Breaking Out of Binaries

January 31, 2011 4 Comments

CommunityPhoto by: Dionyziz

Akaya Windwood, President of the Rockwood Leadership Institute is among the newest members of the IISC Board of Directors, the following are her reflections:

I’ve just about had it with the vitriol and saber-rattling lately. Our world cannot sustain much more bellowing from those on one end of a spectrum at those on the other, with no room for nuance, ambiguity or the unknown. Enough!

So much of our current day “discourse” is framed (at least in the mainstream media) by discussions of who is right/wrong, right/left, bad/good, holy/evil. As long as we are limited to these extremes, we will be doomed to the tyranny of righteousness and posturing. This will not, and cannot, sustain us.

Lately, I’ve had the pleasure of listening to old speeches by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. His ability to engage ideas and hearts without spewing hatred often moves me to tears. I’ve so enjoyed hearing (again) his deep and resonant call to accountability and conscience. Somehow, with his commitment and clarity, and without name-calling or viciousness, he managed to move mountains. He didn’t get distracted by hatred or vilification. He built, instead, a “Beloved Community.”

Sometimes it is so tempting… so very easy to fall into the old comfortable dance of “we the anointed, they the oppressor,” or “we the good guys, they the bad.” Isn’t it oddly enjoyable now and then, to assign blame and condemn those with whom we disagree? I do it more often than I care to admit. Delicious.

And then I come to my senses and take the more difficult road of really trying to listen to those with whom I vehemently disagree. This means I must set aside my notions of who I think they are, and who I think I am. I have to be willing to be changed by what I hear. This is terribly challenging sometimes, but I find that when I’m willing to stop and really listen – with my heart as well as with my ears – I learn something. I grow. I change.

Biologists tell us that the most interesting, diverse and evolving places are at the edges of ecosystems – where unlike organisms come into contact with one another. And science is showing us that cooperation – not competition – is actually the best means of collective survival. What if we humans began to act as though we were part of the ecosystem, and were to sidle up to and explore difference rather than fear or kill it?

I know that you and I are working hard toward creating a world where leaders, both those in Congress and those who are nine years old, can gather freely. We are dreaming of a world where killing and torture are unthinkable, where we can disagree without mayhem.

This is a call to hearts. Let us interrupt the tendency to sort into “either/or”, to look for opportunities to blame, or to create enemies. Let’s explore some edges and find new ways to dance.

Good leadership depends on our willingness to engage new and, perhaps, uncomfortable ideas. It depends on our willingness to be changed by what we encounter, and to grow.

In fact, the world depends on it.

From my heart to yours.


  • Cynthia Parker says:

    Thanks so much for your reflections Akaya, and for joining with IISC as a Board member!

    I ran into the following quote by Dr. King over the weekend–right in line with your thoughts.

    “One day we must come to see that peace is not merly a distant goal we seek, but it is the means by which we arrive at that goal. We pursue peaceful ends through peaceful means.” Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

  • Nice article, Akaya! “Good leadership…depends on our willingness to be changed by what we encounter, and to grow.” <-Reminds me of one of the principles that also makes for good improvising in improv theater: Allow yourself to be changed by what is said and what happens!

  • Gibran says:

    Really moving Akaya – and so true! I think that for too long those of us that call ourselves progressives and claim to be on the side of justice have tried to energized ourselves with a polarizing righteousness. It is hard to fully understand how much our own tribalism can alienate those who might otherwise be moved by our vision of a better world. It is such a habit though… and you are so right, it can feel soooo good to be the one pointing the finger from a “higher than thou” place. In the yogic traditions it is often said that “freedom is from the pairs of opposites” and I of course like Rumi’s quote

    “Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there’s a field. I’ll meet you there.” Rumi

  • Jessica says:

    I’m glad I stumbled onto this blog and this article! You articulated exactly what I’ve been thinking about lately, which is how easy it is for facilitators who deliberately engage with injustice to slip back into a “us” and “them” mentality. Even for those who value dialogue and process above self-righteousness, it takes a lot of practice to turn off that automatic switch that wants you to side with the group that’s less privileged or more open. In a facilitator role, that need for validation or group identification has dangerous implications in the group, dividing in our minds the ones who “get it” from the ones who aren’t quite there yet. It’s self-defeating and unfortunate. This is passionate and beautifully written. Thank you.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *