Dr. Bandy Lee, psychiatrist and internationally renowned expert on violence, shares her diversity story of growing up as a Korean woman in the Bronx during the 1970s and how it informed her research and career interests. Dr. Lee discusses the psychic toll of structural violence and exclusion, and how inequality creates psychological distress for all members of society. She also reveals tips for staying optimistic even in the midst of adversity, and shares self-care tips for advocates.
In this episode you’ll discover:
- Bandy’s diversity story of growing up as an Asian woman in the Bronx (3:45)
- The awareness that needs to happen when it comes to mental health (15:00)
- How exclusion can be damaging to our health (21:00)
- How companies can be allies for a healthy workforce (22:45)
- The emotional impact of the current political discourse (28:00)
- How social inequality leads to violence (33:30)
- How inequality hurts even those have privilege (35:00)
- Self-care practices for change makers (41:00)
- How to stay hopeful and optimistic when dealing with suffering (45:30)
- The importance of community for mental wellness (48:00)
Listen in now, or read on for the transcript of our conversation:
JENNIFER BROWN: Bandy, welcome to The Will to Change.
BANDY X. LEE: Thank you. Thank you for having me.
JENNIFER BROWN: I am so glad you’re here. You first came on my radar screen in two ways—you compiled a book called The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump, and I saw you on the news speaking about that in 2017, and we’ll get to that in a bit.
Also, you joined us at the Gaia Women’s Leadership Conference with Elizabeth Cronise McLaughlin, who’s also been on The Will to Change podcast.
You joined us in Santa Barbara and shared a bit about your work—particularly, your focus on violence prevention, mental health issues, as a psychiatrist at Yale. You’ve done so many things and I’ve learned so much from you already about the ways we need to look at mental health differently. Particularly interesting to us on The Will to Change and in the work that we do is seeing mental health as a diversity dimension.
Traditionally, we’ve thought about diversity as race and gender primarily, and that has a lot of rationale stemming from government, laws, and requirements for organizations and lawsuits and all that kind of stuff. But I think there is so much that’s not spoken about yet that really needs to come to the fore. There is a lot of fear, obviously, around disclosure and honesty about how pervasive these issues really are. You’re such an expert.
I was also very motivated to invite you on because of the rash of painful suicides of last week—particularly Anthony Bourdain and Kate Spade left us last week. Although Bandy is not a “celebrity watcher,” I do want to talk a bit, particularly, about Anthony Bourdain. I am a fan of his work, and felt a deep depression in him watching his work for a long time. Sadly, I was not surprised by his departure. This is something Bandy can shed some light on, the pervasiveness of so many of us who are covering and hiding our difficulties and challenges and how, particularly, we as colleagues can support each other and how organizations can truly make this more of an overt topic so that we can actually talk about it, destigmatize it, and equip ourselves with knowledge, which is always the first step.
Bandy, I’m so glad you’re here. I know you have a very interesting diversity story. We always start The Will to Change with your story. Let me invite you to get acquainted with our audience a bit and share how you grew up and how you came to do what you do today.
BANDY X. LEE: Sure. I think growing up Asian in the ’70s, especially, that’s when I remember looking around me. We started in Boston and then ended up in New York—The Bronx—where my father was working at the New York Botanical Garden, and was the only non-white there.
I remember thinking, “Boy, I wish I were black. I know they’re suffering, but at least I would be part of the history.” Even though, being Asian, I was more privileged, but just looking around and not seeing that many Asians around me in those days, I just wanted to belong.
So there was an interesting time when I took my parents back to Korea, believing that I would feel wonderful and a part of things if I were around people who look like me. That was when I realized that that was not true. In fact, when I went there, it was the time when they were still very traditional, and as a female and as a girl, your voice is simply not heard.
