My Intent is Supporting Cultural Transformation

Image: Beautiful Goddess Woman painting with ornamental mandala and color abstract background and bird tattoo on face. Source: Adobe Stock Image

Someone asked me about my intent with posts that are obviously relevant to a recent Facebook community breakdown and yet written/shared as a macro reflection and analysis of dynamics I’ve been witnessing in both local and online communities for years. It’s a fair question and I appreciate the opportunity to gain more clarity as I move forward with my work, especially as a writer (oh does it feel good to actually feel like a writer again!). 

My intent is to do as many non-fiction writers do and weave my own experiences and research with my observation and analysis of what’s happening in the world around me. Currently much of my world includes the fascinating intersection of business and social activism online. We called ourselves Culture Makers and so I am questioning what culture making means amidst this experience of public community crisis and demise. 

I am hearing some people question whether culture making can happen at all right now because there is still education, de-centering of privilege, tearing down of old systems, policy change, and cultural healing to be done. Yes, and I would argue that we are either enforcing the current culture or making a new one with every choice we make that impacts other humans. Our tiny cultures – in marriages, families, schools, churches, online businesses, in person workplaces, community spaces, etc. – can be transformed by our choices and no longer mirror the larger culture. It’s our choices in our tiny cultures that can ripple out to transform the larger culture and influence others towards policy change because they can imagine what else is possible. We are suffering from a deficit of imagining what else is possible in our ways of relating to one another. 

My intent is to imperfectly yet boldly offer my contribution to the collective conversation about how we relate to one another in high risk community spaces because my heart is full of grief for the pain humans I care about experience due to verbal and emotional violence. I hurt. I am angry. And I am deep in a process of reclaiming my voice.  I’ve been holding back out of fear of reprisal and bullying for too long. 

I was doing local activism and community leadership for 20 years before I shifted to the online world, where many are now practicing socially aware leadership for the first time (leadership is a practice, not a destination). I was deeply wounded by bullying and public humiliation in local community by people who called me friend, so this is not simply fragility. It’s taken a years long process of healing and integrating to find solidity in my own soul as an empath and Complex PTSD sufferer who too easily lost myself in others in my search for belonging and often martyred myself as a result. Now I know to my bones that my soul is my own and I belong to myself.  

My intent is to share perspective and research that informs and expresses my stand for community values such as radical inclusion, civility, mutual respect, trauma informed spaces, and harm reduction that may be useful to people who are questioning or aren’t resonating with popular points of view.  To remind people that no single story/perception/belief is the absolute truth for all of us.  And to let those who do not conform to popular points of view know that they are not alone. 

My intent is to question because questioning is how we become more aware:
Are we making new culture in this moment or mirroring more of the same?

Are we thinking critically about the complex human dynamics unfolding around us? Are we overly influenced by story and emotion?

Does having a marginalized identity exempt us from constructive criticism of our behavior and impact on the world around us? Do marginalized people get a free pass when engaging with someone who is more privileged in a particular way?

How much actual power does one privileged activist, entrepreneur, or thought leader have over the marginalized people who choose to work and learn with them? Are we giving our power away? Should we be giving our personal power to other individuals under any circumstances? 

Where is the boundary between perceived hierarchical leadership and personal responsibility for one’s own sovereign choice to participate? Should we practice any form of perceived hierarchical leadership in social justice oriented spaces? 

What do dignity, sovereignty, safety, hurt, harm, violence, and justice actually mean? Can we agree to a shared meaning for each of these instead of making assumptions that our meaning is universal? 

When and how are we conflating conflict with abuse and hurt feelings with literal harm in our communities?* When and how are we conflating personal pain with systemic pain? What would happen if we knew the difference in the moment of hurt?

Are we being being dominated, abused, and/or literally harmed if we have the freedom to click or walk away, exclude people from our own spaces, choose who we related to and which groups and shared spaces we participate in, etc.?** 

When and how are we confusing our trauma response due to past harms with actual harm caused in the present? Can we talk and work together in ways that are trauma informed for everyone involved? 

