Being Here

with Molly Barker

Osman and Me


I had just gotten my boarding pass and was trying to make my way to the gate.

When I walked right in front of him as he prayed. He was on his knees…his forehead on a scarf that was gently resting there on the floor.

I sat down a few feet away and waited for several minutes…maybe five…as he prayed there to his God in the Minneapolis/St. Paul airport.

Three times he stood and three times he prayed.

When he was done he sat down.

“May I ask you a few questions,” I asked. “I will totally understand if you do not want to talk.”

“Yes,” he said. He stood from where he was sitting and sat down in the chair next to me.

“I live in Charlotte, NC and just haven’t sought out this kind of conversation. Can I ask you about your prayer? Will you tell me about that?”

With a beautiful British accent, he began. And I listened.

He told me about the five times a day he prays…each time facing Mecca.

I asked him, “How do you know which way Mecca is?”

“I carry a small compass with me.”

His name is Osman and he is from England. He is an accountant who works on Projects run by the World Bank and the UN.

We talked for a while, me and Osman.

He was in Minneapolis visiting his mom and sister. They were there also…praying with him.

“What do you think about everything that’s happening in the world?” I asked.

He shared with me that he was here this week when Donald Trump spoke of his plans to block all Muslims from entering the U.S.

“I have my opinions,” he said. “But if you got to know me, you would know that I am just me. I am a good person.  Human like everybody.”

I started crying…I don’t know why. I just did. I apologized for crying. I wanted to embrace him but I didn’t. I just cried and it was okay, I think.

“There are the extremes,” he said. “There is Trump and there is ISIS…but neither of these speak for the millions of people who live in between.”

He told me about a “sermon” he heard today at a Muslim gathering in Minneapolis. The speaker was talking to the crowd about the importance of showing people like me…the side of their faith not often seen in the media…to be open to encounters like the one we are having.

“You seem like an open person too,” he said

We smiled at each other.

We talked about our kids. He has two boys and two girls. I told him about my boy living in New York and my daughter getting ready to graduate.

I asked him if I had shown disrespect by walking in front of him as he prayed and that if I had I certainly didn’t mean to.

We smiled again.

I told him I would like to write about our exchange and share it with my friends, but that I would share it with him first.

And so I did. And he felt good about it too

And so now we share it with you.

Me and Osman.

And to think…I was so mad for getting lost on my way to the airport. We never know what comes from being lost and then found.

Being Scared of Them


When I was a little girl, my next door neighbor hosted a Halloween party that everybody in the neighborhood attended. One of the features of the party every year, was the “guts box.”  She had a black cardbord box that was all taped up, except for a round hole where you could slide your hand into it and feel “guts”.  The insides weren’t really guts (obviously) but a combination of grapes, smooshed up bananas, melted cheese, jello and a host of other delectable and gooey food products.

Being somewhat of an anxious kid, I really struggled to get my hand in the box.  My friend Bonnie seemed to have no problem.  She just stuck her hand in there and “oooed” and “ahhhed” her way through the “eyeballs (grapes)” and other “guts.”

I, on the other hand, needed to tell myself over and over (and sometimes even out loud), “Molly, that’s just food in there…really just food.  There is nothing to fear.  It’s just food.”

Two years ago, I began work on a new project called “The Red Boot Coalition.”   The Red Boot Coalition​  is a structured program that, in essence, teaches participants how to engage with the world in a way so that people really see each other rather than the ideology or stereotype wrapped around them.

The idea for this new program came to me…after traveling across the country for several weeks in 2014 and interviewing a couple hundred folks about all this “us and them-ing” going on in the world.  I learned pretty quickly that underneath all that “us and them-ing” is a helluva lot of fear.

What made these interviews possible was the fact that I had very little fear.  The interviews were conducted in Starbucks coffee shops, the homes of people I knew, hotel lobbies…you know places where I had no notion of what “side” a person was on…and with no context, there was no fear.

Yesterday, after a series of interesting and very brave discussions both online and off, I realized that my job in the universe (and I’m not kidding…it really is my job) is to dissessemble the scary “guts’ box” and provide safe and sacred places for people to get to the fear underneath.  That’s what Red Boot is all about.  Because underneath the context, the guts, the grapes and the squooshy, scary stuff are people just trying to feel safe, loved and connected.

