December 18, 2017
I wrote last month of my own work to take more pauses, to pay attention to my body, and to ensure that how I work is more aligned with what I do and what I care about. I started with a story of how slowing down actually allowed me to see my agitation and what was not aligned. I began to understand that not being aligned was partly external– the ways our country is out of synch with justice– and partly internal– my mind was still moving at an unrealistic pace…although my body and breath were beginning to slow.
Let’s consider how this work of aligning, and often of slowing the pace of work, might play out in social change organizations and networks.
We live in a culture that dissuades us from attending to ourselves and to our alignment. I have learned this lesson as a woman in this society that has been taught to attend to others even at my own expense, from a family that is great at doing and acting and less so at being, and as a white person raised in a white supremacy culture that values efficiency, productivity, and movement regardless of impact.
What is at danger, as change agents, if we are not attending to our internal condition and are not aligned?
First, our relationships are at stake. We cannot truly be effective if we are operating in ways that are not healthy for ourselves or for our colleagues. When we make unrealistic promises, get too little sleep, or are short with someone because we are stressed, we are not aligning ourselves with our commitment to justice.
Second, our effectiveness is at stake. If we are working in community and not taking the adequate time to build relationship, we ignore a critical step; even if the event or work gets done, it is not truly as effective as it could be. It is not deep justice work.
Third, our ability to create impact is at stake. We teach people to create great meetings as one of the practices in our Facilitative Leadership for Social Change course. We also teach about the importance of attending to one’s interior condition. A great agenda facilitated by a person who does not hold themselves and others with love will likely fall short of its potential.
Lastly, our integrity is at stake. There is no time like the present to see that many people, especially men, in social change work have been of the belief that they could work in movements or in politics and “do good” while simultaneously abusing their power and assaulting colleagues. These are people deeply out of alignment.
As people involved in social justice work, we each owe it to ourselves, our organizations, and our movements to attend to our interior condition and work on aligning such that our values, our mindset and heartset, and our work are functioning in concert.
The simplest way I know to do this every day – and something I continue to grow in – is to take time. That can be time to talk to people and express our kindness, time to express appreciation and gratitude for what we have and what others do, and time for breathing. In a time of assaults on justice it feels counter intuitive to slow down and to breathe more. And yet, what we have been doing for years is not working. Let’s try something new.
November 27, 2017
I slept in a platform tent hearing the burbling brook, the food at the progressive retreat center was delicious and made with love, we learned life-shifting somatics exercises with wise teachers,* and I meditated each day. And yet, in the time since I left this beautiful restful setting, I have been more agitated than is my norm.
I first understood it as a principal of physics. While I slowed down physically, my cells and mental functioning continue to operate at their usual faster pace, and are hitting against a now constrained container. While I may be moving into alignment, it is not a simple shift of all systems at the same time. It will take patience to live into focused and productive energy.
Then I read a wonderful piece on creativity and connection by Elissa Sloane Perry at MAG. She helped me to understand this agitation in a metaphysical way as well. In her article, she reminds us that at a time of instability and insecurity, agitation might be a sign of alignment. She quotes Jiddhu Krishnamurti: “It’s no measure of health to be well-adjusted to a profoundly sick society.”
Today I am choosing to practice embodiment – the work of aligning myself, attending to the spiritual, intellectual, and physical manifestations of myself and my work as the interconnected sphere that it is—as an ongoing activity as the word “practice” implies. I don’t leave a retreat aligned. I choose to take steps toward alignment each day. I choose to slow down and to rest when my body reminds me I am tired. I choose to pause and think about how my actions impact others. I choose to listen better to feedback, be it from my son or a coworker. I choose to take in the emotion of a movie about liberation and not just intellectualize the political activity.
Today I recommit to aligning, knowing that does not mean that I will always feel grounded or that I am acting with my fullest purpose. I choose to acknowledge how off-kilter our world is and allow that to affect me, not just to plough on as if all is normal. I then keep trying to align internally, and to work to make the world one I want to be aligned with.