Will using the same tools as imperialist, cis-hetero, ableist, white supremacist patriarchy in social justice motivated spaces lead us to cultural transformation (i.e. tactics that attempt to demand, coerce, and control others into conformity; violations of consent and privacy; forced public accounting and humiliation; punitive mob justice; etc.)?***

What do the concepts of activism, social justice, cultural transformation, community, and relationship repair mean in the worlds of self development, socially oriented entrepreneurship, and spirituality? When and how does self-development lead to we-development?

So many questions! 

My ultimate intent is to question what the abusive systems *and*
their tools of coercion and control will be replaced with in our
social justice communities as we strive for cultural transformation.

If those of us who claim to have common values
cannot even talk to one another without causing hurt and harm,
then how can we expect to collectively transform the culture that harms us all? 

Sources of related information:

*Conflict is Not Abuse by Sarah Schulman

**”Differentiating between power struggle and power over is the difference between conflict and abuse…Once the dynamic is mutual, it is not abuse, which inherently implies one person’s domination.” Catherine Hodes, Intimate Relationship Abuse Advocate 

***Why I’ve Started to Fear My Fellow Social Justice Activists by France Lee

We Need to Find New Ways of Being Human & In Pain Together

If your practice of feminism includes publicly scapegoating a woman/person for the personal choices of others and framing the scapegoating by deliberately omitting many relevant facts to elevate your own story, then we have different understandings of feminism.

If your practice of social justice includes diminishing the dignity (the inherent respect and value) of another human, or mob driven justice of any kind, or taking a stand that social media call outs bring actual justice to anyone, then we have different understandings of social justice.

If your practice of equity includes behaving as if your story is superior to another’s, or your pain is superior to another’s, or you are superior to others in any way, then we have a different understanding of equity.

If your practice of respecting sovereignty includes defining another person’s experience or story for them, or claiming another person’s story for yourself (if it is not your direct experience it is not your story to tell or claim), or telling a person what they have to specifically do or say to continue to be of value, or that someone owes you something for choices you make of your own volition, or that a person has to do what anyone else says at all beyond the law, then we have different understandings of respecting sovereignty.

If your practice of consent includes publishing deliberately selected pieces of private communication of any kind, or violating a collective agreement that what happens in a shared space is confidential, then we have different understandings of consent (and I have to set a boundary to not communicate privately with you because you have proven yourself unsafe since your practice of confidentiality is conditional).

And having these differences is ok, because I respect your sovereignty, your unique experience of life, and your on-going development as a human. I will not show contempt for you by telling you that you are wrong (which implies my perceptions are superior to yours because what I see is the absolute truth) or that you no longer deserve to belong because we see things differently. I honor your inherent value, your complexity and contradictions, and your on-going imperfect evolution.

I also recognize we may not have the same definitions for our words and concepts so we may need to ask questions and work towards shared understanding to avoid harmful assumptions, and that our reactions/responses are *always* framed by our personal experience. I believe in few universal truths and that we each hold our own pieces to the truth puzzle (one of they many reasons we need one another).

And should others tell me what I should think about you, I choose to honor my own direct experiences with you over gossip, rumors, and stories about you. If I am in doubt, I will reach out to talk to you directly to find out your experience and understanding of what took place or I will sit with the uncertainty. I will not make assumptions or make up my own stories about your intentions, your meaning, or your experience to fill in the blanks and alleviate my discomfort with not knowing.

I will openly discuss all of these ideas with you, and I will set boundaries should you make your comments about diminishing me rather than challenging my ideas. I always welcome you to expand my understanding and I will thoughtfully consider your perspective whether or not it changes my mind.

Whether you want to call it civility, mutual respect, or practicing nonviolence, I believe the only way to make actual change as a collective is to agree to communicate in ways that maintain respect, dignity, and sovereignty (which are all separate from feeling emotions like anger or grief; in my experience emotions can be communicated with civility, especially if one takes a moment to breathe). If we can’t even talk about the oppressive systems that deeply hurt us ALL without hurting and harming one another, or actively repair when hurt and harm occurs, we will never be able to move toward healing and transformation of the systems themselves. We will remain in our pain and wounding forever, ripping open another’s scars over and over again.

