Focus ≠ Exclusion. Ever.

Focus does not equal exclusion

Lately, our social media has been ablaze with competing American campaigns about whose lives matter. Is it the black ones? The police ones?  All of them?  It saddens me to see all these accurate assertions reduced to a public debate.  In doing so, we are creating unnecessary divisions between our hearts, and consequently, we are diluting our collective capacity to affect some significant shifts towards a more harmonious future … for everyone … on all sides.  I spoke to much of this in a prior post,  but I believe there are some additional perspectives that might be helpful to consider as we move forward:

  • We must refrain from assuming an implied “only” exists in front of these slogans.
  • We must not neglect the history and context in which these campaigns have been generated.
  • We must step out of our “Soldier” mindsets and into our “Scout” mindsets. (More about this concept later.)

Focus does not mean exclusion. There have been countless campaigns in the past that have intentionally invited extra attention to one thing, but we understood that this amplified focus did not imply that that other things were not also equally important.  For example:

  • “Feed the children” Don’t feed the adults.
  • “Save the Whales” ≠   Sacrifice the Seals
  • “Help prevent forest fires” ≠ Don’t concern yourself with grass fires.
  • “Join the Army” ≠ Don’t even consider the Navy
  • “Pray for Paris” ≠  We don’t care about Rome.
  • “Travel Alberta” ≠  There is nothing worth seeing in British Columbia.

These various social campaigns emerged for good reason and with just cause.  They were attempting to raise awareness in a particular direction for a specific reason. We didn’t interpret them offensively nor did we create counter movements … because we comprehended the context in which they emerged. In fact, one of the most popular and historically revered Christian campaigns in American society was“Love thy neighbor.” And, we would never mistake it’s earnest intention by assuming it meant that you shouldn’t love people unless they live near you. We would never presume that this meaningful adage was covertly conspiring to ensure all traces of love are withheld from strangers. Nope. No. Nada.  That wouldn’t even enter our minds.

And yet, there is no denying that the Black Lives Matter campaign has certainly touched a national nerve. And, as I was trying to make sense of the public push back, I was most grateful to a follower of my blog, Sue Dreamwalker, who authors a very meaningful and deeply inspiring blog, for kindly nudging me in the direction of a a very short but highly potent Ted Talk that may very effectively explain the contention has been sparked during this particular campaign. In roughly 10 quick but juicy minutes, Julia Galef raises the concept of “Motivated Reasoning” which very logically explains when and why we will feel “the drive to attack or defend ideas.”

Galef identifies two necessary and equally important mindsets than can land us in separate camps and on seemingly different sides of the coin.  It’s a fascinating perspective and it makes so much sense to me. She discusses the benefits/challenges of both the “Soldier Mindset” which reflexively triggers one’s internal defense system and is “rooted in a desire to protect your side” and the more curious “Scout Mindset” which is when we are “trying to get an accurate picture of reality, even when that is unpleasant or inconvenient.”  Each of these mindsets serves very critical but distinct purposes.

And so, we can see how these two mindsets can be activated and may or may not be beneficial in our lives, depending upon the context.  With this in mind, as White people reflecting upon the Black Lives Matter campaign, (and if we are willing to quiet our more defensive internal “Soldier” and make room to embody our more curious inner “Scout”), we can see that our own lived experience has poorly prepared us to see things from the side of African American people.  This is not because we are insensitive or stupid.  It is typically because we have been taught only one side of the story … our side. Traditional grade school American history books were written from the side of white, middle class, male academics who had the power to unilaterally decide what was important to include and what could be left out.  While this bias in our mainstream education most definitely needs to be changed … most of us have never even considered that our curriculum offers us a White-washed version of the history and context of Black lives.  It may be entirely unsettling for many of us to recognize that we have been sold a version of history that tends to dismiss and downplay the magnitude of social injustices experienced by African Americans.

Our solider mind may resist making room for us to see this, but our scout mind certainly does not.  Even though we have been distanced from truly understanding the African American side of things, it is difficult to deny that many, many innocent black people have been mistreated and killed … rendered inexcusably vulnerable simply because of the color of their skin. And recently, we could see their reflexive soldier mindset horrifically played out during the protests in Dallas.  And, with that, innocent police officers were mistreated and killed … rendered inexcusably vulnerable simply for doing their jobs.  And we can also see how the soldier mindset sparked the subsequent emergence of the Police Lives Matter campaign.  And then, in the space of competing interests, social media invites us to choose sides.  Really??  To me, it is all just entirely heartbreaking.

Instead of choosing sides, I would like to suggest that if we are going to successfully find the solutions to stop all the senseless suffering and loss we are seeing, we must be willing to temper our own soldier mindsets and round out our reasoning with our scout mindsets. The incomparable Marianne Williamson  invites the mainstream, dominant culture to do exactly that with an exquisite and exceptional prayer which compassionately highlights and sincerely honors the history and context surrounding African American lives that White people have been privileged enough to step over:

Prayer of Apology to African Americans

From where I am looking, this apology is so very long overdue.  I interpret the Black Lives Matter campaign as a sincere attempt to tell their side of the story … to help raise awareness and/or to generate support and to foster enough collective energy to shift and transform the unjust context in which they have been forced to abide.  And, I can also see that the Police Lives Matter campaign is a genuine attempt to honor their unique and particular side of the story.   How do we make space in our hearts for the voices on each side of these social movements without dismissing and diminishing the other?

