ENSLAVEMENT AS FEAR OF CHANGE
Agency, Choice and Resilience
Yago Abeledo: Joanne, welcome to this blog where we seek to find creative ways to deconstruct slavery in today’s world. I believe this complex reality of enslavement is the result of unprocessed traumatic experiences throughout history. The experience of trauma paralyses growth as we fear change. American author and management consultant Margaret Wheatley says, “Strangely, we assert that it’s a particular characteristic of the human species to resist change, even though we’re surrounded by tens of millions of other species that demonstrate wonderful capacities to grow, adapt, and change.” There is potential for wisdom, awe and humility as we encounter life’s unstoppable resiliency. I believe deeply that enslavement results from an inability to understand what energy is and how it connects us.
Joanne Lauterjung Kelly: Thank you, Yago, It’s an honor to have this conversation with you, in the company of such distinguished practitioners and creative thinkers. I appreciate the amazing variety of voices you’ve assembled here, and have learned so much from reading the interviews.
Yago: Joanne, you have been strongly influenced by American writer and mythologist, Joseph Campbell, who speaks about living “waste land lives.” He says his impression is that many of his friends are baffled; they’re wandering in the waste land without any sense of where the water is - the “source that makes things green.” I believe hidden in Western society has a very different kind of enslavement. Could you share with us your thoughts on this waste land, and your own journey toward this source of growth and nourishment?
Joanne: Yes, I think this waste land has a lot to do with a Western definition of success that focuses on achieving a certain level of material comfort. When the emphasis is on consumption rather than creation, we lose sight of what nourishes us, what makes things green. Water needs to flow, but we work so hard to contain it and then it becomes stagnant.
When you talk about Western society and enslavement, I think about a system that encourages us to reward a few people at the top of the economic ladder at the cost of not getting our own needs met. The thing is, we help create and maintain this system with every purchase we make, either consciously or unconsciously. But there are some who are opting out of this system. There are great examples all across North America of co-housing, cooperatives, and intentional communities trying to escape the waste land.
In terms of those with power to shape and maintain the system, I think they’re enslaved in a spiritual waste land. It’s easy to forget that oppressors are traumatized by their actions against others. I don’t believe you can do harm to someone else and not do serious damage to your soul in the process. So when we talk about historic, or inherited, trauma, this applies to descendants of colonizers as well.
According to Brené Brown, a professor of social work at the University of Houston, adults in the U.S. right now are the most in-debt, obese, addicted and medicated in history. So what good is all that privilege if we’re unhealthy and unhappy? This is a kind of enslavement to a reward system that goes against our best interests.
Yago: Thanks for introducing your personal experience and understanding of the American society. Now I would like to process with you the different qualities of the Spirit as presented by Deepak Chopra. We stand on the threshold of an important time in Conflict Transformation where we are exploring what John Paul Lederach calls "the below and the beyond."
Chopra says the Spirit uses attention and intention for transformation. Ten years ago you were in a near-fatal accident, and in your forties you reflected deeply about the meaning of life and your role in the world. You don’t have children and asked, “If I am not going to bring a person, a being, into this world, then what am I going to give birth to?” You began to live your life more intentionally. Could you share with us how attention and intention have transformed your life to this point?
Joanne: Well the accident was certainly a wake-up call. I was newly married, which was a good thing, but I wasn’t happy in my job, I wasn’t healthy and I felt directionless in life. I knew things weren’t in alignment, but didn’t quite know what to do about that. I decided to go paragliding for my 40th birthday in an attempt to face my fears as I got older. I went tandem with an instructor and after about 20 minutes (which was spectacular, I have to say), our sail partially collapsed, and down we went – falling about 160 feet, through the trees and onto a mountain. Miraculously, neither one of us suffered any head or spinal injuries, but we broke quite a few bones.
I had a transformational moment when we first landed. I had trouble breathing, and thought that my lung had been punctured. I was convinced that that was it – I only had a little while to live. I laid there, staring up through the trees at the sky and thought, “Well, there are worse ways to go.” I was completely and utterly at peace. For the first, and only, time in my life I let go of absolutely everything. I let go because I thought I had no other choice. It was a glorious feeling, this feeling of surrender and inner calm. I’m no longer afraid of death, but that experience left me longing to capture that feeling again. I’ve come close through meditation, but haven’t managed to surrender as fully. I suppose the gift in this longing has been to constantly work at letting go and not hold on to things for very long. A challenging process, even given the best childhood.
At the heart of transformation is change of some kind. Change in thought patterns, change in perceptions, change in attitude, change in behaviour. Often an imposed change triggers a choice to make other changes. Or sometimes we dig in and refuse to change. I think a willingness to enter into, or engage with, what Lewin calls “secure disequilibrium”, that state of uncertainty and of not knowing, requires trust and a perception of safety. When we willingly embrace what feels like chaos we pull ourselves into the present moment, and find the source of clarity and reality in what is, as it is, rather than our wishes, fears or projections. Much easier said than done, of course!
