Social Change Originates from Within


The nature of a polarity depends upon its magnetic counterpart. North and south poles sustain our planet because they react when presented with each other, and the dynamism of life emerges. In human relationships, we see this as we relate with others. A spectrum is created, including everything from acts of service to tensions driving behaviors of violence. Within each isolated pole, we see the essence of extremism clearly presented through its contrasting partner. 

How does this relate to what it means to have an identity? When I carry unresolved trauma, I don’t feel connected to myself and I am not aware of my innate worth as a human. Therefore I build an identity based upon something external because I am not generating a distinct expression from within. To find this source, I can feel into the wholeness of who I am as a human, which includes opening to deep experiences of pain, grief, joy, and the unknown. Awareness, incentive, and community support are also essential. 

Until I find this source, when I navigate through the world my reactions become oppositional by nature because I have a subconscious need to reveal who I am through being presented against something else. 

So I oppose. I resist. I rebel. I seek to prove who I am by showing the world what I am not. When interwoven with unresolved trauma or disowned worth, this opposition builds a clarification of how I identify. As I continue to know who I am through this construct, I feel the need to defend it if I feel threatened. I only know who I think I am through a construct, whether it’s a far-right or far-left extremist, or even through my skin color or gender. 

Personally, I grew up taking on the role of a woman in society. Am I oppressed by men because I am a woman? When I peel back the layers and understand the ways in which I subconsciously give my authentic power away, or make myself inferior, I discern a pattern around certain, often charismatic, men. The more I come to realize how much I interpret they “get away with,” the more anger brews in my body and I feel a primal desire to put that blame onto the archetype of men. “Us vs. Them” narratives contribute to generating an enemy out of the concept of a patriarchy. 

Other cultural identities such as race, ethnicity, religious belief, politics, nationality, similarly present the concept of the oppressor emerging from within, assuming the “other” is to blame for my reaction to what I experience. An underlying illogical belief system emerges: if I eliminate them, then I am okay. Now I have a purpose, a mission, and often a group to rally with in camaraderie and protection. Collectivized victimhood creates collectivized oppressors. And vice-versa.

Whether this manifests as violent extremism or seeking to eliminate extremism, the method of opposition becomes an aspect of the perpetuation of the cycle. In this contradiction, how does opposition enable the very thing it seeks to eliminate? 

Perhaps through attention and focus.

That nature of opposition exposes a duality, or in other words, a divide. As expressed in polarity, each part of the divide needs the other part to exist. For example, in order to know peace, we must each have an awareness of what is not peace. 

We derive clarity through contrast. Positioning oneself as “against” something else is empowering a part of the contrast upon which the entire cycle depends. To more effectively contribute to a world of peace, we can instead put our attention upon living the peacefulness we seek to experience rather than contributing to an antithesis mode of operation. 

Why can’t we do that? Until we’ve built the capacity to understand unresolved traumas, reckon with pain we may be unwilling to feel, and own our inherent worth, we cannot begin to deconstruct our externalized identity to which we so preciously cling. Once we open to this healing and step into our wholeness, we will no longer need to seek validation and identity through constructs outside ourselves. We will also begin to see the disowned pain driving the behaviors of others, allowing us to offer empathy instead of judgement.

Resisting extremism perpetuates it. The very nature of fighting something is the hypocritical counterpart, providing a form of extremism itself. 

I was once asked why I don't participate in anti-war demonstrations. I said that I will never do that, but as soon as you have a pro-peace rally, I'll be there. Mother Teresa

In my personal example with gender, whether I am or not oppressed by men becomes less the focus; rather the focus becomes the brilliant revelation that I now know and see that I am not owning my own worth and wholeness, allowing me to step into that wholeness. My energy is then directed towards deeply understanding and uncovering how I have been subconsciously giving my power away and how I might be contributing to the dynamic by somehow being overly identified as a woman. These revelations are challenging to reckon with because they imply that I am responsible in some way for my oppression, my own victimization. Yet, there’s truth in that self-discovery. On my journey I found leaning into community support enabled me to derive the safety and acceptance that allowed me to feel unprecedented amounts of pain. I was able to recognize how socialized identities manifested as trauma was something I could access in my body. This allowed me the capacity to feel without projecting onto others as a source. 

This doesn’t mean men, or anyone, should be able to behave however they want without repercussion. Rather it allowed me to stand in my centered, aware wholeness and also to communicate the impact. The more I am able to take responsibility for my own creations of victimhood, the more deeply I feel interdependence with the world of cause and effect, and the more I can build the capacity to communicate. This approach allows for the entire dynamic to be brought into light without the need to generate and perpetuate a predator/prey model. From this place I find liberation.

There are times when we need to stand up for boundaries. There are situations in which people have too much control, hurt others, and need to be held accountable. However it’s important to understand where we are coming from when we engage with conflict and seek to hold others accountable. If we seek to help people who are suffering or bring awareness to what we feel is oppressive by coming with an oppositional reaction, we are allowing polarity to govern us, and we perpetuate the cycle.

