Many of us may be feeling overwhelmed or helpless, especially during the COVID-19 global pandemic and as racial and political tensions heighten in the U.S. In times like these, retreating inward to examine ourselves should become more than a priority and instead be a necessity.
When we assess our own trauma, we typically consider the ways it affects us personally, such as depression, fatigue, negative cognition, strained relationships, avoidance or numbness—to name a few. And while it is wildly important to unpack our own trauma, to work through and bring meaning to that of which we've suffered, we do need to consider how trauma, even unprocessed, impacts our communities as a whole.
Perhaps the reason I've been drawn to my work in anti-human trafficking is not solely because of my desire to help those who've experienced systemic oppression, but on the contrary, to be in awe of, and study, the resilience that is possible in the human being.
In a recent virtual (thanks, COVID) gala I hosted for the Yoga Medicine® Seva Foundation and Her Future Coalition, partnering organizations with aligned missions to break the cycle of poverty and exploitation by providing education to survivors and the vulnerable, I had the opportunity to connect with Dr. Ann Bortz, a licensed clinical psychologist who specializes in trauma. According to Dr. Bortz, 90% of people will be exposed to at least one traumatic event in the course of their life, and 8%-20% of those people will suffer debilitating effects as a result.
What does this mean? A lot of us are walking around with trauma—and how it affects us can and will ripple out to affect those around us. Think like this: if one toddler in my son's classroom uses glitter on an art project, how many toddlers come home with glitter on them?
What we do to help ourselves on the inside will help those who surround us on the outside. The controversial COVID-19 face mask is a great example. Yes, we wear them to protect ourselves, but in the greater scheme, we are wearing masks to protect those around us who may be compromised, elderly, or otherwise high-risk.
Dr. Bortz explains that trauma occurs when we've been exposed to a life-threatening stressor, overwhelming our ability to cope and creating a profound sense of helplessness. She goes on to give examples such as an accident, war, natural disasters, or sexual and physical abuse. The effect of trauma can be vast and differ between people. However, commonly, trauma survivors get stuck in a fight-or-flight response. Our energy then, whether conscious of it or not, is constantly working to prepare us to meet threats. This creates an unhealthy environment, affecting our ability to trust, think clearly, be present, or establish caring relationships.
Think like this: if one toddler in my son's classroom uses glitter on an art project, how many toddlers come home with glitter on them?
My work in India has thrust me into a fight against an industry that commits heinous crimes against women and children. From children being sold into forms of slavery such as domestic servitude, child marriage, or forced labor, to women and girls kidnapped or coerced into a life of prostitution. The remarkable part, though, is watching a survivor heal. When placed in a caring community that ensures your basic needs are met and offered an education—and full range of services that support education—survivors can heal.
I sat with Sarah Symons, founder of Her Future Coalition and author of This Is No Ordinary Joy, to discuss the lessons she's absorbed during her 15-years of anti-trafficking work in Asia. The following lessons are thanks to the beautiful, strong, resilient women and children of India—may your past inspire the collective to heal theirs.
1. Practice Forgiveness & Be The Change
Amara grew up in a remote village of Nepal, where trafficking had become so normalized that 90% of girls in the community were either trafficked to brothels in India or forced into child marriages. Amara was one of those girls. Members of her family were involved in trafficking her—either actively or through neglect and tolerance of the practice.
She says that she practices forgiveness every day because she knows if she did not find a way to forgive, she would be hurting herself, reliving and perpetuating violence in her own heart and mind.
After Amara was rescued by a local NGO, she was given years of support, shelter, and education. Her plan is to go back to her village to open a school and to change the mindset of the villagers so that other girls will not suffer as she did. Amara actively decided not to hold a grudge toward the people of her community, but instead, she committed to helping them, to show them that there's another way. She says that she practices forgiveness every day because she knows if she did not find a way to forgive, she would be hurting herself, reliving and perpetuating violence in her own heart and mind.
Symons concludes, "Forgiveness is the ultimate act of self-love. Amara has taught me that until you are able to forgive, you can never be completely free."
2. Focus on What You Can Control & Give Back
"Priyanka grew up in one of our shelter homes, because her mother, a brothel worker, didn't want her child to be anywhere near the red-light district," Symons says.
Priyanka was offered a trainee position in Her Future Coalition's Jewelry Program, a vocational training program that aims to end the shame and powerlessness that many survivors experience, giving them the opportunity to learn a profession to support themselves independently. She started to realize her own potential and began to place focus on what she can control. She poured her energy into creating beautiful pieces of jewelry.
Priyanka's mother is no longer a brothel worker because of her age. She has various health issues associated with repeated physical and sexual violence over many years. When Priyanka went to visit her mother, she realized something was wrong and had an overwhelming sense that something had to be done. She had been earning and saving money for several years in the jewelry program and decided to move into a small apartment with her mom.
As Symons reflects, "She inspires me because she found a way to give back, despite having limited resources. No matter the situation, there are always ways to give back and take control."
3. Keep Learning New Things
We can work through and bring meaning to that of which we've suffered by finding outlets that stimulate our mind, move our body, and bring forth our creative abilities. According to Psychology Today, art therapy is an artistic method to heal. Art, whether you create it yourself or marvel in other's pieces, has the ability to help people explore emotions, develop self-awareness, cope with stressors, boost self-esteem, and work on social skills that help give us a sense of connection. These same effects can be felt from many modalities such as yoga, meditation, singing, dancing, karate—or anything that allows for creative expression.