The challenge for me, however, rests in the fact that I’m still human and I can still be afraid of the “gooey guts.” The whole project is forcing me to practice what it “preaches’ and look at what scares ME and put my hand in anyway…to go first…to sit down with someone who has an ideological viewpoint that is counter to mine and listen for the fear, the love, the wanting to connect parts of their story…because as I’m learning…that’s what human beings want anyway.

Yesterday a man walked into a Planned Parenthood and shot people.  A white male, aged 57, walked into a building and killed three people.  I can come up with lots of reasons for why he did that.  One thing of which I am pretty certain though…over time he became increasingly scared of “them”…and I think based on what information has been gathered up at this point…his “them” is my “us.”

So…it hit me yesterday, with all that’s going on in the world, that I’ve  just gotta keep listening and loving to the best of my ability…the people who scare me…who are my “them”; because if I don’t, we’re just going to get further and further apart.

The “gut’s box” was really just a bunch of grapes and jello anyway.

Letter To My Worried 20 yo Son

Letter to My Worried 20 Year-Old Son

Hi Sweet Man:

I’m so glad you called me last night.  I’m sorry if I sounded a little groggy.  I had just gone to bed and was drifting off.
I’m so grateful that you and I have the kind of relationship where you can call me when you are afraid.  That says a lot I think…about you…about me.

About us

But since you are in New York City and I am at my usual place in the coffee shop where I do a lot of my work, I thought it might be a good idea to just write you a letter.

The world can be a scary place.  It’s just part of living in it.  I’ve been scared a lot.  I think people like us who feel “stuff” get scared more easily.  We feel before we think and sometimes that gets us in trouble.

But you know, Hank…it’s also our gift.  People feel safe with us.

I’ve learned a lot in my life and as I look at my own fear with the current state of the world, I have come to a few revelations that I think may help you with yours.  So…here goes…

1.  Accept the fact that you feel helpless and really, really scared about the current course of human events This is perfectly normal and absolutely natural in response to what’s happening;  But also remember that you are important, because you were born.  You have an essential role in the universe. You were chosen to be here.  Never ever forget that, son.  You have a purpose.

2. Even though at times, you may feel small and powerless, you possess more power than you can possibly imagine.  You have the capacity to change the world with each and every encounter you have.  It’s true.  You have the power to positively influence all those with whom you come into contact, which on any given day can be literally hundreds and hundreds of people. People who remember this…are the ones who change the world.  Sometimes they are famous and sometimes they are not.  Sometimes they are rich and sometimes they are not.  But the people who remember this, change the world and are remembered for doing so.  Be that person.

3. Even though it can be scary to admit you’ve made mistakes or that you’ve been wrong, you are free with me and those who love you to admit them.  You are wonderfully human Hank…complete with your own story, your own journey and your own experiences.  When appropriate share your story and your feelings.  Share your mistakes and your fears.  When you are vulnerable, your secrets no longer own you.  You become free and in the process show others the way.

4. I know the internet can be scary…there is so much anger, violence and fear there… that can get in the way of interacting with what’s real.  Be intentional with how you use it.  Set it aside when you feel fear and look to the beauty and wonder around you. Talk to someone.  Touch something that is real.  Smell a flower.  Eat something good. Go for a run.  Make art.  Dance. Hold someone’s hand.  Cry hard at sunsets. Laugh with your friends. The world is not nearly as scary when we take time to be in it.

5. It’s so easy right now to be afraid of “them.”  But my experience has been that we have a lot more in common with others than we realize.  We all hurt, cry, laugh and love.  We all want to be seen, heard and know we matter.  Look to those around you and realize this.  Assume positive intent when you see another person and assume that they come to you in the same way.  Smile.  Wave.  Open your heart.

6. Take time to be still.  Watch the trees sway in the wind.  Feel the rain on your skin.  Be still and know that there is a power greater than yourself.  See it in nature, the sound of the traffic, the changing of the stoplight.  This force is conspiring in your favor…at all times. Name it for yourself and call it to you when you are afraid.