Of course, having grown up in the U.S., I was really outraged and couldn’t really deal with that, so I brought my parents back. And from then on, I realized just how little appearance matters, and what small things we’re focusing on when we are talking about race, sex, ethnicity, or even country of origin. Once we overcome the cultural barriers, it’s really like language. Once you learn the language, you can speak with one another and you can find out what is common among you and the commonality.
Of course, over time, as I acquainted myself further with Korean culture, I was able to think back and go back, myself, and reacquaint myself.
Also, I grew up in the ghettos of The Bronx. And my parents didn’t quite understand what was going on in the outside world. With school, they believed that I ought to get a public school education and be exposed to the world as much as possible, so they actually ended up putting me in a school where there were bullet holes in the windows and there were gangs recruiting up front.
I had to even learn street fighting when I was on the playgrounds. There was a lot of bullying, and my younger sister and her peers were exposed to it. I actually got involved in fist fights and as a girl, I ended up being a fighter, like one of the guys, and chased off all the bullies. They started running the moment I would appear.
But that was the rough-and-tumble environment I was growing up in. When I was a teenager, it got to be really scary. There were memorials, makeshift funeral pyres of kids my age every other block. They were all dying from violence.
This was how I got to be interested in the subject matter of violence. Even though at home I grew up with the highest culture and the most beautiful music and exposure to the arts and humanities, and the concept of medicine that my mother instilled in me through my grandfather, who was the most highly respected physician at the time. You can tell because he was offered the deanship at the best medical school and he turned it down so that he could work with the impoverished people of Korea after the Korean War. He was known to never turning down a patient for not being able to pay. Whenever he got home from his clinic, there would be a line of patients going around the block. He would look after them until the middle of the night. After four hours of sleep, he would be up and going once again. He wore the same burlap coat that his patients wore.
Although I never met him, that was the spirit that she carried on and she would always talk about him. Later on, after her death, I learned of all the things that she did in the poor neighborhoods where she sought out the poorest, neediest people. And without any word, without letting any of the rest of us know what she was doing, she was offering them help and friendship. And not only teaching them English in immigrant communities, English in the Bible, she really sacrificed herself in a way that I think brought on her early demise. But that was the household I was growing up in.
So I snuck out into African-American neighborhoods in Harlem, and later on in the South Bronx, and I would tutor homeless children and also volunteered at a local church.
I was thinking at that time, it was a time when, in the ’80s, there were a lot of Asians who were immigrating to this country and a lot of them were actually pretty racially differentiating and wanted to ally themselves with whites. At that point, I was thinking, “Why should we choose skin color, for example, if that’s what we’re going by? Why not hair color?” It seemed very artificial and abstract to me at the time. I still carry that, in a sense.
Later on, I did a fellowship out in Tanzania in east Africa, and there I experienced a culture where they had never seen a light-skinned person before in their lives. And so they were actually calling me “mzungu,” which means “European,” and following me around.
But once the village elder would introduce me and present to the group why I was there, I was looking into depression at the time, then once people could place me, they treated me entirely like a human being. In fact, the kind of life that I had known there—I lived there for two years—was so far beyond anything I had known in terms of human connection. That’s the level of civilization, if you will, but a level of societal mental health that I’m always looking to when I’m doing my work is my own emotional guideline as to what we could attain as human beings.
When you’re speaking about diversity and inclusion, what I’m actually thinking about, there’s also the juxtaposition to that, which is the universal humanity that we all share that is far greater than any of the differences. And when we’re going for the diversity, we’re actually going for the places in that common humanity where we are hurting, where we are hurting others and hurting ourselves in the process because we are all part of that common humanity.
That’s something that I often think back to and think of as my diversity story, as strange as that might sound.
JENNIFER BROWN: No, it’s not strange; it’s beautiful. And I love that you knew what being in a society that is a healthy one actually feels like. For those of us who haven’t had that, we’ve never felt it. Or if we have privilege, we have felt the privilege side of the equation in an increasingly unequal society. It’s painful all the way around, whether it’s direct experience for you or you are learning about it, which a lot of people that look like me are embarking on awakening to the systemic racism in our society, for example, and misogyny.
