Rising Through Resilience: Producer Dar Dixon Of DDB PRODUCTIONS On The Five Things You Can Do To Become More Resilient During Turbulent Times
An Interview With Savio P. Clemente
Develop a sense of Humor: If you look closely at any situation, you can always find something funny. You don’t need to be a comedian. You just want to find the humor and then poke fun at yourself, your situation, life in general. Laughter truly is the best medicine, and when you laugh at something that’s seemingly insurmountable…? You free yourself from its grip on you. Liberate yourself. Develop your sense of humor. Laugh. Plus…when you can make others laugh, you will find yourself getting connection and support from others. There is strength in humor.
Resilience has been described as the ability to withstand adversity and bounce back from difficult life events. Times are not easy now. How do we develop greater resilience to withstand the challenges that keep being thrown at us? In this interview series, we are talking to mental health experts, authors, resilience experts, coaches, and business leaders who can talk about how we can develop greater resilience to improve our lives.
As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Dar Dixon.
Dar is an actor/producer/director, and he has been working successfully in Hollywood for more than 26 years now. The oldest of 4 boys, all 3 of his brothers are gay men. He’s moved over 80 times, survived the Iranian Revolution with the clothes on his back, a pseudo-religious, doomsday cult, and successfully recovered from mind control and PTSD. He lives in Los Angeles with his wife Donzaleigh Abernathy — youngest daughter of Rev. Dr. Ralph David Abernathy & Dr. Juanita Abernathy (co-founders of the Civil Rights Movement). He also speaks in corporate America, professional & collegiate sports, universities, and tv news panels — on the topics of social justice, bias, race, diversity, inclusion, Human Rights, and Undue Influence.
Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your backstory?
Before we get started, I want to thank you for having me!
I’m a half Iranian / half American white boy, and I was born in Tehran Iran. But I’ve lived most of my life in the US. My father is Iranian, my mother is a white American. I’m a naturalized US citizen, and I still hold dual citizenship. Farsi is my first language, and Iran is the place where I experienced everything for the first time in my life: Music, food, sounds, family, language, smells, sights…everything.
I moved to the US when I was about two years old and grew up here. I’ve lived all over the US. Very much like a “military brat”, just minus the ‘military’ and ‘brat’.
I’m the oldest of three boys, and all three of my brothers are gay. All four of us have very Iranian names, but we look like white boys. And as you may or may not guess, that created a few challenges growing up in the US!
We moved a lot. So, we were always the new kids, with the funny names. And for my brothers — let’s just say some kids can be cruel. I had a natural inclination towards finding the humor in almost every situation and found it easy to get people laughing. But in those instances when kids weren’t amenable to my sense of humor and my ability to effectively communicate, and my brothers or myself were in danger…?
That’s when my father’s advice was extremely helpful — scary for me at the time, but helpful. He taught me the benefits of knowing how to defend myself, and my brothers. My father helped me understand that when the humor failed, and communication shut down…it would be beneficial to learn to use my hands. Whether I liked it or not. And I did not like it.
And to this day, I’m still grateful for those lessons. Thank you, Dad.
We moved to Iran in the summer of 1974. My father had been offered a very prestigious job with the Iranian government. It was so incredible to be back in Iran. We started a new chapter in our lives. It was a magical time.
Until the revolution started brewing.
It was hell. I don’t wish that upon anyone.
We were lucky. We escaped with the clothes on our backs, and not much else.
It was much worse for many other people.
It was a full year before my father was able to safely leave and reunite with our family. I remember thinking the revolutionaries were going to capture my dad, and that he’d be killed. I had nightmares about it. I was 15 years old at the time, and I didn’t know how to express those feelings and that fear. Thank God that didn’t happen.
I was constantly stressed out. A schoolmate at the time told me about weed, and how it relaxed him. That was the beginning of a long-time love affair with ‘Mary Jane’ and me. Initially it did help me chill out, but over time it just made things worse for me, and I didn’t like that. So, I quit.
In my early 20’s, I zigged when I should have zagged, and got caught up with a pseudo-religious doomsday cult. That ordeal took 20 years of my life.
Although this experience was incredibly traumatic/crazy/insane/dangerous and painful, I wouldn’t change any of it. I’ve finally gotten to a place where I can see the totality of it, and now I’m grateful that it happened. As strange as that may sound. Finally escaping the cult was difficult, but as difficult as it was, it was nothing compared to my recovery from it. That was easily THE most difficult thing I’ve ever done in my life, and one of the things I’m most proud of. It helped to shape me into the person that I am today.