If we hope to make a new culture, then we need to make new ways of being human and in pain together, beginning with how we talk to each other about our mutually complex experiences and heartaches.

Pain is a Demon

They say that pain is a messenger, a teacher, and even the source of my power. I’ve been listening hard for five years. I do not feel informed or powerful. I hurt.

Pain is a demon. It has a mind of its own. It possesses me with talons embedded deep into my shoulders, back, and thighs. Sometimes my arms or my feet, my scalp or the muscles between my ribs. Sometimes everywhere at once.

I try to exorcise the demon in the ways the churches of medicine, spirituality, and self development tell me to. It stubbornly refuses to let me go.

I change the way I eat. I hurt.

I relax my parasympathetic nervous system with naturopathy, massage, acupuncture, and Reiki. I hurt.

I take all the supplements – tart cherry and cbd oil, curcumin and probiotics. I hurt.

I take two medications – one that somewhat lessens the pain and one that allows me to sleep. I tried several others with no success. I hurt and sometimes I still don’t sleep.

I move. I work full time. I do yoga, swim, and/or walk at least a mile every weekday. I hurt.

I don’t work. I don’t exercise. And I live from my bed for months at a time. I hurt.

I accept my pain for months at a time and and then I battle with my pain for days in between. I hurt.

I grieve everything. I make peace with my crazy mom and her awful death. I process All. The. Traumas. I hurt.

Pain is eating everything precious to me.
My friendships and sense of community – nibble.
My sex life – gobble.
My creativity – slurp.
My intellect and memory – gulp.
My capacity to work full time – crunch.

It’s like a vampire, sucking the blood and marrow out of my life.

Pain is not my messenger, my teacher, nor a source of my power. My power is to keep pain from descending like an impassable fog, dimming everything in its path till there is nothing left except me on this mattress smoking weed and scrolling Facebook.

Pain is not a result of my lack of emotional healing, nor my rebellion against fundamentalist beliefs regarding health and wellness.

I am possessed by pain because my body has its wires crossed somewhere between my brain, my nerves, and my muscles. My mother’s wires were crossed, too. And while we know there are genetics involved, the environment is a factor, and trauma has its role, it is also a mystery.

Medicine thinks it’s smart, but when it takes 10 years for doctors to diagnose you with a hormone condition that up to 10% of women suffer from, you realize that they don’t know very much at all. When it comes to the education of the body, humans might have graduated from sixth grade when we decoded DNA, but we still have a long way to go to fathom the complexity of the body, all of its systems, how they interact with one another and the world.

Until science learns to exorcise the demon of pain in its countless forms I have to share my body with it and use my power to “manage” and keep it from taking complete possession. To tell me otherwise is to dishonor my experience. To advise me to try all the things before knowing what I’ve tried is to dishonor the reality that I already have tried most and it makes little difference in the long run. Many with this and other conditions will tell you the same.  

Pain is a demon that rages through the body the same way that a hurricane is a force of nature that rages through our landscape. This life has no fixes or solutions because there are too many systems for one solution to fix everything, or even to fix one system without awful side effects for another. It is a mystery of interdependence between more systems than our minds can imagine at once, which is why there are hundreds of different sciences to understand them. It is arrogance to believe we have figured out much of anything at all, let alone that you may have the answer that will fix me.

If you want to show you care to someone who lives with chronic pain (please, please show us you care) – hear us, witness us, heart us on social media, reach out to us, hold space for us, and sit with the discomfort that some pain cannot be fixed by medicine or prayers, somatic therapy or a strong community of care. Some pain cannot be fixed at all. Trust that we know ourselves and our ways of keeping the pain demon from taking complete control. Be willing to make plans with us and to make space for us to reschedule because we don’t know which days the demon will scream through our cells and which days it will whisper. Be willing to write personal messages and make time to meet with us on video or visit us in our homes so that we aren’t completely isolated with this monster eating our lives away.  Help us keep the demon from possessing us completely.

