Sunday, March 28, 2010

A Courageous Beauty Interview: Sasha Townsend-Mrs. Tulsa America 2010

Angie: Today I have the distinct pleasure of interviewing Sasha Townsend: Mrs. Tulsa America 2010. She'll be competing soon for Mrs. Oklahoma America 2010 and then on to Mrs. America. She has some unusual interests that prove today's beauty queens are not the silly, self-centered creatures on the inane commercials lately. Each courageous beauty I meet proves how deeply they desire to make a difference in their communities and the world around them. After over 30 interviews so far, I have lost track of the thousands of volunteer hours worked by these stunning women as they gently orchestrate a better world for our children. Let's get to the interview: 

Angie: What is it that you believe so deeply in that you push hard to make it happen?
Sasha: I'm working to support families and address divorce.

Angie: Why do you feel it's important?
Sasha: I've lived it. My parents divorced when I was 13.

Angie: You are using pageants to help you build a platform. Which have you been involved with?
Sasha: Mrs. Oklahoma International 2008, Miss Seminole County FL 2001 MOA, Miss Adirondack International Speedway 2004 MOA. I also competed as a child in Miss Florida American Teen (CoEd. Title.)

Angie: What’s your degree?
Sasha: I have a BS in Psychology, masters in math, master’s in applied math.

Angie: How old are you?
Sasha: 28 in April.

Angie: How did you achieve all that at your age?
Sasha: I was pretty driven.

Angie: Why do you work so hard, why are you so driven?
Sasha: I’m just passionate about what I do. I set goals and plans and I want to achieve them now. I like breaking stereotypes. I like being a beauty queen mathematician. I just really like understanding how things work. I want to know the truth and help others to know the truth too. 

Angie: Why math?
Sasha: When you focus on solving a problem, focus on others, your focus is not on yourself, then self-confidence is not an issue. If you can ask, “What’s the solution here?” Who cares about what people are thinking of you if you are solving a problem. Put your energy into solving problems instead of thinking about yourself.

Angie: What motivates you?
Sasha: Banana Split program (helps children with divorce in NY), I brought it to the YMCA.
Angie: So you brought it in?
Sasha: Not at first. I was told, "you don’t have the credentials to do something like that. Maybe the interns who have degrees in family and child services can bring in that program, it’s really not your place." But I couldn’t work with these kids every day and do nothing!

I had knowledge and the license to run that program but my director wouldn’t let me. That’s when I started trying to use pageant titles to get programs for children of divorce and pushed to finish my education. I was an undergrad in psychology at the time.

Angie: What have you been able to do with your platform?
Sasha: I teach PREP (Prevention and Relationship Enhancement Program.) The “Forever For Real Program” in Oklahoma. I also work for Blended Love, a nonprofit serving children of divorce in Tulsa. It’s my responsibility to help the nonprofit achieve its mission and meet its financial objectives.

Angie: Would you teach us some here?
Sasha: Absolutely!

The 4 communication signs that lead to divorce:

Escalation- go back and forth negatively, building in volume or raising the stakes or threats.

Invalidation- putting down the thoughts, opinions, feelings of your partner. Examples are cursing and calling names, subtle by “that was something obvious you should have known.” Calling the other person selfish- “Oh we can’t be selfish with our time, now can we?” Labeling the other person with a negative by assuming something you couldn’t possibly know about their motives.

Negative Interpretation- Interpreting someone’s words or actions more negatively than they actually are. If someone is five minutes late, you can assume they are doing it on purpose and have no respect for you or you can assume they are stuck in traffic.

Avoidance and Withdrawal-  is the unwillingness to get into an important conversation (avoidance) or the unwillingness to stay in an important conversation (withdrawal).

If the conflict is escalating, that’s when you take a time out. You have to come up with a strategy to handle the issue in a healthy way. You can’t possibly handle the issue in a healthy way when you are angry and upset.

Healthy couples learn to exit all 4 danger signs, stopping the unproductive conversation to cool down and regroup, when any of them occur.

Angie: How does a couple strategize?
Sasha: The first tool we teach is the speaker/listener technique. It’s often unnatural and uncomfortable. But natural and comfortable isn’t working so couples use this to talk in a safe way.

Angie: Speaker/listener technique?
Sasha: Yes, it allows you to understand each other and validate each other’s point of view.
We give the participants a magnet and we call it “the floor.” The speaker holds the “floor” and gets to speak. The other person listens and then paraphrases what they heard. Then they do this 3 or 4 times. The speaker can only speak for themselves. Mind reading or use of words like always or never are not allowed. The speaker just shares his or her thoughts and feelings. The listener is encouraged to screen out their own thoughts, to put themselves in the speaker’s shoes, and to remain from rebutting. Then the speaker gives the floor to the other person, and the roles switch.

It’s important to note that speaker-listener is about understanding each other’s viewpoint, and it isn’t about solving problems. There is another section of the curriculum entirely that deals with problem solving.

Angie: The Oklahoma marriage initiative offers workshops?
Sasha: Yes. Oklahoma Marriage Initiative offers free workshops led by trained volunteers. On the first day of class, I come in and teach the four danger signs, time out, and the speaker listener technique. We have couples practice with topics that don’t have much emotional punch. As the weeks go on, the couples practice with harder topics. In addition to the conflict-resolution model, we also discuss fun, friendship, personality, sensuality & sexuality, forgiveness, and commitment among other subjects. Our workshops are usually twelve hours long. We meet with the couples for two hours once a week for six weeks.

Angie: Who attends these workshops?
Sasha: Any engaged, married couples that want to learn to communicate better. Lots of counselors will refer couples. OMI also offers workshops and retreats for singles, couples in stepfamilies, new parents, and other special populations. Individuals can register online at

Angie: What are the results?
Sasha: Speaker-listener is one of the best techniques we teach. Couples say they feel like they can really use it, and they do use it. It really levels the playing field in couple communication. Speaker-listener is especially helpful for couples that include one that can argue and win, but that leaves the other one losing. That’s really a lose-lose. Speaker-listener takes the competition out of the argument. You agree to use the technique together, to consider each other’s feelings, and act as a team. Deeper emotions are revealed because you tend to take more time to articulate your feelings more carefully.

Angie: Back to you. What else have you learned about confidence and yourself?
Sasha: My grandmother told me I was no better than anybody else, I was just as good. You are valuable, but so is everyone else. You are free to be yourself, to be confident. You can allow others to be who they are and offer that and appreciate the diversity of God’s creation.

When you go into a pageant, some say you have to go in with confidence and win. Other people say to have no expectations. As a teen starting out in pageants, I wondered “Am I supposed to be confident or humble?” I’d see women that would say, “Do what ever you have to do to fix me,” in the same room with other women that are so full of themselves, bragging about all their titles. I really wondered, how can you possibly be confident and humble at the same time? 

Because of grandma’s words, I realized that each person has something to offer that others don’t. We become more a team. We need each other. We recognize others’ strengths as well as our own. We complement each other in ways that allow us to accomplish so much more together than we can alone. We appreciate what we have in each other. We can use compliments as genuine appreciation for someone.             

Angie: How do you handle negative feedback?
Sasha: I look at the facts. Is the person defensive? Sometimes we strike a nerve in a place a person needs change. It’s not about condemning, but building up. I used to focus on it a lot, I used to say, “how can I manage this and make it different?” Now I accept it for what it is. This is their opinion and I must have struck a nerve. It must be hard to be, for example, a single mom or a divorced parent. I try to phrase it in a way that shows I care. I try to make what I say and do constructive and not attacking or accusatory.

If someone has something negative to say, we can take it personally and get defensive, or we can dismiss it, or we decide if what they say has some element of truth to it. If there is an element of truth and there often is, I try to learn from my critics to become more effective.

Angie: Thank you so much for being with us today! Please come back and visit again and let us know how you are doing in the competitions.
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