Can you share with us the most interesting story from your career? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
Since this is about resiliency, I’ll share a heartbreaker…
My wife and I have many friends that are doctors, and several of them work at a hospital located in South Los Angeles. The hospital is a lifeline for this underserved community which has, among other challenges, the distinction of being one of the most gang infested neighborhoods in Southern California. I’m so impressed by our friends. They’re all top-notch doctors and surgeons that could have taken jobs at any hospital in the country, or the world, but they choose to go where they are needed the most. They are a source of inspiration for me.
My wife’s childhood friend is a general practitioner that specializes in family medicine and at that time he was the Chief of Staff, as well as a sitting Board Member for the hospital. He’s a great guy. One night I get a call from him, and he asks me if I would like to donate $1 million dollars to the hospital’s Foundation. That wasn’t in my budget at the time, but I told him I had an idea that could generate tens of millions of dollars for the hospital. He was intrigued. I knew I had to feed the idea to him one spoonful at a time.
My wife and I had listened to our friends’ stories about the hospital, and we had visited it several times. We looked at their video that they used to raise funding. It looked like it had been shot in the late 70’s — it was truly awful. We suggested to reshoot the video and to use our Hollywood storytelling abilities to make it more modern. They agreed, but we had to go up and down the flagpole and get verified by the hospital boards, the healthcare system boards; everyone. It was quite a process. I’ll add that at the time, the hospital was owned by a Catholic healthcare system that was run by a meaning group of nuns.
We were given the “OK” to shoot everywhere, which is no small thing. We understood the trust placed in us, and we took it seriously. Three things stood out the most: The Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, The Trauma Bay, and the Emergency Room. They are both life and death situations. Babies born prematurely and being treated with state-of-the-art medical technology. And human beings that have been shot, stabbed, run over, beaten, etc., and the world class trauma surgeons fighting to save their lives. Most of the violence is from gangs — it’s tragic and never ending.
During the editing of the footage, we made two different versions: one for their Foundation for fundraising, and one to use to pitch this as a television show — what’s known in Hollywood as a ‘sizzle reel’.
We told the nuns and the hospital administration our plan, explained the process, and although they had never considered something like that, they agreed to move forward. Everyone was excited.
We created a much-improved video for their Foundation, and they have used it to raise more money than ever before in their 60+ year history. Doors to corporations, studios, university’s that had long been shut, suddenly started to open. The hospital is still successfully using the fundraising video today. That’s something that gives both of us a sense of contribution, and a touch of pride.
The sizzle reel got a lot of attention in Hollywood, and we took meetings with several production companies. We had a bidding war going for the show. We settled on two production companies. We set up a meeting with the hospital legal team and our ‘second choice’ production company to discuss the deal. Our first choice wasn’t available for another 2 weeks because they were busy winning another Emmy Award for their hit television series.
As soon as we got through the preliminary niceties, the hospital legal department dropped a bomb: They told us they wouldn’t consent to a deal.
Just like that, we discovered that the nuns and the administration had lied to us. We had been played.
By a group of habit-wearing Catholic nuns, with crosses around their necks…
Both my wife and I were mad. It had been a huge waste of our time and resources. We had both let our guard down because of our friends and allowed ourselves to believe the administration, legal team, and the nuns (Because — — They’re NUNS).
Let me be crystal clear: Our friends had nothing to do with the betrayal by the nuns and the administration. It had everything to do with a much more nefarious business deal that the nuns were executing. I won’t go into the details, but it was in many ways, worse than the nastiness of some of the Hollywood deals that get splattered across the news.
Ultimately it was a disappointing outcome, yet it was one of the great experiences in my career.
I took full responsibility for allowing it to happen. I could have put several failsafe’s in place that would have averted it, and I hadn’t. Ultimately, I was mad at myself, for not being more thorough. I guarantee that type of thing will never happen again.
The great part of it was discovering how good the sizzle reel was, how many top Hollywood people took notice — some even stole the styling we used…a backhanded compliment, to be sure.
The other thing is that my pitching skills have become pretty good. We also developed many long-standing relationships within the industry and have subsequently collaborated on other projects. I was encouraged by our ability to uncover the stories that moved people to action, to donate, to want to be a part of a television series. Those skills are extremely valuable. They can create magic.
In fact, I’m working on a new deal/project that eclipses that one by lightyears, and I’d never even be in this position were it not for that failure with the hospital. What doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger. I’ve always believed that. I live by this credo: Within every adversity/problem/failure, is the seed of an equal or greater benefit. It’s our job to look for it.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
I’m telling my life story via a transmedia/multiplatform model. It’s a bit unusual because most transmedia models are populated with fictional stories — The Matrix, Star Wars, Harry Potter, the Marvel Universe, Star Trek, The Hunger Games.
