Responding to Charlottesville and other disturbing recent events, I explored the principles of a nonviolent approach to issues of race, privilege and power during our Wednesday morning practice group last week.
The experience left me feeling raw, teary and emotional for days.
Speaking about emotionally charged material can lead to a rich unraveling of things that were previously bottled up and buttoned down.
(But, creativity can emerge from chaos if we are intentional about it!)
The conversation reminded me how our deeply ingrained habits of pathologizing, polarizing and projecting fears and memories onto one another can keep us stuck in cycles of pain and violence.
Shame and blame tactics reinforce defensiveness, shut down openness and reduce our ability and willingness to listen deeply to each other.
These tools of domination simply fragment us further.
If we are after transformative change, we need something more powerful than our habits of violence, shame and blame.
We need upgraded relationship and communication tools that serve collaboration, interdependence and shared humanity.
Black, lesbian feminist Audre Lorde suggested we learn
“… how to make common cause with those others identified as outside the structures in order to define and seek a world in which we can all flourish . It is learning how to take our differences and make them strengths. For the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house. They may allow us temporarily to beat him at his own game, but they will never enable us to bring about genuine change.”
Conversations that serve a shift from domination to interdependence requiretremendous courage, the willingness to approach charged materialand the ability to be vulnerable and open with one another.
We need tools for loving one another better, instead of oppressing each other more.
These tools invite us to shift our personal relationships with power and privilege, and to get much better at perspective-taking when it comes to people’s experiences that are different from our own.
( The shift from power-over to power-with)
Nonviolence invites a shift from domination, power-over systems to collaborative, power-with systems.
Power is our ability to affect change and is affected by our access to both internal and external resources.
Coercive, power-over approaches are rooted in fear and separation, while coactive, power-with approaches are grounded in a connection to universal human needs and strategies designed to meet those needs for all people.
Power-With is relational and collective.
When you get overwhelmed by the enormity of cultural change needed, keep it simple. Start by simply examining the quality and nature of your close relationships – those place where you actually have influence:
- Where do you resort to power-over tactics?
- Where/when are you able to practice empowered, power-with approaches with others?
- Where and how can you invite others to problem-solve with you instead of telling them what “should” be done?
- For an example of how I shifted a power struggle I had with a student, you can read more here.
(The shift from rank & exclude, to join & include)
Systems of privilege contribute to keeping dominations systems intact by reinforcing entitlement and separation. If you’d like to understand this more deeply, here are some places to begin:
- If you haven’t read this, Peggy McIntosh’s Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack is a powerful place to begin.
- Miki Kashtan talks about Privilege, Responsibility and Power here, and then has an even more powerful addendum to that posting here.
- Or, this clear, easy read by The Southern Poverty Law Center on Racism and White Privilege
(The shift from narrow me vs. you, to a broader, shared humanity)
Talk to people who are not like you: Find people with different political ideologies, different socio-economic realities, different racial experiences. Pay attention to both visible and invisible diversity factors. Listen deeply: Let people into your hearts. Hear their stories. Believe them.
Develop a deeper awareness of how our subjective world-views get confused with or merged with ideas of “normal” or “true” or “right” or “healthy.” Hold your world-views lightly: Examine them, question them, expand them.
To explore empathy and perspective-taking further, I really like this article fromGreater Good Magazine:
Finally, I’d like to share some practical resources for moving conversations forwards:
- 10 Ways to have A Better Conversation
- The Sustained Dialogue Institute
- A Step-by-Step Guide to Having Political Conversations
I cannot possibly do justice to the complexity of these issues in a brief weekly newsletter, or even in a 2-hr practice group.
I haven’t even scratc hed the surface on enemy images, the protective use of force, the role of unexamined projections and the shadow, or how we dehumanize each other through pathologizing and polarizing language.
I plan to address these topics in future newsletters, but in the meantime, I welcome further conversations at either Wednesday or Saturday’s practice groups, or you can …
“Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing.”