I humbly suggest that we need to allow ourselves some focus.  As the old adage goes, the eagle knows that if it chases two rabbits, it will lose them both.  There are times when we must channel our focus in one direction because without that additional, sustained and fixed focus we will lose our power to effect the changes that sparked the campaigns in the first place. But once again, focus does not mean exclusion.  Our focus upon one thing typically means that there is something special, important and worthy of extra attention and/or consideration at a particular time for a particular reason.  We can choose to focus our gaze in one particular direction for a period of time to help address a pressing concern that needs extra public support and attention. And once we have affected sufficient support to alleviate the problem, we can turn our attention back to other important issues of concern.  It’s a triage of sorts …

And this is an example of the context where our soldier mindset can be counterproductive.  It seems to me that unless and until we engage our scout mindsets to gather enough history to adequately understand the context in which social movements arise we will remain subject to all manner of misinterpretation.  And then, instead of coming together to collectively honor, acknowledge and address the special interests that are being highlighted within the campaigns, we may be reduced to bickering with each other.  I fear that if we, the mainstream dominant culture, steadfastly stand in our soldier minds (i.e. intent on defending only our own side of the story), the marginalized parts of our humanity are once again pitted against those with more power and social clout … and then … we all remain angrily divided and helplessly distracted from pursuing a more unified humanitarian goal.  And, with the competing interests, the group with the least volume in their voice then loses any leverage they may have gained during the social movement and the status quo is very nicely maintained.

Sadly, when we allow oursevles to be pitted against each other, we are missing the sacred and divine opportunity we have to join forces in a caring, conscious, collective, conscientious and concerted effort to ensure, in fact, that ALL lives DO matter.

Right Vision

Hmmmm … my scout mind is inviting me to be very transparent here.  I must openly admit that it has crossed the suspicious and cynical part of my mind that this controversy (pitting ‘lives’ against each other on social media) certainly serves to maintain the status quo.  And … it cannot be denied that, all though “all lives matter’,  the status quo definitely privileges some lives over others.  Our soldier mind doesn’t like to believe it, but our scout mind knows it to be true.

And, it strikes me that the bickering between camps benefits the soldier mindsets/agendas of those in high places … those with the most power and privilege to lose if, in fact, we actually achieved a successful shift in the direction of a higher vision and landed in that miraculous space where we can unequivocally see the empirical evidence that All Lives Matter.  Arghhh . I really don’t like the sound of that unflattering perspective.  And honestly … given this particular social context, I’d sooner be wrong than right.  Honestly and truly … from the bottom of my heart. I would much prefer to believe that we were investing our collective energy into ensuring Marianne’s inspiring vision becomes a reality.

Yes, please … let’s make a concerted effort to do that, Karen

P.S. I’ve added even more extra-ordinary resources to the list in my prior post that will appeal to our scout mindset. 🙂

 

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Well, I Sure Got Told, Didn’t I … ?!?

Black - White Photo

Yep. That was the outraged response I received to a comment I made on Facebook after the following post appeared on my news feed.

Race Card

I commented on my Facebook news feed and then followed this post back to the original source and pasted my response there too. Here is what I posted:

“Oh my. I swallow hard when I read this. I thought about simply not responding but my heart won’t let me stay silent. In theory, of course “all lives matter” … but when we snarl, scoff and generalize in this way, we allow ourselves (i.e. the mainstream dominant majority) to step over all the ways, places and spaces that this theory does NOT match the reality. When we do that, we give ourselves permission to dismiss, diminish, and deny the horrific injustices that people of color have experienced historically … and … we can then fail to acknowledge how these inequalities are currently being perpetuated. I truly believe we need to give extra careful attention to learning about the experience of the marginalized … to highlight the extent of the oppression that continues covertly … to help us collectively see how we are NOT actualizing that altruistic theory. With heartfelt respect, I humbly suggest we have much to learn from the ‘race card’ … and … I really hope that it keeps getting played until we actually sit up and listen, until we actually do something in order to see justice for all … beyond simply theoretical rhetoric.”

Well … this fellow was sure determined to set me clear and straight. I can’t quite comprehend how he’s qualified to accurately assess my level of intelligence because I don’t even know the guy. Maybe he’s just very comfortable with name calling? I’m not sure, but I’m guessing his scathing criticism says more about him than me.  I have no problem holding space for a respectful debate or difference of opinion. In fact, I welcome those discussions because that is how we stretch and grow and learn from each other. In this case though, his attack on my character does little to validate his position. By the same token, I would also suggest that the implicit snarl and condescending nature of the Facebook post (“get over yourself”,”put your race card away” and “grow up”) smacks of unnecessary vitriol as well.  Maybe it is just me, but as a counselor, my ears have also been trained to listen for what is not being said.  With that particular choice of wording,  I am sensing a somewhat covert but patronizing lack of respect for diverse racial experiences.

I understand, though, that what we see depends upon the eyes we are looking through.  Our opinions are fortified and framed by what we learn from our own lived experiences … and … by what we are taught (both formally and informally) in our families, cultures and schools.  I’ve come to believe that, without specific schooling, much of what we as White people really need to know, understand and recognize about race issues is simply not taught to us.  And so, although this guy’s approach was questionable, I can’t fault him for defending his perceptions. He just doesn’t know what he doesn’t know. I’m not being critical here. None of us do. How could we? The problem is not that we don’t know … the problem is that we think we do.

It wasn’t until I spent five years specifically immersed in social work and anti-oppressive practice (during both my undergraduate and graduate studies) that I began to understand how much I did not know.  I was dumbfounded to learn how much we have not been taught. It was deeply humbling and forever changed how I view things.  As White people we don’t recognize the unearned power and privilege that we are so generously afforded in our society.  It’s not possible for us to truly understand the complexities of these issues  … 1)because they are beyond the realm of our own experience and 2) because we are only exposed to some particulars about it. We are taught just enough to make us feel informed, but not enough to give us a truly comprehensive understanding of the complexities.  Unfortunately, the gaps in our awareness can skew our perceptions and derail our very best intentions.

I will give this guy two things though:

1.) There probably aren’t any black people alive who were “involved in the slave times.”  However, I would argue that the prejudice and bigotry that condoned and sustained the slave trade did not cease just because slavery was finally abolished. You can mandate changes in legislation but you can’t mandate changes in attitude. The legacy of such racism continues whether we like to admit to it or not.  One doesn’t have to look further than the 2016 U.S. Presidential campaign to see that bigotry and discrimination is not only alive and well in America … but is now being proudly perpetuated and cavalierly brandished by Donald Trump. And most disturbingly, it’s being loudly applauded by a staggering number of American people … who, by the way, would vehemently contend they are not racist in any way.

