there. They were more subtle, and nuanced, and more micro. But they were there. Because I had already learned to shift cultural code so effortlessly, and I had already embodied and embraced Whiteness in so much of how I was behaving, it was easy for me to continue to do this. In fact, I got better and better at it. Of course, in doing this, the doors to success opened for me, and I did become very successful. But if you would ask me by the time I hit my early 30s, if I was happy in life, I would have said to you, not only am I not happy. Materially, yes, I am successful. However, not only am I not happy, I don’t know who I am anymore.
A few things happened that led me to commit a life to belonging to myself, and to being who I am as much as possible, which is ultimately what led me to leave my legal career after 10 years in the towers, starting my own DEI consultancy, becoming a speaker and now an author, and a fierce advocate for belonging and for being who we are. It really is my message for everyone, that we ought not push down or minimize who we are because of the negative messaging coming our way. We can be beautiful, and feel amazing, and claim our belonging, and as leaders, create cultures where people feel safe to do this.
MELINDA: Thank you for sharing that. I have many questions that I want to go down. But I, first, think it’s important that we define belonging. So let’s define belonging. What is belonging to you?
RITU: So I define belonging, based on my work and research in this space, I define belonging as the profound feeling that we hold, deep within ourselves, of being honored and accepted for who we are. In order to belong, what that means is that we are committed to being our authentic selves; we’re committed to sharing what makes us different and unique. But we have to do this first and foremost with ourselves. We must belong to ourselves, in order to claim belonging with others. In this way, based on this definition, you can see how belonging and authenticity are intertwined. Because in order to belong, we must be able to be who we are, we must be able to be authentic. The more we show up authentically, this is what helps us to experience belonging. So they go hand in hand, they are inextricably intertwined; we cannot have belonging without authenticity, and when we are authentic, we have belonging. This is why both are so important.
MELINDA: Okay. So then, I do want to get a little bit to your first book, The Authenticity Principle, and talk a little bit about authenticity, especially since you align them so inextricably. I think that is really key, and a lot of what your new book unpacks is how to get there as well. So what is authenticity?
RITU: So I define authenticity as the consistent practice of choosing to know who we are, to embrace who we are, and to be who we are, as much as possible. But let me break this down a little bit. Authenticity is about the consistent practice of choosing. So it’s a practice, it’s not a destination. It’s not like, Okay, I’ll do A, B, and C, and I will arrive at the destination called authenticity. Or belonging, by the way. Neither of these are static states of being that are permanent. These are journeys, not destinations. It’s a practice, we do it again and again; the better we get, we develop the muscle, so it becomes easier for us. But it’s a practice, and then it’s also a choice. So it’s both consciously and unconsciously, us choosing, deciding to know who we are. And when I say know who we are, for a lot of us, we do actually understand deeply what our preferred ways of behaving are, our values, our needs, our desires. But for a lot of us, and this is my story as I was mentioning earlier, in my 20s and 30s, early 30s, I was so used to conforming and morphing and changing who I am and curating who I am, that I no longer knew who I was.
In fact, I can tell you an interesting story about something that happened to me when I took a sabbatical and went to India to study yoga. I can talk to you about that later. But when I say I didn’t know who I was, I really didn’t because there were so many Ritu personas. But if we’re going to live authentically, we need to know who we are, we need to embrace who we are. When I say embrace, a lot of us know who we are, but then we rail against our identities, we fight our identities; we reject who we are. and It’s not because we don’t actually like who we are or love who we are. It’s because of judgment and bias and inequities, negative messaging, constantly coming our way about our identities, that causes us to hold back or resist embracing who we are. But if we are, again, going to live authentically, we want to know who we are, embrace who we are, and then be who we are as much as possible, person to person, moment to moment. So that we can experience greater connection with ourselves, we can feel more joyful, we can bring this spirit into our interactions with others. In doing so, based on my work and research, I can tell you, authenticity is a lot like a magnet. The more that I do this with you, the more you’ll be inclined to do this back with me. I can tell you already, for those of you tuning in, I suspect based on what I’ve shared, if I was with you one-on-one, you would say to me something like, “Oh my goodness, when you said XYZ, it really resonated. Let me tell you about your life.” Why? Because I vulnerably already told you about a lot of my hardships and my shame and my insecurities. This is what helps us to create these dynamics, these containers of safety and space for us to share. We build more meaningful relationships.
