The world is good because people make the choice to be good: a Q+A w/ Sara Li

In your Buzzfeed feature titled, This is an easy way to understand sexual consent, you said, “Consent shouldn’t be difficult or hard to talk about; we shouldn’t need to use tea or anything else to explain what is or isn’t inappropriate. Talking about consent, or sex or anything under that umbrella, shouldn’t be a taboo.” Why do you think it’s so hard for us to talk about sex and consent?

I think we’re just so used to not talking about it. We don’t want to think about our kids (for the record: I don’t have any) having sex, so we avoid the subject, but sex doesn’t have to be this dirty, scary elephant in the room.

The more we’re able to have these honest conversations about sex and consent and assault and whatever, the more we’re going to get closer to a safer and more educated society.

What’s something we often get wrong when talking about sex?

I don’t like the double standard for men who have casual sex and women who have casual sex. No one judges a man for his sex life, but a woman’s reputation can hinge on hers.

In your Huff Post feature, you said, “If you look at sexual assault cases, there’s all these complications that pile on. What was the victim doing? How drunk were they? What’s their gender? What’s their relationship with their assailant? None of that matters. If it’s not a yes, it’s a no.” In your experience, how are colleges and universities doing with shifting the narrative around victim blaming?

A lot of that is the media’s responsibility and how they report assault. I think the factors that a lot of colleges are still taking into consideration, like what she was wearing or what she was drinking or her sexual history, are still largely outdated.

In assault cases, the only question that should be asked is, “Who raped who?”

Project Consent has a campaign coming up with an Australian brand. What impact do you hope the campaign will have on the world?

Yeah, I’m really excited! Project Consent is going global in a big way. I can’t say too much about the campaign, but it’s pretty universal and I think it’ll resonate with a lot of people. I want us to be educated in how we address assault in different cultures.

Project Consent has REALLY taken off since its start in 2014. What’s been one of the most challenging parts of this journey in the past year?

It’s so wild! I’m still kind of shocked at how far we’ve come. We’ve been getting a lot of messages from survivors coming forward with their stories since the #MeToo and Times’ Up movements.

Unfortunately, a majority of these survivors aren’t protected, either financially or emotionally. It’s really frustrating trying to change a system that’s still hellbent on protecting abusers instead.

What’s been one of the most awesome parts of it?

I get to meet a lot of cool people, always. It’s always really touching when someone tells you that they feel more educated and understanding because of Project Consent’s work.

You have a team of rock-stars working for Project Consent. Hailey, Liv, Olivia, Gina, and Taylor all sound amazing and I would love to do dinner with you all one day! But back to the interview. What’s your philosophy in building and cultivating a strong team?

Communication. Only half of us knew each other coming into the team, but we’re all really good friends now. Project Consent takes so much work and it can be draining, so we all try to be really honest with how we’re doing.

If we need help, we ask for it. If we don’t like how something is being done, we address it. We’re really respectful and understanding. No one is perfect at their job.

What’s the last thing you all did together for fun?

We have a private channel in our Slack called NSFW where we just chat about our days. Sometimes I just go in it and talk about how much I hate anti-vaxxers.

What’s the best part about going to work each day?

I genuinely think that the work we’re doing is important and life-changing. It’s been life-changing for me, at least. How many people can say that their job has a greater purpose than just working the 9 to 5?

What can men do to create safer and more welcoming spaces for women? Also, what do men need to do less of?

Men need to stop presuming that their opinion is necessary. I’m tired of men walking around with this “You need my stamp of approval!” attitude when no, we really don’t. Just listen more. Talk less. Why that is so difficult or threatening, I have no idea.

How would a friend describe you on your best day?

That I am affectionate and joyful and will stop at nothing to make sure they feel supported.

On your worst day?

Yikes.

What’s something you wish you could say to your sixteen-year old self?

Don’t let people walk over you because you love them. If they’re hurting you, they don’t love you back.

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What’s something you’re working to unlearn?

I’m learning to let go of ideas of what makes us “worthy humans” and what it means to be human in general. We grow up with these expectations of who we’re going to be, what we’re going to do, and then we find ourselves disappointed because, as it turns out, we’re constantly redefining what it means to be us.

I’ll refer to this quote by a favorite poet of mine, Nayyirah Waheed: “We have all hurt someone tremendously, whether by intent or accident. We have all loved someone tremendously, whether by intent or accident. It is an intrinsic human trait and a deep responsibility, I think, to be an organ and a blade. But learning to forgive ourselves and others because we have not chosen wisely is what makes us most human. We make horrible mistakes. It’s how we learn. We breathe love. It’s how we learn. And it is inevitable.”

To be alive is to be hurt, to hurt, to love and, if we’re lucky, to be loved. I’m learning how to balance all four and still believe that I am worthy of another day.

Who do you go to when you’re needing support and guidance?

When I need support, I go to my friends. When I need guidance, I go to my therapist (or church, but that’s still pretty recent). I love my friends because the best thing they have ever done for me is say, “We love you and want to you to get better. Please get help.” And, they stay to support me fixing myself.

What’s one challenge you face in your work that you’re still working on navigating?

I gave up public speaking for a little bit, which was kind of sad because I love presenting. Imagine this: you’re on a stage and you’re talking about your life’s work that’s the result of the worst thing that’s ever happened to you.

You’re in front of crowds of 20, 50, 150 people and all you can think about is that trauma. It’s awful.