When you grow up like I did, and many people who look like me, it’s such a lack of exposure. It is painful to awaken to all of that, but I find it exciting because it’s a call to action. And to know what it does feel like, as we say in business, it’s what “good” looks like, to know what success looks like. That’s very powerful.
For you, as a teacher who watches mental health indicators in our society, and particularly, you said there is a direct link between our health and wellness as a society and the inequality that’s growing in our society.
BANDY X. LEE: Right. Right.
JENNIFER BROWN: You must be pretty disturbed that it’s not necessarily going in the right direction, vis a vis your experience in east Africa.
BANDY X. LEE: Yes. In fact, it was around the mid ’90s when I thought I was so tired of this industrialized technical society, marketized society, that I wanted to figure out what it would be like to be a “natural” human being. That was my motivation behind going to Tanzania, which at that time had the lowest GDP in the world, but was living in peace. They had an enlightened first president, Julius Nyerere, who was an educator. He ran a transparent government, unlike a lot of the other countries around them that fell into corruption and violence.
I also experienced what it was like to be in a culture where there was even more discrimination, that was South Korea in the late ’70s when, as a girl, as a child, I had no voice. As more and more Koreans, they were very insulated at the time. As more of them got to see the world, in the early stages they had immense difficulty accepting African Americans as people. I’m very sorry to have to say this, as a Korean American, but I saw the conflicts and the suffering that came to the fore with the LA riots, for example. I was seeing that. In a sense, I was trying to counter that by allying myself, if you will, with African Americans, as well as wanting to belong, myself.
This is a characteristic that we all share, and we still all share to a certain degree. No matter how inclusive we believe that we are, to a certain degree, we cannot separate ourselves from the common culture and the ecology that we’re a part of. The best that we can do is to try to repair it and to make that awareness a strength in our trying to reach out to others.
The awareness is very good. All that you’ve talked about in terms of conflicts and difficulty, that’s actually the process of healing. The awareness is very good, and the fact that we’re working on this, as hard as it may seem, and as depressing as it may feel to us at times that we’re making so little progress and that we’re going backwards that, in fact, the very fact that we’re aware of the problem takes care of most of the problem, believe it or not.
And that goes the same with mental illness. We see that a lot—those who are falling ill, the first thing they lose is the awareness that something is wrong. We call that “insight.” Once they lose insight, then they will avidly follow the course of illness, reject treatment, reject any kind of insinuation that they might need help and then fall into a course of self-destruction, if not destruction of others in the process.
JENNIFER BROWN: That’s so interesting, that critical point of acknowledging that there’s a problem. We saw awareness is half the battle, or a large part of the battle, and shining the light on the problem, as difficult as it is to look at—especially with something so stigmatized. Mental health feels almost—we try not to use what we call the “pain Olympics” in diversity work, meaning that we’re seeing up a hierarchy of oppression. All of us have so many different aspects of our intersectionality and things that we can hide and things that we can’t hide.
When I speak so much on race and gender, I get more and more notes privately, confidentially, or anonymously that say, “Please talk about addiction. Please talk about depression. I can’t talk about this at work. It is something that looms large in my life,” or, “I have it under control, but it’s a big part of who I am, and there is no way that anyone would understand.”
I’m feeling very responsible for mentioning that. I don’t have the numbers, I wonder whether you know them, but what percentage of a typical workforce is struggling with some level of mental illness or depression, or particularly even in their families? Of course, the numbers get much larger when you think about caregiving and living with somebody who is struggling with these things, and the impact that it has, then, on our ability to bring our full selves to work and feel that we’re in the flow and we’re able to access discretionary effort—all those things that make our work sing and contribute to the company we work for.
There are so many interrupters, right? This is a really big one. It is so buried and so stigmatized.
BANDY X. LEE: Absolutely.