Then from a leadership perspective, from an allyship perspective, from an empathy perspective, this is what helps to create workplace interactions dynamics, where people feel inclusion, they feel engagement, they feel empowerment, they experience belonging. So that’s the definition of authenticity, and again, you can see how it’s so directly tied to belonging.
MELINDA: That sharing of your own authenticity is an invitation, and also the creation of that safe space for somebody to share their own authenticity. That’s the foundations of belonging. I love that.
RITU: Melinda, I know this will resonate with you deeply, and in both my books I talk a lot about this. But in We’ve Got This in particular, my new book, I talk about the concept of core wisdom, which is the inner knowing we hold around what is my body sensing right now? What’s my body telling me? What’s in my mind? What’s my mind telling me? What do I need to do to calm settle my mind? What do I need to say to feel empowered in this moment? Our core wisdom is everything, and it really pushes us to be in a place where we dig deep into being embodied, being really body-focused. The reason why I’m bringing this up in the context of authenticity and belonging, what we’ve just shared here, and you mentioned the word safety, I mentioned the word safety. At the end of the day, as human beings, we’re animals, and what we desperately crave in the presence of others is safety. Well, first of all, we desperately crave being in the presence of others, even introverts. I know that will probably make you chuckle, because I know you and I’ve talked about this before. I am a raging extrovert, and Melinda, as you’ve shared in the past, you tend to be more introverted.
MELINDA: Yeah, what’s the opposite of raging?
RITU: Yeah, exactly. Committed introvert. My sister is a committed introvert. She’s like, I’m like really committed to it. So as humans, we crave being in the company of others. But only if we feel safe in the company of others. In fact, there’s so much research coming out right now around loneliness, given the pandemic. Even pre-pandemic, there were staggering rates of heightened loneliness in our society. Then the pandemic happens, massive amounts of research around suicidal loneliness. It’s like our nervous systems, our bodies crave acceptance; we crave positive affirmation, we crave love, healthy touch from others. Why? So that our systems can feel safe. At the end of the day, this is what belonging and authenticity are about. It’s the, can I be me around you, and know that you won’t judge me, and take opportunities away or take your love and affection away? I feel calm and settled in your midst by being who I am, so that I can experience belonging, which is about being void of loneliness.
By the way, the last comment, because this is staggering, the research on belonging. A recent study came out that said, the same regions of the brain that are triggered when we’re hungry, are activated by loneliness. Belonging is about the absence of loneliness. It’s the I feel connection. My hunger is quenched because you see me, I see myself; I honor myself, you honor me. That’s what I’m hoping that we can work more in our society, to create, to cultivate.
MELINDA: Yeah. So the book is amazing, and when reading it, it has definitely led me down my own path of deep investigation into my past and my ancestors’ past and how that impacts how I show up today. I will say, I’m not new to that, and it’s an ongoing journey. As you unfold one aspect, you see others as you go deeper. So this book helped me to go deeper in investigating that. I wanted to ask you, why is that so important? The book, for those of you who are listening or watching, is set up into three different pieces. The first one is around hurting, it’s the longest piece of the book. Why is that so important to investigate? I will say that, also, one of the things I noticed when you were sharing your story, you were sharing how you were successful, it seems like that is something that we need to investigate ourselves too. What is success really? What is success? What do we want success to be for ourselves? Is that part of the investigation?
RITU: Absolutely. So for example, in the book, I talk about this concept that I call our PPA armor. PPA stands for Positivity, Perfection, Achievement armor. From a young age, I learned to put on that armor, to put on the Positivity, Perfection, Achievement armor, in order to shield from the biases and the inequities that were coming my way; the bullying, the harm. But also, so that I could reflect this image in society that I thought would help me to gain better love and affection. Being positive was all about, “I’m really happy and shiny. Everything is so amazing, everyone, and I’m just a breath of sunshine.” I was just emanating positivity, even when I didn’t feel this way. That was like a bit of the armor. I also was about being perfect, because if I was perfect, then people would not judge me and they wouldn’t take opportunities away. In fact, they’d give me the opposite and be like, you’re not going to judge me if I’m perfect.
