About this episode:
John & Kristen discuss Cynthia Alpan
Some things that came up for John & Kristen:
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Kristen Cerelli 0:05
Welcome back to the studio, Dr. John Lyons.
John Lyons 0:09
Thank you, Kristen, it's good to see and hear you again.
Kristen Cerelli 0:11
You too are here. Today we're gonna talk about my interview with Cynthia Alpan who is going through really a huge change in Lebanon with her countrymen, not just her but everyone. Everyone living there. So I know you have very specific points you want to get to today, I want to just say out loud, so I don't forget the two things that really stood out to me as different to in this episode. One is that this is really the first person I think, who's in the middle of the change, you know, not looking back on the change, but like really in it. And also, this is the first time we've had somebody an individual's speak about not just an individual experience, but the experience of an entire group of people. So it is quite different. What what do you want to jump into today?
John Lyons 1:08
Yeah, well, I think that's that's one of the things I wanted to mention. I agree with you this, this interview was quite different in certain circumstances, in certain ways than the other. The other ones that you've done so far, I think it's also quite timely, because we have major events happening in Ukraine that are likely having significant impact, will clearly having a significant impact on the people of Ukraine, but also the people of Russia, that a lot of people are and will be suffering in the same kind of way. All due to Kleptocracy, right all due to power that corrupts. And so I think, you know, it speaks to, you know, John ActOns, famous 19th century statement that power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. And our story really fits into that sad, human tragedy that's been on the line for centuries, and will go on forever. I mean, that's just the nature of the human condition.
Kristen Cerelli 2:18
Yeah. And I think something that hits me about Cynthia story and the story of the people of Lebanon. When I interviewed her, it was, I think, early this year, early in January. And we didn't, we weren't aware of what would happen in Ukraine. But as I was researching what was happening in Lebanon, in order to prepare for her interview, a lot of what I was reading was journalists saying nobody's paying attention to this, nobody's telling the story. Like they're getting ignored. It's happening. And it's kind of like a blip. And now, it is even overshadowed by Ukraine as well, you know, so it's, it's great that you pull that out that Ukraine and Russia are in a very parallel situation. I'm glad we're telling Cynthia story right now, because I don't think it's it gets attention in the media, as much as it could, or should,
John Lyons 3:17
you know, Aleppo, Syria was exposed exactly the same brutality that's happening in Ukraine. And we didn't need to tell those stories, just to be fair, all so then the same kind of things happen with a different weapons with the same processes in Africa and elsewhere. And so we tend to in the US hear certain stories, and we don't hear other stories. And, you know, people say, there is there isn't such a thing as systemic racism. But I think it's these kinds of circumstances that demonstrate clearly that there is and this is the kinds of stuff that you see. So that's a one take home message that isn't one of the five that I kind of wrote down after listening to Cynthia's story, but it's related to one of them, which is the power of circumstance. So more than any of the others, Cynthia's elevated the fact that we find ourselves in our lives contained or you could choose to say trapped into circumstances like with her children, and her ex husband and her elderly, parents and so forth. These are circumstances that define some of your choices and that challenges any sort of change process, right? She could get on a plane and leave Lebanon, but she has her values that make that not possible, which is both a wonderful in a tragic thing all at the same time.
Kristen Cerelli 4:52
Yeah, I wrote down that very phrase as I was listening back. That feeling I got from her that She is trapped. That, like you say she, she's all she also is grateful and she feels blessed. And she wants to be a mom, you know, but she's in this very conflicted situation where she actually has a choice. You know, she could leave like he said, but she but but she also can't leave, you know, in her heart, she can't leave, she can't leave her daughter. So.
John Lyons 5:25
So the question then becomes, how can you be trapped without feeling trapped? Right? I mean, that's, that's the key is how do you actually choose to view your circumstances so that you see yourself as making an active choice to do the right thing? And I think, actually, I heard that and some of the things that she said that she was actively choosing to do the right thing, though she was exercising choice. Even though from outside from our perspective, we could say you're a crapped. She's not trapped, she chooses to stay, because she chooses to value certain parts of her life that are important. And I think that's a big piece of her resilience. I think that's a big piece of her ability to adapt and to adjust to this massive change in her lifestyle.