2.) It’s true that life can be a bitch.  I would contend, however, that life is more of a bitch for some of us than for others. I doubt if my critic would honestly be happy to surrender the unearned power and privilege that he lives with in exchange for being treated the same as Black men often are in our society.  He can call me dumb again, but I’m not sure very many of us who live in the mainstream dominant culture would make that trade willingly.  In a mere 45 seconds, Jane Elliott clearly illuminates this point:

Although my Facebook critic contends that if people like me would just quit bringing up the past, there would be no problem.  He believes the mistreatment of Black people was only in “the slave times.” This video shows, however, that at some level we DO collectively recognize that what is currently happening to black people (however covertly) is not desirable!  We wouldn’t want that kind of treatment for ourselves, but we are comfortable allowing it to continue to happen to them.

And, that is why the slogan “BLACK LIVES MATTER” emerged.  If we are ever going to make a significant shift, it is essential for us to narrow our focus and point our gaze directly towards this longstanding and deeply systemic issue. When we generalize that “All Lives Matter” we take our eyes off the problem and focus instead upon a theoretical concept that may very well  be true … but that fact does nothing to solve the problem.  The following metaphor speaks to this issue very well:

Bob

Of course, all lives matter.  But, philosophical truths and altruistic rhetoric don’t feed Bob.  When we neglect to honor the specific needs/deficits experienced by specific individuals (or groups of individuals), we are failing to ensure compassionate and humane treatment for ALL.  And that is just not okay with me.

I am posting this blog in hopes that we will continue this conversation … over and over again.  We really need to talk about this.  It really matters to our shared humanity.  But, for the most part, as White people, we have the luxury of being bored, disinterested or maybe even annoyed by ‘the race card’ … and so … we don’t talk about it. And like my critic … we might do our best to simply shush anyone who brings it up.

During my social work studies, however, we did talk about it.  In depth.  I remember wondering why these lessons were not mandatory in our grade schools.  I was introduced to the pain that marginalized groups of people were feeling …  and … how as a White person, I benefit from racism by default. And once it was pointed out to me, I could see it very, very clearly. And now, I can’t not see it.

I came to understand that I don’t even have to do anything obviously “racist” to benefit from the way the system is set up in our society.  I enjoy ‘favor’  because of the way racism makes one part of our humanity count for less than another.  As my eyes were opened to more and more and more, I could no longer deny or dismiss the advantages of having white skin. I never had to worry about whether people would rent accommodations to me. I don’t have to worry about whether someone is willing to sit beside me at a public function. I never had to worry about my children experiencing racial slurs at school. I don’t have people making fun of the way I talk.  I don’t have to worry about being snubbed if I ask for help in a department store. I don’t have to worry that the job will have “just been filled” as I arrive for the interview. I am more likely to be considered for ‘prestigious’ jobs because I have the right ‘qualifications’ (white skin). I could go on and on and on …

But here is the real kicker!!  As White people, we don’t typically ‘see’ the extra power and extra privilege we are gifted because our society is set up to benefit us and not them. AND … it is exactly because of that unearned advantage that we have the luxury of dismissing and/or ignoring conversations about racism.  And, it is also due to our privileged place in society that we can also afford to remain ‘silent’ on the topic. I have done it myself. I would suggest that we are often more committed to protecting our own feelings and/or not making other White people uncomfortable than we are to gaining a deeper understanding of the challenges beyond the margins of our own experience.  We are far more likely to ignore, dismiss or deny those struggles than to honor and investigate them.

It would be such a different world if we find it in our hearts to heed the wisdom of Glennon Doyle Melton

“Today: let’s be curious instead of defensive.

When someone says: I’m hurting.

Let’s say: “Tell me more” instead of: “No, you’re not.”

I think the difference between curiosity and defensiveness might be the difference between war and peace.”

We have so very much to learn. I just wish we were more interested.  But because we think we already know … we aren’t always open to looking or learning more. I was both stretched and humbled, though, by the many potent teachings and pivotal moments  over the course of my studies.  And perhaps one of the most critical is this: I now know there is so much I don’t know.  I am still learning.  Two sources of the most poignant and powerful lessons I received included these:

Now, I don’t expect that my critic would bother to take the time to look at any of these, but if you’ve stuck with me this far, I sure hope you will!  Especially the “Blue Eye/Brown Eye Experiment” .  Gather the whole family, make some popcorn and pull this 45 minutes video up onto your smart TV or your computer and watch it together.  And then, I hope you’ll have a conversation with your family about it. And I really hope you’ll pop back and add your thoughts in the comments section  … so we can continue to deepen this very important discussion.

There are also lots of more recent publications, videos and resources on the subject that highlight considerations that often escape our mainstream dominant attention. Here is a smattering of some thoughtful and thought-provoking ones I have come across thus far.  I hope at you will check them out. AND, if you can suggest any other resources, please post them in the comments section of this blog.  I am always eager to learn more … and will add them to the list:

From where I am looking, the altruistic truth that ‘all lives matter’ won’t really be actualized UNTIL we ensure that ‘black lives matter’.  And Aboriginal lives … and Latino lives … and Middle East Lives … and … and … and …

But then again, as “the dumbest person … ever seen” – it may not be wise to give much merit to my perspective … Karen

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An Un-Lived Life …

An unlived life

Grrrr. Boooo. Hiss. Pffft. Arghhh …

A little while ago, I experienced a particularly troubling week … one in which my emotions got really ramped up.  I don’t tend to get triggered all that easily anymore, but two days in a row, right back to back, I endured distinctly different scenarios that both wreaked havoc with my heart and left me fumbling my way through the fountain of unfavorable feelings that arose in the face of those formidable frustrations.  And so … as I often do … I took pen to page to help me find the message that those muddled moments may be holding for me.

I remain so deeply discouraged by the inherent powerlessness of marginalization … both feeling it myself during that particularly woeful week and observing it for others – far, far too often. There are some things that are beyond my control. Important things. Or, perhaps it would be fairer to say, things that are important to me.  And important to some others …. but, for the most part, they are things that the vast majority doesn’t experience as a problem.  And, sadly, unless or until an issue affects people personally, many will not acknowledge, recognize  or even give much attention to such things.

