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  • August 17, 2016 5 min read


    Being With…Hannah Roodman

    For Hannah Roodman, wellness doesn’t start in the kitchen or at the gym. It starts within and with others—where we can listen, learn, empathize and share. The managing director of strategy agency Human, Roodman hopes to share this vision with the world through her event series BeingWith. The innovative, thoughtful sessions offer space for brave participants to share personal stories and engage in conversation, feedback and art.

    For Roodman, in the midst of the world’s current turmoil and violence, we’re in dire need of this connection now more than ever. SBS talked with the Richmond, VA, native about how we can all engage in more authentic, present communication for the wellness of, well, the planet.

    SBS: How did you come to the idea of the BeingWith series as part of wellness?

    Hannah Roodman: My mother is a Pilates instructor and my father is a chiropractor, so wellness was always a conversation in my family.

    I got into film in high school, especially documentaries, from the standpoint of social justice. I started to recognize how huge this world is, and how movements are built to create change in the world—change through heart. That’s what motivated me, and that’s what led me to my job at the agency Human, where we do media and strategy for world changing institutions like Unicef.

    I wanted to do something more additionally, and I landed on this idea about creating new spaces for listening and healing within communities. It’s based around the idea of vulnerability, which is simply a part of everyone’s human experience. There is this raw emotional reality of uncertainty, and we have needs surrounding that. So this is a space to look at those needs in a new way, be with them and be with the fact that other people have that too.

    Working in film and the Internet, I cant’ help but see we are living in the nosiest time, and yet we are not creating or innovating new spaces to listen. So that was the goal. I think that healing and wellness is so dependent on our ability to listen to what our bodies need, what our minds need, what our communities need…right now.

    SBS: What are the challenges in creating such a unique endeavor?

    HR: BeingWith is all about collaboration. The whole event is designed intentionally to encourage collaboration between people who are speakers, the ones who courageously share, and the rest of the group. The first event was about illness, but we’d like to include everything from racism to gentrification. The speakers are the anchors to this.

    The challenge is finding people who want to share but also engage, not in a distanced way…people who are just right now processing whatever the experience is. It’s not past tense. They can speak about it insightfully. So curating speakers is a challenge to find what creates the most meaningful and connecting experience.

    Then, we recruit artists to collaborate with our speakers, and eventually they interpret what the speakers share. For example, we had a woman with a brain injury. A composer listened to her and created a sound installation that reflected the overstimulation in her head.

    Then, the big picture challenge is how do we get people excited to talk about vulnerability, which is such a tender, scary area? I think we do that through art and storytelling, bringing amazing speakers and understanding that this is an urgent cultural shift.

    SBS: If someone wants to start their own BeingWith type of group, what are your tips for healthy listening and sharing?

    HR: First, participants who are sharing should identify where they are already in that conversation and be vocal about that. So if we are talking about racism, and I am a white woman, then I need to immediately acknowledge what’s there for me in the subject already. Do I feel guilt? Do I feel disconnected? I need to own and vocalize that quickly.

    As for the speaker, pick one person who you think really has a story to share around the topic and spend the time with that. We need to demand focus. Then, make sure you create time for group reflection, perhaps a journaling task at the end.

    SBS: What about tips for responding and engaging responsibly?

    HR: That’s part of our research, figuring out our scenarios and best practices. But to start, you have to communicate to a group that this is a safe space. That means confidentiality and a judgment-free zone where people won’t be interrupted, Silence is ok, and if people need to check out and journal, that’s ok too. Nobody is forced to share, and there should always be room for conversational moments.

    Finally, if someone gets really emotional, there needs to be someone, a moderator of sorts, to create space and acknowledge they will guide the group if things get tricky.

    SBS: What are the boundaries surrounding vulnerability, and why are they there?

    HR: We are so scared. People are so afraid of looking bad. They think, ‘Maybe I’m ashamed I have depression, and that might cost me socially.’ Or, ‘I’m ashamed of this addiction.’ There’s so much shame, and that really gets in the way.

    But there is a counterintuitive nature of vulnerability. Sharing, while deeply uncomfortable and scary, is the strongest presentation of a person. The feedback loop of other people wanting to be courageous from your sharing is incredible. Everyone craves meaningful conversations.

    SBS: How does sharing benefit us?

    HR: To live a life you love and to live it powerfully, you must be your authentic self—and recognize yourself as contributor to society and world. No amount of me taking care of this one little body of mine will give me that deep fulfillment of contribution. Everyone has something to share. Vulnerability is that sharing, as is listening. That’s one of he most generous things you can do. That’s what makes us feel connection.

    For me, my vulnerability that led me to create this is around who I am creatively, as a filmmaker. I’m still wrestling a familiar voice of ‘You are a fraud.’ A lot of women can relate to that. I worried that I’m not truly creative, and I really put myself to task. You must confront this vulnerability.

    To do so, I made a film about my best friend who had traumatic brain injury. Through that experience, I became strong about the vulnerability. It helped me recognize that at my soul level, I’m a creator.

    SBS: What are your long-term goals?

    HR: I want BeingWith to be a worldwide practice. I think the way we do that is to create an open source template for the experiences to be utilized on college campuses and schools. Let’s see how we can use it to pull for diverse collaboration.

    SBS: Why do you think this type of interaction is so important right now?

    HR: Our country desperately needs space for people to experience difference and really overcome the intense ‘otherization’ that’s happening all over. I think the more we prioritize listening space, and the more we slow down, we will be able to see the possibilities that we are blind to now: ‘I can love you and disagree with you’ only exists for a person when they are listening.

    Hannah’s SBS Mantra: "Be You" is my favorite. It takes tremendous courage and vulnerability to really embrace our whole, true selves, and I want to live in a world where we all have courage to show up in our full realness. 

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