Yago: As you say, it looks to me that many of the problems that enslave us are due to our inability to engage meaningfully with reality, with what is happening right here and now. Deepak Chopra insightfully describes the energy of Spirit as timeless, defenceless, ego-less, and in constant search for communion. These original characteristics of the Spirit get twisted around and lost during times of conflict. How would you relate enslavement with this inability to deal with the here and now?
Joanne: Going back to the idea of trust and perceived safety, I think this colors everything. At the core of slavery is the dehumanization of other human beings and a denial of our interconnectedness. The ego wants separateness, to be unique and different, which is often achieved by creating competition and dividing that interconnectedness into categories and rankings. We may call this human nature, but we’ve also been given the ability to see and analyze the ego from another, less selfish and universal perspective. So which aspect of our nature will win out?
For me, a paradox of this competitive perspective is that it tends to make us less able to deal with reality. It makes us more fearful and more inclined to perceive threat.
Yago: The intelligence of Spirit is non-linear, contextual, relational, intuitive, inspiring, holistic, nourishing, wise, and does not behave in a win/lose manner. In 2002 you underwent a type of therapy called Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, or EMDR for short. EMDR trainer, Dr. William Zangwill, says “There’s a lot of research that demonstrates that we process intellectual material in a different part of the brain than we process emotional material. So what happens is we can know something in one part of the brain and we can believe it totally, but in a different part of our brain we can still have a very strong and negative emotional reaction.” Joanne, could you tell us what brought you to this therapy and how did you benefited from it?
Joanne: Any big, traumatic event triggers unresolved issues, and I was searching for a way to work on these issues, and to put the accident into perspective. A friend recommended EMDR, and I read a book about it before I found a practitioner, and it seemed like a good choice for me. I’m not an expert on EMDR, but I’ll explain it as best I can. EMDR uses a variety of side-to-side eye and body movements that help the right and left hemispheres of the brain communicate with each other in order to move traumatic memories from the “reptilian brain” (the hypothalamus and limbic system), where traumatic experiences are kept in a constant loop, to our frontal cortex where we’re able to process events and file them away. EMDR is different from talk therapy in that there’s a lot of internal work that happens, and the therapist checks in from time and time.
Another tool I like to work with for self-awareness is the Johari Window. It has four quadrants looking at our public selves, our private selves, our blind spots and the unknown. My husband and I have a joke between us, that whenever one of us is avoiding something we call it “ostrich-ing” – sticking our head in the sand, like an ostrich, thinking that if we can’t see it, it doesn’t exist. I have to get to a place where I’m willing to contemplate my blinds spots and the unknown in order to have a strategy for how I’ll deal with those things. We can’t know and see everything all the time, we’ll always have blind spots and the unknown. But we can bolster our resilience to trust that we can cope with difficult times.
Yago: The Spirit learns from its own experience, keeps endlessly evolving, is unpredictable, full of creativity… and manifests its whole self in any single part (“holographic”). These amazing characteristics of the Spirit open our eyes to self-awareness as something that’s innate. Now, the holographic dimension of the universe challenges and endlessly expands our search for identity. What can you say about this?
Joanne: I think what Irish social psychologist Diarmuid O’Murchu said in your interview with him sums it up nicely, that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. This also ties in with what Margaret Wheatley writes about, and this shift we’re going through from a Newtonian perspective with its focus on the components of a system, to the quantum physics view that the whole is comprised of exchanges of energy, and the components of a system can change depending on these exchanges. So trying to label and characterize parts of a system is elusive, because their nature will change depending on other things going on.
Having lived a life that was, for the most part, “outside the box” and where my basic needs were met, it’s easy for me to think of identity is such a fluid way. But that’s also part of the privilege I carry. In Myanmar I’m considered an “expat” which implies I have a choice to live where I want to live, whereas refugees or immigrants don’t have that luxury. They’re driven by a need to leave an untenable situation. I think the fluidity with which we’re able to look at identity is in proportion to the level of safety and security we feel, and the extent to which our basic needs are met.
This is a big question! I’m not sure I answered it. I think I’ll have to reflect on it some more.
Yago: American author and lecturer, Ken Wilber, talks about these multiple intelligences: cognitive, interpersonal, psychosexual, emotional and moral. You say that at the heart of theorizing, it’s important to have emotional intelligence (the awareness of self and others). How important is the incorporation of multiple intelligences in the peacebuilding field?