It’s so difficult to get a television show made, a film made, publish a book, etc., that in my opinion, the more resourceful thing to do is to create a world and then to build from that world. You can still create new stories, new venues, new characters, and more, but everything is interconnected. What I love about that is that it is a metaphor for the interconnectedness of all human beings, without hitting anyone over the head with that message. The other thing I love about it is that it’s smart business. Everything is (seemingly) separate but a part of the whole, and you’re not dependent on each one being a smash hit. It would be wonderful if that occurs, but the sum is greater than its parts. That’s something an investor is going to latch onto. It’s up to the creator to figure out the specifics, but that’s where the greatest opportunity exists, in my opinion.
We’re friends with Samuel L. Jackson and his talented wife LaTanya Richardson Jackson. LaTanya and Sam are both from Atlanta, which is also where my wife is from. LaTanya used to go to my father in law’s church, he was her pastor. So, my wife and LaTanya go way back. In fact, LaTanya got us a place to hold our wedding — true story. One night they invited us to their house for dinner, and there were a lot of other famous folks there too. I don’t want to say who, because Martin Scorsese told me to never ‘name drop’.
During dinner Donzaleigh told everyone that we were getting married, but that I wanted to keep it low key and have it in a judge’s chambers. (it’s the second marriage for us both)
LaTanya shouted “Oh, Hell No!”
That caused everyone to start laughing! Before I knew what was happening, one of the guests offered their home. I tried to object, but if you understand the strength and determination of a Black woman, you know you’d best keep your mouth shut and smile.
And that’s exactly what I did.
I may be dumb sometimes, but I ain’t stupid!
It was a gracious gesture, and it was a lovely ceremony.
But the reason I’m telling you this is that during that evening, Sam took me to check out his office. It was filled with all kinds of memorabilia from his films. Sam’s career is the stuff of legends. He’s been in some epic films. His place was filled with posters, figurines, photographs, but the thing he was most proud of was his light saber from his role as Mace Windu, in Star Wars. He loves Star Wars — he’s a true fan. He let me hold the light saber, and I could see the joy and pride in his eyes. I thought, “Damn… Sam’s the biggest box office star in Hollywood history but being a part of Star Wars…that’s a whole other thing.” It was cool. A truly special moment with a friend and a Hollywood legend.
I’m believe the unusual nature of my life and my story is a wealth of different worlds that I can mine and explore. My job is just to keep creating. Who knows what comes from it, but if I can get people to experience the same feelings that Sam has for Star Wars…? That is something that I’m interested in pursuing.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
Man, there are so many people that have helped along the way. When I first got to Los Angeles, my wife was the person that helped me more than anyone. Actors are notoriously neurotic and frequently act as though if they were to help you in any way, that you would steal a job from them. Which is patently absurd about 99.99999% of the time.
Donzaleigh (Don-za-lay) was not like that. She got on the phone and started dialing agents, agencies, directors, writers that she knew, trying to get them to meet with me. It was wild. I was surprised by it because I didn’t ask her to, and here she was acting like she worked for me. And she was gracious about it. That stood out to me. It spoke to her character, and her sense of self.
My self-esteem wasn’t in the best place in those days, and she wasn’t going to stand for that. She would encourage me, goad me, prod me, but mostly she led by example. I saw how much time she put into her career, her craft, and her creative life, and it really inspired me to step up my game. I remind her of that from time to time, and let her know how grateful I am.
The other person that helped me more than she’ll ever know, was my mother-in-law. Mother was a Lionheart.
(She insisted I call her mother, and not by her first name — “Dar, you’re my son from another mother.”)
She was an absolute Heroine of the First Order.
I loved her. What an incredible human being.
In the beginning of our relationship, she kept me at a bit of an arm’s distance. I didn’t take it as an insult, but rather a learned response to a white man entering her sanctuary. She was unfailingly polite, gracious, charming, intelligent, funny, and mannered. A real southern Belle.
Most people don’t know this, but the KKK bombed my in-law’s home when they lived in Montgomery, AL, in 1957. My father-in-law (our nickname for him is Reverend), Reverend was in Atlanta with Uncle Martin (our nickname for Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.).
They were forming the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) and they’d gone to attend a meeting. Mother was home with my sister-in-law, Juandalynn (Wan-da-lynn), and she was six months pregnant with my wife, Donzaleigh. She had fallen asleep in the living room while she’d been watching “The Jack Paar Show”. For those of you that aren’t dinosaur’s — ha-ha — that was the late-night show that evolved into “The Tonight Show”, and that was how many Americans would end their day — have a few laughs, and then fall asleep. Mother was no different.
She was awakened by a huge explosion. Mercifully, the Klansmen that planted the bomb, didn’t place it in the position that would have destroyed the entire home and killed three innocent human beings — A pregnant mother and her infant child (Juandalynn was only a year old).