Then achievement in particular was the one that was deeply entrenched. Because I would say I’ve largely shed the positivity aspect. In fact, oftentimes, I feel like I’m walking around as the crankiest human being ever. It’s like, oh my god, can you project some sunshine with you? Okay, fine. Then also, perfection, I really have made a massive dent in that. But the achievement piece. From a young age, while my classmates were tormenting me with the bullying, the teachers liked me because I did well in school. I was a nerd. I was really smart. As long as I was achieving, the teachers liked me. My parents were all over my great grades, so I felt love and affirmation from them. So from a young age, I learned that I should constantly be achieving in order to gain love and affirmation. Along the way, I internalized, achievement equals success, external forms of affirmation equals success; money, awards, mentions in the media, this is before social media, but even now, followers, that equals success. It has taken me a long time to unlearn that messaging around what it means to be successful, and create new definitions of success for myself, that are deeply rooted in joy that comes from connecting with myself and connecting with my personal power.
In fact, let me draw a line to something else that I talk about in the book. I talk about the difference between personal power and social power. Social power is about the clout, the affirmation that we get, by virtue of our identities, that society gives value to. It’s externally determined. It ebbs and flows based on context, environment, situation. It’s largely tied back to these capitalistic definitions of success that we’re talking about. So I connected success with social power growing up, which makes sense because I was being tormented about my personal identities, and I had capitalism swirling around me. Over time, what I realized is, social power doesn’t actually lead to joy. It doesn’t actually lead to the kind of success that causes us to be happy and healthy and anchored in life. It’s personal power. Personal power is about the inner strength that we grow and we develop by building our core wisdom. So relying on our bodies to become more regulated and safe and still and peaceful, to filling our minds with positive narratives and positive affirming thoughts, to have a deep anchoring in who we are; we’re knowing who we are, we’re embracing who we are, we’re being who we are. We’re using our voice in moments of disrespect. We’re using our voice to help others who are experiencing disrespect. It’s about allyship. It’s about empathy. So personal power, for me now, I now understand is what success is about. Having heightened core wisdom is what success is about. So it’s a really long explanation to the importance of redefining success.
But why don’t I stop there? I do want to speak to the ancestral point. But let me just stop there, because I’m wondering if what I’m sharing is resonating with you.
MELINDA: Yeah, definitely. I would say that, over the last couple of years, my coach, my therapist, have both been working with me on that aspect of success that revolves, for me, around external validation, which is a piece of this. That we have been taught through our ancestors, through the people that brought us up, how to navigate the world. Then we’re taught from other people, as we grow and change and we evolve over time. But there are a few things in that, that I think that your book really reminded me of or made me investigate deeper, which is that personal power is in defining the internal validation. When I’m speaking to a thousand people, I don’t need everybody to come up to me and say, you were brilliant! Because I know that I change lives, I can see it and I know that my work makes a difference; I don’t need that external validation.
I will also say that another thing that came up for me was, I realized reading your book that I learned a lot about how to navigate trauma, how to navigate being shut down repeatedly, practically trauma, by using shyness? There’s a difference between introversion and shyness. Everybody always said I was shy. I started to internalize that I am shy, and that became a part of who I am. But as I’m growing up, I’m like, “Wait a minute, am I shy? Or is that just a protection?” So that is, I think, one aspect of why we need to investigate how something in my parents’ lives brought that into how they raised me, and as a result, I defined myself as shy. Then I navigate the world through decades thinking of myself as shy; I can’t do this, I can’t do that, because I’m shy. Rather than really letting go of that and deciding who I am, and that I am not defined by those external people.
