Yearning for A Different Conversation, Yearning for a Turning Point

One of the teams I have the pleasure of being part of is an Art of Hosting team comprised of me, Jerry Nagel, Dave Ellis and Bob-e Simpson Epps. We most often have hosted open enrolment programs in the Twin Cities and we have worked together on a few other initiatives. One of the joys in working with this team is the rich and deep learning we are in with each other all the time. Our backgrounds are more varied than the colour of our skins as are our experiences.

When we check in together about hosting conversations, the topic often turns to difficult and challenging conversations, particularly around race, power and privilege, the need for which is growing more pressing every day. The essence of our many conversations is floating through my awareness as I read about the great unrest that is alive in the world today; so great it has its own pulse, its own life force and it will not stop until we turn to face it with courage, compassion and humility. All of us, not just some of us.

As Bob-e and Dave and my other African American or African Nova Scotian friends remind us regularly, this is not a problem people of colour can fix. Not alone for sure. It is not a problem of their making. And it is a complex problem that is an entangled, interconnected mess that fuels and feeds itself beyond what any one person or any one organization can do.

An article this morning in the Waging Non Violence newsletter pointed out that Policing Isn’t Working For Cops either. Kazu Haga wrote:

“This is not about being an apologist for the individuals responsible for the killing of black life. It is not about comparing the suffering of black communities to that of law enforcement. But in nonviolence, we know that if you don’t understand the perspective of those who you are in conflict with, you do not understand the conflict. You do not need to agree with, excuse or justify the other’s perspective, you simply need to understand it so you can see the complete picture.”

 “Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote that “the white man’s personality is greatly distorted by segregation, and his soul is greatly scarred.” He said that the work of defeating segregation was for the “bodies of black folks and the souls of white folks.” He understood that to be a white supremacist, to hold hatred in your heart for so many and to inflict violence on others destroys your soul.”

<> on July 8, 2016 in Dallas, Texas.

Dallas Police Chief David Brown – embodying grief well beyond his own

People’s lives are at stake. As near as I understand it, this has always been the case. The unrest that is being stirred up – whether by presidential campaigns, referendum votes, violence and terrorism or the killing of unarmed black men or policemen in the line of duty is not going to go away. It will not be suppressed.

At the last AoH training in the Twin Cities, we were reminded by participants in the room, that many people – especially people of colour, people who are part of minority groups – walk in multiple worlds – the predominant culture that does not easily see its own worldview or predominance and the world of their reference groups be it their family, culture, colour of skin, way of being or lifestyle. Many who walk in multiple worlds do so with such grace that those in the dominant culture has been able to turn a blind eye to it, filter it out as if it does not exist. And they do so because it is a matter of survival. They do not have the luxury of turning a blind eye. It can too easily be a matter of life and death.

In that AoH training, I sat with a Hmong man in his forties who has lived in the US for most of his life. He, like at least one other person in the room, moved to the country that at the time was oppressing his own country and his culture. A large family of siblings, many did not survive. He shared with me the structure, ties and traditions of his culture which he feels bound to and in which he lives in community with his family and other community members. He shared how that world differs from the larger world he interacts with every single day. A world he has learned to navigate because he has to. He is aware of the differing worlds and differing cultures in a way that many who interact with him daily have no awareness.

A couple of months later, in Boston, sitting with a distinguished Black man in his 60’s who works with the Massachusetts’s Teachers’ Association, I am heartbroken as we speak about life in general and our children. He has two sons in their 20’s. I have two sons in their 20’s (and one in his early teens) and we have very different experiences of “educating” our children when they became of driving age. For me, it was to make sure they went to Driver’s Education so they knew the rules of the road and learned from someone who could teach them to drive without my or their dad’s bad habits. For him, it was teaching his sons, over and over again, what to do if/when they got stopped by the cops. Because they would sometime get stopped – as some of my friends point out – for “driving while black”. And now we know even that might not keep them safe.

There are many more stories I could tell, but I’ll stop here. What I know from the conversations I am able to have with the people I know and love, the people I come into contact with in heart filled spaces, is that we are longing for a different conversation, one that leads to different results, that transforms our differences into progress by acknowledging, seeing and validating others’ perspectives and experiences as real and true. We are yearning for a turning point. We’re not quite sure what this conversation or the “space” it needs to take place in looks like yet. But it cannot involve guns or jail. It needs to invite exploration, compassion, curiosity and understanding. And we need it now. It is already late. Too late for those whose lives are lost but not forgotten. Very late for many who are deeply traumatized. How do we confront ourselves and each other in such a way that we put an end to the violence? How do we do it across whole countries?

I saw a picture today that said something like don’t be overwhelmed, be true and you have an obligation to continue the journey. I didn’t repost it because I thought, Yes, be overwhelmed. It is overwhelming. And, even in the overwhelm you can look for things to help you remember who you are – watch the birds at the birdfeeders, listen to calming music, go for a walk, pet the cats, remember your purpose and your soul’s journey – then do what you can in the places that you can. I cannot, in this moment, affect a whole nation. But I can carry on my work, I can hold spaces for the pain and overwhelm, I can NOT turn away from all that troubles me in the posts rolling across my screen. I can stay in it, with it and with my friends who more than ever need me to be in it with them, who need me to be a disturbance in the world so we can all live in it in truth, beauty and grace. It is only together that we will find the turning point for which we yearn.

me-Jerry-Bob-e-Dave

Dave Ellis, Jerry Nagel, Bob-e Simpson Epps, Kathy Jourdain

Advertisements

Resilience, Grief and Collective Consciousness

Human beings are remarkably resilient.  We have this amazing capacity to pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off and get on with getting on after all imaginable and unimaginable nature of horrors, calamities, catastrophes, shocks to the system – that happen to us, to our families, our communities, our organizations, globally.   Hope really does spring eternal even though at times it is hard to access.  It’s like the grass, flower or weed that pushes it’s way through concrete to bloom again in the light of day.