She escaped the house with Juandalynn and ran outside to safety. The police and fire department showed up to extinguish the fire and administer first aid. Suddenly another bomb went off on the other side of town. They saw the flash and felt the explosion. There was a reporter outside interviewing a cop on the scene, and the reporter asked, “What was that?” The cop looked at his watch and calmly said, “Go to Ripley Street”. Ripley Street was the location of Reverend’s church in Montgomery.
The Klan had bombed the Abernathy home and Reverend’s church, on the same night.
And the cops were in on it.
The Klan has been in police departments for decades. Today we call them White Supremacist’s, and they are still in police departments across this country. That’s just a fact. I really don’t care if it upsets people, that I talk like this. It’s the truth. It’s not my opinion, or conjecture. The FBI, the Department of Justice, and numerous Intelligence agencies have verified it for years now.
To those that will read this and get angry with me, I pose these questions:
“It’s the Truth. Why does that make You angry with Me?”
“Imagine what you’d feel like if these things were happening to your loved ones — your families?”
Believe me, I’m a thousand times more upset than you will ever know. Half of my family is Black.
A quarter of my family is Iranian, and a quarter of my family is White.
This stuff hurts my heart. I’m an American. This isn’t right. This isn’t what this country promises in its constitution, it’s Bill of Rights, its Pledge of Allegiance, or its beloved National Anthem.
But I digress… seemingly.
Mother and I became friends and developed a deep respect and love for one another. Every time I’d go to Atlanta, I just hang out with her as much as possible, ask her questions about the Movement, her life… everything. I was a sponge. It was the equivalent of having a front row seat to the history of this country — a history that the Republican party and many racists are desperately trying to erase.
She survived her home being bombed while she was pregnant with my wife, and little Juandalynn by her side. They bombed Reverend’s church.
They didn’t let that stop them from their mission.
So, what if she kept me at arm’s length for a while?
I would have done the same damned thing if the tables were turned.
Mother gave me so much wisdom, so much guidance, so much inspiration, and so much love… I’m forever in her debt. I’m forever in Reverend’s debt.
I’m forever in Uncle Martin and Aunt Coretta’s debt.
I’m forever in my parent’s debt.
I’m grateful to all of them.
Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. We would like to explore and flesh out the trait of resilience. How would you define resilience? What do you believe are the characteristics or traits of resilient people?
We communicate mainly via language. I think it’s important to understand the definition of words, rather than putting our own self-serving spin on them. You’d be amazed how infrequently this happens.
Oxford dictionary defines it as:
- the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness.
- the ability of a substance or object to spring back into shape; elasticity.
That’s how I define it, too. If you look at the definitions you notice that it’s about recovery from outside influences, upon a person place or thing. To me that would suggest that the focus should be about the ways to develop that ability in the most resourceful ways for yourself.
I think therefore Shakespeare wrote the line in Hamlet: “…to thine own self, be true”, and the ancient Greeks said, “Know thyself”.
Clearly, the game of life is an inner game. The more you spend time understanding yourself, the more you understand all of humanity. When you understand humanity, you will naturally have greater wisdom, empathy, understanding, and patience. And those by products of self-knowledge/ self-awareness, organically builds your resilience. You develop the ability to recover from whatever life throws your way. You develop strength and toughness, but it’s rooted in empathy and compassion. You naturally spring back into shape, internally, but at a much higher level of operation than before. That is the definition of resilience.
The traits of the most resilient people I know center around leading by example and controlling the things you can. I’ve learned that there are only 4 things any of us can control:
- What you focus on / think about
- The meanings you give things / the language you use
- The way you choose to feel / your emotions
- The people, places, and things you attract / are attracted to you
Outside of those four things, the best any of us have is influence. That’s where I put my attention, and I’ve noticed that it has had wonderful benefits. One of which has been resilience.
Courage is often likened to resilience. In your opinion how is courage both similar and different to resilience?
I’ve found that courage is a funny thing. It’s something that I think gets mistaken for bravery, although the two are similar. Courage is something that usually happens in a short burst, or bursts. There’s a line from “We Bought a Zoo”, that referenced what I’m talking about. Matt Damon’s character was giving advice to his son and said, ‘Sometimes all you need is 20 seconds of insane courage.” I don’t think it’s even 20 seconds most of the time. I think it’s really the initial spark required to move you into action that is the moment of courageousness; even though your fear seems overwhelming.
Bravery is more about your mental state — the character of someone that is courageous. One of the things I notice about courage and bravery and how they relate to resilience, is that they are both functions of time and space. Courage is in the moment (time) — bravery is more a state of being (space).
Resilience, in the context of what we’re discussing, is about recovering and adapting from a stressor or a dangerous situation. That’s a function of time. For me to deal with the life situations I’ve encountered thus far, I find that playing ‘the long game’ is the smartest approach that I can take. Time is relative. Nothing lasts forever.