I believe understanding that we all have different learning styles and different ways of “knowing” is key in peacebuilding. How can we properly assess a situation if we’re not looking at all those factors? Our effectiveness hinges on our ability to communicate effectively, connect and build good relationships, design programs that address multiple learning styles, and take into consideration how these are all affected by cultural norms and beliefs. But this isn’t unique to peacebuilding. These are important regardless of what field you’re in.
Since 2009 I’ve been incorporating arts-based techniques for dialogue and teaching into my facilitation work, and the one context that’s been the most difficult is academia. From my experience, I would say this context greatly privileges highly verbal, linear thinkers. If you make it to the graduate level of education, odds are that you rely heavily on your cognitive abilities, rather than sensory or emotional intelligence. And this preference for linear thinking tends to weeds out nonlinear, creative thinkers which has implications for research, publishing and those higher level managers and leaders whose decisions affect many, many people. Of course, there are those rare individuals who straddle both worlds pretty successfully (there are lots of arts and music PhDs out there), but they still have to play by the rules of the dominant culture. I have to wonder, what kinds of ideas and perspectives are we missing by asking creative people to abide by the dominant paradigm, rather than asking those in the dominant paradigm to see the world through a creative, nonlinear lens?
The problems of the world need all the creativity we can muster, and to be more fluid and less categorical. We need a balance, and we need all kinds of thinking. But the scales are tipped so far in the West towards this rational, linear thinking, and we’re exporting that approach throughout the world through business and development. Donor-driven accountability measures are sometimes more concerned with efficiency and timelines, than relationships and creativity or nurturing entrepreneurial efforts. A cookie-cutter approach doesn’t work – just because something worked in one culture doesn’t mean it will be effective in another. We need to nurture local creativity and entrepreneurship so that communities can come up with their own visions and solutions.
Yago: I believe in the need of being more fluid and less categorical. This supposes dying to oneself and engaging into the flow of life as it manifests first of all in our bodies. In that line, you also say that with emotional intelligence you need a certain level of comfort with risk-taking and vulnerability. We have to develop the capacity of listening to our bodies, especially to shame. What can you say about that? How much have you been influenced by Brené Brown?
Brené Brown’s work has helped me see my own shame “traps” and lessons learned early in life, as well as the ways shame shapes popular culture. I think sarcasm, for example, is a form of shaming and is very prevalent in American movies and TV. And there’s such a strong link between Brené Brown’s work and Donna Hicks’ research on dignity violations, because at the heart of many dignity violations is shame. If I publicly humiliate you or, sometimes worse, ignore you, I’ve basically said that I’m not interested in a relationship with you, you’re not worthy of my time and attention. Maybe you don’t care, or maybe this wounds you deeply. But denying the connection that I believe we already share violates the dignity of those we’re cutting off.
There’s a great article Brené Brown wrote for the Houston Chronical in 2007 about finding voice in the wake of the controversy with the Dixie Chicks, where radio DJs were saying they should just shut up and sing. She writes that the price we pay to stay silent is losing our authenticity, and asks how we can be authentic when we’re working so hard to make everyone around feel comfortable and not threatened. This resonated greatly with me because I grew up with strong messages to stay silent. Healthy debate and discussion were not encouraged, and there’s a lot of shame that goes with that. Brené Brown’s work is helpful and insightful in drawing that link to shame and vulnerability, and it asks us to come to terms with managing those feelings so we can get on with being our authentic selves.
Yago: The experience of shame poisons the very core of our identity. Dona Hicks, in her book Dignity, talks about the acceptance of identity as one of the ten essential elements of dignity. She borrows from the philosopher and psychologist William James, his proposal that there are two parts to ourselves. He named them the “I” and the “Me”. He thought of the “I” as the continuous presence within us that has the capacity to know the other part, the “Me”, which is in constant engagement with the world. You say that you are beginning to have trust in the ability to develop the observer within, the “I”. Could you share more about this?
Joanne: I believe there’s strength in vulnerability, by letting go of the ego and arriving at the interconnected “I”. The ego wants privacy, to be separate, to control what others know about us. If we acknowledge our interconnectedness, then we need to acknowledge that we’re more alike than we are unalike, in all our insecurities and flaws – what we refer to as “warts and all”. I find that comforting because along with shame and silence is the fear that I’m different, I’m not normal somehow, I don’t deserve love and attention.
U.S. culture glorifies celebrity, and there’s this idea that there’s a limited supply of love, talent and attention to go around. You have to scratch and claw your way to the top, to get your share. I call this “supply side emotions” and I think it’s a complete myth. There’s more than enough to go around, and we do each other a disservice by imposing this competitive atmosphere onto everything we do. I applaud people who’ve worked hard to master something – a sport, singing, playing an instrument. But we’ve “professionalized” sports and music to the point where people stop being active or singing or playing an instrument because they’ll never win American Idol or an Olympic Medal.