Kiya from Nepal speaks five languages. When she was 11, her parents sent her to a monastery school because members of her extended family were involved in human trafficking. Her parents were too poor to provide for her and feared for her safety. Regardless, when Kiya was in her early teens, she was drugged, kidnapped, and trafficked from the school in Nepal to a brothel in Mumbai, owned by her aunt.
"Despite the betrayal of her family, and the terrible suffering she endured in the brothel, Kiya keeps an incredibly positive attitude," Symons says. She goes on to explain that Kiya finds reprieve in learning new things such as jewelry making, hairstyling, spoken English, volleyball, karate, and academic subjects in school. As Kiya engages in things that stimulate her mind, she builds new neural pathways and creates space for healing.
The remarkable part, though, is watching a survivor heal.
I've personally learned by watching profound lessons in the human's ability to overcome. As we work through our own traumas and discover ways to heal, collectively, we are creating a new, better future for all.
"How did you ever get into a business like that?" people ask me. They're confounded to hear that my product is industrial baler wire—a very unfeminine pursuit, especially in 1975 when I founded my company in the midst of a machismo man's world. It's a long story, but I'll try to shorten it.
I'd never been interested to enter the "man's" world of business, but when I discovered a lucrative opportunity to become my own boss, I couldn't pass it up—even if it involved a non-glamorous product. I'd been fired from my previous job working to become a ladies' clothing buyer and was told at my dismissal, "You just aren't management or corporate material." My primary goal then was to find a career in which nobody had the power to fire me and that provided a comfortable living for my two little girls and myself.
Over the years, I've learned quite a few tough lessons about how to successfully run a business. Below are five essential elements to keep in mind, as well as my story on how I learned them.
Find A Need And Fill It
I gradually became successful at selling various products, which unfortunately weren't profitable enough to get me off the ground, so I asked people what they needed that they couldn't seem to get. One man said, "Honey, I need baler wire. Even the farmers can't get it." I saw happy dollar signs as he talked on and dedicated myself to figuring out the baler wire industry.
I'd never been interested to enter the "man's" world of business, but when I discovered a lucrative opportunity to become my own boss, I couldn't pass it up.
Now forty-five years later, I'm proud to be the founder of Vulcan Wire, Inc., an industrial baler wire company with $10 million of annual sales.
Have Working Capital And Credit
There were many pitfalls along the way to my eventual success. My daughters and I were subsisting from my unemployment checks, erratic alimony and child-support payments, and food stamps. I had no money stashed up to start up a business.
I paid for the first wire with a check for which I had no funds, an illegal act, but I thought it wouldn't matter as long as I made a deposit to cover the deficit before the bank received the check. My expectation was that I'd receive payment immediately upon delivery, for which I used a rented truck.
Little did I know that this Fortune 500 company's modus operandi was to pay all bills thirty or more days after receipts. My customer initially refused to pay on the spot. I told him I would consequently have to return the wire, so he reluctantly decided to call corporate headquarters for this unusual request.
My stomach was in knots the whole time he was gone, because he said it was iffy that corporate would come through. Fifty minutes later, however, he emerged with a check in hand, resentful of the time away from his busy schedule. Stressed, he told me to never again expect another C.O.D. and that any future sale must be on credit. Luckily, I made it to the bank with a few minutes to spare.
Know Your Product Thoroughly
I received a disheartening phone call shortly thereafter: my wire was breaking. This horrible news fueled the fire of my fears. Would I have to reimburse my customer? Would my vendor refuse to reimburse me?
My customer told me to come over and take samples of his good wire to see if I might duplicate it. I did that and educated myself on the necessary qualities.
My primary goal then was to find a career in which nobody had the power to fire me and that provided a comfortable living for my two little girls and myself.
Voila! I found another wire supplier that had the right specifications. By then, I was savvy enough to act as though they would naturally give me thirty-day terms. They did!
More good news: My customer merely threw away all the bad wire I'd sold him, and the new wire worked perfectly; he then gave me leads and a good endorsement. I rapidly gained more wire customers.
Anticipate The Dangers Of Exponential Growth
I had made a depressing discovery. My working capital was inadequate. After I purchased the wire, I had to wait ten to thirty days for a fabricator to get it reconfigured, which became a looming problem. It meant that to maintain a good credit standing, I had to pay for the wire ten to thirty days before my customers paid me.
I was successful on paper but was incredibly cash deprived. In other words, my exponentially growing business was about to implode due to too many sales. Eventually, my increasing sales grew at a slower rate, solving my cash flow problem.
Delegate From The Bottom Up
I learned how to delegate and eventually delegated myself out of the top jobs of CEO, President, CFO, and Vice President of Finance. Now, at seventy-eight years old, I've sold all but a third of Vulcan's stock and am semi-retired with my only job currently serving as Vice President of Stock and Consultant.
In the interim, I survived many obstacles and learned many other lessons, but hopefully these five will get you started and help prevent some of you from having the same struggles that I did. And in the end, I figured it all out, just like you will.