The nature of this world and of life, is that all things change. Change is inevitable, but progress is a choice. When I look at my challenges, troubles, and fears through that lens, it gives me strength and the courage to take action and to, hopefully, develop the character of bravery; and it gives me the perspective that serves my resiliency. That’s a function of space — of being.
This quote from Frederick Douglass speaks to courage and resiliency quite elegantly. It’s profound. Irrespective of your religious or spiritual views. (I’m non-religious)
“I prayed for twenty years but received no answer until I prayed with my legs.”
He was talking about his own liberation from slavery and self-actualization. It may be of use to your readers. It certainly has been for me, in my life.
When you think of resilience, which person comes to mind? Can you explain why you chose that person?
Oh, that’s easy. That would be my parents and my in-laws.
What my parents had to go through in getting us out of Iran during the beginning of the Iranian Revolution, and then starting life anew back in the US, was pretty damned amazing. We lost everything in Iran. Home, money, bank accounts, land, car, furniture… Everything.
Revolution’s will do that to you, sometimes.
We went from a very charmed life in Iran — my father was the head of Iran Electronics Industries in Shiraz — he had 2 degrees of separation from the Shah. We had a big home on a compound, armed guards saluting us, chauffer’s, maids, gardeners, money, the works — and came back to the US penniless. We were treated like persona non grata, more often than I care to remember. It’s a longer story, and when I think back on it, I’m amazed that they kept it and us together, afloat, and safe. It was quite remarkable.
When my brothers finally came out to my parents, it really rocked them. It wasn’t all at once. It happened over the course of several years. It brought up all kinds of issues in their marriage, their belief systems, their value systems — it was a tough time.
As an Iranian, it’s common for you to kiss both females and males on the cheek, when greeting them. To this day, I still kiss my father and my mother when I see them. But when the first of my brothers came out, my father stopped my brother from kissing him. He was really uncomfortable with my brothers’ sexuality. My mother was having just as much trouble, but when she saw that happening, I think it kind of jump started her to go 180 degrees in the other direction. She got involved with PFLAG, she was a part of The Buddy System, she really got involved with numerous gay organizations. I thought she might even get a lambda flag tattooed on her wrist or something!
I think that helped my father in reexamining his stance, because ultimately, he loves all his children. And even though he had a little “hitch in his giddy-up” at first, he changed his stance. I still remember the night he went to a gay nightclub with my brother. He was uncomfortable as hell, but he wanted my brother to know that no matter what, he loves him — Even when the guy in the ass-less chaps at the end of the bar, kept winking at him…
I respect them both for that. That’s resilience defined.
What my in-laws went through to get the Voting Rights Act established, was nothing short of Herculean. I am continuously humbled and amazed by their courage and their resilience. What they had to endure along the way… I don’t know many people that would stand up to that kind of abuse, that kind of psychological torture, that kind of trauma, or the violence. I hope that I can summon that type of courage, and that type of resilience. It really is remarkable.
Mother used to tell me about how Reverend, and Uncle Martin would leave on Monday mornings to ‘fight the good fight’, and she and Aunt Coretta would stay and protect the house and children. It was a part of their deal with their husbands — they’d fight for the freedom of Black people in America on their own, and their wives would protect their families and their homes, on their own.
Mother told me about the constant phone calls every morning at breakfast, and every evening at dinner. The KKK would call and spew the most vile, vulgar, hateful, ignorant, violent, threatening s*** they could think of, to intimidate her, and to deter her and Reverend from their mission. And that was the least of the ugliness they dealt with daily.
I mean… that kind of courage and commitment hits me right in the heart and brings tears to my eyes.
I am fortunate to have 2 sets of role models that showed me what resiliency looks, acts, and sounds like.
Has there ever been a time that someone told you something was impossible, but you did it anyway? Can you share the story with us?
I had escaped the cult and I was working on a painting crew. I was surrounded by a lot of listless, unambitious, unmotivated guys. Nice enough, but they had no vision for their lives. I was a hot mess, and I didn’t know if I was coming or going, but I knew that I wanted to pursue a professional acting career. I know that probably sounds crazy, but intuitively I knew it would be a part of my salvation, and a part of what would ultimately heal my psyche and my heart from the trauma of the cult.
I had to go to Hollywood. I had to.
I remember this new construction (a newly constructed home) job we were doing. There are numerous trades on a job site — roofers, framers, tiling, flooring, painters — and most of them are not dissimilar to the painting crew I described before. There are a lot of conversations going on. Very little worth repeating.
