Alma grew up wanting to reach his goals, but he knew he wouldn’t achieve them in Ghana. So he set his sights on the American Dream.
In today’s show Alma and I talk about:
- How discontent plus courage equal innovation and creation.
- Recognizing and reaching for your full potential.
- How all things work together for good to them that love God.
- Always look to the glory of your destination and set your own rhythm and pace.
- Compete with yourself and not others.
- Be willfully positive in everything you do.
- Choose courage over comfort.
- Freedom of speech for everyone and what true unity looks like.
- The choice to be “offended.”
You can find Alma at http://almaopare.com/ or on social media under Alma Ohene-Opare.
Alma Ohene-Opare 0:01
It just bothered me. Why couldn’t I dream freely? Why couldn’t I think about something that has never been done and find a way to do it? Unfortunately for me, I could not see that happening in Ghana. It became my quest and my goal somehow to come to America for some reason, because of what my dad had told me. I always thought America was the place where that could happen.
Tamara Anderson 0:31
Welcome to Stories of Hope in Hard Times, the show that explores how people endure and even thrive in difficult times, all with God’s help. I’m your host, Tamara K. Anderson. Join me on a journey to find inspiring stories of hope and wisdom learned in life’s hardest moments.
My next guest is originally from Ghana, West Africa. He first came to the United States as a missionary in Los Angeles, California. After his mission, he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Information Technology and later obtained an MBA. He and his wife have four kids between the ages of three and 13. He currently works as a senior solutions engineer at DOMO. His hobbies include public speaking, writing, entrepreneurship, and most importantly, spending time with his wife and children. I am pleased to introduce Alma Ohene-Opare. Alma, are you ready to share your story of hope?
Alma Ohene-Opare 1:35
Yes, I am. Thank you for having me.
Tamara Anderson 1:37
I am so excited to have you. Alma and I met through a connection a couple of months ago. He has just been so inspiring to talk to. I have had the chance to talk to him a couple of times. He is just amazing. I’m just so thrilled to have him on the podcast today. So Alma, tell me a little bit about growing up in West Africa. And how it is that you chase this American dream of coming here to America and why you did that.
Alma Ohene-Opare 2:09
Well, how much time do you have? Yeah, it’s a long story. But in a nutshell, my journey here kind of started a long, long time ago, long before I sat on the plane to get here. My life in Ghana, I would say, for the most part, was privileged in the sense that I grew up in a very stable family, we had everything we needed. There wasn’t much that I needed that I didn’t have. My parents were successful. My mom was an entrepreneur. My dad worked for the government. For all intents and purposes I would say I lived a good life as a child in Ghana. There was never a time where I was hungry or had any wants that were not met. In general, I would say I had a pretty good childhood. I attribute that to the various sacrifices my parents had to make. Because, from my perspective, we were well to do. Maybe not from their perspective.
The reason I bring that up is that a lot of times we think about people coming to America as people who, you know, were potentially oppressed in some way where they came from. That wasn’t the case for me. My fascination with America happened after my dad visited America when I was young, in 1989. When my dad came back, he brought pictures of places he had visited. All those things just fascinated me and stuck with me for a long time. So I knew as a child, I wanted to come to America. But that desire became more solidified as I grew up. The one experience I point to that really made that difference for me was an experience I had when I was in high school.
Basically, I wanted to create a pinhole camera. I had a physics book that had step-by-step instructions on how to make a pinhole camera. I was really excited to do it. I got some friends together and we started working on this. The very first thing we recognized was we needed to get all the different materials or the different tools that we needed.
One of the things we needed was camera film. I started looking for this camera film, I went all over the capitol trying to find it. On the very last day, after three days of searching, I found one photography shop that had this camera film, so I picked up the film, got back to my friends and we set off to create our first pinhole camera. So we built the camera, we followed all the instructions. Once we were done, we took some pictures.
The thing that made this experience sour a little bit for me was the fact that after we had done that, I was never able to find a place where I could print the pictures. I never found out whether what we had done had worked.
It really bothered me I thought I had this dream, this thing, this idea that I wanted to create something that nobody else was doing. But because of the place where I lived, I could not even tell whether what I had done had worked.
I wanted so badly to be in a place where I could dream and not have my dreams be subjugated to what that society could give me. It just bothered me. Why couldn’t I dream freely? Why couldn’t I think about something that has never been done and find a way to do it? Unfortunately for me, I could not see that happening in Ghana.
It became my quest and my goal, somehow to come to America, for some reason, because of what my dad had told me. I always thought America was the place where that could happen. After all, the great things that were happening and being invented in the world, many of them were being invented in America. So I just gravitated towards this idea that this was the place where I could make the kind of difference that I wanted to make in the world.
Tamara Anderson 6:44
Wow, that’s an amazing idea to plant in the mind of a child. It’s amazing how our brain can grab on to something like that, and build a dream and build a hope that okay, I can’t get it done here. So I need to change, right?