JENNIFER BROWN: As a member of the LGBT community, I can only think of how many of us are hiding, for example, and the fear we have around disclosure. And you can translate that similarly for people with disabilities, when they have an invisible disability, there’s a tremendous hesitation to disclose or trust your employee with that information.
We have a long way to go before we build healthier organizations. There is a lot of toxicity and toxic behavior in our organizations. Some of this pertains to inclusion and exclusion. Exclusion is damaging to our sense of belonging, our health. I think of the micro or macro inequities of being ignored or devalued or not seen as somebody who matters in the organizational context, feeling like you’re insignificant and not being positioned for success or leadership opportunities.
There are a lot of us walking through organizations that this is a daily or multiple-times-daily feeling. I would imagine you have some thoughts about that.
We’re living in this time when, perhaps, our leadership doesn’t understand or does not have empathy, perhaps our experience is different than their experience and there’s a level of unexplored privilege that they are still living from and leading from.
We also have a society with leadership and political leadership which you called “toxic and dangerous” in your book. There is a tone right now that is being set that is the exact opposite of valuing all human experience, taking care of the individual, and ensuring that institutions hold that individual, see that person, what they need, how to support them, honoring all of our experiences.
It’s interesting to see how companies are responding to the tone of the world we’re living in right now. Some of them are pushing against that, which is very exciting. The role of the private company is going to be huge going forward, bigger and bigger.
BANDY X. LEE: Yes.
JENNIFER BROWN: We talk about that a lot. Companies can be allies. They can stand up and use their voice and their platform to push against things that they don’t think are healthy for their people.
BANDY X. LEE: Absolutely.
JENNIFER BROWN: Look at the anti-gay laws in Indiana and Salesforce saying, “We’re not going to put 7,000 employees in this state and subject them to feeling like second-class citizens. State of Indiana, you can make a choice. Do you want us here or don’t you want us here?”
I wondered if you had any reflection on all of those dynamics that are happening, or wisdom that you can give us from your world of being a psychiatrist and having made a very public declaration, as you did in the book that you put together, and that we are getting some very unhealthy messages, which are piling onto those of us who already feel that we’re walking on the edge a bit from an inclusion perspective.
BANDY X. LEE: Absolutely. First of all, I have to say that whatever answers I give are my own, and I’m not representing the views of Yale University.
JENNIFER BROWN: Sure thing.
BANDY X. LEE: It’s interesting because just the other day I was asked in an interview, “Now that a year and a half has passed, do you feel that the statements you made—are there reasons to be more concerned or less concerned?” I said, “Well, my concerns have deepened.” Not so much that things are different than I was expecting, in fact, it’s very much panning out the way that one would expect of someone with such levels of mental impairment being in the office of the presidency.
I’m not saying that any mental impairment would be destructive, in fact, there was as Duke University study that was done that showed half the American presidents in history have had some kind of mental illness or other. Yes, it’s an alarming figure, but some have actually served as some of the greatest leaders we’ve ever had.
Mental illness, per se, does not indicate dangerousness, and in fact, it can contribute to one becoming more compassionate and empathetic leader in ways that others can only try to aspire to.
And so mental illness by itself does not mean that you be disabled or incapable of carrying out your job or your duties. It does mean that you have an area of suffering, and you can transform that into being a strength. So many of us are suffering in this world, and compassion and empathy are strong leadership qualities.
So, mental illness by itself does not disqualify someone from being a leader. Mental illness does not indicate that someone will be dangerous. In fact, dangerousness has nothing to do with mental illness. It has a whole other set of criteria. Certain symptoms and certain characteristics, or what one chooses to do with one’s impairments can heighten danger, but it has nothing to do with mental illness.
When I first organized the conference around mental impairment and the newly elected president at the time and his dangerousness, and put out the book that was the proceedings of that conference, we were trying to alert the public about what would come out of this level of psychopathology. And we’re not talking about the personal mental health of the president, we’re talking about his being in the office of the presidency and the public health threats he poses and the dangers he poses.