Perhaps it is truer to say that in our dominant cultural majority, we have the exquisite privilege of not needing to understand the particular problems of  those who are unlike us … of those whose issues lie beyond the margins of our own lived experience. And, regrettably, we live in a world where assuming an ‘us’ versus ‘them’ stance is often glamorized as a desirable patriotic position and/or a reflection of our religious devotion. Sadly though, this sets up an ‘either/or‘ mentality rather than a ‘both/and‘ mindset.  And as a result, a very well intended desire to take care of our own often means that the issues of others get subjugated and dismissed. Or, even worse … ridiculed. Yes. Ridiculed. We get to be oblivious about the issues that affect them, because the obstacles they may be facing are just not at all apparent upon our own paths.

Source Unknown but deeply appreciated.

Source Unknown but deeply appreciated.

When you are NOT the one being oppressed, you have the luxury of not even noticing the prickles and perils on the path that ‘others’ are experiencing.  And, you don’t even know what you don’t know because the ‘others’ are grappling with issues that have never even hit your radar.  It’s not that you don’t care.  You do care.  And you may very earnestly believe in equality … and … you might even think that because things are purported to be equal, that all people have the same rights and opportunities as you do.  Some may even think, if they don’t take advantage of the options in front of them, well … that is not my problem.  They could get it together, if they just tried or if they were really committed to helping themselves.

But ‘equal’ does not mean ‘equitable’.

Source Unknown but deeply appreciated.

Adapted from original source: Craig Froehle

And so, those with the most power and advantage can unwittingly continue to step over the unmet needs of others.  Not because they are heartless.  No. Not at all … but because they really don’t see the problem.  And, they honestly don’t.  It is simply not an issue that registers in the framework of their experience, and so they have trouble understanding how it could be a problem  for others.  From where they are looking, they see lots of  options that could be accessed … they see solutions that are not being actualized.  But, they cannot see how their own alignment with the majority affords them an unfair advantage … a fast track to ‘solutions’ that seem simple and obvious to them, but in reality, are not accessible to all. Many, in fact, will speak about their privileged standpoint as though it were a merit they somehow earned.

And yet, there are some places where we get that it is not a matter of choice.  We understand that we must collectively seek to disrupt the inequitable disparity among us.  Golfers get it.  They honor differences and foster equity by offering handicaps in order to level the playing field in terms of skill sets.  And somewhere along the way, we realized that the racers on the outside lane on an oval track have further to go, so we stagger the starting line to offset the advantages on the inner lanes. There are many places in the arena of athletics when/where we do acknowledge inequities and seek to rectify them.

But, it’s entirely exasperating to attempt to address a social issue with people on the inner lanes that don’t see the problem for those on the outside lanes.  Even those with ample power to changes things, may feel no sense of responsibility to rectify the issues others are be facing. Arghhhh.

Source Uknown

Source Uknown

And so, with that recognition, it is so tempting to simply give up … to allow myself to be silenced … to succumb in weary resignation and benignly accept the mainstream majority’s perceptions of what is ‘right’ for this world and/or adopt their narrowed notions about which minorities might deservedly merit some accommodations … and … which do not.

But … to do so … would leave my life un-lived.  To do so, would leave my days un-inhabited by the very things that steal my heart and kindle my inner flame.  To fail to show up for the ‘truths’ in my own soul would be to suffocate my spirit.  And, I sense deeply that this is no way for me to fully embrace my days.

As Dawn Markova points out: I must risk the falling … I must risk catching fire … I must allow my living to crack me wide open.  I must pursue my own particular passions and plant the seeds … in hopes of enjoying the blossoms … and … trusting in the fruits of my efforts, even if I never get to taste them myself.

I remember my red-faced recognition of my own complicity in the marginalization of others. I was taking a class in social work. I remember learning things I did not know.  I remember questioning why these important things were not taught to us in our mainstream curriculum.  I remember wanting to hide.  I remember wanting to blame others.  I remember my sense of shame  … and  … I remember ultimately recognizing that if I was not part of the solution, than I was part of the problem … by default.  

And so, I feel both obligated and compelled to inhabit my days more fully invested; with my eyes fixed beyond my own lived experience, using my voice to stretch awareness and disrupt the oppressive influences that I become aware of … despite risking my connection to my mainstream comforts – despite risking connection with the family/friends who can make me feel safe in my own comfort zone … because as Ben Franklin so wisely recognized:

justice - 1

And so, with a tremble and a tear, I make this pledge to myself.  I humbly choose to risk my significance. I cannot comfortably inhabit the polarized dualism of us versus them.  I cannot keep my gaze reduced to my own lane.  I cannot step over the injurious conjecture or contemptuous confabulations coming from those who don’t see or erroneously dismiss the complexities of an issue  … even though I have an understanding of some of the fears that perpetuate the problem.  I do recognize that we may personally pay a price when we make room for ‘others.’ And, I realize that when you are accustomed to living with privilege, a movement towards inclusion and equity can feel threatening … it can even seem like reverse oppression.  I get that. I just can’t continue to condone it with my silence.

So, I do expect some push back. But I am also sensing that many in the mainstream majority will want to meet me on the margins.  Many will want to gain a better understanding of what it is that we have not lived …  so we might learn what it is that we don’t yet know. Ultimately, for me, I am realizing that I have to keep stretching myself because it just doesn’t feel right for me to continue to dwell silently in those privileged spaces …without further investigation about who is paying the price for my comforts …and/or … who does not have access to the same.

I think its because I cannot fully live there … Karen

P.S. I believe that talking about power and privilege is not about imposing guilt on the mainstream. It is not about blaming and shaming any of us.  From where I am looking it is more like talking about air.  Please click here if you are interested in that conversation.

Please note that WordPress.com may place advertisements on my blog sites. The presence of these ads does not constitute my endorsement of the information, services, or products found in them.

