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Good leadership is, yes, about listening. It’s about understanding. But it’s also about creating contexts in which people can become activators and create new possibilities for themselves. I feel like I am succeeding when the people around me are fulfilled and engaged and self actualized.
In this episode of the Mindspace podcast, Dr. Joe speaks with Kim Manning. Kim is a professor, researcher, and principal of the Simone de Beauvoir institute at Concordia University in Montreal. She is also a community organizer, an advocate for transgender rights, and a politician. After transitioning from her research in Chinese politics and Maoist ideology, Kim became involved in social action research, namely an advocate for transgender rights and the dignified treatment of that community.
Her journey began with a transformative experience with a gender nonconforming family member. That inspired her to play an integral part of passing Bill C-16, legislation which looks to extend Canada’s Human Rights Act and Criminal Code to protect gender expression and gender identity.
Kim recently transitioned to a career in politics, which she sees as the pursuit of her highest purpose. She is currently running to be the federal Liberal party’s nominee in the Montreal riding of Outremont, where she feels she can best serve her community. To find out more about her political campaign, please visit kimmanning.ca. For more on her academic work, please visit her Concordia profile. Joe and Kim discuss:
- Her personal experience with a gender nonconforming family member that inspired her to become an advocate for the transgender community
- Her role in supporting Bill C-16 and confronting its critics, including Jordan Peterson, the U of T professor who got a lot of attention for his views on the Bill
- The excitement and challenges of her political campaign
- How her family, her sense of purpose, her meditation practice, and even Zumba classes(!) help her maintain a modicum of balance in her crazy life
Psychology research is increasingly demonstrating that mental health is more than just the absence of disease. It also involves the promotion of the positive aspects of life, including gratitude, compassion, purpose, and meaning. If you’re interested in positive psychology, MindSpace recommends ACT (Acceptance and Commitment Therapy), registering for a mindfulness meditation program, or joining a meditation group at Presence.
Here are some highlights of the conversation with Kim:
3:45 Can you give us a little introduction into what you do and how you got into it? 5:10 What is social action research?
6:43 Can you talk about the transformative experience you’ve had over the last few years?
One of the neat things about reconnecting with you is that when I took the MBSR course back in 2011, I was literally just coming in. I just applied for my first grant related to, in particular to parent advocacy on behalf of transgender children. So I kind of knew you in this moment of transition for myself.
I remember getting the grant that June. It was also the same time that my family moved to Outremont as well. For me, it was a highly personal shift that I was taking at the moment. A close family member of mine who was at that point of time very gender non-conforming and potentially transgender, and that really galvanized me when I was looking out at the world and looking at the very unwelcoming state of the world for people who are non-binary, non identifying as male or female, or who are transgender in the sense that they don’t identify with the gender that they were assigned at birth.
So for me that was very galvanizing and really prompted to in a sense cultivate new allies and new friendship and new ways of trying to approach this problem. So instead of trying to fix this close family member of mine, it’s about really approaching this as a societal problem. And we need to fix society, rather than this particular individual that I was close to.
8:43 Can you clarify some of these terms: Non-binary, gender nonconforming, and transgender?
12:26 You mention that your approach is to address this issue as a societal problem. Could you speak to why that shift is important?
15:33 So you get involved in advocating for this relative of yours. Tell us what happened there.
18:32 What was that moment when things hit the fan?
19:51 So you developed a mission in life. How does that translate into becoming more politically active and getting involved in the Liberal party?
25:39 I wanted to hear your thoughts on Bill C-16, which was a very hot topic in the media. Jordan Peterson has taken a very public stand against the bill. Jordan Peterson is a Professor at the University of Toronto and, full disclosure, a former mentor of mine. He was an academic for most of his career.
For reasons that aren’t totally clear, he decided that it was very important for him to fight it. He fought it on the grounds of a free speech position, and he claimed that the legislation was coercive in compelling people to use the pronouns of a transgender individual’s choice.
He has a very elaborate and abstract argument that the legislation is an outcome of an extreme left ideology that is making its way into law. And he felt that it was really inappropriate.
On Bill C-16: What we’re talking about is providing people with a sense of basic dignity and respect. Which is again what we have codified for ourselves and each other in all kinds of forms and changes over time. That’s a part of the society we live in. To me, this is a very reasonable, and not just reasonable, it’s part of how we create a society in which we grant each other dignity in the context of our interactions.
34:43 So what did you do?
38:20 You’re running to represent the Liberal party in the riding of Outremont in the by-election coming up. What are you doing to prepare for that race?
43:06 You said that you’re looking for a party that aligns with your values. I have the impression that alignment is a huge thing for you. It’s even in the signature of your campaign: ‘Leadership with Heart.’ You’re pursuing these ideas, and they’re not abstract. They’re at the core of who you are.
Yeah, and they’re very relationship based. That’s the key piece for me is–because for me, good leadership is, yes, it’s about listening. It’s about understanding. But it’s also about creating contexts in which people themselves can become activators and create new possibilities for themselves. I feel like I am succeeding when the people around me are fulfilled and engaged and self actualized if you will. And that’s tough.
That’s tough in neighbourhoods like Cote Des Neiges. When you’re dealing with potentially difficult housing situations. When you’ve been trained for one form of work, and you’re not able to get a job because of maybe language issues, where you’ve got family who are in another part of the world. That’s a hard call.
But if there are ways in which you can be bridging some of these pieces. If people can really come into their own and feel like, ‘Yes. I can make a good life here.’ Wow.
44:54 I’d love to talk politics and leadership with you for hours. But I think I know more about well-being. I’m curious about what the alignment that you achieved did to your state of mind. You’re always on the go. It must be incredibly draining, but you’re always smiling. It’s just unbelievable.
You’re a meditator. So there is going to be a high level of awareness of how your energy and mood are evolving. Can you speak to that a little bit?
53:55 One thing I’ve seen in my practice, of course, is that it’s very important to get cardiovascular exercise, maintain good relationships with loved ones, and meditation has become something that people do on a regular basis to stay mentally fit.
What has occurred to me in doing the work that I do is that in some ways that it’s not enough to solve problems. It’s not enough to undo the mental bad habits that we’ve developed. It’s not enough to take care of the pathologies in our own relationships or in our minds.
There’s something missing from well-being, which is having that deeper sense of purpose. I love this quote from Nietzsche: “He has a why to live for can bear almost any how.”
So one of the things that intrigues me about what you’re doing is that you have a very strong why. I was wondering how your sense of purpose is affecting your life, your relationships, and your energy levels.
Thank you for asking that question because as I have deepened into this work, the question of purpose has actually clarified for me. I think for me, actually my whole life, I’ve always seen presenting myself for politics as my ultimate purpose, for me, where I can be of most service.
I’ve tried other ways to be of service: teaching, doing research, and my parenting, being a good member of community. And all of these other things have great meaning for me, but for me, ultimately what I’ve realized, for me myself, because of my personality, because of who I am, I feel like I can be of greatest service if I’m in a role where I can be working with people in a capacity as a member of parliament or legislature, to be actually doing that work. To me that’s my highest purpose at least in this moment in time. As I have said, it may not play out. But even in the striving for that, there’s deep meaning.
And truly for me, whether it’s the Zumba classes, or whether it’s being in a mosque for the first time, as I was in June. I have had moments of–it’s almost radical vulnerability. That to me, that sense of aliveness is just a tremendous gift for me. I also see how people respond. The more I’ve committed to this path, the more the people around me and the people who are coming to me–I’m meeting extraordinary people in all kinds of communities. So it’s like the more alive I become, the more I’m interacting and finding and opening up to these other people who are extraordinary, and doing extraordinary things with their lives.
And their higher purpose is different from mine. And wow. ‘Look at what you’re doing. Isn’t this extraordinary?’ And even in my closest relationships. Yes, this is hard.
My kids don’t get to see me nearly as often as they did before I started this journey, 6 months ago. There’s no question it’s hard. It’s hard on my husband too. It’s hard on the kids. I can talk more about how we manage that whole piece because that’s a whole other–I think it’s more of a political question of actually of how you do something like this. And it’s, again, reflective of the kinds of systems I want to change around who can actually go into politics.
Who can make these attempts at radical vulnerability if you will? But I will say that the more I invested in this work and committed to this work and the happier I’ve become, the more alive my relationship is with my partner and with the other people around me. And I know in some ways that that doesn’t make sense. But it also totally makes sense.
And it just affirms for me that the guy I married 20 years ago is really my right partner. And that the more alive I become, and the more alive he becomes, there’s that connection and mutual support even 3 children in and several houses and all the moves and all the various trials of life. So that’s really extraordinary too.
1:00:13 When you talk about your work, you also use the word vulnerable quite a bit. We all want that alive feeling, but it does require commitment, risk, and making yourself vulnerable. And that’s not always easy for people. But when you have that deeper purpose, it gives you the why to bear that how.
1:02:34 Tell us how we can learn more about the work you’re doing.