Often, we speak mostly about his mental instability, his impulsivity, recklessness, his paranoid responses, his loss of touch with reality, his lack of empathy, his tendency to get into an attack mode whenever he’s questioned or challenged—all these things are alarming characteristics for someone who has unencumbered access to the nuclear weapons.
And we’ve been emphasizing that primarily because that’s the most imminent emergency where we have enough technology to destroy the world many times over, and we have someone in control of them who does not even have the basic controls of his own mind.
So while that is the greatest urgency, of course there are public health effects from that being the anxiety that we’re feeling, and the public now has been catching on to the level of pathology he shows and the implications of it and the dangers we are really in.
But there are other dangers, of course. When he’s verbally aggressive, when he bullies people through the Internet, when he boasts about sexual assaults, when he is inciting his followers to violence, when he is endorsing violence in public speeches, which can lay the groundwork for a culture of violence, and that can trigger epidemics of violence, when he is taunting a nation with nuclear power, when he is alienating allies and elevating brutal dictators—all these things have an effect on our culture. So the social, cultural, and economic aspects are far more influential in terms of epidemics of violence. And by “violence,” I mean outwardly driven violence like homicides, and inwardly driven violence like suicides—suicides also increase in times like this.
And we’re seeing it in the numbers. The statistics are showing there’s been an unprecedented spike in hate crimes, as you may have heard, since the day after the election, and that’s been unabated since, historic levels. And there has been a doubling of white supremacist killings the first year of his presidency. There has been widespread schoolyard bullying in his name that can be directly attributed to his words, his deeds. And there has been a spike in gun murders for the first time, at the highest levels in 25 years.
So we can see some of the direct effects. We are more stressed. We are under greater levels of stress than ever in memory, and that includes World War Two, the Vietnam War, the Cuban Missile Crisis, and September 11 terrorist attacks.
Almost 40 percent of us are feeling more anxious today than we were a year ago. These are surveys that were done by the American Psychological Association, the American Psychiatric Association, they have been tracking all these things, and this is a marked departure from where we were a year ago and the trends that we’re heading up to last year. We’re all feeling the effects.
But what I’m most afraid of, and where his greatest dangerousness lies, is not so much in the most visible things, in fact, the suicides are actually just the tip of the iceberg. You may have heard that mass murders, now that they’ve come into attention, they’re the tip of the tip when it comes to numbers in terms of violent deaths. In terms of homicides, they’re only a tiny fraction. But homicides are only a small fraction of violent deaths. And that’s including suicides. And suicides, by far, outnumber all the violent deaths all around the world. That includes all the homicides, all the murders, all the wars, terrorism, genocides, civil violence—name all of them put together, don’t mount up to the number of suicides that we see all around the world. And in this country, we’ve been seeing an escalation of suicides over time.
But going back to the Trump presidency, I don’t really see it as a personal problem, although his being in the office of the presidency just escalates and exacerbates the problem. There has been a problem that’s been leading up to him, and it spans over at least a couple decades. And I’ve been studying this because of my work in violence prevention.
Violence is actually complex. You have all kinds of causes that are individual, relationship related, based on family, community, and society. There can be many factors. But superseding all of those, to be able to predict violent death rates, and in violent death rates, I’m including suicides and homicides because we have to remember that all of these come out of suffering, and it seems similar types of suffering that can turn outward or inward depending on the culture. We can go more into that if you’d like.
But if you put suicides and homicides together, they follow almost exactly the trends in rises and falls of inequality. You brought up the rise in inequality earlier, how distressing that is. In fact, it is probably one of the greatest hidden emergencies of our time. In fact, not only is it the most potent trigger of both suicides and homicides, it is a form of violence. In violence studies, we call it “structural violence” because it causes far more deaths, excess deaths, deaths that would not have happened in a perfectly equal society—more than ten times the level of deaths that occur from all the suicides, homicides, wars, collective violence combined.