Yago: Another characteristic of the Spirit is that it manifests itself in seasons, circles and rhythms, vibrating at different levels/frequencies. You have recently reflected on the role of Music in Conflict Transformation. Norwegian political science professor, Sabrina Petra Ramet, says: “Music is not merely a cultural or diversionary phenomenon. It is also a political phenomenon. Its medium is suggestion. Its point of contact is the imagination. Its voice is that of the muse. All of this makes music an unexpectedly powerful force for social and political change.” Why Music, what is it that music brings that’s unlike any other approach to transforming conflict?
Joanne: Sabrina Petra Ramet’s quote comes from her book, Rocking the State, in which she looks at how music shaped politics in Eastern Europe and Russia after the fall of the Soviet Union. Rock music was used as a form of dissent, an expression of longing for identity and free speech. Pete Seeger’s folk music defined a generation in the U.S. and promoted a message of peace. There are refugee and Internally Displaced People (IDP) camps in Africa where people dance and sing every day, despite losing everything. Music can be an amazing source of resilience, identity, connection and expression.
|Music's power to unify can be used to empower or manipulate.|
What gives music its power is that it actually alters the frequencies around us, and vibration has a powerful effect on us physically. An operatic soprano can shatter a glass because she sings a note at a particular frequency that disturbs the frequency of the molecules in the glass, and it shatters.
Yago: Very interesting! Now, in looking at the physiological effects of music you discovered some specific brain functions and body responses to music that addresses the healing power to music. Could you share with us your findings?
Joanne: I used to work for an organization that offered music therapy, and learned that music therapy offers a wide range of benefits. It’s used in hospitals to alleviate pain, counteract depression or fear, and help patients regain movement in physical therapy. It’s used in nursing homes to help people maintain physical, mental and social functioning. And it’s used with people of all ages to teach communication and problem-solving skills, and improve physical coordination. I’ve seen autistic kids light up and communicate during music therapy in ways they don’t the rest of the time.
Neurologist Oliver Sacks and cognitive psychologist Daniel Levitin have both written about the physiological effects of music. One of the studies I found fascinating was research that shows that after losing the function of a limb for an extended time, music can be used to re-map the signals in the brain so the person can regain use of that limb. Another interesting study, especially for those of us who love to sing in choirs, is that communal singing releases oxytocin in the brain, sometimes called the “love hormone”, which has a comforting effect. Studies also show that even a brief exposure to music lessons as children creates more efficient neural circuits in our brain. So the research is pretty compelling.
Yago: Another very interesting role of music is its capacity to build communities. You say that your experience with music and community building have been very rich and rewarding. Could you share your experience on this regard? What examples of ethnic groups around the world use this capacity to integrate music in community building?
|Joanne singing at SPI 2013|
|Mbuti Pygmy Chanting|
There are so many examples of cultures around the world that use music to build community. In fact, I think most cultures do this. It’s in the West, where we’ve professionalized and commodified music, that the emphasis has shifted away from community building. We’ve lost the participatory nature of music. Going to a concert and having a shared experience is a form of community building, but by being only consumers of music we’re missing out on the benefits of playing music and creating it for ourselves, and with each other. A hundred years ago, in the West, after a meal everyone would go to the parlour room, someone would play the piano and everyone would sing. Once the radio came along, and then later TV, we shifted to listening and watching more than creating. This is slowly changing, though – the pendulum is swinging back. There are cities in the U.S. that are seeing a resurgence of young people playing folk music. I think people are hungry for a shared experience and there are music, dance and community theatre groups in lots of cities now.
|Drumming at SPI 2013|
Yago: You say that in many cultures around the world music and spirituality are one and the same. How does music in-spire (in the Spirit) us?
Joanne: Most religions have music as a core part of their worship: the Muslim call to prayer, Jewish cantors, Christian hymns, Buddhist chants. There’s usually something musical in most rituals because it is so powerful. And most places of worship (cathedrals, mosques, temples) are typically very resonant spaces that accentuate the vibrations of the music, or the sound of someone’s voice.
For me, what’s inspiring is a sense of one-ness, of unity with something bigger than myself. Playing Bembe, for example, I was in communion with the other players, with everything around us, with Spirit. I think about this invisible blanket of energy around us, and going back to the soprano that can shatter a glass by hitting a note with a certain frequency. Playing music in community means we’re all vibrating at the same frequency, and I find that really comforting. In your interview with counsellor and professor Annmarie Early, she talks about “the resonant rightness of atunement” which I think is a really lovely way to put it. Allowing ourselves to be in sync with ourselves, others and Spirit.