Alma Ohene-Opare 7:04
Exactly. And I take nothing away from people in Ghana who are trying to make a difference there. I take nothing away from them. I am not suggesting in any way that you can’t make it in Ghana, or you can’t succeed in Ghana. I’m not saying that.
I think my message here is that for me personally, the scope of my imagination was beyond the scope of what I thought was achievable in Ghana. It wasn’t for lack of trying, it’s just that as a society, I felt we had not gotten to that point.
We are still dealing with basically feeding ourselves and taking care of the basic needs that people have. That makes it very difficult to spend any real resources on creating a society where people can achieve all their dreams. It’s not for the lack of trying, it’s just that we’re not there yet as a society. I wanted to be in a place where I was not limited because of the infrastructural limitations of the country.
Tamara Anderson 8:20
Yeah. So talk to me a little bit about your journey coming to America. I know you’ve lived here for many, many years, and finally, are able to apply for citizenship. So I’m really excited for you.
One of the cool things about Alma is he has been working on writing a book that kind of talks about his perspective as an immigrant on becoming an American. I don’t want to spoil anything about your book yet, because I think it’s going to be a fantastic book in rekindling this hope and this dream of what America truly has been and can continue to be if we if we make the choices to allow it to be what it’s always meant to be. So what so why don’t you take me through that?
Alma Ohene-Opare 9:16
My journey to America was kind of serendipitous, actually, because the bottom line is coming to America is not something you just wake up one day and say, “Hey, I want to go to America,” and it just happens. It doesn’t work that way, at least not in Ghana. People work their entire lives, and they never make it even if they had the means to. So for me it was serendipitous.
When I applied to serve as a missionary for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, of course, I could have been sent to anywhere in the world. My most likely spot was going to be somewhere in Nigeria, because from my perspective, 90% of the people went there. But when I opened that mission call, I was very surprised to find out that I was called to go to Los Angeles, California. It was quite a revelation to me when that happened, and I knew that this was something that was meant to be.
In the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, there’s something we call a patriarchal blessing. In a patriarchal blessing, sometimes it will give you somewhat of a roadmap as to how your choices in life could lead you to where God intends for you to go. Usually these are kept private, but I felt impressed to share this.
One of the things that was said in my patriarchal blessing was that I would have the opportunity to visit many lands, many places in the world. I’d always known that it was going to happen at some point. But I didn’t know how or when. By receiving that mission call, I knew that my destiny was actually in progress at that point. I was very, very excited to embrace that call.
One of the things that also made it very interesting was that Los Angeles was exactly the place my dad had gone to in 1989 that planted that seed in me. So it was quite a coincidence, you would say, called exactly to the same area that he had gone to. Not only that, but while I was there, I would get to meet some of the people he had met, some of the people who had influenced his life while he was there 20 years before. So it was quite a magical kind of puzzle, all coming together that way. But that is basically how I got to America was through that mission call.
So I spent my very first two years in America as a missionary. That gave me a perspective of America that I don’t believe that a lot of people get. I spent two years going from door to door, from neighborhood to neighborhood, from poor neighborhood to rich neighborhood, and truly understood what people were experiencing in their own lives, what their challenges were, the struggles they had to overcome on a day to day basis.
And I saw how many of them overcame those struggles and those challenges, how people were able to overcome in spite of their circumstances. That always gave me a great appreciation for how transformative a society could be to a person if that society is set up in such a way that it allows that person to explore every facet of their potential. I would say I got a first row seat to the American experience, as I went door to door for two years. That experience gave me a deep and abiding appreciation for this country, and for this society and confirmed, in many cases, some of the dreams and the expectations and aspirations I had, as a young child thinking about coming to America.
Tamara Anderson 13:44
Wow. So you think that perhaps one of the things you learned was that having freedoms allows people to reach their potential, whatever they envision that potential to be?
Alma Ohene-Opare 13:58
Exactly. One philosophy I’ve adopted over the years is that the worst thing you can do to a person is to hide from them their potential. The worst thing you can do beyond that is for someone to have a potential and not know it. I think it’s one of the greatest tragedies that we have or we can experience in this life.
I believe that America, despite its flaws, despite the history, despite some of the things that still exist today, I would say it is still the place where almost anybody can embrace that potential within them and make a difference not only in their lives, but in the lives of those around them. One of the things I picked up while I was here was this idea of contentment.
If you were to ask me, “What is the current quintessential American characteristic?” I would say one of those characteristics is discontent. I have come to embrace discontent as a virtue. The reason I say that is this; because it is discomfort and discontent that are the engine for creation and innovation. It is discontent that causes a person to wake up and say, “I will not take this anymore, I am going to design and build something better, I am going to do something different today than I did yesterday.” It is discontent.
When you wake up every day being comfortable in your life, you don’t have any desire, you don’t have any motivation to change anything. It’s only through discontent, that you can create new things, that you can explore other aspects of your potential that you have not yet explored. That was something that I feel is very unique about Americans.