I find myself in a deep contemplation of this resilience, despite, at times, overwhelming odds and continued attempts at suppression.  My contemplation of resilience is weaving together with grief and what is alive and communicated in the collective consciousness, without it being visible. This is alive and emerging for me because of work and conversations I’ve been in and over the last few months in particular.  What I write today are half formed thoughts percolating more with each conversation.

Recently I worked with a client – a department in a large organization – that has gone through a significant amount of change, restructuring, everyone applying for remaining positions and no one knowing the outcome.  This was the most recent in a series of changes.  I know I could be referring to almost any organization.  The conversation they wanted to have was how to work more horizontally in a hierarchical structure and how to be more transparent with communication.

We began with a circle, asking people what makes them hopeful.  Eleven people in the room.  Responding with a talking piece but popcorn style.  Nine spoke about what made them hopeful.  The tenth person, with tears just beginning, spoke about not having hope.  Not anymore.  Not after so much change and so little care for human collateral along the way.  The eleventh person went deeper in this vein, apologizing because she had nothing hopeful to offer.

We welcomed the tears into our circle.  Thank you for your courage and honesty.  For sharing what is alive for you in this moment.  Hearing about the hope expressed by so many was too much.  It evoked the other truth sitting in the room.  The truth of grief.  Before we knew it, many in the circle were in tears.  I was not surprised it was there.  I was a bit surprised at the depth of it.

Our organizations tend to make it hard to tell truth – not “the” truth, but the multiplicity of truths that exist in the same space.  And in change efforts, there is a tendency to just want to get it done, to move from A to B.  The fear is that if we factor in the human response, the emotional response, nothing will get done, we will be overwhelmed.  Yet not creating space for it drives it underground, like rivers under the earth that can destabilize what appears to be a solid foundation and where sink holes spring up unexpectedly.  We seem surprised when they show up, caught off guard.  I wonder why?

With this group, after welcoming tears, exploring the change curve which is predicated on the grief curve, looking at circles of influence, in just a couple of hours the group was collectively ready to turn toward the future – with collective hope and inspiration now bubbling through.  It was relatively simple though I don’t, by any means, believe or mean to say that all it takes all the time is just a couple of hours.  But I am curious about what it does take and how much more simple it likely is than we imagine through our fear and structures designed for effectiveness and professionalism.  Emotions?  Not so professional. Trying to banish them from the workplace?  Not so effective.

In a conversation with a friend after this event, she said to me, “We have forgotten how to grieve.  We think we are supposed to grieve alone, but really we need to grieve in ‘community’ – with others. Witnessing each other.  Holding space for each other.”  That’s what I witnessed with this group.  A collective experience of grief that showed up differently for each person.  Those better off feeling excited about opportunity but afraid to speak it knowing others were worse off.  Those worse off afraid to speak their disappointment and disillusionment Almost everyone experiencing some kind of survivor guilt after so many left.

For me, it sparked reflections on the grief embedded in collective consciousness.  I am by no means an expert on collective consciousness.  I understand it is “how an autonomous individual comes to identify with a larger group or structure.  It implies an internal knowing known by all, or a consciousness shared by a plurality of persons.”  Most of it is not conscious or articulated but it becomes visible through the patterns which show up over time – even embodied in individuals. It seems to show up in lineages.  I have witnessed the pain and grief of generations no longer alive in their descendants who were not even alive at the time of the harm – the pain and grief as alive as the time it happened, as in the people it happened to.  It makes me deeply curious about how this is possible, what it takes to release the grief, to open the space for healing?  I don’t have the answers of course.  But I yearn for the spaces where this can happen. Where we can show up with curiosity, with compassion, humility and grace allowing despair, sorrow, grief and pain to come in – the grief alive in this moment, the grief alive in the lineage from days gone by without resolution, yet.  Seeking the ways love, joy, delight, happiness can co-exist – in each of us, in how we show up, in our lineages too.

It brings me back to resilience. Everyday resilience as we arise each morning and go about our day, our lives, our business with varying degrees of success, the resilience of families, of generations, of communities and of our organizations.  I am in awe.  I am relieved.  I am inspired.  Feeling the call, as always, to perpetuate resilience, perpetuate hope.  To boldly, or quietly, bring my healing gifts to the shifting shape of the world and the regeneration of its people, to evoke and invite that in others.

This is the call that invites so many of us to continue to dive deeper into the journey of personal transformation and the call, by the way, to Hosting from a Deeper Place, the Art of Hosting the Subtle, in Brazil at the end of February 2013.

“If you want to awaken all of humanity, then awaken all of yourself.  If you want to eliminate the suffering in the world, then eliminate all that is dark and negative in yourself.  Truly the greatest gift you have to give is that of your own self-transformation.” Lao Tzu

As we each do our own healing work, we contribute to healing in the collective consciousness.  But what more becomes possible when we do this work in community – with each other?  This is one of the questions I carry everywhere I go.