In a recent ON Purpose episode, Jay Shetty sat down with Debra Messing and Mandana Dayani to discuss their friendship, how they stay connected, and their shared love for activism.
Debra Messing is best known for her Emmy Award-winning role as Grace Adler on NBC’s Emmy winning and Golden Globe-nominated comedy series, Will and Grace. She has also starred in the Mysteries of Laura and Smash, both on NBC. Her film credits include the award-winning Searching, Along Came Polly, and The Wedding Date. Messing returns to Broadway this fall, starring in Noah Hayden's new play Birthday Candles.
Mandana Dayani s the creator and co-founder of “I Am a Voter,” a non-partisan movement that aims to create a cultural shift around voting and civic engagement. Its mission is to inspire and excite this generation by making voter identity mainstream.
Dayani began her career as a corporate attorney at top international law firm Paul Hastings. She later transitioned into work as a talent agent. She launched the Rachel Zoe Collection, leading its initiatives in business development, digital media, strategic investments, licensing, publishing, endorsements, and television production.
Messing and Dayani have teamed up to create the podcast Dissenters, where they interview everyday people who have the courage to dissent. They discuss the journey and the purpose behind why their guests chose to stand up to injustice and make a difference in their community.
A Chance Meeting
Messing and Dayani had a brief meeting about fifteen years ago. Several years after, they were both on Nantucket Island for the fourth of July. They shared a mutual friend and were both at her house. Messing walked in and saw Dayani. She knew she had met her before, but Dayani let 24 hours go by before she acknowledged that they knew each other.
“I just didn't want to be the person that goes up to the famous person and says, ‘Hi, do you remember we met 15 years ago?’” Dayani tells Jay Shetty. “So I didn't say anything.”
Once the ladies established they knew each other, they spent the remainder of the vacation together watching TV, hanging with Dayanis’ kids, and discovering their shared passion for politics and activism. That vacation became the foundation of their friendship and helped launch their future collaborations.
Early in their friendship, Dayani developed “I Am a Voter.” She credits Messing with her help in building and creating the group of amazing women that work on the campaign every day.
While filming Will and Grace in Los Angeles, Messing tells Jay Shetty that Dayani’s family adopted her and spent every weekend together.
“The last three years have been challenging spiritually, emotionally, mentally physically, because of how divisive everything is,” Messing explains to Jay Shetty. “We started very organically, sending each other articles and links to people who inspired us, intending to lift each other up. When it gets overwhelming, sometimes you just feel like all the vitality drains your body, and you feel like you can’t keep going.”
Dayani explains to Jay Shetty that Messing does not sleep well, so she would send Dayani a broad spectrum of content, from the best cat and dog videos to an elephant that she was monitoring in Africa, to incredible activists around the world doing amazing things.
The Birth of a Podcast
Through the exchange of content, the pair realized how important it is to see the incredible things people are doing. There are many different expectations around what being an activist means or what it means to be someone that gives back.
“It kind of started as a joke like, ‘Hey, if we launched a podcast, we could meet these people, we could make these people talk to us,’” Dayani tells Jay Shetty. “We could just say we have a podcast, and we could email all these people from around the world and ask them to talk to us. We started to put a list together. I emailed a friend who is in the media and asked her if we wanted to do this, would she do it? She said of course, and then all of a sudden, we had a podcast!”
Messing and Dayani put together a dream list of people they wanted to interview to confront the status quo and show people that having a voice that is not popular opinion is not a bad thing.
The podcast Dissenters was born. By launching during the pandemic, it was important to the pair that they put something out there that put light into the world and gave people permission, courage, inspiration, and empowerment to take the first step.
Become your Own Activist
Voicing your opinion or concern about something is often difficult for people. Fear of rejection or fear of being condemned for your belief overwhelms your desire to speak out.
“Fear does one of two things,” Jay Shetty explains. “It makes you shout the loudest, or it makes you become the quietest. Fear is an emotion that can get you active. It can spark positivity, but it can't sustain positivity.”
Dayani was raised in a culture where the women in the family were natural peacekeepers. For years, she struggled to walk into a room, knowing that she had offended someone with her beliefs. She said being an activist feels like you're standing naked in the middle of the street. She created a false representation of herself, and keeping up the fake appearance was too much.
“I understand the fear of speaking up because you know that you will disappoint some people, Dayani explains to Jay Shetty. ‘It is so liberating to be who you are. It's so empowering. I felt more powerful than I've ever felt.”
“I think the very first thing you do is you turn inward,” Messing explains to Jay Shetty. “You sit with yourself and think about what hurts your heart. When you look out at the world, what is it that makes you think that's not right? There has to be a better way. If you start there, you've identified your purpose. Your cause is your purpose.”
If you are not sure how to take that first step, find people who are doing the work you admire and surround yourself with them and their work. You will gain the confidence to find your voice and the courage to take the next step.
In the process of gaining and honoring your voice, having friends that push you and just tell you to keep going is essential.
“You make mistakes as an activist,” Dayani shares with Jay Shetty. “You notice you'll say things that will hurt people's feelings. You might say incorrect things, but having your friends show up for you and say, you know what, that wasn't cool, take it and learn from it and keep going because we still need you. I think surrounding yourself with people who will be honest with you and hold you up to keep going is so important.”
Fear of Failure
Finding a like-minded community is vital in activism. People fear failure, but there is power in numbers.
“You can't fail in activism because anything is more than nothing,” Dayani tells Jay Shetty. “Failing is not honoring what it is that keeps you up at night.”
It is important to find leaders who speak your language and inspire you. Follow their lead and learn to tell your truth.
Messing explains to Jay Shetty that it took her a long time to be okay with people not agreeing with her, and the people pleaser in her was suffocating her, stripping away her joy.
“Living in that headspace made me realize that it was unhealthy for me, and I was choosing to sacrifice my self-esteem. By silencing my voice, I was saying that my voice had no value.”
Once Messing started to say no and demand respect, she finally felt ok with whatever the fallout was from those situations. She realized that we all have one life to live.
“People that will not tolerate a different point of view are not my people,” Messing explains to Jay Shetty. “I was raised, inclusive of solidity being at the center of everything. You can have one opinion, I can have another, and we could have a very passionate debate about our different points of view. At the end of that conversation, I can say, ‘I hear you. It is not my truth, but I still love and respect you.’”
You can agree to disagree.
Messing and Dayani tackle heavy topics, things that often cause disdain when discussed from opposing views. Things like gun safety, environmental issues, LGBTQ rights, and animal rescue. They agree that when something is heavy, it continues to get heavier if you don’t discuss it.
“We reference the people that we interview as accidental activists,” Messing explains to Jay Shetty. “The intention was never there. Something happened, they had to do something, and they did it, and that's what changed their lives.”
Messing credits the people she has met doing The Dissenters as giving her the most hope because they have shown that there are heroes everywhere working to make the world a better place.
Becoming an activist is about finding what sets your soul on fire and finding your voice to take a stand.
More From Jay Shetty
Listen to the entire On Purpose with Jay Shetty podcast episode with Mandana Dayani & Debra Messing ON “How To Talk With People Who Have Opposing Views” now in the iTunes store or on Spotify. For more inspirational stories and messages like this, check out Jay’s website at jayshetty.me.