RITU: Oh, my heavens! Oh, Melinda. So first of all, thank you so much for sharing that. I just want to honor your vulnerability in naming this. I’m sure for all of us tuning in, what you’re sharing is resonating in some way. For myself, a few things are coming up. So let’s talk about trauma a little bit, shall we? Because it’s an area that we’re starting to talk about more and more in the workplace. I think it’s critically important. Because I often will say, workplaces are a microcosm of the greater macrocosm, which is society. So whatever is happening out there is showing up in the workplace, and who we are in our real actual lives is who we are and what we bring into the workplace as well.
So a few things. If you had told me as a child, or let’s say 25 years ago when I was in my early 20s, if you had said to me, Ritu, you who have experienced a lot of trauma, I would have said to you, I don’t even know what you’re talking about, first of all. Secondly, that is a really heavy word. That’s what happens to people who are in car accidents, or have really horrible, violent things happen, or are attacked by a bear in a forest. Like, that’s not what happened to me. Now what I can tell you 25 years later is, wow, I experienced a lot of trauma growing up; my experiences with childhood bullying were deeply traumatizing and had a profound impact on my identity.
I also now know from studying trauma, that I was born with the effects of the trauma that my parents experienced, going through decolonized India. Like I mentioned, my mom was literally a displaced person. In fact, my uncle, her older brother, my cousin tells me, will wake up now, he’s in his 70s, wake up from nightmares, screaming, they’re coming to get us, they’re coming to get us! And my mom was in-vitro when a lot of this was happening, because she was a newborn when her parents exiled. So I’m wondering, we know increasingly from trauma studies, that trauma is genetically passed along through DNA imprints in the egg, sperm, and amniotic fluid. And we’re learning more and more. So we know that trauma can be passed along genetically generation over generation. and then there’s the intergenerational transference of trauma as well. In that, we experience trauma as a community, and as families, and then as communities, and then we pass the impact of that along in conditioning, in addition to genetics. So I didn’t know this growing up. But now that I know this, it makes so much sense to me, because the massive amount of pain that I feel in my body, anguish, stress, tension that I feel in my body, when I hear about people’s experiences with oppression, feels to me to be much bigger than what’s happened to me in my own life, in addition to what I’ve experienced.
I think the more that I have dug deeper into, not only doing my healing work through talk therapy and other mind-based strategies for healing. So I do a lot of journaling, I do a lot of meditation, I use a lot of affirmations and mantras, I do a lot of self-coaching, all mind-based. But the more I’ve anchored into, okay, release the pain from my body by doing body work and by doing yoga, but also, by allowing, by crying, energetically discharging the trapped stress. Because trauma is about the dysregulation of the nervous system and energy trapped in our bodies, and letting that energy out, whether it’s crying or shaking or twitching or pulsing or dancing in a way that isn’t controlled. I mean, literally letting the music and the drumbeat take you over rhythmic. Like, allowing myself to release all that tension and energy. The more I do this, the better I feel, spiritually, in my mind, in my body, in my spirit, all of it.
So that is so critical and important, as it relates to healing. It’s directly what core wisdom is about, which is what I talk about in We’ve Got This. But now let’s take it back to these negative messages that we’ve internalized around who we are. So, Melinda, you mentioned shyness. For me, the last chapter of the book, I call it: There’s Nothing Wrong With Me, And There Never Was. The reason that language is so important to me is because I grew up believing that something was wrong with me. Because I am an opinionated, loud, feisty, vocal, sassy, Brown woman, Brown girl. And the intersectionality of all my identities screamed, you don’t get to be that way, and actually, there’s something wrong with you; you’re difficult, and you’re hard to deal with, and relax yourself and calm, and blah, blah, blah. So I just always thought no one wanted to be my friend, because I was unworthy, and that I was flawed. It has taken me years and years of self-work. But it wasn’t until I started to do more of the deep, deep body-based healing work and build my core wisdom through an embodied lens, being somatic, being body-focused, that I now deeply believe to my core that there is nothing wrong with me; there never was anything wrong with me. What was wrong is these systems out there that were used to hold me back and have me believe that something was wrong with me. Then all my elders, from my parents, to other senior community family members, to leaders, to teachers, to media, people in the media, all the elders out there that had an imprint on my life, they too affirmed that something was wrong with me. Because they are part of the same system that’s broken, that taught them that something is wrong with people who have attributes like me, and they peddled that to me, and of course, it was reinforced.