There’s also this idea of what peacebuilding professor and author John Paul Lederach speaks of as confluence – different aspects of paradoxical understanding or insight that flow alongside each other. The most common rhythm in Africa, one that really defines most African music, is actually two different meters played at the same time. Meter in music refers to the number of beats in a measure, for example a waltz is in three, and lots of Western music is in four, Irish jigs are in six, and the Balkans have lots of odd rhythms in seven, eleven sometimes fifteen. In Africa many songs are in six and four at the same time, and that gives the music a rhythmic complexity that really makes you want to dance. And it works because there are places where the different meters line up in a predictable way, and places where they don’t line up that adds complexity and interest. I think this is a great metaphor for how we can find the places where we align, allow the places where we don’t to simply be and maintain some humility that we’ll never understand it all.
|John Paul Lederach|
Yago: You talk about John Paul Lederach, a few years ago you had the privilege to be engaged in his SPI course, “The Moral Imagination”. This course helped you make sense of many of your intuitions. You say that music enables us to access our creativity and imagination to allow us to see things in new ways. How fundamental is it for human beings to have access to creativity and imagination? How can music help us in this regard?
Joanne: John Paul’s class, which was co-taught with the wonderful and talented Herm Weaver, was such a turning point for me, and a confirmation of things I’d felt but couldn’t articulate. In your interview with John Paul he talks about listening for poetry in everyday language. We’re encouraged to be reflective practitioners at the Center for Justice and Peacebuilding, and John Paul really lives that – he has an artist’s sensitivity and willingness to go “below and beyond”.
As kids we used to lie on our backs and describe what animals or shapes we saw in the clouds. Kids are naturally imaginative, and I think it’s why it’s great to be around kids. They remind us of processes that keep our brains elastic and able to dream and visualize.
Yago: I see that music can also be experienced as a tool for resiliency, helping us to navigate difficult times. Could you share with us the role of techniques such as visualization and Appreciative Inquiry in building resilience?
Joanne: Let me start with Appreciative Inquiry. Appreciative Inquiry is based on the theory that systems change in the direction in which they inquire. So if you look at what’s working, rather than only focusing on what’s not working, you’ll cultivate more of what’s good and right in the system. One of the supporting theories of Appreciative Inquiry is called positive affect – that positive feelings lead people to be more flexible, creative, integrative, open to information and efficient in their thinking. All of which leads to more resilience, the ability to cope with adversity, and helps people develop an increased preference for variety and to accept a broader range of behaviour. This is a strengths-based approach, and is not meant to be an alternative for looking critically at what’s not working, but rather a choice in moving forward to focus on what we want more of. What we focus on increases, so let’s give time and energy to what’s working so we can have more of that.
Regarding visualization, there’s a great story about the American boxer, Mohammed Ali. An interviewer once asked him how he prepares for fights, and if he visualizes winning. For a while there was an emphasis in sports psychology on positive visualization – just visualize crossing the finish line, or making the perfect shot. Ali said he didn’t do any of that. Instead he visualized taking the blows. He visualized himself dealing with adversity, and was known for his stamina and ability to keep fighting for a long time. Now, I’m not a fan of boxing, but I like this story because it’s such a great reminder to prepare ourselves for the long road ahead, and to visualize ourselves coping with whatever comes along.
Appreciative Inquiry says to look for what’s working, and Ali’s approach is about visualizing how we cope with difficulties. Both of which are key for building resilience. Not only do we function in relationship with others, meanings and events, we also function in relationship with the structures we create inside ourselves, our self-perceptions. We are greatly influenced by the degree to which we’re able to be flexible, inventive, and/or critical towards structures that influence our sense of agency (the degree to which we are aware of the choices we make and the control we have of our actions), both internally and externally. In using a strengths-based approach, people are often surprised at how much resilience they actually have, and at the degree to which they are able to exercise some sense of agency. For example, I recently interviewed a group of refugees who began our conversation with statements of helplessness and victimization. But later in the conversation, when I asked about ways they stay strong during difficult times, they had lots of examples of choices they made to stay strong and connected, and get through the hard times. At the end, one of them said, “We never talk about these things, but we should.” They were exercising more agency than they realized.
Yago: It is quite obvious that in today’s Western society media can manipulate reality, and tends to focus on what is not working. You talk about the idea of “heliotropism,” the ability to grow positively towards what is good and right. You would like to create a blog called HelioVision to offer an alternative, and feature stories of what IS working. Could you expand on your vision?
|Sunflowers grow to face the sun throughout the day.|
I’m not sure if the world needs yet another blog, but my idea is to research and highlight stories of what’s working. The further I get into peacebuilding work, the more I see great examples of successful initiatives that change and empower lives for the better, but I rarely see those in the media. There are a handful of publications that have this same focus – Yes! Magazine and The Utne Reader come to mind. I’m sure there are more. But I’m constantly on the lookout for these kinds of stories, and the link between creativity and adaptability. I think this is an area in need of advocacy.
