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Guest Post by Janine Kwoh: Why Diversity Matters in the Card Aisle

Today's post is written by my guest, Janine Kwoh, designer and creator of KWOHTATIONS handmade cards. She and I collaborated to create a special batch of cards for PRIDE MONTH (June in many places in the US). Check out her website and shop and buy all the things!

 

I have to send a few of these, myself.

I have to send a few of these, myself.

WHY DIVERSITY MATTERS IN THE CARD AISLE

A couple years ago, a friend shared with me the difficulty of finding birthday party invitations for her daughter that featured brown-skinned girls, and asked if I would make her a custom set of invitations.  I immediately said yes, but it got me thinking about the bigger issue she’d named.  

There is some public discourse about the underrepresentation of minority groups across the mainstream media, including movies, TV shows, commercials, books, magazines, video games, and billboards, etc.  The lack of diversity in these images and storylines that we’ve created is jarringly at odds with our increasingly inclusive and open society.  It is absolutely crucial that we correct this. Whether we’re conscious of it or not, the media shapes our identities and interactions in powerful ways; outside of our own narrow set of lived experiences, it’s how we learn what falling in love looks and feels like, what it means to be beautiful, the ways that different genders dress and act around each other, how to get what we want, and what is it that we should be wanting.  It tells us whose lives, insights, and stories matter to us as a society, and what types of individuals, families, and communities are considered “normal” and valued.  

The media is powerful because it enables us to insert our real selves into its constructed stories – we get to become the explorers, the lovers, the dreamers, and the heroes.  But what happens when there’s no place for some of us in these narratives?  What signal does it send to our children who don’t see anyone who looks, feels, and acts like they do?  What does it signal to our children who only see those who look, feel, and act as they do?  The media influences how we perceive others and what we think we know about them before we even meet.  When only some of our identities and life experiences are represented in meaningful and authentic ways, it means that the rest of us are reduced to flat, sometimes harmful characterizations, or worse, sentenced to non-existence.  

So why does diversity matter in the card aisle?  For the very same reasons. I’ll concede that these other media outlets likely have a greater influence on societal norms and the public consciousness, but the tradition of giving cards is still very ingrained in American culture despite the advent of email, social media, and texting: 9 out of 10 American households buy cards every year, and collectively buy ~7 billion greeting cards annually.  Cards are sold in virtually all convenience stores, big-box retailers, and gift shops, and much like TV commercials or magazines at the checkout counter, you can’t help but notice and internalize the headlines even when you aren’t really looking for them.  

Having cards that reflect the experiences of people of different races, ethnicities, cultures, genders, sexual orientations, and backgrounds matters not just because it’s frustrating to have to color over your daughter’s birthday card with brown and black crayons, or to resort to buying wedding cards with anthropomorphic animals because they’re the closest depiction of a same-sex couple that you can find.  It matters because we send cards when something we deem significant has happened, when an occasion is important enough to demand more than the customary email.  Therefore, the occasions for which there are greeting cards sends a clear message about which we think are the milestones and people that are important enough for us to be commemorating, and conversely, which are not.  The mission of Kwohtations Cards is to challenge those assumptions, to spread joy and bring people closer together by making cards that recognize, embrace, and celebrate the diversity and absurdity of life.   

 For Pride Month this June, I worked with my friend Dillan DiGiovanni to design cards that acknowledge and celebrate the experiences of some who identify as LGBTQ individuals. As a heterosexual, cisgender person, I freely admit that I don’t know what it’s like to go through life otherwise.  But I know enough to know that it’s full of ups and downs, no matter who you are. I know that as much progress has been made, it can be a pretty narrow-minded, bigoted world out there.  I know that it takes incredible courage to be yourself when a lot of people don’t want you to.  And I know that change can be hard and scary, even when you know you’re doing the right thing.  So I’m continuing to talk and learn and listen, but in the meantime I’m trying to cope with how much further we have to go to become a fully equal and open society by making something.  Something small just to say, quite simply, I see you.  I see you and I celebrate you, and I’m glad you’re you.   I hope it helps a little.   

