Embracing Restraint

November 7, 2012 Leave a comment

A couple of days ago my colleague Cynthia Parker blogged about the challenge and importance of staying connected across political divides.  The conversation that has ensued seems especially relevant to where we stand right now, the day after the elections, faced with what some fear will be an increasingly polarized country.  No matter where we may fall along political lines, there are strong feelings on all sides about what is the “right” direction for our country and how to get there.  In this increasingly mediatized world, it is very tempting and easy to stand behind our computers and cast aspersions at one another.  And all this does is continue to fray the already worn social fabric.  How do we continue to recognize that we are all in this together, like it or not, and that respecting our collective humanity is a baseline for progress?

One answer has come to me via my mentor Carol Sanford, with whom I am currently enrolled in a unique program she is running called “The Responsible Resource.”  In a recent session, we worked through some foundational frameworks for guiding developmental change with individuals and organizations, and one that resonated deeply is associated with what Carol calls “the law of three.”  The basic idea underlying this framework is that in order to facilitate developmental (evolutionary) change, we must learn to embrace forces of restraint, and not simply see them as threatening and blocking.  That is, when we set out to create change, our activating energy is always countered by some kind of restraining force, that may be internal to ourselves or come from the broader environment.  These restraining forces are not simply setting out to squash or prevent what we are trying to bring into being, but can bring important balancing and catalytic energy to shaping something new and greater that emerges out of this tension (the third path).  This is the very essence of the developmental dynamic.  The challenge then, becomes moving ourselves mentally out of a bi-polar world (“the law of two”), being open to and looking for the reconciling force that might yield a new answer.  This means being willing to sit with tension long enough for something new to emerge and being open to outside forces and ideas to assist with this.

Of course, when we are deeply triggered and in our lizard brains, it is very difficult to stay open to this kind of possibility.  Perhaps at a very fundamental level we train our mind’s eye on the dynamic of evolution and development that is always in play and ask ourselves, “What is waiting to born of this?”  And this is not to say that it is wise to remain open in every instant, which then begs a careful trained listening ear and watchful eye to what aims to serve a greater and more healthy whole, and what is purely self-interested.  Much work to be done!

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  • Hector Acevedo says:

    Thanks so much Curtis! It is important now more than ever that we continue to cross political and social divides. We need to continue to connect with communities and build from the ground up. Perhaps our biggest challenge will be staying positive and optimistic but I am sure that we can move forward together.

  • Charlie Jones says:

    i came across this little nugget of info – which might help us better understand those with whom we disagree…


  • Cynthia Silva Parker says:

    Charlie, that article is fascinating and a little troubling. If “wiring” is as much of a driver of political ideology as it suggests, what does that mean for finding new ways to think together and new ways to relate in the sphere of our public, communal lives?!

  • Jen Willsea says:

    I love the idea (and phrase) of embracing restraint! Thanks, Curtis.

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