 

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Boundaries are Sooooo Tricky …

 

In this very short but compelling  video clip, Brené Brown discusses the notion of living a B.I.G. Life.  Her research has revealed that the most compassionate people are the most “boundaried” people. She begs the question of what Boundaries we would need to erect in order to live in Integrity and be the most Generous in our assumptions of others (i.e. believing that everyone is doing the very best they can in each and every situation). Makes perfect sense … intellectually. And, I’d venture to say we’d inhabit a world filled with expressions of compassion/empathy/good will if it were easier to actually do this in our day to day existence!

But, boundaries are so darn tricky to execute.  It is so much easier to erect a boundary once you are PISSED OFF.  There is NO second-guessing about putting up a boundary once you’ve been hurt.  We may not even think twice at that point … and then … we erect it angrily and often self-righteously.  But the problem with putting up boundaries in ANGER is that the meatiest part of our message gets lost in the perception of ATTACK.  When you put up a boundary with someone because you are feeling violated … they feel your anger … and may not be able to hear your justification for erecting the boundary.

In fact, many people who have been chronically wounded in their prior lived experience struggle terribly in their attempt to set boundaries … because – they often approach the boundary WITHOUT the assumption that people are doing the best they can.  Their perceptions that people in the present and future will be out to get them just like the ones in their past shift the energy and intent behind the boundaries.  And when we are coming from that defended space, our boundaries are like fences erected out of barbed wire … rather than compassionate reminders of how we need and want to be treated.

And so, we must learn to set the boundaries before we could shoot daggers out of our eyes …to  set them proactively … not … reactively.  We must learn how to set them kindly and firmly.  And then … lovingly hold them in place for the benefit of all of those concerned.

And to do so, we might have to sit in the discomfort of guilt rather than the self-righteousness of resentment.  This is the trickiest part to navigate.  Many of us are more comfortable living with the resentment directed at others than inhabiting the guilt we might feel in our own hearts if/when we have our own backs …before we get mad at another. BIG lives do not just happen … they are consciously and courageously created.

May we all commit to living BIG … Karen

 

 

[GUEST POST]: The Man In The Arena

With gratitude to A Momma’s View for posting this phenomenal reminder … and … a huge shout out to Brené Brown for her efforts to bring this consciousness to the mainstream!  May we all find strength and victory in daring greatly!

A Momma's View

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DONE and DONE-er: Resignation Tendered …

mom - heaven and hell

Source Unknown

Quite some time ago, I was chatting with a new mom and during our heartfelt and honest exchange … she dared to utter something that  I have heard on countless occasions in my work as a counsellor and/or parenting coach.  She said “I feel like I’m failing.”  In my compassionate attempt to save her from her own self-deprecation, I promptly responded saying, “No need to do that to yourself.”

That particular moment has always stuck with me because my response was unintentionally dismissive.  It failed to honor how challenging it is to negotiate the peaks and valleys of parenting and, ultimately, the pain of falling short of your own preconceived ideas of  how it going to look when you, too, claim the crown of motherhood.  What I wish I had said was this:

Yep … you are going to feel like you failed. Often.  It’s sheer hell.  And, you are going to feel the pride of success. Often.  It’s absolute heaven.  And, from my humble place of reference, the secret of surviving the inevitable roller-coaster between the polarities of agony and ecstasy is not gripping too tightly to either one.  It has been my experience that things seem to work out best when we can savor our victories (however fleeting they may feel) … and … stop ourselves from ruminating too long over the failures (however devastating they may feel).  I’ve learned that the best we can do is let it all come … and then … let it all go.   Be like a cork bopping along the seas of motherhood rather than trying to anchor yourself into any one place. 

Yes … I know … that is easy for me to say now that my children are all grown and parenting children of their own.  I can still clearly remember, though, planning it all out while I was pregnant for the first time … comfortably assured that my kids would never have snotty noses or melt-downs in public.  I even had the subscription to Parents Magazine long before I had the baby.  And then, all that glorious theory collided unfavorably with reality when I found myself lost at sea with ‘real’ children.  I remember how shocked I was by the shame and sheer exhaustion I encountered as my best efforts to do what the books said failed.

Oh my … as I reflect upon my experience of motherhood over the last 35+ years, I’ve had more than my fair share of epic failures. You’d think my schooling and work experience would have been fool-proof prophylactics for problems in parenting, but the seas get rough – even for the most well-schooled sailors.  A while back, I came across a “Letter of Resignation” in my filing cabinet.   It was in the scribbler we used for family meetings over 20 years ago. I howled when I read it!! In retrospect it seems quite humorous, but during that hellish time I was clearly DONE!  Or … maybe I had completely come UNDONE.  I was clearly drowning. Capsized completely.  Floundering desperately and gasping for some small breath to save me from the menacing undertow of raising three strong, independent girls.

I knew something had to change … and here is a wee excerpt from my feeble but six page attempt to right the ship:

Dear Family Members:

  1. I have had MORE THAN ENOUGH OF: 
    • (I had a very long list of frustrations … I will spare you the details).
  2. I am TIRED OF:
    • (I will also spare you the  lengthy but compelling arguments I used to defend my position)
  3. SO … FROM NOW ON:
    • if you want it clean – clean it
    • if you want to eat – cook it
    • if you cook it – I will  eat it too – but I will no longer cook with the family in mind
    • if I show up for meals, I show up … if I am not going to show up, I will call you … unless I forget
    • if you have laundry – wash it … do mine too
    • do NOT use the white towels – they are NOW all mine – that way I will know I have clean DRY towels
    • please do not ask to borrow another thing of mine … not. one. thing.
    • if it is convenient for you to use the van, fine, but if not … do NOT waste your breath trying to convince me
    • someone should assume responsibility for groceries – we will need them replaced
    • use your own mirrors in the morning please – I want mine available so I can use it when I need it
    • set your own alarms – and GET UP when they ring – I will be sleeping until I have to get up myself
    • please do your chores and I will do mine.  I will do a good job.
    • it would really be nice if someone would co-ordinate all the comings and goings and appointments for all the family members
    • I would like to spend $200 per month on golfing this summer … so sorry … you will have to go without your extra-curricular activities … it is my turn
    • I am charging  $20 for my black pants that were borrowed but not returned – PLUS $10 for the aggravation of not having them
  4. AS WELL:
    • Do not worry about how what you do affects the rest of us – we are all just individuals living under the same roof.  We would only need to concern ourselves with that kind of consideration if we wanted to be family oriented and supportive of each other
    • I will continue to work and pay bills BUT I expect NOT to be asked to do anything for anyone else if I have homework of my own to do 
    • You can ask for my help and I might give it – if I feel like it – or I might forget – but you will understand.
  5. AND:
    • I only mean some of this – can you guess which ones I will hold you to…?

