We are talking a lot about polarization these days.
I can hardly go 24 hours without reading or hearing the term, and especially hearing friends in my left-of-center orbit bemoan it. I’m right there with them, and I’ve done my share of moaning, but I don’t think that will help us.
It’s far more challenging to heed the words of Grace Lee Boggs—Transform yourself to transform the world.
I’m learning a lot from adrienne maree brown these days, and in this podcast, she shares that she asks her circles, “Who are you trying to punish right now?” And then works with them to find another way. She quotes Mariame Kaba in talking about how, even if we were to abolish our punitive incarceration system, we couldn’t replace it with a centralized “Transformative Justice System” that did the hard work for us. That work is OURS!
The problem is that we don’t know how to do it. If we want to live in a less polarized world, we must learn how to manage the conflicts in our own lives with skill, honesty, love, and humility.
Here, adrienne addresses the phenomenon of cancel culture:
Knee-jerk call outs say: those who cause harm or mess up or disagree with us cannot change and cannot belong. They must be eradicated. The bad things in the world cannot change, we must disappear the bad until there is only good left.
But one layer under that, what I hear is:
We cannot change.
We do not believe we can create compelling pathways from harm doers to being healed, to I
We do not believe we can hold the complexity of a gray situation.
We do not believe in our complexity.
We do not believe we can navigate conflict and struggle in principled ways.
We can only handle binary thinking: good/bad, innocent/guilty, angel/abuser, black/white etc. (from We will Not Cancel Us).
Certainly, there are systems—institutional, historical, cultural, familial—that thrive on and encourage conflict and discrimination. We must name and fight against those, and sometimes this calls for raucous protest. But there is no system that will fix or eradicate conflict. There is only the complex work we do to transform and heal ourselves and one another. No one will do that for us.
I find this a little maddening, but also liberating.
There are a million books one can read to get better at this, and a million more newsletters I could write detailing the communication skills you could hone. But I would suggest starting with two simple, hard practices:
- Be at home in your own body. Learn to tune into your nervous system, dysregulated as it may be. What is unacknowledged cannot shift. You can do this through meditation, spending time in nature, movement practices, talk therapy, journaling, therapeutic touch, spiritual friendships, or like me, a combination of all of these! Transformation cannot happen without an enabling environment for healing.
- Become an expert listener. I’ve rarely met a person who doesn’t think they are a good listener—I’d say maybe 5% of us actually are. Slow down. Don’t listen to respond but listen to understand. Repeat back to others what you hear them saying. Don’t interrupt them. Think about your response before you share it. Stop yourself from giving advice. (I’m horrible at this.) Listen for the story under the story, for the energy under the opinion, and see how this transforms your relationships and yourself in the process. (By the way, if you’re a leader, this will set you apart. Period.)
I believe we can, YOU can, navigate conflict and struggle in “principled ways.” I am here if you need help.
Offerings coming in the Fall
- The Wild Within, third Sundays September-December, 10:00-11:15 PST. Free, you can register here. Emily, Natasha, and I come together again to facilitate a drop-in space for you to do just what I’ve described—be at home in your own body, listen to yourself and others, and cultivate the inner knowing that gets us through hard times.
- Enneagram Virtual Series: Living from our Three Centers of Intelligence. Five consecutive Tuesday mornings, 9-11 PST, September 20-October 18. Registration info and cost coming soon! Emily and I are cooking up something special and experiential for those of you who are familiar with the Enneagram and want to go deeper. Stay tuned.