One day while I’m painting this new home, I mention my desire to go to LA and pursue my dream of being an actor. Needless to say, this caught the attention of the guys on the job site. I instantly got peppered with all kinds of nonsense. My manhood was questioned, my sanity, my ability, my lineage — it got ugly and ridiculous. The consensus amongst the “Einstein’s” present that day, was that it was impossible for me to achieve my goal.
Some of these guys were decent people. Hardworking, honest, friendly. I don’t consider myself better than anyone. I knew where these guys lived and breathed, and I damned sure wasn’t going to let their input stop me from doing what I had to do. Some of them may have meant well, but they let their fears stop them from doing the things that they really wanted to do.
Like I said, I wasn’t clear about a lot of the things happening in my life after leaving that cult, but I was clear about what I needed to do regarding my acting dreams. And I knew that I had to make it happen. No one was going to hand it to me.
Their “impossible” attitude towards my goal gave me more resolve. It was the fuel that fed my fire.
Was I scared? Yes, a little bit, but I think I was more excited than scared. That’s a huge distinction that many people get confused. There is a difference between fear and excitement, and frequently people mistake excitement as fear.
At any rate, that was 30 years ago.
I’m here in LA acting, producing, directing, writing, podcasting, a public speaker, about to publish my first book, and now I’m talking with you.
How cool is that?
Anything is possible.
Believe In Yourself.
Did you have a time in your life where you had one of your greatest setbacks, but you bounced back from it stronger than ever? Can you share that story with us?
What I just described above took place while I was still deeply brainwashed / mind controlled from my experience in that cult. I realize that many people reading this won’t understand how that could be, but I can assure you it was the case.
As difficult as it was to escape the cult, recovering from the trauma and mind control was easily one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done in my life. Overcoming mind control is incredibly challenging. That’s one of the reasons I’ve written my first book. It’s the book I had to write, because there aren’t many out there written by someone who has experienced it firsthand, and worked their way out of it, mostly on their own. I have a friend that is one of the leading experts on cults and mind control. He’s a PhD and a psychologist, and he’s a wealth of information. He is a lovely human being, and persistent activist towards educating the public about cults. He’s written four books about the subject matter.
He was only in a cult for two years. I was in a cult for 20 years. That’s a huge difference. I read everything he put out, but I was not finding the relief I so desperately needed. That is a part of what lead me to go on my “Dark Night of the Soul” journey. By the way, it’s not a single night…it’s about 10 years long. That’s what it was for me, at any rate.
It led to me to read, research, study, and leave no stone unturned, in my quest to not only understand what had happened to me, but to learn how to heal my brain and my mind. It was difficult. I won’t lie. There’s no way to sugarcoat it.
And it was the most liberating thing I’ve ever done. I don’t wish for anyone to go through the experiences I did in that cult, but it has made me stronger than I ever dreamt of. I had to learn how to control my mind, my thoughts, my feelings, my emotions. I learned how to unpack my belief system and my value system and to make them resourceful for me. I essentially became a sort of a practical psychologist to myself.
One of the things I learned from that was that nothing happens in a ‘bubble’. Things don’t just happen to ‘them’ or ‘someone else’. Everything is connected. Everyone is connected. That’s not psychobabble, a New Age-ism, or just my opinion; that’s scientific fact. What we do to another, we do to ourselves.
As tough as that Dark Night of The Soul was, I found solace in the interconnection of all humanity.
Regardless of what you are going through, there is a way out. There is always hope. I wouldn’t be standing here if that wasn’t true. I know a lot of people that went through far worse than what I did, and they’d be quick to tell you the same thing.
How have you cultivated resilience throughout your life? Did you have any experiences growing up that have contributed to building your resiliency? Can you share a story?
The short answer is that everything you go through makes you stronger than you were before. If you can remember that you can cultivate resiliency.
I tell anyone that asks me to recall a time in their life where they thought they were done for…finished…this was it…there’s no way out — and then I ask them where they are right now, in this moment.
Are you alive? Are you still breathing? Did you make it through that ordeal?
Clearly, they did. That’s called resiliency, baby.
You can build upon that, and you will build upon that. It won’t be easy, but nothing worthwhile ever is. Never forget to remember that.
Resilience is like a muscle that can be strengthened. In your opinion, what are 5 steps that someone can take to become more resilient? Please share a story or an example for each.
In no particular order…
- Develop a sense of Humor: If you look closely at any situation, you can always find something funny. You don’t need to be a comedian. You just want to find the humor and then poke fun at yourself, your situation, life in general. Laughter truly is the best medicine, and when you laugh at something that’s seemingly insurmountable…? You free yourself from its grip on you. Liberate yourself. Develop your sense of humor. Laugh. Plus…when you can make others laugh, you will find yourself getting connection and support from others. There is strength in humor.
I think it’s funny that a former, brainwashed, cult member that paints homes, thought he’d go to Hollywood and create a career for himself. LMFAO… I’m laughing at myself right now!