Coupled with that discontent is courage. Right? This is a society that is uniquely attuned to courage, the belief that I can do it, I don’t have to wait for someone to do it. And I can take the risks necessary to make that thing come to be.
Tamara Anderson 16:31
I love that.
Alma Ohene-Opare 16:32
So couple discontented people with the courage to take action, and you have a society that does not get enough of innovating and creating. For a child within the imaginative mind, who is constantly thinking about how to make things better, it became almost symbiotic for me to be in a place where I could marry that excitement with a society that embraces discontent, and embrace the courage to go pursue solving and removing that discontent.
Tamara Anderson 17:11
Wow. That’s really cool. I’ve never thought about discontent in that way. But that is it. Sometimes we feel like okay, I don’t like that. How can I change it? And it’s that idea that we can change that inspires us to act courageously. Right? It’s that idea, ‘Okay, yeah, I can make a difference. I can think about this differently or try to problem solve.’ It’s amazing that you’ve put those two together. That is really cool.
Alma Ohene-Opare 17:45
Think about it, like America is a place where you can think about something in the morning, you can go to Home Depot in the afternoon, and you can have a prototype made by evening. It’s America. It is not the same in other places. I know people who have dreams, big dreams, who are stifled at every turn. Not because there is some system that is stifling them. It’s just that the society is not built. It’s not at the level where everybody’s dreams can be given a fair shot.
Tamara Anderson 18:25
Yeah. Well, and I think we had a little bit of this conversation before we started recording, but you talked about that America isn’t perfect. We talked about how America is imperfect. And that’s okay. But it does give us the opportunity to have freedoms so that we can become, we can pursue these dreams.
Alma Ohene-Opare 19:01
That is true, I think, in a terrestrial sense. We have to admit, once and for all, that perfection is not compatible with freedom. Because in any scenario where you have freedom, that also means that people have freedom to fail, the freedom to choose to do things that are not in their best interest.
It should be expected that America is not perfect. Anybody who expects America to be perfect is not living in a real world. Because if you have freedom, you cannot have perfection. A scenario where you can claim any kind of perfection is to eliminate freedom. That is the only scenario where you can create or mold things into a predetermined, exact shape. You can find that at any time any group of people have come together anywhere, and had in mind the idea to create a perfect society, that always ends up bad, because freedom is not compatible with perfection. I think that is something that we need to get over.
As an immigrant coming here, most immigrants, I would hope are not coming here because they believe America is perfect. I think many of us come here because we believe that, in spite of imperfection, we can make choices of our own. Those choices have consequences that can be good for us. That can lead us towards what we feel is our ambition, our dream or goal. Many, many thousands of immigrants are able to do that here in America, in spite of its imperfections.
Tamara Anderson 21:01
I really love how you’ve laid that out. I was thinking about what you said about how freedom is incompatible with perfection. I really think that if we had somebody like God as ruler that they would be more compatible, but being that we are all imperfect people and that sometimes people who get into power, like, for example, Hitler or something like that, and they’re dreaming of what they view as a perfect society. It limits the freedoms of others. But God being perfect. I’m just envisioning someday, this Millennium when Christ will reign on earth. And at that point, freedom and perfection can be hand in hand.
Alma Ohene-Opare 22:05
Yeah, and I would agree with that. That’s why I prefaced that statement by saying in the terrestrial sense, right, which means in this earthly state, you have that incompatibility. If man made himself God and said, “I am going to impose perfection in this terrestrial state,” it doesn’t end up well.
I do understand that a time will come, from a Christian perspective, when evil will be defeated. But one thing that I think is good to note is that in that world, there is still the freedom for people to choose not to be in that world. So you recognize that in order for that perfection to exist, God will force no person to heaven. Which means that people have to choose not to be there. And that’s okay, as well. Right? People will make choices and based on those choices, they will disqualify themselves willingly. From being in that world with him.
Tamara Anderson 23:19
Wow. Okay, we kind of dove a little deep there. Let’s kind of go a little back on into your journey, getting to America, and achieving this American dream. That was not an easy process for you and your family, correct?
Alma Ohene-Opare 23:39
Definitely not. Maybe I can consider myself as someone who has achieved the American dream. But my ambitions are still bigger than where I am right now. So I’m still on that journey. But it was not all roses along the path. Definitely not.
Tamara Anderson 24:05
Wow, why don’t why don’t you take us along that path? And tell us how you’re able to keep a positive perspective, despite the challenges that you were faced with?
Alma Ohene-Opare 24:18
Yeah, definitely. So one of the very first things that I had to deal with as a challenge was one that I came to after my mission. I came back to the US as a college student. If you don’t know anything about immigration law and college students, one of the things that college students who are studying here in America who are immigrants are not allowed to do is work outside of campus. You are only allowed to work on campus. You’re also restricted to 20 hours a week.