Now, that may sound very depressing, and it is a serious problem. It is a very serious problem that at least we now know about. We now have an incredible amount of data that shows the relationship between economic inequality, violence, and violent deaths.
Whereas it would be very confusing and hard to figure out how such wonderful people and people who have seemingly everything in the world that someone could want could end up with suicide or committing homicide or end up in a mass shooting or things like that, we have the answer now—we’re suffering as a society.
In a world that is so unequal, even those who are privilege end up doing worse. We look at health indicators, they do worse than in an equal society. We look at happiness figures, societies that are unequal do far worse than those that are equal—even if they’re impoverished. What we’re talking about is relative poverty, not absolute poverty.
In this country that is the richest in the world, by virtue of our doing violence on others, knowing we are not, we’re creating more stressful, anxiety-ridden, and certainly unsafe society for all of our selves. We do have to take it on as all of our responsibility, and do recognize that we live in a violent world where we have a history and legacy of violence that we all have to own, in a sense, and that none of us are free from.
JENNIFER BROWN: Wow, that is not a conversation that is had very often in the circles that I am in. I was thinking about the growing income gap and CEOs making hundreds of times what the lowest paid person makes in their organization. The business world just replicates and continues to accelerate the divide.
Year over year, we’re still not seeing underrepresented talent get through what I always envision as a knothole as they travel up to higher and higher positions. There are so many things that impede their progress, that frustrate their potential. Year over year, if we take representation as one marker, we don’t see a lot of improvements for representation of women and people of color and other diverse talent in organizations. They give up, they can’t stand the constant unchecked and largely unexplored biases that inform their evidence experience—sometimes multiple times a day. And those are feel like violence, they are a form of violence.
BANDY X. LEE: Yes. Yes.
JENNIFER BROWN: Exclusion is a form of violence. And then you add all the other things we’ve been talking about.
I wanted to get your perspective. For those of us who are trying to have an honest conversation at work around what’s really going on, and it’s a conversation that many don’t want to have because they feel implicated in propagating the system—particularly if you look a certain way or you’re a certain demographic. It seems like an intuitive thing to say, “All we need is empathy, we need an understanding and acknowledgement that there are epidemics afoot,” and that they impact all of us, like you just said so beautifully. It doesn’t just impact those people over there. This system actually hurts me as well. We are so far away from being able to have that conversation.
For those of us who are advocates in organizations, whether that’s our job, whether that’s the volunteer that we take on, I think we are at risk of burning ourselves out because we are having that feeling of being on the receiving end of these subtle and not so subtle inequities. And then we also have to step forward and lead our organizations—massive organizations—through this uncovering of the truth and generating of honest discussion.
I worry about ourselves as practitioners. How do we sustain ourselves? It is very difficult to wake up and keep pushing every day when you feel the system is unawake to what is actually happening, and continuing to create these circumstances. It feels very inefficient, it feels heartbreaking on some days. It feels that those of us who are carrying the torch—I’m reminded of Anthony Bourdain again. I loved how he went into the world and showed the stories of people that we don’t know. It wasn’t even a food show, it was about so much more. He was a real champion of telling the stories of communities all over the world through their food.
The fact that he was a white, straight man coming into these spaces and making shows about them was really, really moving the way that he entered those spaces in a way of deep respect and as an ally and as somebody who was so humble.
When we learned the news, that’s why it didn’t surprise me—he felt the pain of the world, it as very clear that he did.
BANDY X. LEE: Yes.
JENNIFER BROWN: I worry about our practitioner community. I worry about myself. I do.
BANDY X. LEE: Absolutely. Absolutely.
JENNIFER BROWN: What kind of advice to you have, as a psychiatrist, as somebody who studies pain and violence, as someone like your parents and your grandfather, who wore the same shirt as people he was ministering to and always made time for them? I think we need to have a radical self-care practice.
BANDY X. LEE: Absolutely.