7. Give up needing to be right every once in a while.  Watch what happens.  It’s like magic.  There is nothing to resist and nothing that resists you.  The world needs safe places for people to feel right…without resistance.  So be that.  Be a safe place for someone to get out their fear and anger…to express themselves…to discover themselves.  Every moment you provide safety for another, is another moment the world sings.

8. Don’t postpone your joy, son.  Don’t postpone it!  Yes…it is hard to feel it with so much pain and suffering in the world.  It is so easy to feel the burden of the world on your shoulders, but watch the children.  Watch them dance, sing, laugh, skip.  Joy is essential to the well being of those around you.  Be joyful.  Seek Joy.  Bring Joy.  Joy heals. If you can’t find it, go be with the children.

9. And Love.  Love even when you don’t want to.  Push back your shoulders, physically open up your ribcage and walk through the New York streets being love.  Let love pour out of your mouth, your eyes, your stride and the very essence of you.  The world needs you to be love and light and wonder and joy.  Because of all the things I’ve learned, lived and experienced I know one thing for sure.  As a matter of fact it is for me, an absolute truth.

Fear cannot live where there is love.  So be that.  Be love.

You got this Hank.  You got this.  Please feel free to come home anytime you need to be reminded of these things.  You are safe with me always.



My time in jail isn’t what you think.

Before sobriety I had one little five minutes of it…I won’t go into the story because it’s not nearly as risqué as it sounds…but know that I walked out of it with a slap on the hand, no record, an eventual fine and a date with the officer who processed the whole thing.

Yes…that’s what I said.  A date.

Now I won’t go into the right and wrongs of that because there are just too many to list, but it was 1984 and we’ve definitely “come a long way baby.”  I just know that he smoked cigarettes and had a calendar of beer babes on his office wall that made me feel uncomfortable…but I was 24 years old and oblivious to all the things that made all of that wrong.

I just know that he was kinda cute and I was kinda in trouble and there seemed to be something betwixt the two of those realities that might work in my favor.

Like I said, I was 24 years old.  I did a lot of stupid stuff when I was 24 years old.

My time in jail now is different.  Every Thursday, I along with Ann Crehore, Marcia Lamb, Amy Helms and Sarah Jo Hutto Funkhouser go marching onto the 4th floor pod at the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Women’s Jail to lead Red Boot Meetings.

And every Thursday I walk out a truly different person.

Each Red Boot Meeting, whether held in the jail, the local coffee shop or the 6th grade class at John Sevier Middle School, is what we call a Step Study.  For one hour, we share, from the heart, the challenges we experience trying to practice the Red Boot Eleven Steps.

Yesterday we were discussing Red Boot Step Two.  ” We came to see, that despite sometimes feeling small and powerless, we possess the power to positively influence all those with whom we come into contact, which on any given day can be literally hundreds of people.  We are Empowered.”

So you get the gist of how this all looks, we sit in a circle on ordinary chairs.  Red Boot Meetings have become the most popular meetings in the jail.  We’ve had, on our busiest days, up to 25 people.  Today was no exception.

The women are dressed in clothing that all looks the same.  Imagine the clothes surgeon’s wear in the operating room, but in a variety of colors.  They all wear socks and jail-issued flip flops.  There is nothing…no thing…to distinguish one person from the other, except for their name and their personal physical traits.   .

Toward the end of the meeting S., a white female, in her mid-20’s shared that she would soon be headed to prison.  Her hair is neatly pulled into a ponytail…she looks like she just walked off the varsity soccer team at the local high school.

“My mom is dying from bone cancer and my Dad just had a heart attack.  He’s got a lot on his plate right now.”  She lowered her head…and began to cy.  I could tell that she didn’t want to cry.  S. was a tough cookie, but not knowing if she would ever see her parents again…this would pretty much make anybody cry I’m thinkin’.

With ten minutes remaining in each Red Boot Meeting, we always share one specific way we plan to “be Red Boot”.  Because we are covering Step Two, the closing question is, “What is one thing you CAN do to positively influence the world you live in?”

I went first.  ” My name is Molly and this week, I’m going to love S.   S., I’m going to love you.  I’m going to pray for you, love you, honor you, think about you, open my heart to you.  That’s what I’m going to do.”

Another woman shared:  “S, I’m going to love and pray for you too.  I know this is hard.”

A third, “S. I can so relate to you.  I will hold you in my prayers also.”

The room was still and quite and wonder-full…when D. spoke.

“I’d like to sing a song for S.”

“Go ahead,” I said.

“We’re not allowed to,” she said.  “Will you ask the guard if I can sing a song for S.?”

And so I did and she said “Yes…as long as it’s not too loud.”

And ya’ll…what happened next is truly a moment I will never, ever, EVER forget.  I can feel the joy well up in my now as I write.

D. sang opera.  YES, opera.  Powerful, beautiful, heart-opening, soul-wrenching, jaw-dropping opera…her angelic powerful voice began small…and with each passing moment became stronger and more robust…each note filled the rafters with its grace, its love, its cry, its joy, its wonder.

For four minutes, D.’s voice filled the building.

When she was done, we all stood on our feet and cheered and clapped and laughed and shouted.

We were shocked.  All of us.  Amazed.  Stunned.  Awed.  Overcome.  Joyful, Impacted.  Changed.

Turns out D. has a Masters in Music…used to make a living singing opera.  Until she got tangled up in drugs and alcohol.

This morning I ponder it all and can’t remember whether my date with the detective was good or bad…but I was 24 and had no idea.

Oh Those Silly F-Words

molly and molly

Years ago…a girl in GOTR and I were waiting for her Mom to pick her up after one of the lessons.

We were seated on the curb…chatting.  Cuz…you know…that’s what girls do.

Girl:  You won’t believe what happened in school.

Molly:  What?

Girl:  Well ya see…we had a sub today and she used the F-word.

Molly:  Are you kidding me?  (I have to admit I was pretty disturbed by this.)

Girl:  Yes.  And you know what else?  She said it more than once.  She said it a few times.

Molly:  Well…what do you think you need to do about that?

Girl:  (A few second pause) I think I need to tell the principal.  It’s not okay for her to use the F-Word ever…but especially with kids who are just in third grade.

Molly:  Well good for you.

We sat there for a few quiet seconds.

Girl:  Yep.  I’m gonna march right in the office tomorrow and tell my principal all about it.  I mean, because…you know…the truth is…NO teacher should ever say FART in class.  NEVER EVER. That word is unacceptable.

The F-word.  I’ve decided that most of my conversations…actually all of them… include at least one  “F-word” or another that requires my attention.  I have finally come to see that I am so much better off asking for clarification on what the other person is seeing, thinking, feeling, trying-to-express…before I assume I DO know.

Which reminds me of one other story:

Helen was in third grade and my little girl who loves to label things (she is just so darn organized) was late for school.  This upset my little organize-her-closet-by-color-girl to her core so to lighten things up I decided it was only fitting to dance down the halls of her school until we got to her classroom door, where I could give her a big-hug-and-kiss-farewell.

She eventually joined in…somewhat begrudgingly, but at least she was entertained.  We got to her classroom door…I leaned down to kiss her…when that delicate-little-flower-not took both her hands and put them on each side of my face.

Looking me dead in the eye she said with what appeared to be this confusing mix of exasperation and downright joy, “You know Mom.  You are not like the other moms.  Not at all.”

I was moved in that moment.  My daughter fully appreciates me.  We are having one of those mom-daughter moments that will be forever etched on the neurons of my aging brain.  This little girl finally sees me for the woman I am…sees that I am unique and wonderful and well…different in so many ways.

I smiled at her.  We paused.

She removed her tiny little palms from my over-joyed-mama-face, turned with a bit of a flip in her step and said…as she marched into her classroom.

“Nope…not like the other moms at all.  You’re a lot older.”

Yep…those darn assumptions…getcha in trouble every fartin’ time..

Peace out ya’ll.  Have a fantastic Wednesday.

Dogs and Humans


I love my dogs. A lot.

I have three of them.

I never thought of myself as a dog owner until well…I still don’t really. I’m a dog lover.

They are all different. Ryder is a Black Lab with extra-long-legs. He is majestic and gentle. He is the man of the house.

Abigail is the lady. She is proper and oh so elegant. A little icy, she takes a while to warm up to strangers. She is a brown dog with a variety of dognicities.

And then there’s the newest edition…Pixie Bean. This miniature dachshund mix is glitter and soda pope-ish and hasn’t yet mastered the rules of the house…which as my good friend Robert Jorth likes to point out…are pretty darn lax.