The rationale is that you are here to study, not to work. They want a majority of your time to be spent in school rather than working. I, of course, understood that. And that was my plan. However, there was a little bit of a wrinkle in my plans when I decided to get married, which was the best decision I’ve ever made.
I went back to Ghana, I got married, and my wife and I moved to America. Not long after we moved here we found out that my wife was expecting our first child. This was really good news until we went to the hospital. We found that she had conceived prior to us actually entering the United States. So the insurance that I had gotten did not cover her, because her pregnancy was a preexisting condition. So that was our first challenge. If you know anything about healthcare costs, you understand that there’s a lot of work that needs to be done in that arena. But that was our challenge. I could only work 20 hours a week, and my wife was actually prevented from working at all. Paying for that was quite a challenge for us.
However, one of the things that I appreciate America for is also the great generosity of good Americans who seek opportunities to serve and help and lift up people who need help. I was lucky to have met people while I served as a missionary who became angels in my life, who at that moment, were able to step in and say, “I can cover that, I can help you with that.” I was very, very appreciative of that.
One thing I learned from that is from a scripture from the Bible that really resonates with me every time. It’s Roman 8:28. That scripture says, “For we know that all things work together for good to them that love God.” For me, that is the basis of my positivity. All things will work together for good. I know there are trials, but I always like to look at trials in perspective. It is important to recognize that trials will not exist forever. We will overcome those trials. Many times as a college student at BYU, our expenses were always more than how much I could make at work in 20 hours. And yet, if you ask me how I did it, I don’t really remember. But somehow, we survived.
Tamara Anderson 27:51
That’s a miracle.
Alma Ohene-Opare 27:52
I don’t know how we did it, really. I don’t know how every day decisions were made. But somehow, we survived. I think it’s important when we go through trial to take a step back and create a vision of overcoming that trial. I call that process “willful positivity.”
Tamara Anderson 28:18
Oh I love that name!
Alma Ohene-Opare 28:19
It’s taking the opportunity to look at your trials in perspective, and constructing in your mind a time when that trial is overcome. And then fixing your attention on that destination. When you do that, that gives you the fuel, the positive fuel that you need to drive you through the trial that you’re going through.
Tamara Anderson 28:46
Let me ask you this, because I love this concept of what you call willful positivity. So when you have an obstacle that comes in your brain, in your way, do you then just tell yourself in your mind, “there will be a time when I overcome this,” and then try to imagine how you do it? What does that process look like for you?
Alma Ohene-Opare 29:11
So for me, this is how it works. First, I assume that my first assumption is that no righteous person will die before their time. That’s my first assumption.
Tamara Anderson 29:26
Okay, I like that.
Alma Ohene-Opare 29:28
So with that assumption, I understand that any trial that I’m going to face, is going to come out on the other end. And if it is such a big trial that I don’t make it to the other end, then it was meant to be and so I don’t spend a lot of energy worrying about why did this happen to me, and so on. Because I understand that at some point I’m going to get to the other side.
The way I look at it is from an experience I had with some friends. We decided to go hike a mountain here in Utah called Mount Timpanogos. I am not a hiker by any means. I’ve always been the guy who says to people, “I don’t get it, why do you put yourself in all this pain and suffering, just to get up to the top of the mountain?” It doesn’t make sense to me. But for that day, I don’t know what overcame me. But I decided to go with them, without any practice, without any training, nothing. This was going up to 11,000 feet. I had had no training. I found out on Tuesday, and the hike was on Friday.
So here I was, on this path, going up the mountain. I learned a lot on that journey. I learned a lot about being positive. Because every single step I took was painful. But then I had to convince myself that every step was taking me closer to something that was more important to me than the pain I was feeling in that moment.
Of course, I had another motivation. There was a 75 year old woman on that trail as well. I’m like, I’m not gonna let her get to the top and I not get to the top, right?
But it was a serious mental challenge that I had to take each step. And each step, I had to ask myself, “Why am I doing this? Why am I doing this? Is this worth it?” Nobody’s going to know that I did this, no one is going to care that I did this. But I had to constantly convince myself that it would teach me a lesson, it would teach me that I can overcome difficult things, that I can wake up and I can persevere. I can set my mind to something difficult, and still be able to do it. But it’s going to be painful along the way. As I took every step, I realized that I this was something that I had to dedicate myself to in order to achieve it.
But I also learned something. There were people in our group that thought, “Hey, let’s help the people who are new to this.” So they came up with a plan. The plan was to have a rope. They said, “All you people who are struggling, we’re going to give you this rope. All you have to do is hold on to the rope and move your legs. We’re going to kind of keep you on pace and keep you going.”
Now, for a little while I tried to hold on to the rope. But these people were going way too fast. I couldn’t keep up. I felt like I was pulling on the rope and pulling them and holding them back. I began to feel guilty about that. I didn’t want to hold them back.
