I have long been a fan of Brené Brown but last week she rose in my estimation by a very long way – essentially, if you have not already seen it, she did a live facebook chat on Charlottesville – because it was a live chat I am unable to put up the URL link for it but you can find it through her facebook page. Anyway, before you turn away thinking “I am not an American, this is not my problem” just take a pause, because what Brené spoke about reaches far beyond what is going on across the waters, it matters so very much and as I listened to what she had to say I had so many moments of realisation about myself, my behaviours and the filters I look at the world through, that I have thought about little else since then. It has been bubbling away and now it is time to try to make some sense of it all here.
They say we are the sum total of our decisions and our decisions are made based on what is important to us, our priorities. I would add to that by saying that the things that are important to us are determined by the filters through which we see the world because it is these filters that shape our perspective and define the actions we take. The collective experience of family, culture, society, religion, education and work shapes us, it shapes what we think we deserve, what we think we need and absolutely what we think is right or wrong, it sets our moral code and ultimately it creates the content for the script that is our lives. Putting it simply we are all living out our stories based on the perspective with which we see the world. And so we have a choice, do we let those stories define by us or do we empower ourselves to decide how our story runs? Do we run away from our stories or do we turn to face them head on? Can we see that the potential pain and discomfort of owning up to our story is tiny compared to the pain of living out the story?
But what does this have to do with Charlottesville or events like it? The answer being everything. I am not about to get all political, I promise, but nor am I going to say that if we all sit together and send out messages of love, that the world will change and all will be well. Do not get me wrong, we should still live a life of peace and love but it is my belief that spiritual bypassing (check the link below if you are not sure what that is*) is not acceptable, it is in fact a privilege we can not afford to have. As a human being I feel it is actually my duty more than ever to face up to not just my stories but also the collective stories of the world, to stare at them head on and to engage with the conversation around them. To simply offer a message of trite support is not enough, we all know this but how much do we actually walk the talk on that front. With action comes a reaction, when we engage in the story there will be a consequence and however painful it may be, through being engaged we are able to move forwards, not backwards.
And so I come onto the subject of #privilege #perspective & #power – the 3 Ps in Brene’s talk.
- Privilege is the unearned rights that we have
- Perspective is to see the world through a lense
- Power is the ability to affect change
And I also come onto the subject of #shame
And to explain it I need to tell a story. I am recently back from the UK, we spent a lovely 4 weeks there, as always a delight to see friends and family. I am sure though I am not alone in having had conversations with perhaps people of an older generation, family or a friend and have found that they possessed an opinion on a subject that you “felt” was morally wrong, incorrect or just plan senseless. I don’t know why but this year it seemed worse, though I strongly suspect that the current political climate was the main culprit for such polarised points of view. Many topics were covered but two stand out ones for me were gender bias and immigration, again I am not getting political nor offering you my opinions on these subjects, but what I did notice within myself was my reaction. When I heard someone speak an opinion that was so totally the opposite to my perspective I found it very hard to not respond with moral indignation and I am sure that there were times that I was perhaps not very kind in the way that I spoke back, or that the tone of my voice was not very reasonable. Upshot being was that a) I walked away feeling like an awkward conversation had happened and b) I felt there was no progress, no real debate, just a clash of opinion.
I try to remain aware of how privileged I am. I was born with white skin and into a country that was not being torn apart by war, poverty or famine. I have the freedom to explore multiple opportunities, I have the freedom to express my opinion and I have the freedom to travel the world as I wish. I am so very lucky. But for me to understand the perspective of someone with less privilege than myself, it is not enough to simply try to imagine life in their world or to try to see the world through their lense because ultimately I will still be seeing it with the filters of my own lense. As Brené says “we can’t put down the lense, it’s how we see the world, it is soldered to us” so instead we have to engage in the debate, we have to ask questions, we have to hear other people’s stories in order to fully understand their perspective. So when I am in conversation and I encounter an opinion that does not sit comfortably with my perspective, it is my absolute responsibility to engage with the story, to firmly believe that what someone is telling me is “their story and it is what they believe” and to not run away from it. Of course this is not about being passive though, not about nodding the head and just moving on. No it is about listening and if possible finding a point of understanding. Information equals power, that was what they told me in sales training. When we feel powerless we are far more likely to fall into patterns of shaming, anger, violence and abuse but when we feel empowered we are able to feel like we may have a positive impact and bring about change. What happens when we don’t engage in the conversation is we switch into shaming mode and shaming is simply emotional offloading, it is not a motivator for change. There is nothing good about shaming someone for their actions or beliefs and I know that as there is nothing nice about feeling ashamed, it is a horrid place to be. There is no empathy in shame, all it does it make someone else feel small and unheard and ourselves unhappy. Where is the peace and love in that eh?
So my take home from all of this is that in order to keep moving forward, we need to be engaged in the debate however difficult, however painful and however confronting it is, it is not enough to just sit to one side and to walk away from the conversation, or if you do then fine, but please understand that that is a privilege. We need to see very clearly the stories that we are living personally and also the stories that we are living collectively, we need to see that we can chose to rewrite the script both for ourselves and the society we live in. We are imperfect beings, we live in an imperfect world, surely it is better that we come together with all our imperfections, that we speak of our imperfect stories knowing that we will be heard, that we share our imperfect hopes and dreams and through that look to create an imperfect future together.
As a yoga teacher I want to know your stories and I wish to share with you my stories; we are all as flawed as each other but it is my hope that the more we are able to open up about the things that excite us, the things that we love, the things that scare us, the things that worry us; that the more that we are able to confront our stories and hear other’s stories, the better we get at listening and the better we get at understanding. I believe humans are fundamentally hard wired to be kind and because of this I have faith that we can continue to grow in love and peace.