As the Gregorian year transitioned and we witnessed the riots at the Capitol, we all had a range of emotions. Some of us were really feeling light and hope, others were feeling fear and despair; some were orienting to the positive changes, others were acutely aware of the systemic violence and underlying dynamics that remain unchanged; and most of us felt some complicated mix of all this and more.
Working with organizations whose members were all experiencing this from their various positionalities, I noticed one key feature of teams that made the difference between moving toward co-creativity and collapsing into conflict and pain: the ability to hold complexity and to honor and learn from everyone’s process.
The light is real, and so is the darkness. The hope is justified, and so is the despair. Possibilities are opening up, and blockages remain. We have new opportunities to create the world our hearts now is possible, and we are still facing systemic violence and ecological disaster.
Each of us is more attuned so some dimensions of this reality. Some people I’ve been working with have the belief that this difference is solely a function of privilege. This story is essentially that people with privilege are overemphasizing the positive, because they do not feel the negative. I’ve heard this perspective be voiced by people of all identities. When it happens, I’ve noticed that people with lots of privilege often feel guilt, people with less privilege feel anger and resentment, and we start to feel divided and less powerful
In myself, I notice that when I orient to the positive, I sometimes feel like I am committing a betrayal. As if focusing on hope, light, and positivity is somehow ignoring the reality of violence and abandoning the people who are acutely affected by it in ways that I am not. But I have been learning that leaning into hope is not a betrayal of pain; but that over focusing on pain is actually a betrayal of hope. And this betrayal of hope actually collapses my ability to show up in a way that tends to pain and transforms the systems that inflict it.
I’ve also noticed that the belief that feeling hope and seeing light is a function of privilege is actually fairly condescending to people who do not have lots of privilege. Not only does it ignore the fact that plenty of people who hold less privileged identities are feeling and celebrating the hope, it also assumes that orienting to hope is not a choice some people have the capacity to make. As if one’s identity defines and limits the way we orient to our world. Of course it is harder for some of us to embody different orientations, and we all are carrying different weights and pressures, but assuming that this removes our power to choose how we balance the light and the darkness within our awareness is not acknowledging the power of the human spirit, particularly the spirit that resides in bodies oppressed by our dominant social structures.
The teams I have seen move through this moment powerfully and cohesively are the ones that value the wisdom in everyone’s perspective. They are the ones that understand that no one member’s perspective is complete, and that if they each bring their own perspective powerfully then the group as a whole develops a more robust sense of what is really going on. These teams learn as much from the people who speak of the darkness as they do those who speak of the light, and they do not fall into needless opposition with or judgment of one another.
As I myself navigate this space, I am reminded of the age-old truism that “what you focus on grows.” And from this, I learn two contradictory lessons. On the one hand, it encourages me to focus on the way things are changing for the better, the way new possibilities are opening up, and the way the new world is really taking shape, right here, right now, in the shell of the old. On the other hand, I remember that there are many forces in the world that are focusing on creating and maintaining systems of scarcity and violence. They are focusing on it, so it will grow. It is no service to anyone to ignore that fact. This guides me to pay close attention to that portion of reality, but from a specific vantage point.
I do not look at the darkness through the gaze of despair, I look at it with a commitment to find the cracks where light can enter and change may happen. This takes the resolve to look squarely into darkness and violence without being swallowed by it. It’s a resolve I’ve mostly learned from the traditions of Judaism, Black liberation, and feminism.
I’m still finding my way to dance with dynamics like bypassing, naivete, the bizarre self-satisfaction and importance I feel by feeling like I have am more attuned to systems of violence than others, and more as I seek an orientation that will actually help support the transformation that I truly see is not only possible, but already happening.
I certainly don’t have the answer or the truth. But I do want to offer some questions: “How do you choose to orient what is happening in our world? Why do you choose that orientation? What possibilities does your orientation create? What limits does it create? How can you get more in touch with your power to develop a perspective that truly serves?”
My prayer is that we all can find a posture that works for us; that feels true, healthy, and of service given the various identities, positionalities, and histories we carry in our bodies; that we can learn from each other; honor each other’s journeys; and build a more cohesive and powerful movement.