Working with Archetypes: The Fighter

Today I had an Alive session and faced a new violent archetype in the mirror – the fighter. The first time I remember being a fighter (rather than a passive receptacle for whatever was thrown my way) was in 7th grade when I stood up to a girl bullying me and it turned into a physical fight. I came out of it with a black eye that I wore with a strange sense of pride. That same year my parents were doing crank and drinking heavily. There were loud fights in our tiny one-bedroom apartment on a regular basis.
My mom was a bullying narcissist and my stepfather would let her dominate when he wasn’t sky-high, but would oh how they would fight when they were both wrecked. He would rip the phone out of the wall so she couldn’t call the police. Things were broken. He never hit her, but he was physically violent to our home as he tried to defend himself from her verbal attacks.
Those fights are the first experiences of violence that I can remember. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that I stood up to a bully with physical violence the same year that violence became a part of my home life.
I was in two more fist fights. The first was my sophomore year in highschool. We were highly competitive as the two high sopranos in the school choir. It was one of only two instances in my life where I felt competitive with another woman. I started the physical fight by slapping her across the face when she was verbally assaulting me. The other happened when I was 20 and I jumped in a fight to protect a friend when a hood was pulled over her head so she couldn’t see to defend herself.
In later years the fighter manifested with my ex-husband when we fought at least quarterly about his unwillingness to be a partner and father (he refused to work for 4.5 years). I recreated life with my parents. He put holes in doors and a wall. He would try to stop me from leaving a room and I would push him against him. I remember how much I wanted to hit him when he bullied and cornered me with his larger size and strength. Instead I threw my wedding ring at him, weaponizing our marriage.
Now I understand that I have PTSD triggers around bullying, verbal violence, and emotional abuse. My fighter comes out to defend myself or others when I lose myself in the fear and rage of adolescence with my mother and stepfather. I can imagine how as a young empath I took in all of the fear and pain my parents inflicted on one another, in addition to the bullying and other abuse I experienced directly. When I am conscious I am disassociated from the pain of those years, but when I experience a triggering event the floodgates open.
Following this particular thread of violence brought me to tears because I don’t want to be a fighter who harms others. The fighter is the exact opposite of my highly empathic and loving authentic self. I try to understand where people’s pain is coming from, to build empathy bridges across conflict and difference, to find ways to get everyone’s needs met. Empathizing with the pain I’ve caused loved one is really hard. It hurts deep.
The Alive harm reduction and intimacy nurturing work we have been doing the past 9 months continues to transform me and the ways I relate. More and more I am able to choose to stay with my hard emotions and stop myself from going into what they call the hitman – the part of us that reacts by trying to control and coerce ourselves and/or others – and choose to stay with my authentic self, the deep hurt, and the opportunity to find relief by creating fulfillment plans.
But I am worried about an anger that occasionally arises that I don’t yet know how to manage so that it’s not a geyser ready to explode. I don’t know how to consciously do anger, feel anger, or express anger. Anger scares me, because for 30 years it inevitably led to the fighter taking over. Now that I understand the harm and hurt I’ve caused when I let the fighter rule I really really really don’t want to ever let it out again. Not ever. Except that repression isn’t helpful and the fighter has a light side – she fights for justice, equity, and inclusion. I have made a difference when I wielded my fighter archetype for good in work and leadership situations. So I need to figure this out – how to feel and transform anger in interpersonal relationships without causing harm to others.
I am scared to face whatever is in the depths of my geyser of rage, but I will puzzle and process it out till I find my way since that is what is needed to make myself safe to be with.
Thank you for witnessing.

I am on a Mission to Decommodify Community

I am on a mission to decommodify the concept of community. Like many other important human concepts – feminism, empowerment, revolution, etc. – we have commodified the concept of community. A blatant example? Seth Godin’s redefinition (and cultural appropriation) of tribes, which he used to sell a lot of books and marketing courses. Another? Most business people who call their newsletter list a community.

If you are talking at people through a newsletter and there is no on-going relationship between people on the receiving end, then it is not community. Even if some people on the receiving end write back to you for individual conversation, that is still not community. That would be nurturing an individual relationship.