Ryder is my runner. He and I frequent the Davidson Cross Country Course…five and six mile runs are easy-peasy for this gentle giant. Last week, he and I were down at the park playing our nearly-daily game of “Molly throws the tennis ball and Ryder may or may not go after it” game of catch…when something very unfortunate happened.

But hold on…let me give the backstory on Ryder. He was adopted. All of my dogs were. Helen and I are suckers for the lost and lonely animals of the world and so we should know better than to ever even THINK about a trip to the pound, much less, go.

So how and why we got them is not all that hard to figure out.

Helen would say, “Hey Mom. Let’s go to the animal shelter and JUST look at all the sweet animals.”

“Okay,” I would say, knowing darn well that the chances of our JUST looking were slim to none.

So when each of these delightful fur babies came home, we weren’t quite sure what history was coming along with them.

Ryder, the most cooperative of the three, went through an intensive training process so that he and I could, indeed, go run together. The other two…enjoy a good jaunt in the backyard, or a walk around the block, but aren’t as interested in running. As a matter of fact, Pixie Bean prefers sitting…on your lap…or your head…or your back…or your belly…pretty much on whatever body part is most accessible for a lengthy and human-touch-ish snooze.

Last week, Ryder and I were, as I shared before, playing catch when for whatever reason he got distracted by a woman walking her own little love bundle. Ryder has NEVER, since training, not responded to my commands and for reasons I will never know or understand, decided today was the day that he would seek a playing partner and for reasons I will never know or understand decided it would be this innocent woman and her innocent dog walking ever so innocently and gently and quietly along the edge of the park where we were playing.

Well…without going into the details of the next few minutes (it was probably seconds, but it felt longer) Ryder about scared the bejeezus out of this poor woman. He, in his playful, ebullient Ryder-the-wonderful-Labrador-way, barked and ran his way in their direction in spite of the commands I was shouting and to which he had responded with perfection, every day over the last year.

And without going into the details of the exchange I had with this terrified woman and her terrified little dog (let’s just say she was notably upset and had every right to be) I apologized profusely…”I am so sorry. I can only imagine how unsettling this was to have my dog run to you in that manner. I am so sorry. Truly sorry. REALLY sorry.”  The truth is I’ve been bitten several times by dogs…dogs who were not on a leash…dogs just like Ryder and so I get it.  I really get it and I was really sorry.  (I also learned my lesson.  No more public parks unless they are designated off-leash.)

And this woman, notably upset (how many times can I say this) responded to each of my “I’m sorry’s” with “No you’re NOT sorry. You are NOT sorry. YOU are not sorry. You are not SORRY.”

And I would say, “Oh but I am sorry. I am. I truly am.”

And she would say, “No you’re not.”

Now, let’s be honest here. She was upset. Clearly. And I was too. So neither one of us…okay, I will speak for myself…I wasn’t necessarily thinking completely clearly, but I will share that I really, really, REALLY was sorry. So sorry in fact, that I gave her my phone number and name. “If there is any follow up we need to have on this, please call me.”

That evening, with Pixie Bean resting on my lap, Ryder relaxing on the floor and Abigal, somewhere in the house having nothing to do with any of us, I got to replaying the incident over and over in my head.

And here’s where I landed.

Feelings are awesome and especially awesome when I own them. This has become most obviously clear in the work that I’m doing now.

Having hard conversations are hard, but when folks engaged in those speak using “The way I see it” or “I feel” or “It has been my experience” at the beginning of whatever it is they are about to say…the other person in the conversation can’t really argue with that. They can try to argue with that, but the reality is, there is no argument. “You are not sorry” doesn’t change the fact that I was.

In the past when I’ve gotten into arguments with the people I love, I might say “I feel sad when we argue like this. Really sad.”

And what’s wonderful about speaking in this way…is how it brings the focus off the content and my strong human-need to be right or wrong…down, instead, into my feelings…which brings focus to the relationship, the connection, the humans engaged in a conversation…not our ideologies.

When I own what I’m feeling…state things from my I’s…the hard conversations lose their edge…become softer a bit…I become more human and magically so does the other person.

Or in the case of my dogs, I become more human and they become more dog. Which says a lot about why I love them.