But now that I can see and feel that, wow, eff that noise, the system is broken, and I am amazing, I feel much more at ease. That ease, by the way, not only helps me to experience greater belonging with myself, but it helps me to claim belonging in situations. I put this up on Instagram all the time, situations I find myself in where someone disrespects me or speaks poorly to me in how they’re interacting with me, and I am ready with a response. I’m ready to say, no, no, no. No, you don’t! But also, we’re talking about empathy and allyship. It’s like, because I’m more regulated, I’m more mindful of interrupting my biases. So I’m like, I want to be love forward, not judgment forward. When I do hear myself engaging in bias. Because I do, I’m human, and this will be a lifelong journey. That when I hear the bias thoughts or the judgments, I can more readily access them and then work to interrupt them. I’m constantly like, why are you saying that about that person? What’s another way to look at it? How is this moment actually reflecting their pain? How are they hurting? This is not because they’re evil, this is coming from a place of their hurt, and what can I do about this?
So I think that healing our trauma, healing our wounds, is so important, not only for our individual joy, personally and professionally, but also, as it relates to allyship and being a leader and creating workplace experiences and a society, when we are more regulated, when we have done our healing work, where we help others to heal. We also get out of the way so people can heal, and they can flourish. I think it’s so important. This aspect of our discussion, Melinda, to me is just so important, as you can tell. I’m very passionate about it.
MELINDA: I think it’s really, really important for the people that are doing the work of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, any leader, anybody who’s leading teams, also to do that investigative work, for the reasons you stated, and also because we can recognize the same trauma in other people. Let me just kind of draw a line here with my shyness that I talked about. So my shyness comes from the trauma of being bullied, of being shut down repeatedly, of being told repeatedly that my voice either doesn’t matter or that it’s wrong, it doesn’t work, you should sit in the corner and be quiet, throughout my life. It took me a long time. I mean, huh, suddenly I get on a stage and I have stage fright, why would that be? That’s past trauma. I look back now because of your book, I started to look back at the female ancestors, my women ancestors, my grandmother, my mother, and I realized that there’s a thread of shutting down their voices. It’s not just me. It is generational that women have shut themselves down; they’ve shut down who they are, and conformed to their relationship with their husbands as being what defines them. And not until much later in life, I saw my mom come away from that. But for a good portion of her life, she was defined by somebody else. So that thread of your ancestry is critical to this investigation, I think that is a really important piece of it is recognizing how that impacts who you are so that you can investigate whether it’s who you really are, who you really want to be.
RITU: I love that so much, Melinda, thank you so much for reinforcing this idea. It’s one of the reasons that I focused so much on the concept of hurting, and why that section of the book is longer. I feel like, oftentimes, we don’t spend enough time getting to the bottom or the roots of why we hurt. Let me directly connect this with leadership, because I think this is extremely important, especially as it relates to teaching about leadership. It’s like, I think the approach we have historically taken is, here are the skills, leaders learn these skills, get better at these skills, go and practice these skills. Which is fine, and I get why we do it. However, what’s not happening is, leaders, what’s getting in your way of accessing these skills and making these skills work for you, and what’s the barrier or the block for you. I think about, for example, when we hear about leaders who don’t practice empathy in the workplace, and for that reason, it’s harder for them to be served as allies. Or for that matter, leaders who are really insecure, and their insecurities show up by way of sabotaging the career paths of their colleagues. Or who are smarter, really hard on their team members, without seeing the vulnerability of the human experience.
I think back to, if as a leader, we could go back and understand what happened to us as children, and what were those key messages that we internalized from a young age that now impact who we are as people, but also how we lead, we could not only work to heal those aspects of our woundedness, so that we could feel healthier as people, but it would also serve from a leadership perspective.