Kristen Cerelli 6:14
Yeah, I'm thinking about what you just said, It is my perception or our perception and a very, maybe American centric perception to think Poor her. You know, she's, she's, she's trapped. She stuck? It wouldn't it wouldn't be the case here. But that's, that's not necessarily true.
John Lyons 6:36
Yeah, I think that's, I wouldn't actually call it American perspective, I call that a privileged perspective. It's the same kind of perspective that leads, you know, carrying privileged people calling people who are less privileged, vulnerable, I find that terminology. Disturbing, I find it disturbing for us to talk about vulnerable children and vulnerable populations, because I actually know many of these folks. And if you ask them, they don't call themselves vulnerable. You know, they're stuck in circumstances that they have trouble getting out. They're not vulnerable, they're strong, they're loving, they try to do their best on a day to day basis. And so for us to view them from our lens, and call them vulnerable is also diminishing them in some important ways. It's making them last, because they are vulnerable, we need to take care of the vulnerable people, which is in fact, patronizing. And and at the minimum ratified, right? So but I think it's actually establishes and maintains privilege in a way that's not particularly healthy.
Kristen Cerelli 7:50
I didn't ask her directly, but you get the sense that she's identified a need to stay in a need that's bigger than her, you know. And she, she talked about herself as a as a tiger, and a helicopter mom and a protector and a survivor. And so I wonder if some of that keeps her going, having that part of her identity, where she recognizes that other people need her and they need her efforts, they need her energy.
John Lyons 8:25
Yeah, I loved her the part of our store where she's talking about how she could go outside and walk on the street, and people were afraid of her right, which is just, there's the tiger tigers. Yeah, whatever. Right. And, and so that, that is just cool, right? And in certain environments, that's really useful, and her taking care of her daughter. And that same kind of way is really useful, that's important, and so forth. But I do think that gives you a window into her soul about how she thinks about re identifying herself within her new life. Yeah.
Kristen Cerelli 8:58
Tell me, point number three, if that's where we're at, I don't know where
John Lyons 9:03
we're on point number two. The number though, which is sweet. So that actually would have been my point we want because it's sort of an aside, I took from our story for so for the parents who are listening, who might have a child is a little bit wild. I think maybe you shouldn't worry too much about that. Right? Maybe that's actually a sign of strength, maybe that your child is a teenager is quote acting out may just be acting and that's okay. Because they grow up and the stuff that was leading them to be an adventurer and be out there and being a little bit on the edge might be things that come in very handy for them as adults to sustain them through whatever trials or tribulations they might face. So I just think there's an interesting message that here she is, she was a a privileged, spoiled brat. I think she called herself and she, her parents were so concerned about her wildness that they brought her to Memphis, Tennessee. Yeah, you're right. So, and she's turned out to be just a wonderful human being. And so I think, you know, that's there's something there that parents, I hope, can hold in their hearts as they go through their own struggles with. And I speak to that personally, because I know my parents had their own struggles with me. So I was similar to her in that sense.Kristen Cerelli:
Yeah. And it's also really interesting that in order to quote unquote, protect her from herself, and I know there was a civil war going on, and I don't mean to make light of that at all. But in order to sort of protect her, they move her to another country, that's quite a big change to thrust upon your child. So in terms of navigating changes, she's navigated a lot of change, you know, sheJohn Lyons:
changes. Yeah, that's I got a radical change moving from Lebanon to Memphis, Tennessee. Yeah, just being kind of dropped off. So yeah.Kristen Cerelli:
Come back to your your third point.John Lyons:
Third point is, was her personal strengths. You know, I mean, I thought that the resiliency that she was talking about the describing her strengths, her confidence in herself, you know, it's fascinated me that here's a young woman of color, and we're talking about in the late 70s, and 80s, who did not feel in any way, discriminated against in financial settings. So that's fascinating, right, I'm not sure I can wrap my head fully around what that means. But, but one little message that I think might be possible, and again, I'm not sure I even have the right to say this. But, but I do think sometimes, discrimination is not there unless you see it as there. And so figuring out when you're being discriminated, when you're not, I think is an important lens for everybody to kind of figure out on their own. Because if you're, if you go into situations and don't expect to be discriminated against, maybe you're less likely to be discriminated against. And if you go into situations anticipating that things are going to happen to you because of the color of your skin or your background or other kinds of things. And that might actually increase the likelihood that they do. So I just I thought thought that experience that she had, I wasn't sure whether I thought she might maybe she just was blind to it. She just didn't notice it. And it was happening all the time. Or her Tigers personality just simply prevented it from happening, because she went in there not expecting it to happen.Kristen Cerelli:
Yeah, there's an excellent chapter, there are many excellent chapters in this book I'm reading now called the coddling of the American mind. And they unpack what you're just mentioned, in a different way from a different perspective. But it is really interesting. They talk about microaggressions. And really kind of looking at those from the perspective of the the person of color. And they had several examples of where people of color told their stories and how they kind of walk themselves in and walk themselves out of was it or was it not actually a moment of discrimination? It was just interesting. It's interesting readingJohn Lyons:
is actually parallel with Dr. Davis's interview, right? Because he, and he actually had situations where he recognized he was not being discriminated against and other situations where he saw it very, very clearly. Yeah, this is interesting. I think that's an important kind of way of thinking about these things.Kristen Cerelli:
Yes, it is interesting what you bring up though about, I want I want to go down this rabbit hole a little bit, because she has this point of view that's really strong, both about who she is and about how she sees the world and about how she fits into the professional world. And then there's this moment where she just says she's basically in denial about what's happening with the financial markets in Lebanon, where she knows all she knows this is happening. She knows it intellectually. And she tells her clients don't do that. And then she does it herself. It's like she really she knows one thing, and she believes the opposite thing or she she knows something to be true, but she disbelieves that it actually is true. And I just think that's related to what you're saying about what were these just discriminatory events where these aggressions happening and she missed them. Did she refuse to believe that they were happening? Were they not happening, but it's in my mind it relates to this moment that she reveals she She just didn't do what she could have done to save herself financially.John Lyons:
It all exists for a reason, right? I mean, it, it does serve a purpose for humans. And maybe it serves a powerful purpose for adaptation. You know? I mean, it was interesting, because as you listened to the interview, she had a moment where she had to take a pause, right? Where are they talking about this story brought out or feelings. But by the end of the end, those are feelings are sad, of course, and mad. By the end of the interview, though, she was very happy that she had a chance to talk with you about itself in the second half an hour, right? She went through stages of experiences about telling our story that were both difficult. And uplifting. I think that's really, really interesting. And so it kind of then fits in with this notion of denial, right? Because it's harder to deny things as you talk them through, right. That's one of the reasons why their therapy works. The way it works is that by talking things through, and by saying things out loud, you become aware of things that you weren't really thinking about before. Right. And so I just thought that was an interesting part of this particular interview is to watch her emotional journey through the interview and think about that as the parallel emotional journey through our life, because it sort of replicates exactly for life, right? I mean, a lot of bad things have recently happened, but she finds meaning and purpose and moves forward on a fraction of the income.Kristen Cerelli:
Yeah. Tell me a little bit about that. Um, this is tangential to to Cynthia, but you just mentioned the therapy process, bringing things to light that we may be in denial about, is there something about? Can I get a witness? You know, like, is there something more change making in saying it out loud to another person? I mean, maybe that seems silly. But if you're writing in your journal, and you know, something, or you know, you say it to yourself, what's, what's the advantage of saying it out loud to another person?John Lyons:
Yeah, I think a couple of things. And I this is true in everything is not just therapy, for instance, you learn more if you teach than if you sit in a class and listen, because you have to say it out loud, right. And you have to say it out loud. Yeah. But it's also very true in therapy. So there's a therapeutic evidence based practice for trauma called trauma focused, cognitive behavioral therapy. TF CBT, is the acronym. And the way it works is you do a trauma narrative. So you tell your trauma story. But you have to share it with someone. And then the idea is, once you've done that, you can move past it. And so it tends to work we did some research on it tends to work best. If there's somebody you can share it with, who cares about you. And I certainly was a part of your permanent life, though, just sharing it with a therapist or just sharing it with, you know, a foster parents, less that foster parents becoming a permanent part of your life is not nearly as powerful than sharing it with your parent or with a sibling or self. So there is something about the relational side of storytelling, that's probably very healing. I think it's probably the one of the many advantages of having best friends that you can, you know, people say, I can tell her anything, I can tell him anything, right. So that's a piece of that power is by sharing our story, sharing our secrets, sharing our inner thoughts, that there's something healing about that. So but it doesn't necessarily have to be a therapist. But if you don't have people in your life that you can talk to about things that are important to your heart, then it probably is helpful to hire somebody for that purpose. But at the end of the day, you might want to choose to surround yourself with people who you can have those conversations with that probably is a better, a better approach. Wow.Kristen Cerelli:
Thank you for taking that side. Detour with me.John Lyons:
It's I think that's a really important part of change of how people change is when you're ready. Yes, say it out loud. Right. So that it can begin to happen.Kristen Cerelli:
Yeah, it would be interesting to to do a follow up with our guests. Yes. Because should I think each one of them you know, I reach out after to see you know, just how they're doing and I'm always in touch when the episode drops. But without any prompting they've all said like, Thank you for letting me tell my story and You know, thank you for fill in the blank some pieces of people say holding the space or listening or being kind, and you're listening, and I'm not their parent or their sibling or their best friend, or their but I do think or their therapist, but I do think there is something, maybe it affirms that we're not alone to just to share it with another human being. It's been really gratifying process for me on that end, to get to, you feel like you come out of this with real intimacy with the guest, that they've shared this with me. Now, sure, we're gonna go share it with a listening public, but the interview starts out as an intimate experience of sharing.John Lyons:
And it may in fact, be a part of the engine of a relationship, because I'm sure she felt closer to you, and you felt closer to her. Right? Now, really, for the two of you to be truly close, you would have to share your story with her as well, right? Because otherwise, it's an unbalanced storytelling. And that's probably not a true friendship, right? It's more like a therapeutic relationship. But relationships, as we've learned across every interview, relationships are key to people's well being health.Kristen Cerelli:
What's number four?John Lyons:
Number four is how people, I'm really not talking as much about Cynthia here as in general, how people adapt, you know, they adapt to whatever circumstance they are put in. And that's both a good thing and a bad thing. Right. So I think that's one of the thing that autocratic leaders count on that people will adapt, and they will learn to live in whatever world that leadership creates for them. And so I was struck by that. And it led me in two different directions. One is like, wow, you know, aren't humans need I know, isn't this pool that we can take whatever circumstances we're given, and we will, in fact, survive, and we will adapt. And the other pathways, oh, my God, this is how we end up and losing our freedoms, because of our ability to adapt. For instance, Putin was counting on that with the invasion of Ukraine is that they people would just adapt, and they wouldn't tolerate whatever new set of rules were forced upon them. He's definitely counting on that with the Russian people that they will simply adapt. And so what if they don't get Western news? And so what if they only hear what the government wants them to hear? They will adapt. And you see that actually happening? That's good on people, but sad on a human condition. Right. So yeah. I was struck by that as how extreme it can be. And how dramatic any, you know, you hear other stories about people he knows about the guy who cut off his own arm to escape from being dying out in the wilderness, right? I mean, people adapt.Kristen Cerelli:
Does that have anything to do with? Can you link that to the cycles and the patterns that she alluded to about the Lebanese people and one generation not necessarily passing on? I wonder if that links to the cycle that Lebanon has gone through the Civil War, leading to the financial crisis, leading to the civil unrest? And then again, it happens again, and it happens again, and it's like, Is that related to this adaptation factor that people are just okay, we can we can work with this even though it's terrible.John Lyons:
Yeah, I think I think it is. I think the other thing that might be a factor in Lebanon is that Lebanon as a country is carved out by I believe Europeans originally carved out decided, you are Lebanon. And in order to have a society, you have to have a unity of perspective. I think that's what Putin missed in Ukraine. He thought there wasn't that, you know, that's what he's tried to create. The Russian misinformation campaign he's tried to create in the US, is a concept and you hear our current pathetic political leadership, playing into that kind of stuff and talking about those two countries and all this other crap that actually drives us apart and creates a lack of uniform identity. And when you don't have uniform identity, it's really, really hard to create a culture that passes its own history. Because it's not a national culture. It's different sectors of people who all happen to live in the same geography that are supposed to have a national identity. So I do think that Lebanon has been a victim of that form of colonialism. It's not perhaps us or hegemonic, I don't know exactly what the right term is for the fact that the borders were established post World War Two, without a whole lot of discussion with the people who live within different borders. And I think that's created a fairly long standing problem, the region is that really people from outside of our region shouldn't be defining identity.Kristen Cerelli:
And then within the the country itself. I think she calls it tribalism, or if she didn't, it's, it is what comes up political factions. Yeah, becauseJohn Lyons:
they're not organized by the culture. They're organized by an external source, drawing lines on a map and saying, You are now an entity. And, you know, good luck with that. The Europe's spent centuries fighting and killing each other around these issues. It's pretty stable. Now the French believe in the French and they have language and culture that kind of established them English or the English, they establish themselves as such, the Germans, the Germans, yeah, Germans went through that themselves, because they got artificially carved in half, which was didn't work out right, in the long run, as it shouldn't work out. So I think that kind of notion of how do you create a national identity, so that there is some sort of common purpose so that you can actually have common governance is a really important and complicated issue.Kristen Cerelli:
Even just a simple if you can call it that question that I asked her about, you know, how long do you think it will take your country to recover? And I don't even know what I meant by that. I think I just meant in this very basic way to come back to some form of stability. She says 10 to 15 years, and that doesn't sound remotely unreasonable. I don't even know if it sounds that seems optimistic. It's a long enough time. Yeah, exactly. The bigJohn Lyons:
problem that's happens everywhere. That's how I think it's happening in the US is this notion that a few very wealthy people end up making the decisions about places, you know, I always sort of amused when I read newspaper articles about all i barks. You know, because what the heck's that all dark? Well, it sounds like a very wealthy person who happens to be Russian. So is not Steve, or what is Jeff basis? And oligarchy? Is not Bill Gates and oligarchy? I mean, aren't. Really? Isn't that what it is? That isn't Elon Musk? Isn't he and Oliver? It puzzles me, because I think, you know, as we've talked about, in the past, how many billions do you need? How many? How many? How many big yachts? Do you really need in your life? It's just a fascinating kind of issue of the race to who's the wealthiest and what kind of perks they have and so forth. But it's quite corrupting to our culture. But then I am perfectly happy not having a billion dollar yacht. I'm okay with that. With that, even on my bucket list, so I just would disturb it too much.Kristen Cerelli:
Yeah, that seems to be a universal problem.John Lyons:
Yeah, it's not it's not. It's not Lebanese, it's not Russian. It's not European is a universal problem is a problem with the human condition. Same things happening in China.Kristen Cerelli:
It really struck me when she said, she feels that now everyone in her country. Everyone is equal in poverty.John Lyons:
Yes, that was the other thing that was really interesting. I that was my fifth point is that the fact that don't actually what they created as a two class society, right? Because everybody's Actually, her experience is everybody's equal in poverty. But I bet you anything. There's a small group of people who are not so who are more equal than others, as they said, an animal farm, right. So yes, so yeah, so it's a two class society. There's a few people in power, that have resources. And then there's the rest of the class society, right. So that was the original dream of communism. If you haven't read that book, Animal Farm, you really should, because it still has a long time still as applicable today, as it was, you know, 50 years ago or 60 years ago when it's written, it's it's no longer about communism anymore, right because communism is is not the fashion. It's about authoritarianism. And using popular strategies to achieve authoritarian rule, which is really equally, what animal farm is about. It's framed in the communist context, because communism was the popular strategy of that particular moment, we see that in the US, you know that you have people rising up, and being essentially taken advantage of to support somebody and some people that they think, are looking out for their best interest when those people actually have their hands in their pocket and require them to be disadvantaged in order to be perpetually angry in order for them to stay in power. And that is, in fact, the engine of autocratic regimes. It's usually rural and less educated people that support them in this sort of angry at the other sort of model. And you just see that rearing its ugly head here,Kristen Cerelli:
I want to, I want to come back to where we started in a way, which is that she's in the middle of a change. If you had to articulate one or two things that are the primary changes, what would you call them? Because there's, there's the surface thing of like, you don't have money and you used to have money, you food is more expensive gas is more expensive. But what is that change? Really about as at its core? Is it? Is it access? Is that the thing that's changing for her?John Lyons:
Yeah, I don't think so. I think it's actually very similar in some ways, to Jordan story. Dr. Davis's story, that the change for her was not so much change, because what she did is she went back and found the core of who she is, but the change is the landscaping around her you know, what, how do you accept things? What do you value? Who are you really and how do you learn to be the person you are and value this different kind of circumstance that you find yourself in and value yourself within the context of that so I, I think the change was forced on or externally. And what happened for her was that she used it to find herself again to and to kind of establish who she is and use that strength that resilience, that Ottoman Warrior Within her to adapt and be resilient in the face of this struggle.Kristen Cerelli:
That's so astute I really appreciate that answer because it helps me understand the episode in a different way in a sense and understand her in that she has this hit history and part of her story is party girl Wild Child, somebody who likes money and likes luxury she says the word luxury a few times and you know likes those the finer things in life and works hard to get them but once them, you know and enjoys them.John Lyons:
Yeah, she actually put part of our budget to luxury. Yes.Kristen Cerelli:
But what happens is what gets revealed is really this nurturer you know, that she wants to be a mom that she came to motherhood later in life and what she values and maybe that's what changed in her really is his her own values. And that's what gets revealed in this when when all gets taken away. And you have the choice actually, and it comes back to that you have the choice not to go back and be that party girl, you can go to the US if you want. You have that visa, you have that. That privilege. She does not choose that she does not want that she she wants to be a mother. She wants to be all those words. She calls herself protector. Caretaker.John Lyons:
Yeah, I think in our current zeitgeist, we call that she wants to be her authentic self. Right, that that's who she is, right? Yeah, yeah. And I think she was always that person that was always inside of her. Such as a matter of her finding it and reaffirming it and understanding what it means in herself as her circumstances change. will be really interesting to see. And I would actually hope this for her is for the economy to come back. And her re experiencing her earlier lifestyle from this from the perspective of having gone through what she's going through now, right? I suspect her experience of herself would stay more like she is now I think it'd be more like Michelle's story. Alright, that she's not Yeah, it's not right. is moving forward with a new version of how you think about yourself.Kristen Cerelli:
Yeah. She's an interesting dichotomy when you sit across from her and speak with her, she is that tygris, she's very confident. She's got a lot to say. And yet there are these moments where she's really vulnerable. And she's really attuned to, you heard her, I mentioned the church bells. And she's just really attuned to like the simple small moments in life. And so I think, like all of us, you know, she has multiple facets and multiple sides. But I think you're right, I think this, this will be an interesting person to check in with in a few years and see where she's at.John Lyons:
Yeah, even just talking about going to the beach, and the beauty and simplicity and so forth. There's a bear being very, very aware attuned to those things.Kristen Cerelli:
Yes, that going to the beach, gave her the rest, she needed to come back and fight. And I thought that was really important.John Lyons:
And it wasn't going to the spa, right? So I think that in our in our previous life, she might have taken a spa day or two, and can't come back ready to fight the financial fights. But now she goes to the beach, and she just appreciates. I mean, the beach is one of those places where it helps you see how small you are, at least that's my experience of the beach is that there's no moment where you realize just what a little particle of sand that you actually are in the large scheme of things. Out mountains have somewhat of the same humbling kind of experience. I think that's why I stay in the Midwest where I can maintain my narcissism without threat from nature.Kristen Cerelli:
What would you take away? What do you take away? If you can only take away one thing from this episode?John Lyons:
If I was in a fight, I'd want Cynthia on my side. That's what I would take away. I think she really has a tiger'sKristen Cerelli:
eye. I think she really is. I'm still waiting. She She told Tim via email, that things are getting worse there. And I'm still waiting. And I hope we can identify an NGO or some organization that we can share with our listeners about where they can send funds or so we'll we'll keep on that. But thank you for your five points. They're really fascinating and they're really enrich even my experience of the interview. So thank you,John Lyons:
thank you. It's always a pleasure to chat with you. person and you do such a good job of letting people tell their stories, but just a little bit of gentle kind and loving guidance. Oh, that's that's a gift. So thank you for that. Thank you.Kristen Cerelli:
We'll talk again soon.