Joanne: Viktor Frankl wrote that we can’t avoid suffering but we can choose how we deal with it. Even after the Nazis had taken everything away from him, he still said they couldn’t take away his ability to think. Now, I can’t begin to understand what it felt like to be in his shoes, but I find inspiration in his ability to still make meaning out of horrific circumstance, and his words speak to the power of thought and the reality we create in our minds.
Yago: Deepak Chopra keeps saying that another quality of the Spirit is that expresses in different states of awareness like deep sleep, dreams, waking state, glimpsing the soul, cosmic, divine and unity consciousness. Could you share with us how agency and awareness applies to resiliency?
Joanne: Well, it’s just a theory I’m exploring, but I think there’s a strong link between perception of agency and resilience. I haven’t done any follow-up yet with the group of immigrants I spoke with, but my sense was that having greater awareness of the agency they were exercising challenged the idea that they’re helpless and that, “There can be no peace on earth until Jesus returns.” In most of the literature I read, agency is often referred to in Western terms and carries an assumption that agency is to be valued above all else. I don’t agree with that, but I do think once we recognize our interconnectedness, and that our actions have an impact on the whole, we temper agency for the sake of agency with a responsibility to each other to both share and receive.
|Joanne Lauterjang and David Brubaker|
Yago: Another key characteristic of the Spirit is that it is constantly undergoing transformation. You have just been co-teaching with Eastern Mennonite Unversity professor David Brubaker the course on Developing Healthy Organizations. Margaret J. Wheatley’s book “Leadership and the New Science” was a core component of this course. Could you share how meaningfully new discoveries in science are challenging our ever-transforming organizational thinking?
Joanne: A great example is a story that Margaret Wheatley tells about the automotive industry. In 2009, on any given day, 20% of the workforce in the U.S. wouldn’t show up for work. She was hired to look into the situation, and what she discovered was that the “millennials”, workers in their late 20s, early 30s, have a very different mind set and attitude towards work. They’ve seen their parents, the baby boom generation, talk about work/life balance, but then work 50 or 60 hours a week and then have serious health issues before they hit retirement. She says on the one hand, these younger workers are more opportunistic and will occasionally choose a good opportunity to do something fun over going to work. But on the other hand, they’re determined not to work as hard as their parents. So how does the automotive industry respond? Well, first they decided to redraft their absentee policy, as if different wording will ensure that people show up to work. And they also hired former military as management. This is an example of a workforce seeking equilibrium (young people wanting a better work/life balance), and the power structure is responding by imposing stronger top-down control mechanisms. If we look at quantum physics, we can see that rigidity and control and predictability are not the natural order. The old science, going back to Newton and the apple, was about efficiency, replication, breaking things down to their parts without looking at the whole to see what’s going on. We’re still running our organizations and governments in this way, but the new science is showing us that if we’re willing to be patience, what appears chaotic will work itself out. Chaos theory shows that patterns emerge over time, but we have to be willing to allow that to happen and manage that interim period so that things don’t fall apart. I think this is a huge shift in perspective, and organizations like Brazilian businessman Ricardo Semler’s Semco, that can embrace change and transparency, are the ones that will succeed in the long run.
Yago: In this line, Joseph Campbell invites us to go beyond traditional concepts. He says that this is not only for our own lives, but because life is different from the way it was and the rules of the past are restrictive of the life process. The moment life process stops, it starts drying up (…) That’s what hell is: the place of people who could not “yield their ego system to allow the grace of a transpersonal power to move them.” You have always been very interested in how we perceive the world. How do we communicate has always fascinated you. Could you share with us the importance of words/concepts in communication? What is the role of communication in an ever-changing world?
Joanne: Well, going back to Margaret Wheatley’s book, one of the gifts from quantum physics is the realization that what makes up our world is the exchange of energy, not the things themselves. A chair is a chair because of how the molecules in it are interacting with each other. So it’s about the communication and exchanges going on. What appears to be “empty” space is actually an invisible blanket of constant energy and activity. If we were tuned into that all the time, we’d be completely overwhelmed, so our brains are selective about what we perceive. These exchanges are all forms of communication, and it’s a complicated process. I have a thought and I decide I want to communicate that thought to you. I choose my words based on the language I speak, the vocabulary I know, the interpretation I have of what I want to say, which is colored by my history and life experiences, and then I also take into consideration what I know about you and how I think you’ll interpret my words. Then you hear what I say, apply your own history and life experiences and come up with your interpretation. And with each of those steps comes the opportunity to either get it right, or get it wrong, or miss the mark. Add to all that the nonverbal cues we’re sending and receiving. UCLA psychology professor Albert Mehrabian did some studies in the 1960s on the relative importance of verbal and nonverbal communication, and found that about 90% of what we interpret is based on non-verbal cues: 60% is body language, and 30% is tone of voice. Only 10% are the actual words used. I think this is why, when we travel, we can often communicate if we don’t know the language – we have to rely more on non-verbal clues, and we make gestures or draw pictures. And imagine the potential for misunderstanding in e-mails once you’ve stripped out body language and tone of voice from communicating. This is why more and more people are using emoticons online – to make up for the missing information.