Oy Yoy Yoy.  Wouldn’t you know it …  I couldn’t even get the darn resignation signed before the maternal guilt started eroding my sanctimonious indignation.  But, that’s how it is with mommy guilt.  It’s always hovering … surreptitiously snatching every small snippet of self-care and ruining our resolve!  And even funnier … I must have thought that adding that dash of uncertainty about what I really meant would leave them quivering quite uncomfortably as I tossed in the towel (well – all except for the white ones). 

I don’t recall how they responded.  I don’t even remember how long my resignation lasted.  Probably only until the next heavenly wave of motherhood washed up warmly around me, melted my heart and swept all that hellish resentment out to sea.

You’d think that by the time you are a grandmother to seven,  you’d be a fairly skillful sailor, right?  Well … a little bit ago, we were watching five of our grandchildren and on the fourth night of five nights, we were pushing the limits for the littlest ones to be away from their parents.  I had the two youngest in bed with me (sideways and upside down) and the two year old had been having a rough night.  We had barely slept between 1:45 and  5:50AM (not that I was clock watching!) so I thought a little distraction might help.  We got up in search of the kitty.  It was mere minutes before the one we had left behind snoozing soundly in the bed joined us … and then … without my awareness promptly awoke two more.

Being cranky, over-tired and wired up (and I am not just talking about me) prompted body checks in front of the TV,  jumping on the furniture, refusals to share, teasing until there were trickles of tears and toy tossing in sheer frustration.  They were doing the best they could (and so were their grandparents) but let’s just say, tempers were terribly tippy even before the pancakes were on the plates and the sun had a chance to peek up over the horizon.  Somehow, it all fell apart for me when I caught sight of one of them buttering the bacon.  For some reason, that was the moment that tipped me right over the edge … into the depths of the dark blue sea.

Before their very eyes, Grammy devolved from being calm, cool and collected into someone sputtering threats to detain them all, right there in our home … solitary confinement of sorts …. until their parents returned the next day. Their eyes got big and bigger … as my voice got stern and sterner.  Not a muscle  dared move until I finally exhaled and bit into my pancake.

Yep, epic fail.  Now, intellectually, I know that buttering the bacon is not immediately life-threatening NOR inherently dangerous, but emotionally, I was lost at sea and losing all logical grip and reason in that moment. Agony eclipsed ecstasy. And,  worse yet, I am supposed to be the GRAND parent.  You know … the ‘grand’ one who knows better. Argh. Double argh.

Bless their little souls and shattered spirits. They have such pure little hearts … and are made of good stuff.  I felt really bad when I came to my senses.  I hoped they’d find it in their hearts to forgive me. I earnestly apologized for losing my cool and I tried not to ruminate about it … too much. After all, I did buy them the foam blocks, bubble wands, pop guns, paint sets, window catchers  and a mega-jumbo canister of play dough.  We went to the pool twice and to the spray park once.  I even got soaked with them under the great big bucket that nearly levels you with the gallons of water it dumps on you.  No slight intended to Papa, but he wasn’t nearly as good a sport! Not even close on this one.  I got some of it very right.  Yes I did.

Fast forward about a  year or so: some of our grandchildren had spent the night. It was heavenly having them with us. We were all seated at breakfast … just laughing and savoring our time together. It was one of those magical moments of connection and I sensed we could all feel it.  And then, with a wee gleam in his eye and probably an instinctive attempt to preserve the ecstasy in the space, my eldest grandson judiciously cautioned “just don’t butter your bacon.” 

I started laughing so hard that I nearly piddled in my pajamas … and … with their cheeky little chuckles, I could tell my blunder was forgiven, but not entirely forgotten.  Yep, bobbing along like a cork between the waves of agony and ecstasy … riding the tides between heaven and hell.  Best idea yet for anyone  trying to stay afloat in turbulent seas of parenting (or grand-parenting).

With humble appreciation for all that motherhood has taught me, Karen

P.S. If I ever get really, really, really brave … I will have to tell you about the time I ransacked my oldest daughter’s bedroom looking for my missing gold belt.  Eeegads …. THAT too is long since forgiven, but never been forgotten. My daughter and I have shared some good chuckles about that epic fall from maternal grace.  🙂

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Talking about POWER is like talking about AIR …

check your privilege

PRIVILEGE can be defined as the unearned access to social POWER based upon membership in a dominant social group.  In my opinion, talking about social POWER is like talking about AIR. We all know it is there and we all use it, but we have the luxury of ignoring/denying its critical significance until we are somehow deprived of it.  It’s somewhat insidious because although the element itself is not visually perceptible, the substantive effects of its relative presence or absence are highly tangible.

Without it, the personal distress becomes grave and quite palpable. For this reason, I think it is incumbent upon all of humanity (but particularly those of us who work in the human service disciplines) to be highly diligent in seeking out and acknowledging areas in peoples lives where, metaphorically speaking, the air is thin. I believe an integral part of that inquiry involves us becoming aware of the covert ways in which we, as professionals (from our oxygen rich standpoint in the mainstream majority) can unwittingly suffocate ‘others’ … or … view their shallow breathing as personal deficiency needing individual remediation rather than seeing their lack of oxygen as a reflection of a collective issue requiring systemic respiration.

When I check the list … I can see that I dwell in a very privileged space. I can’t check all the boxes, but nonetheless … I enjoy a whole schwack of benefits and social power that I didn’t actually earn. I can breathe pretty darn easily in this culture.