JENNIFER BROWN: Not to sound too woo-woo, but what is radical self-care, and tell us how we can make sure we’re practicing it? What are the things we can do?
BANDY X. LEE: Yes. Absolutely. Absolutely. I’m so glad you brought up that point. It’s very easy as we gain awareness to feel that the problems are so daunting and so terrible, and we could also feel very guilty because we are so privileged. All of us in this country are far more privileged than most people on earth or most human beings in history. And, yet, there is so much to be done and so many people who are still suffering.
Actually, the way that I run my undergraduate course on violence, or the way that I teach the law students who represent asylum seekers or prisoners, I actually recommend a practice of self-care from the get-go. Far from being peripheral or self-indulgent or something that’s unrelated, it is integral—it’s absolutely necessary and integral to this practice of doing the healing work. You have to start from the very beginning. It’s an absolutely mandatory part of responsible practice. Eventually, you’ll see the effects and you will become far more efficacious and productive and able to give a lot more if you do that basic level of self-care.
The way to build it in is to give yourself an hour a day. I usually say an hour a day, an afternoon a week, and a couple weeks in a year—usually more than that if you can afford it—to just give yourself the best escape, the best vacation you can, and to build that into your daily life. Make that mandatory. That means before you schedule anything else. There will always be things that you haven’t addressed enough, that you don’t enough time for, but this actually has to come first. Just count it as non-existent time for the rest of the work. This will be the fuel and the source of the vision that will tie you to the purpose of your doing this work, the meaning around it, and the good that you’re doing.
In fact, we were both saying, awareness is half the battle. I would say, according to Sigmund Freud, it would be 6/7ths of the battle.
JENNIFER BROWN: Oh, wow.
BANDY X. LEE: We’re learning more and more about that which we’re not aware of. But we’re learning more and more that it’s vastly larger than that. I think in neuroscience, it’s like 10/11ths, but it’s starting to be more and more than we even realized.
So to build and maintain that awareness, and that is actually to keep in mind awareness is also an awareness of the smallness of the problem in comparison to the beauty that is in the world, the love, the power of the love that you’re drawing from as a source. These things are far greater than any problem that can be. When you’re working in diversity and inclusion and encountering all the barriers, you’re actually focusing on the aspect that is broken in this beautiful humanity that you find reason to fight for and strive for.
I know I’m not putting it all that well, but that’s really the essence—to know that the true power does not lie in violence, but the true power lies in love and compassion and understanding, creativity. The true power is what is productive. No matter how many people you can kill off with violence, you can never give birth to life. And that comes out of love. So to recognize the power of love and the incredible impulse for life that is driving you.
And whatever roots you in that, whatever brings you back to that is usually what you enjoy, what you love doing, what you’re drawn to, what allows your mind to wander and dream. Those are the kinds of things, not to be purposeful all the time, but just to simply enjoy and be. And that will bring you back to your belief in the power of love and life and the universality of humanity that makes the work worthwhile.
JENNIFER BROWN: Bandy, that is so restorative. I’m purring over here. I’m also recognizing that you’re right. We look at the problems all day. That’s our job. You’re always contrasting that to what we know, our own awareness of the problem and what could be. It’s that tension, of course, but it is so important to ground ourselves. When I think of those who I’m struggling to communicate the importance of this to, I then focus on the sheer size of the community of advocates that I know are out there.
BANDY X. LEE: Yes.
JENNIFER BROWN: It’s an army. It is enormous, the number of us who hold these values, the number who want change, are trying to learn, grow, take risks, and be uncomfortable. I know so many of them. They’re on this podcast, they’re our clients.
Actually, the problem is small from a sheer numbers perspective. The number of individuals who need a change of hearts and minds or need to be shown a new way, it’s a small number. The problem is, they have a lot of power.