Life is speeding up, and we’re communicating more quickly. Many people expect a quick response to e-mail or text messages, but I think that opens the door for a lot of misunderstanding. Technology gives us an opportunity to find a balance between the speed it gives us in some ways, and to slow down and make sure we’ve truly understood. Like anything else, becoming more intentional and conscious of what we’re saying, and how, can only help us communicate with each other.
Yago: In a previous interview on this blog, David Brubaker invites us to see not only the “agents of change” in organizations, but to also welcome the crucial role of the “agents of stability”. At the same time, another characteristic of the Spirit, as enumerated by Deepak Chopra, is to be self-protective with a capacity to maintain balance. He uses the example of the human body as a system that seeks to find balance. What could you tell us about this need in reality to find constant balance?
Joanne: The themes of creation and destruction are ancient concepts, and nature is full of examples of this. I think the Industrial Revolution ushered in an era where we have expectations of stability and predictability that go against a natural ebb and flow. Not that I don’t appreciate some of the conveniences and medical advances that came about, but the mind set that we can control everything is having a devastating effect on the environment. And because of this mind set, we tend to reward agents of stability within organizations. But the agents of change provide creativity and important feedback about what’s going on that’s not being talked about.
This is the yin and yang of life, and it reminds me of something Joseph Campbell said in an interview with Michael Toms. He talked about how Christianity has sought to banish the dark side, whereas many indigenous and Eastern faiths believe you tame it by acknowledging it. You give it respect in order to keep balance between the light and the dark. There’s an acceptance of this balance – that both exist. For example, I grew up being told, in the 1970s, that race shouldn’t matter, and that the color of someone’s skin has nothing to do with their abilities - or who they are as a person. And on one hand, my mother was right – race shouldn’t matter. But it does – very much so. So by trying to banish this dark side of U.S. culture, and not talk about it, I was blindsided growing up to the depth and strength of racism and hadn’t developed the language to talk about it.
I find it puzzling that, with so much diversity in nature, we humans have such a strong tendency to homogenize things, to want to be like everyone else, or make everyone else be like us. Where does the fear of what’s different come from? Diversity and mutations are what enable plants to thrive over time, so where did we get this attachment to predictability and stability?
Joanne: I love that line, that the war between darkness and light never actually began. There is no war – it’s all a dance, a communion like Father Berry says. I’ve found aikido principles very helpful in understanding this. Aikido is based on the idea of blending with the energy coming towards us, rather than meeting it with resistance. When a force in one direction is met with equal force in the opposite direction, you get the strongest clash possible. But when force in one direction is met with equal force in the same direction, when we go with the flow, we’re now in a position to modify it from “within”. In other words, if I allow myself to completely empathize with what someone’s telling me, if I join their energy I enter into their perspective. From there I can make a more informed decision about redirecting the energy. This has been a very helpful perspective for me, when I can remember it, in responding to anger or what I perceived to be a threatening force coming at me. Of course, overwhelming, violent force is not something we can blend with, but the discipline of aikido is to remain present and alert in order to respond non-violently whenever possible, and in staying present we can more accurately assess the situation.
Joanne: Well, I think this is extremely difficult. We are who we are because of our lived experience, as well as inherited trauma or privilege or perspective from our families and ancestors. I agree that what is happening right now is most important, but I think we need to understand and acknowledge what’s led up to this point. It’s part of the process of allowing things to become more complex before we can look for the patterns in what’s happening now. I think the more fluid we can become in looking back, being in the moment, and looking forward, the broader perspective we’ll have in coming up with ideas about what to do next.
Yago: How do you envision the role of the arts in peacebuilding?
Joanne: It’s been helpful for me to think of it in three different categories: self-expression, engagement and healing. Self-expression includes artists who want to convey a message or expression of peace, or seek to promote non-violence. The arts can also be used to help people engage with one another and create a different kind of dialogue. For example, teens can often better express themselves creatively because they haven’t necessarily developed the language or perspective to articulate their thoughts and feelings. If you bring people together from different cultures, expressing complex thoughts or deep feelings is often easier visually or creatively because that’s not typically the vocabulary we learn in a second language. Lastly, music and art therapy can help promote healing by introducing new forms of expression to process trauma.