This balance is critical to our social change work; as participants and leaders in change, we need to attend both internally and externally. What are the ways you are experiencing this tension?
*Note: I highly recommend #practicingJUSTICE, a somatics (“soma: the body in its living wholeness”) retreat, sponsored by Universal Partnership and led beautifully by Rusia Mohiuddin and Reverend angel Kyodo Williams
July 18, 2017
One recent night, my son stomped out of the house, hurt, telling me that I should stop defining who he is and what he can do. My daughter followed after him, asking that I think about what I had done to cause the blow out. I meditated, cooked dinner, and two hours later we were eating a great puttanesca together.
That evening – and other parenting moments – have led me to recognize that my best liberation and change work these days is mothering. While there is so much to write and share about parenting, here I will glean what I can from my children about ways to improve work.
Here are five things I do with or learned from my kids that might work for you as well.
Just do it. Be silly, open up new parts of the brain, laugh, release endorphins. Do it at home and do it at work. Brain science tells us that laughter and play opens us and what flows is much more effective than working from worry and constriction. It does not mean that there are not real-life worries and real dangers everywhere—poor health and racism, for starters—but it is an invitation to play along the way. I re-learned how to play from my kids. I invest time in being as goofy with them as possible and bringing some of that spirit of laughter and fun into my work. We work a lot, it should be fun and fun generates new possibilities. What is the work equivalent of running through the fountain or blowing bubbles? What do you do at work to create fun and be creative?
Honor who they are and not only what they do or how well they do it
In work settings and movement building efforts we of course need to keep our eye on results. In racial equity work, that focus is particularly important as we have seen how changes in laws do not necessarily lead to changes in heart, nor does understanding lead automatically to reducing disparities. And yet, we know from parenting that honoring who a person is and valuing them for that is so much more important for long term well-being and success than a good grade or accomplishment. How can we keep our eye on the big changes as we honor ourselves and our co-workers for who we are and the spirit and talents we bring and not just what we produce?
Walking down the street, it is often the adults walking with children—holding hands or skipping or watching the trains – who seem most present and look happiest. It is a reminder that of how critical presence is for all of us. At a recent convening, The Confluence sponsored by MAG, someone offered this gem: “less prep, more presence.” Let’s make sure that we bring impeccable presence to our workplaces. Whether at large gatherings, staff or member meetings, or one-on-one conversations, bring your full presence. How do you stay present, planting seeds that flourish in the moment and over the longer term?
Show love and caring
While this may be an “of course” in family, it needs to be just as much so in the workplace. At a network gathering last week, I went to the bathroom, tired, after facilitating a challenging session on health equity. I found someone there in tears, having just lost a family member. I was able to show her some tenderness. The next day she reminded me how important the care I offered was for her and, in fact, opened her to learning. These moments, large and small, present themselves daily. What is the workplace equivalent of the schnuggle? Can you find more moments to show love to your co-workers and partners? What might that elicit?
I don’t need to be in something with my kids to know how incredible it is for my kids.
While my daughter plans a social justice orientation program for students at her college, I can simply watch her and her peers create and experiment; I can stand aside and watch it blossom. I have to let my kids experiment in the world and experience their ups and downs. I don’t have to help or be in it to know it will be an incredible learning experience. This is a good reminder to allow people to try new things and to flourish and stumble with their work, and learn from it all along the way. How do you practice standing aside?
People in organizations – just like in our families – need this level of tending and love. We all need play, space, and autonomy to create great things. It is a truism that change starts at home. Perhaps it is less clear that home can improve our work. Let’s garner those lessons.
What else can we learn from the kids?
April 26, 2017
The human heart is the first home of democracy. It is where we embrace our questions. Can we be equitable? Can we be generous? Can we listen with our whole beings, not just our minds, and offer our attention rather than our opinions? And do we have enough resolve in our hearts to act courageously, relentlessly, without giving up – ever – trusting our fellow citizens to join with us in our determined pursuit of a living democracy? ~Terry Tempest Williams
In Turkey, voters just granted the Prime Minister additional powers. In the US, many people have long been fond of simple solutions. Today that plays out with support of a bombast who is inconsistent and offers solutions that exacerbate underlying problems.