So let me give you a good example from my own life. I mentioned earlier, the PPA armor being an issue for me, the Positivity, Perfection, Achievement armor, and for me in particular, achievement being taught. I can tell you that I have really high expectations of myself to constantly achieve, because of my childhood, to stop around using that as a shield. It shows up in how I lead, because my expectations of my team members is also really high. On the surface, it doesn’t look as though it’s as negative, as someone who is being mean or belittling their team members, which visibly is offensive as a leader. But having really high, unreasonable expectations of your team members also isn’t great, because they constantly feel pressured to be succeeding and achieving and churning, and it can be exhausting for them.
Now, the more I have done my work to heal, and build my core wisdom, and also undo this negative messaging and put less and less pressure on myself to achieve, of course that’s what I’m doing with them. I’m exercising more empathy and understanding as it relates to, “You’re not well, you have a lot on your plate personally, you’re not going to be able to produce as much, that’s fine.” So as leaders, it’s so critical that we understand why we hurt. Because if we don’t, it will show up in how we lead.
MELINDA: Absolutely. I want to touch on something that I think is really important for our audience in particular, is that you talk about a lot, in terms of healing, you share some practices, some indigenous healing practices, some ancient healing practices. I know that a lot of listeners or watchers are aware of the conversation around yoga in particular, and cultural appropriation. So can you just share when and how is it okay to participate in these practices if you are not a part of that culture?
RITU: Yeah, absolutely. I share this with you as someone who, I love the reference to yoga, as someone who comes from the culture that created yoga, who also has studied to teach yoga, but also cares about DEI, but also cares about wellness and wants the world to enjoy and experience practices like yoga. So in the book, I talk a lot about, again, building our core wisdom, the inner knowing that helps us to understand what we’re thinking and feeling, sensing it in our body, helping ourselves to settle and the body and mind and release whatever tension we’re feeling. So that in that place of stillness, we can make better decisions; we can use our wisdom as an anchor in everything that we do, including standing in our power and claiming our belonging.
The way we build our core wisdom is largely through a lot of the ancestral, traditional practices of our cultures, indigenous cultures. Cultures from thousands of years ago on every inch of this planet knew how to heal our bodies and minds and build our core wisdom. There are ancient, historical, traditional practices from every culture around this world, that we could be leveraging. Now, the problem is, the way in which we do it. The question is, are we able to use other people’s cultures, other ancestral practices from cultures outside our own to heal? My answer would be yes. Yes, you can. However, the way in which you do it is critical. So we want to prevent cultural appropriation, and the way in which we do this is, when we avail cultural practices, healing practices from other cultures, we learn about the practice, we understand the traditional roots of it, we do our self-study to learn about the cultural root of it. We honor the cultural root of it and the tradition by talking about that aspect, not sanitizing. We do it by way of giving thanks and appreciation, not co-opting, capitalizing, monetizing, sanitizing, Whitesplaining, mansplaining, etc., etc., the practice.
So I want, for example, for the world to enjoy yoga. But I want it to be done in a way where there’s equal access to it, it is no longer monetized to the way it is. That we are using the traditional roots, language, descriptions to explain. That we talk about its history, its creation, its evolution. That we teach it in full, so it’s not just about the asana practice, which is the postures, that it’s a holistic way of life that we’re teaching, and so much more. For me, that’s what it means to use someone else’s historical, indigenous, and ancient culture without appropriating.
MELINDA: Thank you. Thank you for that. So let’s talk about belonging, then claiming your belonging. You’ve touched on it. I love it so much, that concept of claiming your belonging. It’s hard, it’s difficult, and we need to do a lot of work to get there. I mean, part of that is standing in your power. Can you talk through what we need to do to make that happen? What does it look like to claim your belonging?
RITU: Yes. So claiming your belonging is all about honoring yourself for who you are, and accepting yourself for who you are, and expecting and requiring that people do the same with you in your interactions. In order to make this happen, we want to develop our core wisdom, because this is what will cause us to feel calm and regulated or as settled as possible in situations when the wind is knocked out of our sails, because yet again, someone mispronounces our name, or speaks over us, or ignores us, or we experience a form of inequity in our interactions, or hard things happen to us. But also, it’s what causes us to stand in our personal power.