Shake and Get Over It


When Hank was 9 or 10 he and another fella got in a fight at our neighborhood swimming pool.  It was Saturday.  The pool was packed with kids and the pool deck was packed with parents.

I could see the fight coming.

Some boys were playing “keep away” with one of those big bouncy balls…the kind that are held captive in large metal cages at the local convenience store, until someone pays the $.99 to set them free.

The anger finally showed up in the most obvious of ways with the bigger kid (let’s just say that wasn’t Hank) holding the smaller kid’s head (by default…Hank) underwater for an extended period of time.  He was laughing while he did it.

The Mama Bear in me, known to leap small buildings and lift cars,  jumped up and ran poolside.   Pointing at each boy, I hollered in my best “military mom” voice…”You Two…OUT!”

The Big-Hold-Hank’s-Head-Under-the-Water-Boy gave one last push under to prove his point and slinked out of the pool.  Hank walked slowly over to the steps.

I pointed to Hank and said…”YOU!  Stand here!”

And then to the other boy whose name I cannot remember I said…”YOU.  Here!”

I positioned each kid approximately three feet from the other…head on.  We are gonna tackle this damn thing right here and now.

I turned to the bigger kid and said in a much calmer but still firm voice now…”Tell me what happened.  I need you to use your “I statements.”  He became noticeably scared of me…so I told him to hold on a minute.  I went and got a pool chair to sit on so I was closer to eye level.  “Okay…continue.”

He began…and just as Hank was about to share what was going on for him, big-kid’s father walked over.  He interrupted what I thought was a fantastic exchange of listening and sharing…took the right arm of each boy and forced the hand attached to each…to shake.

“Ya’ll just need to shake and get over it.”

Hank looked at me.  I looked at him.  The two boys stopped talking, shook hands and went back to what they were doing before….separately.

They also never got over it.  Hank never played with that kid again.  As a matter of fact our days at the neighborhood pool began decreasing in number until eventually, we just quit going.

Yesterday I had dinner with a man I did not know a year ago.  Patricke Ward has fast become one of my dearest comrades.  For reference as to how we met or at least as a reminder, Patricke is the man, who several months ago, pointed out my white privilege right smack in the middle of a presentation I was making on the Red Boot Coalition.  Here’s the link to that post if you would like to read it.

Patricke and I can talk about anything.  And when I say anything…I mean it.  Relationships, our work, our friends…but you can believe that after about ten minutes the conversation always goes deep.

Really deep.

And last night at dinner, was no exception.  What topic took us under?


Patricke is angry.  His story and the story of many of his friends includes experiences I read about, far too often in the media these days.  Patricke is 6’3” and is also a black man.  He’s a lot of other “things” too and before you go running off from what I’m about to share…please consider sticking around because Patricke isn’t angry at you.

He’s just angry.

The fear, judgment and resistance this man has come up against, in his life and in his story…requires him to constantly be on alert.  The clothes he wears, the dialect he uses, the way he drives, the way he sits…Patricke’s experience has taught him that in order to be taken seriously, there’s a lot of stuff he has to think about that white folks take for granted, me included.

So I try my best to get it.  I would be angry too.

As a matter of fact, when I started Girls on the Run…I was angry…VERY angry.  It was 1996 and I was angry about the ways girls and women were portrayed in the media.  I was so angry about having to play to a system that didn’t include the words that came so naturally to me, like love, empathy and compassion.  I was angry about the mixed messages, the double standard…the “be sexy to be noticed but don’t be too sexy or you won’t be taken seriously.”  I was angry about women in business being labeled as “bitchy or bossy” and women who chose to stay home being labeled as something else.

And so…while I can’t relate to Patricke’s anger from the race perspective…I CAN relate to his anger against a system…a system that perpetuates disparities and ways of being that don’t honor and celebrate all those who to the table because they show up in a wrapping…a body…that for reasons which extend long before I was born…eliminate me from the conversation.

I remember Hank and the kid at the swimming pool.  “Shake and get over it.”
I wonder how different things might have been if the two of them had worked through the anger…instead of avoiding it…what they would have learned…the additional games of “keep away” that might have been played, the cookouts, the fun, the connection that comes when we don’t get over it…but get down into it…the real, the honest, the growth.

