The business world can be dog-eat-dog environment, and that takes a strong person to succeed. And traditionally, that strength has been associated with masculinity. A recent study now suggests that having authority to hire and fire brings an added burden of depression to women. I suspect part of the reason for that is the media's depiction of women's relationships as competitive, catty and marked by jealousy and manipulation. Too many women haven't learned yet how to be effective supporters of each other, but that's changing rapidly.
My mission is to help women connect with each other to make the world a better place. I have a vision of propelling the effort to build a global community of strong women, who will help one another succeed, and mentor girls ascending the ladder into adulthood. Women helping women: it can be a real movement to grow a sisterhood for a better tomorrow.
In the developed world we may forget the difference small gestures and connections can make. I recently joined an inspiring international women's empowerment program, which has shown me many things, including how just a little training and a microloan can help a woman start her own business. An additional lesson I've learned from this work? Well, we don't have to reach across an ocean to help another woman in her journey to success.
The same principles apply when we extend a hand across the room. And here's how you will benefit if you join me in this effort. Here are five specific reasons why all women should work to empower other women.
1. Helping one woman helps all women.
When someone smiles at us, we naturally smile back; when someone is in pain, our bodies also reflect that emotion and physical sensation. James Gross's research at Stanford shows that our wiring for empathy is so deep that, just by observing someone else in pain, the "pain matrix" in our brain is activated. They actually measured it.
Human rights activist and Leading Women contributing author Rebecca Tinsley writes that Western women often have difficulty responding to the needs in developing countries. They feel overwhelmed by the urgent sense of need, so they choose to turn a blind eye. However, Rebecca couldn't do that in her own work. When she met the refugees of Darfur, she wrote their stories, and founded her own foundation to educate the women and children who survived genocide. She advises Western women to choose a small population to start and see how much change you can create. One of Rebecca's programs has transformed 50,000 lives with everyone working to lift others up.
2. It's our nature and brings out the best in all of us.
Believe it or not, part of our survival instinct is to help each other. As a crisis team leader, I worked with others to help the victims of 911, Hurricane Katrina and other catastrophes. It always amazes me to watch people who have lost everything turn to help other people. The worst circumstances seem to bring out the best in us. But we shouldn't wait for a catastrophe to help others.
3. It is the greatest gift you can give (and it doesn't cost a dime).
When you show someone that you think she has value, you can transform her life.
Author Marcia Reynolds once told a story about the lowest point in her life, when she found herself in jail. She connected with a fellow inmate who shook her awake and challenged her to figure out who she was beyond trying to be the best at everything. All it takes is one person reaching out to another and giving the gift of self-worth. Kindness is portable, and always available to us. We just have to make the choice to tap into it.
4. You will live a longer and happier life.
We've all heard the adage, "It's better to give than to receive." Now science is backing that up. When giving is accompanied by selfless feelings, it actually activates the pleasure centers of the brain, releasing endorphins. This chemical reaction, in turn, reduces inflammation, which causes a number of life-threatening diseases from cancer to heart disease.
Beyond the action of giving your time, treasures or talents, the process of connecting with others is what gives us more longevity. Positive social interactions, such as "lifting each other up," actually add years of happy, stress-free living to our lives.
5. You can connect with others to transform the world.
The greatest feats of activist efforts throughout history, across the globe, have come from community and connection. It's time for all of us to get connected, reach out and lift up each other. You can start with a kind word, a helping hand or just remembering to connect and acknowledge the importance of the people you meet.
Are you willing to start now and use your power to ignite others to feel empowered? Let us connect to create a better world!
By Nancy O'Reilly
Mother, Jewish, mostly raw/vegan, teacher, curriculum developer, grant writer, flower essence maker, dual US/Israel citizen, friend, dancer, lover of life.