- You are stronger than you realize — You are stronger than anything: Fear and doubt kill more dreams than anything else. They also stop people from realizing the greatness within themselves. But in order for that greatness to reveal itself to you, you must take the first step. You’ll find that each subsequent step gets a bit easier, and with each step you have gained strength. Strength builds resilience.
I’d just got to New York City and the beginning of my cult days/daze, when the leader tells me I must go live in the South Bronx. He’d flipped the script on me, and I wasn’t going to be living in Sutton Place in Manhattan anymore. There was a small group of fellow cult members living in a huge loft in what could only be described as a Demilitarized Zone, in the most southern part of the Bronx. It was so hardcore that cabs drivers would refuse to go there. Hell, anyone with half a brain would steer clear of it.
I took my 1st subway ride that evening. Christmas 1984. I’m dressed like a kid from SoCal — jeans, vans tennis shoes, jean jacket, tanned, and clueless. Plus, I had 5 pieces of luggage with me. To say I stuck out among the crowd, would be an understatement. I took the 6 train from Lexington & 59th Street up to Third Avenue–138th Street.
I walked up to the street and I’m in the middle of a housing project. I was lost. It was freezing cold. I saw a bar across the street. I saw a tall man having a heated discussion with two young women. I went to them to ask them for directions, since they were the only ones on the street.
What I’d failed to realize at the time was that this was a pimp, and these were two of his girls, and they weren’t living up to his expectations. I foolishly but politely, interrupted and asked for directions. He turned around and stuck a .357 magnum right between my eyes — the barrel was touching my skin. I immediately took in the situation, and calmly apologized for my faux pas. Then I slowly backed away. He was swearing at me like it was an Olympic sport. His veins were popping out of his neck.
One of the girls took pity on me and asked me what address I was looking for. Turns out I was only 2 blocks from where I needed to be, but an entire universe from what I grew up in. She told me to keep my mouth shut and head in that direction, and to never do anything like this again. That was my “Welcome to New York City” moment.
- Fear or Excitement: The same feelings and sensations are often confused and what is actually excitement, gets labelled as fear. Don’t allow this to take root in your being. True fear is useful — In Life Threatening Situations. Most situations that get labelled as fear are NOT Life-Threatening Situations. Don’t get it twisted. Make sure you are keeping an appropriate perspective.
I was doing a play; it was opening night and we’d just got our “5 minutes” call from the stage manager. Several of my fellow cast members were coming undone. Nerves were getting the better of them. One of them noticed I was relatively calm.
He came up to me and asked — “What the f*** is wrong with you? How are you so calm?”.
I told him the story of the pimp and my baptism by .357 magnum.
He was in disbelief — “What?”
Me — “That was scary. This is exciting. This is gonna be fun.”
- Perspective: As a result of the mislabeling of fear, people tend to lose all perspective. Once your perspective has been skewed, you’re dead in the water. If you’re viewing your decision to ask for a raise, or for a promotion, as a Life Threatening Situation…? Your perspective is out of whack. If you think what you’re experiencing (whatever it may be) is unfair/the worst/impossible/wrong, etc., I highly recommend that you gain a clearer perspective. One of the most resourceful ways I’ve found to do that is by contributing / serving people that have it worse than you do.
Shooting footage in that hospital, in the trauma bays, was eye opening. I witnessed a 25-year-old Latino male, get wheeled in on a gurney. He’d been shot multiple times in his side. A gang related drive by. He was someone’s child. And now, he was getting his chest opened right in front of my eyes, and the trauma surgeon (my friend) was jolting his heart so it would start beating again. There was blood everywhere. This young brother didn’t even have a wrinkle on his face, and this night was going to be his last. He did not make it.
Later, I saw a 17-year-old Latino male get wheeled in. He’d been stabbed multiple times. I’ve never seen so much blood. He was a child — not even of legal age, yet. And he too, did not make it.
I never had to grow up in gang infested neighborhoods. I didn’t have to join in order to survive. I wasn’t discriminated against just because of my heritage and my skin color. I didn’t have to drop out of school because the gang life dictated my every move. That experience shifted my perspective forever. I have no real problems.
- Contribution: People all need to develop themselves spiritually. Frequently this gets overlooked. It causes skewed perspectives, sadness, depression, anxiety, confusion, and feelings of low self-worth. Human beings need to be a part of something bigger than themselves, in order to live a life filled with purpose and meaning. People attempt to grow spiritually by practicing yoga, fasting, chanting, meditating, praying, and other methods they believe will accomplish their spiritual evolvement. Those all have their place, and can be useful; however, if you truly want to grow spiritually and to develop a healthy, resourceful, perspective — to be a part of everything that is, ever was, and ever will be…? Give to / serve those less fortunate than yourself.