 

Breaking rules is good for you.

I've never been very good at following rules. In fact, I've broken more than I've followed.

It's not surprising that my life has turned out the way it has. 

Before I became an entrepreneur and a health coach, and subsequently saw my health and happiness expand before my very eyes, I tried really, really hard to follow rules. But it never came easy to me, especially when I saw something happening in systems or in relationships where things just didn't work. If someone told me there was one way or a "right way" to do something, I would instantly challenge it.

For many years, I took this as some kind of sign that something was wrong with me. I broke the rules often and, for a while there, I worried that I was a path toward self-destruction or at least a life less ordinary and perhaps unnecessarily difficult. Other people seemed to get along fine, so what was wrong with me? Why wasn't I just "normal" like everyone else?

It turns out, I was doing something very, very right--at least according to the terms of the life I want to live.

It began in grade school when I shot my hand up in the air and asked why so-and-so was doing something. The teacher promptly replied, "it's none of your business". She was probably right, but it tipped me off that I was born to question everything: norms, rules, boundaries--pretty much everything. 

When I became a vegetarian, I was casting off the way I'd been raised to eat and it threw my family into a fine frenzy.

When I quit my teaching career just shy of tenure at the age of 24, people thought I was crazy to walk away from job security.

When I challenged the politics at my former job, I was subsequently asked to leave.

When I changed my gender identity, people thought I was brave. I just wanted to be more "me".

Granted, sometimes my quest for authenticity, transparency and change was/is often misguided and grossly ineffective. My own internal struggle sometimes manifests as trying to change systems or people that don't want to be changed. This continues to be a growing edge for me.

But I still think breaking rules is good for you. It's even better when you know how, why and to what ends you're breaking them. When you break societal rules (the ones that don't harm you or another person, of course) you learn a lot about people. You learn that rules are largely arbitrary and nonsense. When you break rules around food, time, relationships and your own identities, you learn to make your own rules based on the life you want to live.

Recently, I was reminded of this while interacting with administrative personnel. For the most part, the past six years of my business have been free of red tape and drama. I set my terms/rules and clients or customers either agree or don't. Or we negotiate and compromise. It works really well. When I had to work within a system again, with the complex (and often toxic) interpersonal and institutional dynamics that exists in most systems and institutions, it reminded me WHY I'm an excellent entrepreneur: I don't follow rules very well. I am creative and flexible and see everything as a possibility. The sky's the limit and everything is adaptable and relative according to each person. This isn't how many people function, individually or within groups.

WHY SHOULD YOU BREAK RULES?

You'll lose your false sense of security. People may like rules because they can create the illusion of control. When you abandon the idea that things have to be, look or go a certain way, you open yourself up to how things "could" be. 

You'll surrender your need for power. People may like rules if they benefit from power in some way. When you break rules, you surrender your need to dominate or control other people, including yourself. Sometimes rules you have for yourself around time, energy, money, etc. may limit you in some way and limit what you can give/receive from others.

You'll eliminate your ego. People may use rules (around procedures or communication or policies) to leverage control just for the ego-trip or to perpetuate identities, behaviors or patterns, even if they prove grossly ineffective. They consider there is a right way or familiar way to do things instead of many ways. They are sometimes rigid, inflexible and, as a result, often limit their growth, effectiveness and productivity. When you break rules, you basically abandon the need to be right, perfect or static as you have been and more open to what or who you could be.

Contrary to popular belief, some rule-breakers aren't "problems"--they are often problem-solvers. They are people who may see things differently, sometimes from an extremely helpful perspective. They are people who LIKE to rethink how they are doing things. They see something isn't working and they trouble-shoot in innovative ways instead of "the way they've always done things". They take in data or feedback to be more effective and productive. They want to become bigger, better and stronger.

 

BREAKING RULES allows for options

BREAKING RULES allows for diversity.

BREAKING RULES allows for change.

BREAKING RULES allows for growth and expansion.

 

Consider which rules you're currently following, where you learned them, and how they are serving you.

And which one you want to break, starting right now.