When we work with clients, it also seems like there is a pull to simplicity, especially around issues of diversity and equity.
We field many calls from organizations and networks eager to address issues of racism. In its caricature state, which is all too common, the request is for a two-hour workshop for staff. The hope is that with a few hours of filling smart brains with a new understanding—of the history of racism, or of implicit bias, or levels of oppression—that then things will be okay.
This is false. A two-hour workshop can open some new understanding or potentially be used to make a case for change, but in no way does not even put you on the road to okay.
How is it that smart people believe that a little more in the way of “smarts” will undo a complex historical reality routed in policy, cultural narrative and economics?
Some of it seems to be a wish for easy and for ease. Many white people want the magic bullet or the easy solution to our own racism and that of our country and our organizations. We are not used to acknowledging that it took a lot of work to dig the hole that we are in and that it will take even more work to get out. Hoping that two hours or one day can give a diverse group the knowledge, tools, and understanding to create systemic change is simply a wish for simple.
In addition, there are systems that support the quest for this to be simple. For example, funders may offer relatively small dollars for organizational change efforts or not prioritize learning about systems of oppression at all. The push is almost always for fast outcomes and it seems risky to slow down and support the harder efforts that will ultimately be successful. Many leaders of our organizations, foundations, and government institutions have ourselves benefitted from the structures of racism and are content (wittingly or unwittingly) not to rock the boat.
For people working on systemic change, our job is to communicate that change is both hard and worthy. To want change requires more than a workshop; it is a commitment to put in the time, the dollars, and the effort. We know that effective equity efforts require work on multiple levels.
It may not be easy but it is fun and powerful to see the changes along the way. Change can beget more change. Change includes:
- New and deep relationships that expand what is possible and build new ways of being
- More equitable hiring and purchasing policies, investing in long term economic change
- Policies in an organization that are constructed to undo the bias that is both implicit and explicit in our minds and our organizations.
I will write more in the coming weeks about examples of change as a motivation for those moments when we think oppression, racism, and inequity are solvable in a two-hour workshop. IISC is interested in working with groups that choose to avoid the simple and invest with their hearts and time the work that can lead to meaningful change.
July 11, 2016
(Above: Video of a Boston #BlackLivesMatter protest)
In times of anger and grief and sadness, it is easy for me to retreat or to read endlessly or, worse, to tune out as if lives are not at stake.
There is much to depress us this week and, if we are awake, most weeks. I remembered this week that it is also possible to have joy during these hard times. In fact, as a colleague said to me, perhaps it is not just possible but necessary. We need to connect and celebrate because of all the craziness, not in spite of it. Perhaps it is a way of creating the world we want for ourselves and our children while in the midst of the world we need to drastically change.
Here are some moments of connectivity that brought me comfort or joy this horrible and regular US/global week:
November 24, 2014
“They were so aggressive. They incited violence.”
I heard a Ferguson resident speak these words on the radio about the actions the Ferguson Police force took in August. And yet, as we await a grand jury decision on whether to indict Officer Darren Wilson in the killing of Michael Brown, most of the media conversation is about whether there will be citizen violence and, assuming yes, requests for calm. Read More
October 1, 2014
We can “contribute to the degradation of human capacity or we can take a stand”. That was the bold call of Meg Wheatley this month when she presented on being a “Warrior for the Human Spirit” on her webinar for our friends at System Thinking in Action (STIA). Read More
July 16, 2014
I have never observed the Fast of the 17th of Tamuz. Yesterday, I did. I fasted in solidarity with others who were making a stand with our bodies for peace and in mourning lives lost in Palestine/Israel. At a time of horrific violence and avowed enmity between so many Muslims and Jews, it was a comfort to be fasting together, during Ramadan.