As a result of what I described before, I realized that I needed to get involved somehow, someway, and understand what was going on in my city. I met a couple of guys that had been former gang bangers, that had now dedicated their lives to intervening in the gangs, to stop the violence.
They have a group that gets together every week. It’s called Southern California Ceasefire Committee, and it’s a place where victims of gang violence come together and talk, listen, and interact with others going through the same experience. The LAPD attends regularly, as do current gang members. There is even a former homicide detective that attends — he lost his son because he was at a party and some guys rolled up it and started firing indiscriminately. Another innocent life lost.
I cannot fully explain to you how powerful and moving and devastating and insane and beautiful and loving and maddening and unbelievable it all is.
For the first 8–12 months, I didn’t say a word. I just listened.
Who the hell was I to waltz in there and start talking? I didn’t know anything, except that I wanted to understand.
One evening a woman who’d just lost her only child, a 22-year-old man, had come to the meeting. She was raw. She was quiet. She was composed. She was devastated.
The women that helped create and run the Committee, had just introduced me to her.
She had that, “Who’s this white man” look in her eyes.
Who could blame her?
I told her ‘I’m so sorry that you are going through this.”
Tears welled up in her eyes. She hugged me. We both cried.
She said to the women that had introduced us, “He IS different. He didn’t say what everybody else does. He doesn’t even speak.”
I had no idea that just listening could be so powerful, or that something so seemingly simple, would have such a profound impact on others; not to mention the impact it had on me.
Nothing will grow your resilience, perspective, empathy, wisdom, and heart, like being of service. Reverend and Uncle Martin used to talk about this frequently. They would always say that the greatest person is the person that serves others the most, with nothing expected in return. I’ve found this to be true in my life and have found it to provide me with the resilience to get through anything. Plus… it just feels good.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
Getting to really know myself, has been invaluable. It’s helped me with everything. I don’t believe that any human being or artist can truly grow, let alone find their voice, until they know themselves: their beliefs, their values, their feelings, their emotions, the range of emotional states, human nature, psychology, language, etc.
I think it’s criminal that these things aren’t taught in a more cohesive fashion, as a part of one’s education. They certainly weren’t for me. I think it’s imperative that those things be taught in a manner that helps you to understand yourself, because in doing so you will understand others, as well.
What if that were a prerequisite to graduate?
Imagine the effect within your family?
Can you imagine the difference it would make in our neighborhoods?
In our cities, states, our country?
Imagine how government could function if that were the case?
What do you imagine the ripple effect of that would be across the world?
Education lifts the veils of ignorance through the dissemination of knowledge and the development of critical thinking skills. Add learning how to control your mind to that equation, and you’ve added a booster rocket to it.
Can you imagine what an amazing world it would be if that were to happen?
Man…I’d love to see that.
We are blessed that some very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them :-)
Only one person…?!
There are so many people I’d love to meet with, and to collaborate with! Not only within my profession, but outside my profession, as well.
I’ve always believed that in order to push myself to be the best version of myself that I can be, I need to push the boundaries of my comfort zone. I’ve tried to do that. Consequently, I’ve studied / been involved with psychology, neuroscience, finance, sculpture, art, real estate, land development, television and film distribution, construction, government, education, religion, and more.
It’s not uncommon for me to find myself at a conference on any one of those subjects, and to have the rest of the attendee’s look at me like, “What in the f*** is the Hollywood guy doing here?”
I guess that’s kind of weird. So be it.
By pushing myself out of my comfort zone, I discover a greater appreciation for people, life, and our world. To me, that’s well worth any discomfort I may experience.
Having said all that, I would love to meet President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama.
We have much in common, much to discuss, and we’re all standing on my in-laws’ shoulders.
It would be my distinct honor and a supreme privilege.
And I would love to meet Rick Rubin.
I’m not a musician. I can sing, but I’m not professionally trained. I don’t write music or lyrics.
But I love the way he approaches art, music, expression, how he works with the singers, musicians, and bands that go to him to help create some of their best work. I believe that art is life and life is art. They reflect off one another. Rick seems to understand that on a cellular level, and that interests me. I like the way he thinks, and his approach to creating art. I like that brother’s style.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
For speaking inquires contact me on my website — dardixon.com
For entertainment appearance inquires — My agent Todd M. Neville of ProTalent — ProTalentLA@gmail.com
Although it’s not a complete list of all my work, you can follow me on https://www.imdb.me/dardixon
My podcast — The Art of Being Dar — with Dar Dixon
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!
Thanks for having me, Savio.
I also want to thank Yitzi Weiner, Editor, Authority Magazine, and Arianna Huffington of Thrive Global. Continued Success!