If you are only committed because someone paid you for your time, then you are not providing them with community. A writing group, business program, or retreat that is limited by the time and rules of transaction is not a community.

If you lead by patriarchal, hierarchy based models on your social media page or online group and practice unilateral decision making like deleting conversations and blocking anyone who disagrees with you (which is incredibly disrespectful), you are definitely not nurturing community.

The test – would the people you call “your” community as a business person turn around and say that you have a mutual commitment to them and are part of their community? If not, you have a list, a page, an affinity group, a network, a gathering, not a community. I recognize that many of us in the online business sphere are in community with one another beyond the transactions of our businesses and that is different than the people who simply follow your business being called community.

I believe that a community involves reciprocal, nontransactional commitment to equitable relationship. It also *requires* going through the hard stuff together and coming out the other side transformed before it’s true community (as defined by M. Scott Peck, MD in the Psychology of Community and my lived experience). We need to find more accurate words for the affinity groups/gatherings/collectives we participate in and reserve community for deep collective relationship like we tend to reserve the word family for deep interpersonal relationship (although I realize as I’m writing this that family has been commodified at times as well).

In my research I find the definition of true community by psychologist M. Scott Peck, MD to be my goal.

The characteristics of a true community are inclusivity, mutual commitment, consensus (leadership by agreement because everyone is a leader), realism (which includes embracing complexity), self awareness, safe-to-brave space that nurtures vulnerability, willingness to dismantle internal oppression, and the ability to work through conflict gracefully.

For the depth of community that I am interested in building, I would add two other characteristics – transparency and respect for one another’s sovereignty

The word community has been co-opted by online business in what are actually commodified and/or hierarchical groups with conditions for belonging. Conditions may include payment for participation; limiting participation because the group has a specific focus; and/or limiting one’s voice because disagreement or conflict with the founder will be quickly deleted and blocked. When our relationship is limited to one commonality and we are unable to bring our full selves to the table we are not in true community. When we are not mutually committed to one another as we move through this being human and its challenges we are not in true community.

It takes attention and intention to cultivate the engagement and vulnerability that leads to true community. It also takes the willingness to let go of ownership and allow the community to achieve mutual relationship with you and one another. In a culture that values individualism, authority, and hierarchical leadership, this is not easy. Our culture values the numbers – how many are on your list, how many follow you on Facebook and/or Instagram, how many have purchased your product. It does not value relationship, interdependency, and cultures of care. We do not value care at all, as evidenced by how we pay the lowest wages to the people who care for our most fragile – our children, elders, and disabled. If you desire to cultivate true community, you have to ask yourself how much you are willing to care for the people with whom you share space (while honoring consent and healthy boundaries). If you are not willing to care beyond the limits of your transactional agreements (no judgment if that’s your jam), then recognize that you are not nurturing community, you are running a business.

I am on a mission to reclaim the concept of community because I believe building a culture of interdependence, both with each other and with the earth, is the way we can mitigate the hard realities that are already in motion. We need to build cultures of care in order to sustain ourselves through the transitions and chaos that come with climate change and the dismantling of the kyriarchy.  Instead of reserving mutual aid for after the hurricane or fire, establishing on-going mutual care in preparation for what comes is the best option we have to ride the shifts in landscape and population, the migrations and the tragic losses.

Community and care is my work. Yes, I have started Community Stewardship & Consulting business to help sustain myself and my family within the current capitalist economy. But I am moreso committed to my relationships and to the needs of the people I care for. I take the anti-capitalist stance that people matter more than money in every aspect of my life. This weaving of life and work is experimental, I have no idea how it will turn out. What I do know is that I am not interested in commodifying my relationships or the people I call my community. I am committed to seeing you, caring about you, and relating to you as you travel this human journey alongside me, whether or not we are bound by transactional agreement.

If you are interested in being a part of my community and experimenting with the possibilities, please start by joining my biweekly email list and friending me on Facebook under Connect With Me. Those will be the most reliable way of keeping up with my work, research, and experiments in building cultures of care.