And so last night at dinner, Patricke Ward​ and I listened to each other.  We shared from our hearts.  We talked about all that anger…especially his.  And while I realize it will take a long, long time to “get over it”…I’m learning that we can’t get over something…until the bridges over it are built.

Oh Those Funny Body Parts

I had the privilege last week of serving on a panel with Nancy Brinker.  She is the founder of the Susan B. Komen Race for the Cure.  While on that panel, Ms. Brinker spoke about the early days of the foundation (It was founded in 1982, the year I graduated college by the way) when the word breast…couldn’t be said publicly.

And if it was said, it was whispered.

I remember having the body-parts conversation back when I was little.  My older sisters, Emily and Helen were the primary go-to-gals on that subject.  Emily was 13 years older than me.  Honest, tender and to the point, Emily never did mince words….on anything might I add.  That’s one of the reasons I love her.

No nicknames for body parts…a vagina was a vagina and a penis was a penis.  The conversation was funny and made me squirm a little, but it was real.

So when I had my own two kids, talking about body parts, wasn’t a difficult task.

When Hank was around three or four, I once heard him separating his stuffed animals based on gender. It went a little something like this:

“Okay so you go over here with the boy animals cuz you have a penis and you go over here with the girl animals cuz you have a giavanni.”

I shouted nonchalantly from the other room, “I think you mean ‘vagina.’”

Where things got interesting, of course, is when the world started attaching all kinds of should and shouldn’ts to those body parts and how they should or shouldn’t be shared with other people.  That wondrous landscape is very confusing.  It seems to me that just about everybody has a different take on that…and when I mean everybody…I mean everybody.

And the way I see it, our sexual body parts have been up for debate since…well…since they’ve existed.  This is nothing new.  Religions, governments, nations have all had a say in how we manage our body parts…heck some have even gone to war over the subject.

I decided early on, that the way to prevent that war from entering my house, was to create a space where we could speak freely on the subject….exchange ideas…be open, honest and deliberate in how we talked about it.  Rather than giving that conversation to someone else, we would have it ourselves, in our open, shame-less, loving way.

Back when the kids were little, I used to volunteer at a runaway shelter for teens.  Hardened shells on the outside with fluffy fears on the inside, these teenagers were used to the streets…most having lived on them for weeks at a time.  I had previously worked in the substance abuse prevention field and had a Masters in Social Work so when the agency invited me to give the “sex talk” with these homeless people…I was like, “Uhhh…what part of YES can I cartwheel across your porch?”  These teens were at risk of so many things, let’s not let potential disease and death be one of them.

So once a month (as I recall) I would go marching into the agency, with a bag of condoms, a list of questions and joy abounding…and once a month these kids and I would sit cross legged on the floor in the agency’s comfy living room and talk about their fears, their lives…their wanting to be loved, nurtured, held.

One afternoon, I was driving along in my car when Hank, age 9 or so, calls out from the back seat.

“Hey mom, what’s in that bag?”

I knew immediately what he was talking about.

“What bag?” I answered nonchalantly.

“That brown one, up there by your seat. See in the car door?  What’s in THAT bag?”

Well…here it is…THAT moment with my own.  Do I go there?  Is he ready?  Do we launch?

I decide to give the opportunity one more opt-out, but if he persists I’ve got to just go there I guess. No time like the present.

“This bag?”  I nonchalantly pointed to the brown paper bag not quite hidden in the car door.

“Yes.  THAT bag.  What’s in it?”

Oh gawd…is this it?  Is this THAT moment? Am I ready?

“Condoms,” I replied as nonchalantly as I could.

“What’s a condom?”

Well, I’ve always been a firm believer that what life offers up…is there for the takin’ so I decided this moment was for the takin’.  I mean…it’s here.  I’m here.  He’s here and so is this bag of condoms.

And so…I launched.  The explanation was, I will admit, somewhat sterile in its telling, but thorough.

When I was done, Hank seemed unflustered…maybe even a little bored.

“Can I see one?”

“One what,” I asked.

“A condom.”

Really?  Now? Are you kidding me?

“Sure,” I said.

I handed him the bag.  He pulled out one of the small square shiny packets.

“Can I open it?”