You’re just so self-aware that you can’t breathe or talk and, on top of it, you have these people expecting something great.

My sophomore year, I did a series of presentations. Our name was really taking off and everybody was like, “It’d be so cool to have the founder talk to [our group]!”

But I would have a panic attack after every single one. Sometimes I couldn’t even remember what I said because I kept having these moments of: Please get me off of this stage. I can feel hands on my body, I can’t breathe, I want to die.

I stopped after that. I’ve just accepted that I’m not at a place where I can talk openly about my trauma and that’s okay. Maybe I’ll get there someday, but until then, I’ll find other ways to continue what I do.

I’m a believer that good people do terrible things and bad people can change their lives around. All of that begins with someone else keeping an open heart, so I try to do that. A good rule of thumb for me is not to judge a person by who they were, but by who they want to be. – Sara Li

When was the last time you practiced self-care? What did you do?

I read! I’m currently reading Tiny Beautiful Things* by Cheryl Strayed, who is just incredible. I try to read at least once a day. 

*affiliate link 🎁

What’s something that’s been bringing you joy lately?

Okay, so this is going to sound really silly, but I saw Taylor Swift for the first time a few weeks ago. I’ve loved her since the third grade. I can actually remember what I was doing the first time when I heard “Our Song” and how I replayed it like 15 times afterwards.

Her music has comforted me through times of sadness, joy, grief, heartache, everything. I can pinpoint a solid 12 years of my existence and say, “Yes, I loved Taylor Swift then too.”

It’s actually kind of funny, because there was a period when I wasn’t really myself and I felt just so lost and broken and I told my friend that I didn’t recognize myself and he said, “Well, at least we know you’re still a Taylor Swift fan.” I

t was such a ridiculous joke, but there’s kind of a truth in it. No matter where I’ve been in my life, I’ve had Taylor.

Seeing her five feet away from me was such an out of body experience that I think part of my soul literally floated away from me.

What’s something that’s been pissing you off lately?

I was actually talking with a friend recently about the entitlement of angry men. We were joking around about guys who always, always, get in bar fights until we realized… wait, this is a problem.

I’ve seen these men break windows, throw tables, and scream awful things at people because they can’t control their own temper. I’ve seen it happen because I grew up with these men in my family, in my neighborhood, and in my school, and it is so frustrating because it’s terrifying.

These men think their anger trumps everyone else’s well-being and space. It’s selfish.

One of my most vivid childhood memories– I was nine or ten– is hiding under a restaurant table because a man there was breaking plates and screaming at the servers, all because he waited too long for his food.

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When was a time when self-doubt was at its worst for you while on your career and life journey?

Anytime between my first and last day of college. Those three years were probably some of the worst in my life. I look back now and I’m just like, “Who is that girl?”

I remember feeling so lost that I started depending heavily on self-destructive coping mechanisms. It got to a point where I wanted an out so badly that I would have done (and did) anything to have an excuse to stop being a person.

Creatively, I stopped writing. Mentally, I was looking for reasons to end everything.

It was a weird time. I remember vividly thinking that I didn’t want to keep trying to be this accomplished, capable person that people thought I was. If you blow up your own life, you don’t have to worry about not good enough because you’ll already have lost everything.

What are your unshakable values and when did you become clear on them?

I’ve always been an empathic person by nature. Every single person on this planet is flawed, including myself, so I’m a believer in second and third chances.

I’m a believer that good people do terrible things and bad people can change their lives around. All of that begins with someone else keeping an open heart, so I try to do that.

A good rule of thumb for me is not to judge a person by who they were, but by who they want to be.

Who are a few amazing people that we should follow and why? 

Karlie Kloss, Whitney Wolfe-Herd, Lang Leav, Katy Bellotte, and Morgan Harper Nichols. They’re all artists in their field whose work has empowered me, or made me think about life differently.

What is one piece of advice you’d give to someone struggling with self-doubt and feeling like giving up on their dreams?

No one’s ever found success without doubt. Some people go their entire life without having anything to fight for. If you find yourself torn between giving up or continuing on, it means that you have the privilege of being passionate about something.

Hold onto that fire as it guides you through both turmoil and joy. I’ve always said that I’d rather spend the rest of my life chasing a dream than sitting safely still, wondering what could have been.

It’s years in the future. You’re on stage to accept an award for your life’s work. What’s your five word acceptance speech?

So, where’s the afterparty at?

Imagine that all your life’s work disappeared and you only had 1 minute to tell the world what you truly believe to be true. What would you say?

I truly believe, at heart, that the world is a good place. I look at everything that’s ever happened in history and yes, there’s been undeniable evil. You have war, hunger, poverty, illness, and every horrific act that the human race has ever committed, but on the flip side of all of that darkness is a group of people fighting for justice and good.

I was raised in a religious household, but it wasn’t until recently did I find God in the everyday acts of humanity. If my life’s work disappeared, I would find comfort in knowing that there will always be someone else, stepping up to do the right thing.

I’d refer to this quote by Fred Rogers: “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’”

So that’s what I know to be true: the world is good because people make the choice to be good. And there is nothing more comforting than that.

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Sara Li is a 20-something creative based in Kansas City and New York City. She’s the founder of Project Consent and is working on her first book. In her spare time, she can be found at Fashion Week or watching Grey’s Anatomy. Learn more about Sara and connect: Instagram + Twitter + Web