And so, in the presence of that knowledge, I have a choice.  I can use the power inherent in my social standpoint and professional position to disrupt any impediments to universal and equitable access to air … or … I can allow myself to be richly oxygenated by my privilege and assume no responsibility for the shallowed breathing of others. And if I choose the latter, I might be tempted to assuage my guilt by blaming the labored breathing on the gasping individual themselves – admonishing them for not inhaling deeply enough … instead of faulting a biased ventilation system that privileges some while it asphyxiates others.

In every moment … in every interaction … with every thought, word and deed … I am always making a choice.  I am either sharing the oxygen mask I have been gifted or  I am saving it for myself.  There is no neutral ground here.  Whether we like to admit it or not, those of us with the most privilege are responsible for the air quality. Yes. We. Are.  Because, we are the only ones holding the power to oxygenate it equitably for all.

So, each and every one of us has to decide whether we are going to be part of the problem or part of the solution. And, I have learned that I must keep a very close eye on myself … because it is so darned easy to take my power and privilege for granted. From my oxygen rich place in the dominant social majority, it is easy for me to take a nice deep nourishing inhale … and then obliviously … neglect to notice that so many others are woefully wheezing on the margins of my awareness.

May my personal and professional interactions with others be a breath of fresh air,  Karen

 

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[GUEST POST]: Call Them While You Can (Grief and The Stuff We Need to Say)

I am not sure why this touched me so deeply. This concept is not new to me. I make every effort to live in this way … and yet … for some reason I have crocodile size tears streaming down my face in unstoppable torrents. Thank you John for your gift of speaking straight to our souls … about things that are richly needed to be acknowledged. With deepest appreciation, Karen

john pavlovitz

GuyOnPhone

Yesterday my daughter did something really funny during dinner—like spit take funny. (This is rather commonplace in our home these days).

Not long after finishing the dishes I grabbed for the phone to tell my dad about it. This is problematic for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that he died two and a half years ago. Suddenly as I started to dial, my brain kind of snapped to its senses and I put the phone down, feeling like I’d just been kicked in the gut.

Grief is a strange animal in this way, as anyone who has lost someone they love can testify. Whether it was ten days or ten years ago, you never quite fully adjust enough that you always remember that they’re dead. Yes, you understand on a cerebral level that they’re gone. Intellectually you know the finality of what’s happened, but somehow your heart’s muscle memory…

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“Come have your tears with me …”

come have your tears with me

We all have those times when a cascade of tears is seriously threatening to burst through.  We try, very valiantly, to hide them.  And, we profusely apologize when we just can’t do it and the flood gates fly wide open.  We feel embarrassed by our excessive emotional exhibition.  We beat ourselves up for not being more effective at keeping our feelings at bay … out of clear view.  And, we often deem ourselves “weak” when we can’t soldier on and just muscle through the ache … when we fail to adequately ‘man up’ through the pain.  And, for some crazy reason, we have been taught to admire and glamorize those who have lost their tears … reverently applauding them for being “so strong.”

And, forgive my language, but it’s all such bulls#*t.  From where I am looking (both professionally and personally) this stoic, stalwart stance is just not optimal for humanity.  There are some circumstantial exceptions (which I won’t discuss now), but it’s typically not beneficial for any one of us to harden our hearts in order to hide our pain … whether we are babies or children or teenagers or adults.

Tears are a natural and normal and necessary part of healing.  They activate our parasympathetic nervous system … which helps to process our pain and dampen our internal alarm system.  That is why we often ‘feel’ like a weight has been lifted after a good, long cry.  Dr. Gordon Neufeld (a renowned attachment theorist) asserts that the tears of pain release toxins from the body … that the chemical composition of tears we cry when we express our emotions is different that the tears that leak out when we are cutting an onion. That is why our eyes burn and swell … and … our cheeks get uncomfortably chaffed after we have spilled our tears without trying to stop them.

I wish we could collectively and universally get comfortable with tears.  We are not. As a counselor, though, I always know we are edging close to a heartfelt ‘truth’ when someone’s eyes begin welling up. Tears are an honest and authentic expression of our wounding.  They are a wise reminder that our tender, tattered hearts need to be nurtured.  Tears are an important invitation for someone to lean in and provide comfort.  And … at the most primal level, isn’t compassion what we most need when we are hurting … emotionally, physically or otherwise?

Imagine a wee little child, helmet on, riding their two wheeler and totally enjoying the thrill of it.  And then, for some reason, they get caught up in some loose gravel and they bite the dust.  And then what happens?  They cry.  And then what?  They seek out someone for comfort.  And then what?  They find you and climb up onto your lap and sob freely while they explain what happened.  And then what? You get the ‘boo boo’ cleaned up, and get them a band-aid and give them a kiss to make it all better.  And then what? You compassionately hold them until there are no more tears. And then what?  They jump off your knee, put on their helmet and gleefully get back on the bike.  And then, at the end of the day when you ask them how their day was … they say “Great! I love bike riding!” Probably no mention of the fall … unless, of course, you inquire about how their knee feels.  They will likely assure you, “It doesn’t hurt anymore.” Their pain has been processed, their hurting has been invited to heal and ‘the crash’ is reduced to a faint recollection of a past event.

On the other hand, imagine the same wee little child, helmet on, riding on their two wheeler and totally enjoying the thrill of it.  And then, for some reason, they get caught up in some loose gravel and they bite the dust … but they have learned through teasing, shaming or scolding that they are not supposed to cry.  They have determined that there is no safe place to have their tears.  Then what?  Perhaps a bit embarrassed, they look around in the hopes that no one saw them. And then what?  They fight back the tears and pretend it didn’t hurt.  And then what?  They act mad instead of sad and look for something or someone to blame.  And then what? They kick up the gravel and throw some at their bike. And then what? They might think if they had a better bike … maybe a blue one …  they would not have crashed.  And then what? They angrily protest their upset with the ‘stupid green bike’ by pushing it home instead of riding it again.  And then what?  They kick the cat on their way in the door.  And then what?  You sternly remind them that cats are not for kicking. And they sneer something under their breath.  And when you ask them how their day was … they say,  “Stupid. My bike is so stupid.”  And then you tell them to stop being so silly because you know how much they love riding their bike. And then what? They snarl back at you with seemingly unwarranted and irrational rage, “No I don’t. I HATE it!  And I’m never going to ride that stupid bike again! And you cant make me!” And then what?  You firmly remind them, “don’t you use that tone with me” and may even send them to their room with an invitation to “stay there” until they can “be nice.”