I had to make a conscious decision to let the rope go and make my own way. That taught me something as well; that other people, because of their experience, because of their position in life, because of how things turned out for them, they may have it a little easier than you to achieve certain things.
You shouldn’t beat yourself up because you can’t go at their pace. You have to find your own rhythm, your own pace, and go according to that pace. So I left that rope, I left that security, which meant that those people would get to the destination much earlier than I would. But that was not the goal. It was not a race. It was a goal to conquer my own fears, and to conquer my own challenges, my own trial. And so I let go of the rope, and made my way step by step, step by step until I finally got to the top
I was proud of myself for doing that. I learned from that experience that I had to be willfully positive, every step that I took. Positivity didn’t come to me by default. It wasn’t something that was handed to me by the encouragement of the people around me just saying, “Good job, you can do it.” That was not what made it possible for me to take that next step.
I had to manufacture that positivity, every single step I took. I had to say to myself, “I can do this and this is worth it to me.” By manufacturing that positivity and looking to the glory of the destination that I was in, I was able to get that motivation to move forward.
There’s an African proverb that says, “Happiness is like a perfume. You have to put it on yourself for others to appreciate it.” So the same way, positivity is like a perfume. It doesn’t come to you, you have to put it on yourself every single day, in order for you to go out into the world to spread a good smell. To spread the light and to spread that positivity outward to other people around you.
Tamara Anderson 35:18
Oh, I love that. That’s what an incredible story and you did reach the top in your own way and your own pace. I love the idea that you realized so quickly that you did not have to compare yourself to everybody else, that you could move at your own pace. I think that’s a lesson that sometimes takes a long time to figure out. I don’t need to compare. I’m competing against myself.
Alma Ohene-Opare 35:50
Exactly. And that’s the goal, right? The goal is to be your best self, to achieve your own potential, not the world’s expectations of you. When you get there, you know that you have.
Tamara Anderson 36:08
That’s fantastic. Well, we’re gonna take a quick break. But when we get back, would you mind talking to me a little bit more about how you see the American Dream being fulfilled in your own life and what you envision America to be for your children in years to come?
Alma Ohene-Opare 36:25
I’d love to talk about that.
Tamara Anderson 36:29
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And we’re back. I’m talking to Alma Ohene-Opare and we’ve had some really fun conversations this morning about how he has been able to come to America. He sees things from such a unique perspective as an immigrant. So Alma, let’s talk a little bit about your book that you’re writing and why you are writing this book.
Alma Ohene-Opare 38:00
Definitely. So the book, as you said before, is titled American Privilege. The reason why I titled the book as such is because there’s a message that I’m trying to convey, especially to my children. I want to give them a message that they are incredibly privileged to be in America, but not just privileged to be in America, but also privileged to be American, and privileged, in the sense of the fundamental principles that undergird this particular country.
The purpose of the book is to communicate to my children because I feel there is a systemic force today that is communicating the exact opposite to people like my children.
As an African person who has four black children, I want them to wake up every day and understand that they have the privilege to choose anything they want in this life in this country. They will be able to achieve those things. There’s nothing systemically standing in their way to make those dreams possible, except their own inaction, their own disbelief, their own choices. That is the message I want to convey to my children.
I thought canonizing it in a book, where it would make it such that, if I’m not here, they can always refer to it. But in the process, I’m hoping to also help other children who are in that same situation who are being bombarded with messages all across the Internet, all across the media, from pundits who are saying to them, “There is a systemic force that is holding you back. And America is not an equitable society. You can do and work harder, make good choices, and not make it.”
Now I do understand that people have challenges and people have suffered injustices. I understand the history of America, I understand racism, I understand all the challenges that this country has gone through.
But I also understand that in spite of that history, in spite of those challenges, that America has always trended towards justice, America has always trended towards equity. America, I believe, has created, no matter what you think, the most equitable society possible. The real tragedy is that there are people who either do not know, or have embraced this idea that they can’t make it out of that mental block that says, “This place is not a place where I can find the opportunity to be who I want to be”
I think that is a pervasive lie that has to be countered, not just spoken about in the quiet of the home. I could have just said these things to my kids and have my kids overcome these so-called challenges and go on and do great things in their life. I don’t think that’s enough. It’s not enough for my kids to make it.
I think it’s more important to make sure that this message goes out so that every child who has been told the system is against them, every child has been told the only way they can make it is to overthrow the system, every child who has been told they should fear walking outside, every child who has been told the world is going to judge them, that the world is bigoted, and the world is going to prevent them from reaching their destinations, hears the message.
I want to disrupt that mental chain. I want to disrupt that. I hope that my book will be the beginning of that quest in my own life. I may have achieved what many people may call the American dream. But what I want to do, and I think what is most important, is not for me to achieve the American dream, but for me to inspire others to recognize that that dream was available to them all along.
Tamara Anderson 42:43
I love that. That is so true. Because I think we were talking about this earlier that sometimes the biggest change or the biggest prison are the thoughts in our own mind.
Alma Ohene-Opare 42:56
Exactly. As a kid, one of the songs that I listened to was a song by Bob Marley. A piece of that song has always stuck with me. It’s called The Emancipation Song, or the Redemption Song. One of the lyrics says “Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery. None but ourselves can free our minds.” That is truth in its purest form, right?
I believe sincerely that there are challenges in this world, but none so insurmountable than the challenges of a mind that is mentally shackled. We need to begin to break those mental shackles. We need to teach people how to break those mental shackles. We need to put in that seed.
One of the reasons why people did not want slaves to be educated was because they knew that once you put that spark into the mind of a person, the spark that tells them they are a child of God, and they were created to reach their potential, and they begin to read and they begin to learn, it is impossible to keep an educated populace as slaves. It is impossible. The only way you can keep people subjugated is to keep them uneducated. So subjugation is a direct derivative of lack of education.
If we can begin to educate people, we don’t have to do the work. The work happens naturally. Their minds begin to expand and those minds begin to explore and the chains that hold those minds together begin to break naturally, and people begin to feel free. And by so doing, they discover their potential. And when they discover their potential, they cannot be stopped. They can truly be American, they can live a courageous life that is filled with success and fulfillment.
Tamara Anderson 45:24
Oh, I love that. Wow. Very, very well said. Let me ask you this, we were talking earlier about what freedom of speech means to you. I would love to just tack that on to our discussion right now. Because I think this is a challenge that we’re facing, not only in America, but around the world right now. What freedom of speech means to you, Alma, and what you want it to mean for your children?
Alma Ohene-Opare 45:59
Thank you for bringing it up, this has actually become one of my biggest concerns. We hear almost every day that someone has either lost their job or lost their livelihood because they said something. And in some cases, people say offensive things, I would not excuse those. But the idea that people should live in a place where they would fear to speak their mind, no matter how uneducated or unenlightened their principles or their thoughts or their perspectives may be, the idea that you cannot express those perspectives for fear of being destroyed is a tragedy. It’s a serious tragedy. I believe that if you spoke to a lot of immigrants, for people coming from outside of America, this is horrifying to us.
Prior to recording this podcast, I had to wonder, “Is there something that is a no go area? Right? Is there something that I shouldn’t say? Is there something that could get me in some kind of trouble?” And that is sad, that we are approaching a place where people are beginning to censor themselves, beginning to fear speaking what they truly believe, because we’ve created an environment that says, “Human beings cannot endure hearing things that they do not agree with.” That’s unfortunate.
I would say that is not the America I was drawn to, I was actually drawn to the opposite. I believe, once again, in this idea of discontent. If there is something that is not comfortable for you that you have the ability to speak about it. In many cases, it is through speaking about things that we begin to see change. Throughout the entire existence of this country, the greatest change usually started with people saying, “I am not content with what is going on. And because of that, I’m going to speak about it.”
And then when I speak about it, I get two or three or four people to join me in speaking about it in order to create a movement. And then that movement ends up driving the change that is necessary. So by attacking freedom of speech, what we’re doing is literally attacking the vehicle that will drive the change of the future. We’re teaching our children to fear to use that vehicle as a way to drive the change they want to see in the world.
So imagine 20 years down the line, where all these children have grown up and have been trained not to speak their minds. I believe that it is impossible to create unity through conformity. It is impossible to create unity through conformity.
Just because we conform, just because we use the same words, that is an illusion of unity, not true unity.
Unity is the ability to look at things from different perspectives and recognize what is most important and choose the thing that is most important. Choose that and let that stand irrespective of the differences that exists. That is unity. Just because we speak the same words does not mean that we are united.
We are turning the United States of America, which was a coming together of people with differing views and backgrounds, who had to make compromises on what was most important to them, we’re turning that into a United States where we just say the same things, but feel differently in private. That is a false unity, that will not lead to the kind of society that we want.
Tamara Anderson 50:29
So how do we solve this problem? Alma? I mean, how do we how do we change this trend of “I don’t like what you say, so I’m going to cancel it.” How do we change that? How do we open it up so that we can all share our opinions and value that everyone has a choice to think and feel as they do? How do we change that?
Alma Ohene-Opare 50:56
I think it starts with something that I spoke about when we started this conversation: the idea of choosing courage over comfort. So this is a concept that I heard from a woman who was very accomplished, who shared with us her life story, and the challenges she had to overcome. She said that everywhere she met a roadblock, she had to make a decision to choose courage over comfort, because a lot of times the things that you have to do to affect change are not comfortable.
If your goal is to have comfort, it becomes impossible for you to have the courage necessary to effect the changes that you want to see. We need to choose courage over comfort. What that means is that as individuals, we have to look and say, “Okay, what in my life can I put in order, so that I can go and speak boldly about what I believe to be true?”