I surrender!  I surrender to this moment!

“Sure, go ahead.”

Silence from the backseat.  I can see him in the rearview mirror.  He is opening the package and stretching the gosh darn thing to see how far it will go.

“Anything you wanna share?” I asked him.  “What do ya think?”

A couple of minutes pass.  He puts all of it and the wrappings back in the bag and sets it aside.

“They’re big.”

Oh dear, I’m thinking. Now is certainly NOT the time to laugh.

“Anything else buddy?  Any other questions?  Thoughts?  Ideas?”

“I don’t think so.  If I think of anything else, I’ll let you know.”

And he did, many times over the years, my daughter too…and we talked about it…and it was real and rich and honest and open.

A Different Kind of Conversation

Tom Interview

Last week I wrote a post about wishing for real human dialogue when it comes to leadership.  You know…the REAL stuff.  Like why you do it?  What makes you cry?  What makes you laugh?  What are your weaknesses and strengths?

Several people got back with me…and I’d like to give a shout out to Tom Adams…for going first. One of my questions  to him was “where does compassion play into your life?”  We talked about a lot of things…humor, vulnerability, weakness, strengths, connection, loss and leadership…to name a few.

Tom is a human and he is running for mayor in Fort Mill, SC.  :)  He currently sits on their town council and ran for Congress in the last election cycle.

There will be more to come. Thanks to Sarah Batista and her crew for making today happen.

I look forward to more interviews and working with to bring those into the world.

Keep your eyes open as we begin sharing these candid human interviews.

If you are interested in what these “different kind of interviews” are all about…direct message me here.

In case you don’t know what I’m talking about…here was the original post.

So I have a dream…a hope…a wish actually and I just wonder if there might be someone out there who…in some random way…might help make this dream a reality.

I watched the Democratic Debate last night.  I watched the Republican debates previously.

And what continues to fill my thoughts (and are increasing in volume even as I write to you now) are the words and the questions I think are missing from the dialogue.

I have a long list of them.  I also know that I’m good at asking these kinds of questions.  I go deep.  I go in.  I go UNDER all the exterior stuff and go straight to the emotional and human heart.  :) I’m easy to talk to.  (Remember the Red Boot Ride? :) )

So…I wonder if the possibility might exist somewhere out there…for these kinds of questions to be asked…to be shared…to be heard by the American People.  Sure it’s risky for a candidate…but it’s what’s missing…and it’s what I think many, many Americans want to hear!

I mean think about it.  We don’t talk about leadership anymore. We talk about things.  We talk about policy; but  we don’t talk about character or process or the “stuff” that drives our leaders.  We don’t talk about their WHY’s or get to know them as human beings.

We don’t see them as people (with their own set of core values) and I just think that’s really, really weird.

AND if I let myself really go there…I think it’s actually really, really disturbing.

Can you imagine going in for a job interview and your future employer avoiding questions related to how you work, your leadership and workstyle, your strengths and weaknesses, your core/work values?

Weird I’m telling you. Totally freaky.  The best leaders are the most self-aware…those who reflect…those who are conscious of how they lead.  Those who are in a constant state of self-assessment.

So…here are a few questions that I think would be fascinating to ask:

1.  Tell me me how compassion plays out in your role as a leader?

2.   Please share with me a time you were completely wrong about something.  How did you handle that?

3.  What is your leadership style?  How do you lead?

4.  Could you share with me your strengths?  Could you share with me your weaknesses?  How do you plan to address those?

5.  What moves you? What makes you feel?

6.  Why do you want to be “whatever office you are running for”?  There are many other things you could do in this world…why this?  What drives you because after all…no one is making you do this.

7.  Many of our greatest spiritual teachers speak of love…as one of the greatest forces on earth.  What do you think of this?  Where does love fit into your world view?

8.  What do you find is the hardest part of being involved in politics?

9.  How would your children or grandchildren describe you?

10.  How do you decide when to stand up to someone or when to let go?

So…peeps…I’m raising my hand to ask those questions.

Any willing candidates, locally or nationally who want to have that conversation with me…let’s do it. If you say yes…I’m sure we can figure out a way to share it.

I think it’s time to get real with each other. Direct message me and let’s get this party started.  #redbootmoment

I will travel.

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