Authenticity. Compassion. Gratitude. Inspiration.
Living authentically, what I strive for every day, is what I seek to communicate both as a trainer/speaker and as a human. Part of that authenticity is about struggling to survive the Human Condition. If we could only remember that everyone else–regardless of skin color, religion, gender, LGBTQ status or the hundred other things we humans use reasons to make people “Other”–is also struggling to survive the Human Condition, it would be much easier to welcome people who are “different” from “us.” (After all, simply defined, human inclusivity is the extent to which a human feels as if they matter to an organization or another group of humans–people who are made to feel “different” certainly don’t feel as if they “matter.”)
Listeners quickly understand that my voice–which I’ve often described is my Achilles Heel–is still masculine and contrasts greatly with my feminine appearance. As a result of this incongruity, I make my voice a teaching tool.
For most of my speaking engagements, as I wait while the room is filling, I usually remain off to the side, quiet; audience members only see a fairly attractive sixtyish woman. Once introduced, I say, “Good morning,” and watch as some faces react to the disconnect between my voice and my appearance.
I call it “giving me the look”–one’s instinctive reaction to someone else who doesn’t quite fit in. I’m now quite used to getting “the look,” although it’s quite tiring at times and always a reminder of how I am “Other.”
However, I tell audience members that I’m not the only one in the room who receives or knows “the look.” People of color in the room regularly receive “the look,” as do women, older humans, persons with visible disabilities, and persons whose religion is apparent from their clothing or appearance.
Even straight white men (who are becoming marginalized in some sectors) receive “the look,” especially when they unknowingly say the wrong thing at the wrong time to the wrong people.
The reality, as I write above, is that we’re all striving to survive the Human Condition and that because of the way humans can be, we can each be made “Other” for one reason or another.
This is my starting point for helping people to understand that they have it within themselves to get past the obstacles to human inclusivity. Obstacles like how we group and label other humans (aka unconscious bias) or how group identified behavior (I no longer use the word, “tribalism”) prevents us from even interacting with people who are “different.” These obstacles separate us from each other and prevent humans from becoming familiar with one another.
I firmly believe that human familiarity is the pathway through all that separates us–simply getting to know another human, finding that “they” actually have things in common with “me.” That really, even though our skin colors are different, “they are no different from me.”
As I write above, I use my voice as a teaching tool; as the training ends, I’ll ask, “For those of you who gave me ‘the look’ when you first heard my voice, how are you doing now? Have you gotten used to my voice?”
If the answer is, “Yes,”–they’ve gotten used to my voice, that maybe they even like me–then that audience member has some idea of the power of human familiarity.
And the power of authenticity.
Compassion (and Dignity)
Compassion is something I talk about at great length–for others and for ourselves. As a society, we don’t use or hear the word “compassion” nearly enough. Often, we don’t even understand what it means to have compassion for others. Moreover, the loss of compassion almost always means a loss of dignity to someone else. (Compassion is tied directly to dignity.)
I remind audience members that we all have good empathetic hearts; it’s just that many don’t exercise their hearts because of fear–fear of “Other”; fear of it costing too much in terms of money or time; fear of getting in over our heads. However, when given a pathway for how to exercise our empathetic hearts, we humans will show up in droves. It’s true. I have a ton of examples of how humans exercise their empathetic hearts day in and day out. (This is one of the reasons why I curate my monthly e-newsletter, The Ripple–to remind readers of how good humans can be to each other.)
My human inclusivity training, Gray Area Thinking is just such a pathway; it’s a simple toolset on how to be more welcoming to people who are “Other”; it’s a toolset for exercising our empathetic hearts. And it works!
One of the critical things I learned as I traveled on my “gender journey” is the need for self-compassion–understanding that some things in life aren’t capable of being “choices.” With a great deal of personal work, I learned that “gender” wasn’t something I could choose. The same is true for one’s sexuality or one’s penchant for the arts, or for whom we love, or for a host of other things relative to the Human Condition. Giving ourselves a break and quieting the inner critic should be at the top of everyone’s list.
It’s only after we have compassion for ourselves that we can truly have compassion for others. It doesn’t work any other way.
I try to live with gratitude every day–it helps to keep me grounded and motivated to push onward. And push I will.
I’m always grateful for the chance to speak to audiences; to, as I say, “Have the chance to occupy a part of your brain for a few minutes.” I know that very rarely is someone allowed to do what I do. I never forget that.
I’ve been doing human inclusivity work long enough to understand that you can’t change minds or behavior simply by ordering someone to be more inclusive or welcoming. It won’t work. If anything, ordering has the reverse effect.
On the other hand, inspiring someone to think or act differently does work.
My entire approach is to inspire listeners. From the moment I first speak to the moment I say, “Thank you,” I aim to create a setting where people begin to think, “Yes, I can do this. I want to do this.”
Below, from a complete stranger, is a review of both how I train and how I write; for me the two are intertwined. The review is from October 2018 and can be found on the Amazon page for my memoir, Getting to Ellen, A Memoir about Love, Honesty and Gender Change:
I purchased Ellie’s memoir after hearing her Gray Area Thinking training at a corporate event. I was interested in broadening my understanding of gender identity but mostly compelled by her presence overall. She was intelligent, captivating, and oozing realness and humanity. I had a feeling I’d like the book and at the very least knew I’d probably love her writing. I’m so glad I made the choice to read it. What a phenomenal human story and a wonderful reminder of everyone’s unique struggle to find love and kindness in this world. Ellie, if you’re reading this – I know I’m not unique in saying this but your courage and faith in your identity are nothing short of awe-inspiring. I can’t imagine taking that leap and left the book only wishing I knew you personally to continue hearing your story and watching you thrive. As a hetero white cis-gender female with plenty of privilege in my corner you brought me to my knees. I will continue to whole heartedly recommend this book to the many different people in my life, of all kinds. YOU GO GIRL!! Thank you for the insight and inspiration.
I think this is so much better than anything I can write about how I inspire others.
Now you understand my approach!