Which means that we need to begin to start putting our own lives in order. If we are willing to give up our courage in order to have a job, if we’re willing to give up our willingness to speak the truth because we are afraid we will be fired, then what are we willing to endure? Freedom of speech is the very first step to freedom of mind. Without the ability to speak, you lose the ability to think. You lose your ability to refine your thoughts, and you lose the ability to function as a contributing member in society.
What we need to recognize is you first have to make the changes in your life. I have started to look at that in my own life. I’m saying, “Okay, if I’m going to start speaking out and speaking out boldly, I may have some consequences come my way. But can I survive those consequences when they do come? What can I do in my life right now to ensure that if those consequences come that I am able to survive?”
That means making sure that you are financially in a good place, making sure you save money so that if you inadvertently lose your job along the way because you spoke your heart and your mind, and someone could not endure it, at least you don’t put your family in jeopardy. That’s one of the practical things, I would say. First, take care of yourself, make sure your life is in order, then you can have the courage to go out and speak out.
So another thing I would say that is important is our companies also need to back the principles that have made it possible for them to exist in this country. It’s really important that our companies back those principles, and companies need to begin to wake up and say, “I am not going to fire this employee because they said something that has been deemed by people as intolerable in society.” Of course, I understand that there are extremes that must be avoided. And as companies, I also understand that they have a responsibility to their stakeholders, shareholders, other employees and so on.
I do understand that there is room for unacceptable behavior that needs to be checked and punished where necessary. However, a lot of the examples we have seen recently, have not been egregious examples of bigotry, for instance. But even the slightest so called offenses are now being punished with taking away people’s livelihoods. And that is unfortunate.
Alma Ohene-Opare 55:23
The Citizens United case affirmed that corporations could basically have the same right to free speech as individuals, because after all, those corporations were being run by individuals. If individuals have a right to free speech, then those corporations they run can steer their earnings or their dollars, into whatever speech they found was amenable to their values. If that is the case, that corporations can go out and speak out and contribute to whatever causes they feel inspired to, then I would say that it also follows that they should be willing to uphold those same values or those same rights for their employees.
So I think when I say choose courage over comfort, I think that should also apply to businesses. Choose courage over comfort, make sure your business is solid in such a way that when the boycotts come, you’re able to stand because if we don’t push back, we will be pushed over.
And the bottom line is that the people who are pushing are very naive, because they don’t realize that if you push everybody down, all that happens is that you will be the last person to be pushed down. It doesn’t save you from the wrath that comes. It just may mean that your reckoning is postponed.
Tamara Anderson 57:13
So ultimately, what we need to stand for at this point in the United States and around the world, is that everyone has a voice, and that people can think and express their beliefs and that we should not be too critical of people who have different beliefs than us. I think part of this comes from the idea that, “Oh my goodness, they said that, and I’m offended.” But ultimately, the offense is our choice. We can choose to be offended by what they say or just say, “You know what? Isn’t it great that we live in America, and they can have their opinion, and I can have mine?” And I don’t have to choose to be offended by what they say or what they do. That offense is also a choice. Right?
Alma Ohene-Opare 58:18
Exactly. And that is certainly a tenant of willful positivity, right? Because people are going to tell you things and say things that are offensive. People are going to do that. When they do that, what we need to understand is that we don’t have a monopoly on what should be said, or what should not be said. We should allow space for people to say things, even things that we deem are offensive. It is okay for people to speak. I say it this way, you say it that way. Okay. Let me speak my nonsense. And then tell me where there’s no sense in it.
Tamara Anderson 59:14
That’s cool. I like that.
Alma Ohene-Opare 59:17
If you don’t do that, then you create a tension in people because they feel like they’re being suppressed. The more confined and suppressed you make something, the more pressure builds up. That’s true. And eventually that pressure will not be able to hold in the vessel in which it’s being contained. Eventually, it’s going to explode. And explosions are not pretty.
Tamara Anderson 59:47
We’re witnessing that right now.
Alma Ohene-Opare 59:50
Exactly. Explosions are not pretty. What we need to do is allow people to speak their minds, even if what they say may be offensive to us. Then we should engage in that conversation, without any malice towards the person.
I was a business consultant for a long time. Every time I would start a project I would be the person coming in and saying, “Hey, I’m going to help your business increase your revenues and do this, increase ROI.” I was the so-called expert in the room, right? I always end my first meeting with clients by saying, “I reserve the right to be smarter tomorrow than I was today.” So if there is something that I learn that I did not know before, that will be better for your situation, I am not going to hold it back. I’m not too proud to say that I was wrong before. Okay, so I reserve the right to be smarter. And I also give that same right to anybody around me.
So maybe today, they may say something that is ignorant. But then through education, through positive engagement, I can help them understand. So that tomorrow they say something that is more enlightened, that is more thoughtful. I would rather live in that world, and to not have anybody offended me. Because it is not that I am not offended, it just creates a fake reality that is not authentic, and therefore can never bring you the kind of happiness and fulfillment that you get from true, authentic relationships with other people.