And they are isolated and alone. And their pain gets hidden. It is repressed rather than released. And their tears are lost. And the unprocessed pain of their past persists angrily into the present … and then … may be triggered again and again in the future.  And no one else is any the wiser about what has transpired at the deepest level.

And, in all honesty, which experience would you rather have? Unless or until we have transformed into ‘the strong one’ who resists all measure of tearful displays … we instinctively crave comfort when we are wounded.  That is why, on occasion when we have hurt ourselves haphazardly and publicly … all it takes is for someone to say “Are you okay?”and the tears escape involuntarily.  And that is why, when we see a toddler trip and fall, we say “He’ll be okay as long as you don’t look at him.”  We are instinctively wired to cry when we are hurting.

And, it’s almost humanly impossible to hold back our tears in the space of heartfelt compassion.  However, if/when loving comfort is not a safe or viable option to mediate our wounding, we might subconsciously seek to numb our discomfort or distract ourselves with the next best thing … food, drugs (legal or illicit), alcohol, gambling, video gaming, social media, sex, pornography etc.  As Dr. Gabor Maté contends, addictions are not the problem in and of themselves … they are more likely to be a symptom of unexpressed wounding and/or unhealed pain. 

And honestly … don’t each and every one of us deserve to be lovingly supported through our pain? As Dr. Neufeld suggests, at the very deepest level of our being, don’t we all just want someone safe to tenderly and gently and compassionately offer, “Come have your tears with me.”

May we all find our way to that sacred healing space … and also … hold that sacred healing space for someone else, Karen

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Words I Can’t Take Back …

sometimes the healing is in the aching

Once the words are uttered, you can’t take them back.  And honestly, I hope I never want to take them back.  I am typically quite cautious/deliberate about tasting my words before I spit them out … but nonetheless, sometimes the most caring and loving thing any one of us can do is be authentically straight up with another human being.  Tactfully. Thoughtfully. Compassionately. Not with the intention to harm, but rather … with the intention to help.

There are times when people inadvertently get in their own way.  I see it so often with my clients. I’ve done it myself.  I still do, on occasion.  But honestly, we can’t see it while we are doing it.  So, we tend to blame others for the tattered and tender condition of our heart.  And then … we get frustrated, because things don’t change.  We can’t see, however, in those fragile moments that our finger might be pointed in the wrong direction.

It is during those tenderly tentative times that we need someone to be loving enough, courageous enough and supportive enough to actually inform us about our blurry blunders. It is never kind, however, to completely blind-side people with these uninvited ‘truths.’   We need someone to gently open our eyes … as kindly, caringly and purposefully as possible, because it can really sting to discover that, unbeknownst to us, we are somehow complicit in generating our own unfavorable circumstances/situation/relationships.

And so, we all deserve a chance to muster the courage it takes to welcome the ‘ache’ that this awareness might invoke.  Usually, I will say to my clients: “I have a suggestion for you, if you’d like it?” or “If there was another way to see this, would you be open to looking at it?”  or “I’m having a thought … but it might pinch a bit.  Would you like to hear it or should I just keep it to myself for now?”

Questions like this give folks a chance to say “no, not interested” … or at the very least … time to emotionally brace themselves.  And, it’s important that I both respect their preference and honor their response.  I will rarely share potentially prickly perceptions unless I am invited to do so by the recipient. And even though there are times when the invitation is clearly implied (e.g. with blogs, Facebook posts, editorials etc), I know I can’t take the words back once they are uttered. I also know that it’s not usually helpful, supportive or therapeutic for me to persistently press these perspectives onto others (even with the best of intentions).

Not even with my loved ones.  Maybe especially with my loved ones.  One of my clients once said, “Your kids are so lucky to have a counselor as a mother.” But, that is not the way it plays out. I am not their counselor.  I am their mom. And, it is critical for me to honor that distinction.  I try to be careful not to push my ‘professionally’ oriented perceptions onto my family members without permission to do so. My ‘wisdom’ might not be welcome.

It’s a disquieting paradox though, because as Martin Luther King points out: “There comes a time when silence is a betrayal.”  And, I have learned that our spiritual growth is typically tucked into those unflattering ‘truths’ that often seem too risky for our friends, colleagues and/or loved ones to dare speak aloud.  To our faces. Nonetheless, the most salient shifts I have ever experienced were because people were brave enough to risk my wrath and acknowledge something I couldn’t see for myself.

My education with The Ford Institute For Transformational Training was filled moments like this.  Achingly hard, but critical moments like this. As integrative coaches, we were trained by the incomparable Debbie Ford, to be ‘ruthlessly compassionate’ when invited to support others. Debbie was an absolute master at candidly shining a light upon the self-sabotaging thoughts, words and deeds that were compromising our best efforts to grow, stretch and transform beyond our perceived ‘stuckness’.  And although it really stings to let an unflattering awareness land in our hearts rather than promptly rejecting it, I owe the lion’s share of my personal growth to my coaching family for being such clear mirrors for me.

And I would venture to say that many of us are holding onto ‘undelivered communications’ that we think might benefit someone we know and love … but we are too scared it would hurt our relationship to share them. And it might. Some relationships may not be strong enough to bear the weight of such an honest exchange.  But, it may also be true … or even truer … that some of our relationships won’t survive without that level of transparency.  Unspoken resentments can be terribly toxic … even lethal. The strongest connections hold precious space for us to be caring catalysts for each other … to help us lovingly lead each other out of our own covert culpability.

But the most important caveat here is this: Our intention in sharing must always be to help not harm … and typically most effective when invited by the recipient. Because … these are words we can’t take back.

Trusting that “sometimes, the healing is in the aching” … Karen

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My Tributes: Better Because of You ...

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