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The Girl Effect – part IV

Saturday, November 20, 2010 by Marianne Elliott

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This is the fourth in a (totally unplanned) series of responses to the invitation from the lovely Tara Sophia Mohr to write about The Girl Effect. You can read my three previous posts here, here and here.

At the end of my last post I started to get a bit new-agey on you. Somehow I went from talking about the importance of addressing resource inequalities at a global as well as a local level to talking about feelings.

If that seemed a big leap for you, then hold on tight because I make leaps like that all the time. I am just as comfortable talking about opening our heart through yoga and meditation as I am talking about the politics of gender discrimination.

When I was growing up, the tanker-truck that collected milk from our farm had a sign saying: ‘Warning Turns Often’.

Consider this fair warning: this blog turns often.

Where I left off yesterday was talking about the importance of allowing ourselves to feel what we feel, the importance of softening into that tender spot in which we feel the pain of so much suffering in the world. So what on earth does that have to do with The Girl Effect? Or with building a more equitable international trade regime?

Well, in Afghanistan I learned that my soft heart was not, after all, a professional liability. Approaching my work with an open heart meant being willing to actually feel the pain (and the joy) of the people I was there to serve.

It was only by keeping my skin thin and my heart soft that I was able to experience the transformative truth that we are not so different, or separate at all. If I am able to feel the pain of an Afghan woman with whom I have so little, superficially, in common it is because we are, at our essence, the same. We are the same: not similar, not indirectly connected, but we are on some essential level the same. And at this point we have to bust a myth.

The myth of the righteous martyr.

Because, if we are not separate, there can be no righteousness in sacrificing one’s own wellbeing to serve another. Kindness towards ourselves becomes essential to, and part of, our kindness towards others. There is no longer ‘us’ and ‘them’. There is only ‘us’.

This simple realization is so radical that it can inspire revolutionary acts in people.

When we stop beating ourselves up for being human and start extending a hand of genuine kindness to ourselves we start to find deep wells of kindness within ourselves which are then available to spread around wherever a little kindness is needed (i.e. pretty much everywhere).

So part of my purpose is to spread this revolution of kindness, to free people from the paralysis of self doubt  so they can become a force for even greater good in the world.

Self-kindness is a radical act. It set us free to serve others, to live a life of courageous compassion, to create positive change.

If that all sounds a little esoteric for you, here’s the pragmatic bottom line. If we want to be a force for good in the world, taking care of ourselves is part of our work because we are our own most important tool.

In Afghanistan, I discovered that there were practices that helped keep me well, that kept my body, heart and mind soft and open and enabled me to serve.  For me, these were the practices of yoga and meditation, and of collaboration with others.

Yoga releases tensions and toxins from my body and mind, so I can show up for my work ‘clean’, and it reminds me that we really are all one.

Meditation trains me to meet everything that arises with acceptance and compassion.

Collaboration keeps me honest, helps me see the best in others, and makes my service sustainable.

So a big part of my mission, now, is:

to take radical self-care and the revolution of kindness into the field.

I told you! Big leaps, sudden turns. You don’t have to agree with me. I totally get it if this seems like a pile of new-age bollocks to you. I really don’t mind at all if you see no connection between self-kindness and The Girl Effect.

But if you do get what I’m saying, if this makes sense to you, then say hello and let me know because you and me, we need to talk.


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18 Responses to "The Girl Effect – part IV"

  1. Irene says:

    Hello gorgeous.

  2. Amy says:

    I have found that many people working in development (Americans especially, personal experience) are motivated in large part by guilt. Guilt is a huge, powerful motivator but it is horribly damaging to the development worker/missionary/peace corps volunteer/etc. Many good things have been done from the promptings of guilt, but it has a high cost to the individual or culture that continues to dwell in that space.

    I believe that it is only through self-kindness and letting go of guilt that real, great change can be enacted. Non-guilt motivated work empowers other to follow the model when they might otherwise not participate due to a lack of guilt on their own part. A positive approach to the world encourages others to participate.

    So…yeah, I agree with you. It’s such a beautiful idea.

  3. Emmanuelle says:

    “There is no longer ‘us’ and ‘them’. There is only ‘us’.” YES!

    I’m reading Michael Stone’s “Yoga for a world out of balance” and this is exactly what he writes. We are them, they are us. Being kind to us means being able to serve others better for they are us.

    I’m teaching my first yoga one-on-one next week, and I’m sooo excited about it. I’m teaching to a coworker who’s drowned into piles and piles of work and stress. She needs help, she needs to take care of herself, so she can handle the rest better. I’ll do my best to help her, which will help me too. Her suffering is mine.
    I know it’s not the same field we’re talking about here, but I feel it’s the same process, correct me if I’m wrong.

    I’m still processing the rest of your series Marianne, I am so grateful that you wrote it and shared, be back here often 🙂

  4. Marianne,
    I love this – and love how in each post you are taking up another important dimension of the discussion around service, poverty, The Girl Effect.
    I’ve been thinking a lot about the topic of this post lately – particularly as I’ve been enjoying reading Jen Louden’s work on the relationship between saving and savoring the world.
    What comes up for me around this is that it’s all about being consistent in the “come from” place – the emotional/spiritual place – as we do our work/live our lives.
    Helping people from a place of matyrdom literally puts us in a kind of inner conflict because we are trying to give something – love, caring, joy, wholeness – that’s not aligned who/what we are.
    To truly give in a spirit of love for people, love for life, we need also need to embody that ourselves.

  5. Christiane says:

    Well hello. We need to talk.

  6. Jasmine Lamb says:


    I’m a bit speechless here (but now watch me talk). I keep needing to come back and just sit with my physical experience of opening in my heart. Recently the sensation at times has been so strong, so achy, I have to just stop and abide with it. It doesn’t feel totally comfortable, and yet it is so clearly the actual release of tension around my heart, the literal opening of my being, and so I’m willing to be present for it.

    When I was younger I thought I needed to run around and try to save the world–if I could some how make everything okay outside of myself, then maybe I’d feel okay on the inside. Thankfully I came to see that for me I needed to start in my center, do all my work from there, and then just see what happens.

    This past week of engaging in The Girl Effect campaign is one of the first times in a handful of years that I’ve thrown myself into social action in the world beyond my community. It is possibly the first time when the impulse has come completely from wholeness and joy.

    What you talk about doesn’t seem esoteric at all. It seems as real and plain as the kitchen sink. Keep listening and keep talking.

    I love this sentence: “We are the same: not similar, not indirectly connected, but we are on some essential level the same.”

    Thank You.

  7. Julie Daley says:

    Funny, I hadn’t read your post until now, just a few hours after posting mine, and we are so on the same wave-length. This is really beautiful.

  8. asiyah says:

    I agree with Amy. Once I let go of the guilt, I became more effective. Or rather, I didn’t really let go of the guilt, but realized it was there and tried not to let it have so much power over me. I still struggle with it but reminding myself that I am allowed to be joyful, have fun and prosper and help others. I didn’t realize that the self-martyring impulses made me less effective in my life. Once I recognized my own self-worth, others recognized it too. Even the ones that didn’t recognize it, it didn’t matter – I was able to speak my own truth.

  9. […]   Our own Girl Effect is hearts being healed by women counselors, coaches, and teachers like Marianne Elliott and Lianne Raymond, who make it their work to help others find wellness.   Our own Girl Effect […]

  10. […] join The Girl Effect campaign—wrote eloquently on her blog this week (you can read her whole post here): And – perhaps most importantly of all – we can allow ourselves to keep feeling what we feel […]

  11. Jessica says:

    This is good stuff. I’ve enjoyed this series of posts very much–you’ve given me a lot to think about. Thank you, Marianne.

  12. SusanJ says:

    Oh Hurrah! Self-kindness is a radical act indeed! It flies in the face of so many things in western culture, including comparison, status, numbness and distraction.

    And knowing that “We are our own most important tool” puts this in such perspective – because what artist, architect or engineer would expect to create something good with tools that had not been looked after or weren’t up to the task?

    I love the way this series tumbled out, Marianne, and I count myself lucky to have witnessed it. = >

  13. Imogen says:

    As a woman working on a project supporting vulnerable girls in DRC (which has been called the worst place in the world to be female), I can agree wholeheartedly. Kindness to myself helps me be kinder to others. I feel overwhelmed more than guilty or anxious to ‘save the world’, but I guess its related.

    Like this post M. xxx

  14. gis says:

    We need to talk, but waiting to be able to be nearer to you in space, let’s try and get along the same pathway! Thanks for the inspiring posts and continue like that!

  15. jen says:

    Thank you for this Marianne! I read this post a while back, and just returned again to it today because I really needed to revisit your ideas. I’ve been overwhelmed for the past two days after learning about tens of thousands of horses who’ve been abandoned on public lands by their owners in Ireland. (non-human) Victims of the Irish recession. As an animal lover, the heartbreak is overwhelming. But serendipitously, this coincides with work I’m doing with my (buddhist-trained) therapist on the importance of allowing my self to deeply feel the suffering of others, because it leads to good things as well (this is a difficult concept, as one who feels responsible for everyone 🙂 … and here you are, making that link so eloquently and enriching it with your own stories. So I just wanted to say thanks, and that you’ve helped another go deeper into (healthy) compassion. [and the Girl Effect!–so wonderful and right on. I’m an artist whose paintings explore the power of women/girls & the more abstract feminine.]

  16. […] this in terms of kindness – a kind of kindness we extent to ourselves and others alike. According to Marianne, “self-kindness is a radical act. It sets us free to serve others, to live a life of […]

  17. […] is very interested in health topics and what he puts inside his body and does. He practices what Marianne Elliot refers to in her blog as self-kindness. And I have realized that it is not selfish at all to take […]

  18. […] this in terms of kindness – a kind of kindness we extent to ourselves and others alike. According to Marianne, “self-kindness is a radical act. It sets us free to serve others, to live a life of […]

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