So when I say stand in your power, I’m talking about not stand in your social power, which again, is about external forms of validation. I’m talking about stand in your personal power, which means believing in your worth, which means knowing that it is important for you to use your voice to correct someone when they mispronounce your name, or when they say something that didn’t feel right to you, or when they step in front of you in a line, or when you have shared an idea and someone else shares it three minutes later and they are co-opting your idea, and when you said it, you didn’t get any recognition. Or it’s about you speaking without sanitizing or anglicizing your accent. It’s about you wearing your hair however you want to wear your hair. It’s about you talking about who you love and who you’re intimate with without fearing judgment. It’s about you wearing a skirt if you want to wear a skirt, regardless of your gender identity. This is what it looks like to stand in our personal power, and this is what belonging is about.
Every time we do something that honors who we are and affirms our authenticity and makes us feel good, we are claiming our belonging. In fact, this is really important, after today, I want you to start to explore and become really familiar for yourself about what belonging feels like for you. You know how sometimes we’re in these situations where it’s like, I should speak. But it’s like, “Oh, but I don’t feel comfortable speaking, and I just don’t feel confident, and I feel like an impostor.” I’m in my head doubting, and I just feel so uncomfortable. It just feels really off. I don’t have a word to describe it, because it’s all of what I just shared. That feeling is a lack of belonging. So after today, I want you to recognize that when that is happening to you, whatever it looks like for you, that feeling is a lack of belonging. But that the inverse is true as well. When we’re in situations where we feel like we’re in flow, like today with me, and you hear Melinda speaking, where I feel comfortable to just share, and I’m not sanitizing. I mean, I’m not cussing. Although I like to cuss, I’m not cussing.
MELINDA: It’s okay, you can cuss. I should’ve told you that at the beginning.
RITU: Oh amazing, maybe I’ll slip one in before we wind down. But where we feel really good, and we feel seen. Even when we’re like, “Oh my goodness, I’m being so vulnerable, and this feels hard,” it still feels really good to do. That feeling is belonging. So after today, I want you to become familiar with what does it feel like in my body when I’m belonging? How can I make this happen more and more? So what do I need to do, or say? Or what do I need to tell myself? Or what do I need to do to my body? It might just be putting your hand on your heart. It might be putting your hands together. It might be taking a deep breath. It might be rubbing your fingers. It might be saying to yourself, “Ritu, you’ve got this, you’ve got this.” Whatever it is you need to do, so that you have more and more of that flow feeling of belonging. Then the inverse, when it’s lacking. So what do I need to do to my mind, body, and soul in this moment to bring me into that state of belonging? This is what I hope for all of you after today.
MELINDA: I love it. That was my second last question for you, which is, what action would you like people to take? So everyone, you have that action to explore what belonging feels like for you, and then how you can do it, how you can do it more and more. And if you’re not there, to get to a place of being there, what do you need to do, what actions do you need to take? So where can people learn more about you and your book?
RITU: First of all, I’d love for you to connect in with me on LinkedIn and follow me on Instagram. You can join the We’ve Got This community, our growing community at RituBhasin.com. Then most important for me right now is for you to order my new book, We’ve Got This. To say that I am hopeful for the impact that this book can make would be an understatement. Also, I just am so grateful. Melinda, I know you know this, we’ve talked about this before. Writing this book changed my life, because it has given me more freedom and that personal power to be more of who I am and experience belonging. I’m just so grateful. Let me also add, as a woman of color author, it is really hard to put books out, and the most important thing you can do to support me is to order my book. So I would love that. Thank you.
MELINDA: Awesome. Then once you get the book, review it on Amazon, and wherever you purchase it too.
MELINDA: Excellent. Thank you, Ritu, for putting this work out there for all of us to heal and to claim our belonging.
RITU: Thank you so much, Melinda. I just want to say, I am grateful, because in your presence, I experience belonging, and that is a gift. So thank you.
MELINDA: Likewise, likewise. All right, everyone, take action, and we will see you next week.
All right. Thanks, everybody. Please do take action, do something. If you’re on your own allyship journey, do something. If you’re working to build allies across your organization, you don’t have to have all the answers, do something and take that action. Thanks for listening and watching.
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Allyship is empathy in action. So what action will you take today?