Not only do the arts provide tools for program design, but I think they also help prevent practitioner burn-out. Self-care in the field is a rare thing; it’s easy to put our own needs aside when helping those whose needs are so immediate. But weaving arts activities into practice can also make the practice healing for the practitioner.
Another area where the arts play a big role, is in ritual. Lisa Schirch, professor and founder of 3P Human Security, writes about the power of ritual in her book, Ritual and Symbol in Peacebuilding. She talks about how ritual can help with difficult or painful transitions by creating a container for expression and meaning. Often what differentiates ritual from our everyday activities is the intentional use of an aesthetic experience – music, incense, lighting, beautiful objects.
Yago: You have been weaving arts-based methodologies into your consulting and facilitation work since 2008. Last year you had the chance to design and facilitate a workshop in Fiji on creative dialogue for civic education efforts. Could you share with us your experience and the challenges faced?
We had 26 trainers attend the workshop and went over three different arts-based techniques looking at three themes of reconciliation that I’d gotten from John Paul and Angela Lederach’s book, When Blood and Bones Cry Out: creative writing (looking at the issue of ‘home’), Theatre of the Oppressed (looking at ‘safety’) and colláge/visual art (looking at ‘having voice’).
The main challenge was mainly the quick timeframe and getting the word out. Because there were so many other trainings going on related to the constitution process, and because the concept of using the arts as dialogue is something new, it took a lot of one-on-one conversations with people to explain what it was we’d be doing and how it could be helpful for them in their work. But other than that, people took to it very quickly. There’s such a strong tradition of storytelling that’s very alive in Fiji, and the participants were incredibly receptive to the exercises. I’ve since heard back from a couple attendees who used the techniques in their civic education outreach, and they were really pleased with how things turned out. I think they could see the potential of introducing a new “vocabulary” into dialogue around an issue that’s controversial.
Joanne: Well, earlier I was talking about how the West privileges left-brained, linear thinkers, and that’s certainly true in higher education. For that reason, I think how these kinds of activities are introduced is important, and students should be able opt in to this type of class. Having a conversation on the first day about honouring and accommodating different learning styles is also important so that everyone understands why these activities are being used. The goal of weaving arts-based methodologies into a theory class was an ambitious one. For me, one of the main take-aways from that experience was the importance of taking time to design a course from the ground up, looking at how experiential learning weaves in with the core concepts. Debriefing activities is extremely important so that the link back to the curriculum is explicit and understood.
|Engaged Pedagogy during Theory class at CJP|
Yago: Joanne, let us end this inspiring interview talking about compassion. British theologian Karen Armstrong has had a great influence on you. She calls herself a “free-lance monotheist”. She and South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu created the Charter of Compassion. How has Karen Armstrong inspired you, and what can you tell us about the Charter for Compassion?
Joanne: Yes, Karen Armstrong is a prolific writer on faith and religion, and a scholar, and what I admire about her is her tenacity and desire to keep learning. She was a nun in her 20s, then left the convent and wanted nothing to do with religion for 30 years. When she did her research for her book, A History of God, she not only saw commonalities, but also the futility of trying to put faith into words. She says, “What we say about God can never measure up to the indescribable reality.” I developed a fondness for mysticism when I lived in Turkey and learned about Rumi and the Dervishes, so her words speak to me about that quality of mysticism, that acceptance and humility that faith requires a leap of faith, a willingness to believe even though there is no way to prove it, or words to describe it. The important question for me is, how does faith translate into behavior?
And thank you for mentioning the Charter for Compassion. It’s something not a lot of people are aware of, and I think it’s a call for us all to live with integrity and “walk our talk” – all of us: governments, businesses, civil society groups, families, and individuals. Compassion needs to go in all directions – top-down, bottom-up, middle-out. When I was working in Fiji, there was a lot of suspicion about anyone who chose to work with the military. Guilt by association, I suppose. But striving to understanding does not equal condoning, and again going back to Donna Hick’s work on dignity, I believe denying the humanity of oppressors keeps them locked in their behavior and choices. The motivation for the Charter came from Karen Armstrong’s belief that our chief task in the world today is to build a global society that acknowledges every faith, every religion and that we all, faithful and faith-less, should make a contribution towards living together.
Yago: Joanne, thanks a lot for your wonderful witness. Indeed you have shared with us your amazing journey of processing life. Also your courageous and original engagement in the peacebuilding field. Many will benefit from your words.
Joanne: Thank you so much for this wonderful opportunity to dive deeply into these issues. Your blog is indeed a gift to us all, and I look forward to future interviews. I wish you peace and blessings on your journey.