BANDY X. LEE: And they’re growing smaller by the day. Look at the progress as well. We have to look at the progress that we are making in terms of human history, just how much racism, sexism, and oppression of weaker groups has been just taken for granted for thousands of years. We are making progress in unprecedentedly rapid ways. That’s why we’re also getting the backlash. But remember that, and remind each other of that.
As you mentioned, community is also very important. In fact, among therapists, we make it a point to either get therapy ourselves or to give each other therapy as a part of our being in the therapeutic world. Otherwise, there simply is no way as a human being, you cannot be face to face with traumatized individuals and be a healing force for them day in and day out without bringing this into the equation. It’s absolutely accepted that it’s critical and essential.
There is something that we call “peer supervision.” And it’s very funny because we call it that to say we’re supervising each other on our patients, but we use that as time to ventilate the difficulties we’re encountering and the hardships that we undergo in the therapeutic process. Not just because of the patient, but also sometimes because of our own personal difficulties. It becomes a forum where anything goes. You can bring up just about anything.
And that’s a model that, in settings where you don’t have enough therapists around or you can’t afford your own therapist, you can also do that as support groups. I think in diversity work, in working for disadvantaged individuals—and I say that to my law students as well, those who are working to become lawyers in public interest law—they absolutely need to build that into their practice. Meet in groups, find ways to get together to ventilate and even create a forum that can be confidential. You can first meet up socially, but then decide to create boundaries. The boundaries will help you to bring up emotions, confidential thoughts and experiences in a safe place, if you can agree not to take anything that is said in that forum outside of that forum. And that can be a very therapeutic process as well and can be easily initiated in any setting.
JENNIFER BROWN: Agreed. We all do that, in a way, for each other. I hope my book, for example, somebody may find it, read it, and feel they’re heard, that somebody else shares their journey and their challenges. And they get that sense of a touchpoint. Even if we’ve never met, it is the process of reading each other’s works or listening to this podcast, it underscores that we’re all out here. We can tend to get isolated. We can tend to get overly passionate and have weak boundaries, like you just said, and we can tend to go it alone. You might just be a naturally very strong person. I don’t think you do diversity and inclusion work if you’re not a fighter.
BANDY X. LEE: Right. Yes.
JENNIFER BROWN: But the assumption that because I’m strong means maybe I can go without the self-care and the restoration work. We’ve got to make it an even bigger priority. I know that our listenership feels all of the things we talk about deeply, and we can get despondent. I love some of the things you said. As much as we talked about violence and the pain of the world, I love that we talked about very tangible ways that we can shore ourselves up for another day, and hopefully for a lifetime of advocacy.
BANDY X. LEE: Yes.
JENNIFER BROWN: This is a long journey. Ultimately, and I’m sure you agree, even though we’re out of time, it feels like our cup is very full and it’s running over in terms of the purpose of the work that we do. In its way, that feels like you always have an endless supply of gas in your gas tank. It’s so meaningful to be having these conversations and working on it. Like you said, at least we are evolving. All of these indicators notwithstanding, we are so much in a better place than we’ve ever been as a society. We’re talking about things, we’re raising them, we are taking responsibility, we are noticing them. Social media gets such a bad rap, but we are now aware.
BANDY X. LEE: That is also a gift.
JENNIFER BROWN: That is the gift.
BANDY X. LEE: That’s a success, yes.
JENNIFER BROWN: Bandy, thank you so much. Where would you direct folks to follow your work? We mentioned your book earlier, The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump, was from last year. Written by psychiatrists that Bandy gathered together. It’s a fascinating and relevant read. Anything else that you would like to share about your work and where we can follow you?
BANDY X. LEE: I am not on social media, unfortunately. We have a website, dangerouscase.org. That’s where people can ask questions or get in touch with us, find out what we’re doing.
JENNIFER BROWN: Wonderful. Thank you. Thanks, Bandy Lee, for joining me. May you continue to support that next generation of change-makers.
BANDY X. LEE: Thank you very much for having me, and thank you for the good work you do.
JENNIFER BROWN: Thank you.
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