Tamara Anderson 1:02:00
So truly, this quest for authenticity in America today, and probably around the world, is best summed up by saying, “We need to learn to love and respect others enough to let them be authentic, and give everyone the opportunity to get more education on the situations around them.” If you don’t hear both sides of the story, how will you be able to make your authentic choice? If you’re only forced to listen to one side, then the choice becomes much harder to make.
So it’s good to get varying opinions out there and varying thoughts out there. Maybe that’s the solution is to courageously speak your mind. And then courageously listen.
Alma Ohene-Opare 1:03:06
Exactly. In this idea of choosing courage over comfort, a lot of times listening is very uncomfortable.You need to have the courage to listen to the pain of others. So every now and then, when I’ve spoken to people, they say, “Hey, well, just because you think you have not gone through some of these challenges. You think that that’s the way for everybody else?” No, no, that’s not what I’m saying.
I do understand that there is real pain that people experience. I do understand that. There is real challenge in the world. There is real evil in the world. There’s real racism in the world. I understand that. And I do accept that idea. I also understand that, in spite of those things existing, that I can choose, personally, to thrive in spite of them. Because if I suspend my success, and tie my success to the elimination of racism, I would die before I get to that point.
Tamara Anderson 1:04:23
I know, because you can’t change everybody else’s mind. Right?
Alma Ohene-Opare 1:04:26
Exactly. And so why suspend your happiness? Why suspend your potential? Why suspend what you truly are? Because you’re waiting for an imaginary time when all these evils will be eliminated. The only time that will happen, as a Christian, for me, is when the Savior comes.
But before he does, I will thrive in spite of that evil and I will choose positivity. I will choose to see the good in the world. And I will choose to inspire others to embrace that same positivity.
So if you are someone out there, and you feel like, Alma doesn’t get it, he just has a privileged life. If that is the case, and you feel that you are so trapped in this systemic issue that is holding you back. If you feel that way, I would say reach out to me. Because I want to fight, not with you, if there is truly some systemic thing that is holding you back, I want to understand it better. And I want to join with you and fight with you courageously to remove those systemic injustices. That is my message.
I don’t want to belittle anybody’s pain. I don’t want to say it doesn’t exist, because it does. But I believe that we can thrive in spite of it. And so if you feel like you’re completely trapped, and there’s no way out, reach out to me, and I’m sure there’s so many other people you can reach out to, who are willing to stand and fight with you to remove whatever those obstacles are in your life.
Tamara Anderson 1:06:24
Oh, that’s beautiful. So how do people get ahold of you, my friend? Where do they find you?
Alma Ohene-Opare 1:06:31
I am lucky enough that I have a unique name that if you search for me online, pretty much I am the only person who will show up. So my name is Alma Ohene-Opare. You can find me on all the social media platforms, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram. And you can also reach me on my website, which is AlmaOpare.com.
I also have a podcast, which I’m starting up right now. And it is named, appropriately, Willful Positivity. My goal with the podcast is to explore this idea of embracing positivity as a virtue, and using positivity as a tool that helps you overcome any challenges in your life. So I want to be a purveyor of positivity. I want other people to embrace willful positivity. You can find my podcasts on Spotify, Apple podcast, Google podcasts, and anywhere podcasts are listed. I love to hear from you. So reach out to me through my website or any of the social media platforms as well.
Tamara Anderson 1:08:06
Thank you, Alma. Isn’t he just great? I just feel so blessed to have had Alma on today. Alma, thank you for sharing your story of an immigrant’s perspective, and the American dream. I’m so proud of you for pursuing your dream, and that you’re still pursuing it. Once you achieve one thing you haven’t slowed down, you’ve just kept going.
Alma Ohene-Opare 1:08:34
Embrace discomfort. There’s always a new problem to solve. The dream continues.
Tamara Anderson 1:08:43
And hopefully, as we work together, we can solve the problems that are facing our world in our society today with willful positivity. Thank you, Alma.
Hey, thanks so much for listening to today’s show. I know that there are many of you out there that are going through a hard time and I hope you found things that have been useful today, as you listen to the podcast. If you would like to access the show notes from today’s podcast, visit my website. That is storiesofhopepodcast.com. That is where you’ll find favorite quotes from today’s episode, and shareable memes. Those are fun because you can share them with your friends on social media. You will also find the links mentioned throughout today’s episode so you don’t have to remember what those were. And also all the tips that were shared. Sometimes tips are shared so much throughout an episode you forget and wonder what were those great things? So go to the show notes, storiesofhopepodcast.com to look up these fantastic resources. You know, if someone kept coming to mind during today’s episode, perhaps that means that you should share this with them. Maybe there was a story shared or a tip that they really, really need to hear. So go ahead and share this episode with them. May God bless you, especially if you’re struggling with hope to carry on and with the strength to keep going when things get tough. Remember to walk with Christ, and He will help bear that burden. Above all else, remember God loves you.