When we are centered in our worth, we can approach the world through the nature of deep care, activating a love more powerful than the charade of polar forces. This is a love that breaks cycles, a love that seeks others in their human worth through the very lens of knowing our worth own first. 

Role of Self-Realization in Societal Change

At the deepest source of divisions around social issues in our society, the cycles that keep us stuck are based upon an unrealized inherent self-worth and self-love within individuals. This does not mean that these social issues such as race, religion, gender, politics, socioeconomic status, and many more do not have very real embedded circumstances that grant disproportionate opportunities to people based upon these factors, or that we don’t make choices and use words every day that contribute to these disparities.

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How can we become capable of knowing our essence is love amid the present systems of which we exist?

In fact, it’s our very economic and societal systems, media, and cultural norms that we, often subconsciously, adopt as parts of our ways of being that continue to reinforce cycles of inferiority/superiority, right/wrong, us/them, or blame-centered thinking. In order to get to the deepest sources to break these loops, it’s critical we don’t disregard these realities. Yet, in pursuit of collective liberation and the alleviation of suffering, we must also realize our own inherent worth in order to create lasting shifts.

Part of this includes choosing to recognize and alleviate the microcosm of the same suffering cycles that play out internally as we relate with ourselves. Unless this focus is included in the process, these cycles will just resurface overtime with perhaps new labels, yet it will still be driven by the same underlying source: believing that our deepest access to love and freedom are dependent upon something changing in the external environment.

Working in tandem with these two approaches:

1) process of self-realization

2) and addressing systemic barriers,

simultaneously allows:

+ liberation to come up from an intrinsic place, one in which irreversibly shifts the way individuals engage with themselves and structures of society;

+ and the dismantling of disproportionate allocations of opportunity and access embedded in the structures that facilitate movement based upon socialized identities.   

Working to dismantle the external structures is not enough to alleviate the suffering that’s activated throughout humanity and earth. We must include a transformative, restorative, and self-realizing process that includes EVERYONE in it. Although the realization of our own wholeness and essence of love arises as an experience distinct with our knowingness, the evolution of this process is one based on interdependence and the participation of all.

How can we become capable of knowing our essence is love amid the present systems of which we exist? How might we consider that the shift of an external change in society rests upon the liberation of our own hearts from suffering? How might self-realization be facilitated in conjunction with intrapersonal transformation?

Reformed Racist and Reformed Jihadist Shift From Violence to Love

Edit: June 8, 2018: These stories are not meant to disregard the REALNESS of oppressive systems and how that manifests in the interactions between humans everywhere. That is very real and I am a part of it too. In this passage, I'm adding an additional focus upon empathizing with sources of pain, behavior, and how people incrementally become consumed by those systems.

Recently, I’ve been listening to some fascinating people explain what prompted them to shift from violence to love, from isolation to connection, and from blame to accountability. Although these stories are profoundly differentiated, they also carry a common thread regarding the process of self-realization.

art sourced via pinterest

art sourced via pinterest

One fascinating story unfolds as someone describes how after years of being in the Klu Klux Klan, it was finally inside a rehab center when his paradigm began to shift. He explained how the rehab community was made up of people from all sorts of perspectives, backgrounds, and life paths. As he engaged with the community, he noticed how even with his public reputation as a white supremacist, people in the group still treated him with care and compassion. His emotional walls began to break down. He participated in vulnerable dialogues, shed tears, and broke into laughter with the diverse group.

He articulated, “It doesn’t matter if its race, sexual preferences, or religions, it doesn’t matter what it is, they were different from me. And I just made a connection with them and started talking to them and learning. Getting to know them was definitely the key to the whole entire thing.”

At the same time, he was feeling a newfound joy with humanity, he was also facing shame about whom he had become. He had to reckon with his choices of violent and bigoted behaviors. He started to see connections between his abusive childhood, the way he felt about himself, and why he chose to put others down. This opening began a process of shedding his identity as a white supremacist and propelling a journey of learning to connect with the world with raw honesty and a new sense of self-worth.

What led him into a cult that adopted racist perspectives was not inherently about race, it was about unresolved issues inside himself. What led him out of these views was not about race either, rather it was about learning to love, feel, and connect. And ultimately a realization that his sense of worth couldn’t come from anywhere other than sourced from inside his own being.

In another dialogue, someone explained how they let go of radicalized Jihadist perspectives and violent tendencies. He had spent years clinging to an identity rooted in a specific ideology, preaching absolutist mantras, and seeking to manipulate others into adopting the same views. Although a few seeds of change had been previously planted, it wasn’t until he was in prison and engaged with someone who understood him that his heart began to speak to him in new ways.

It was a series of conversations with a person who inspired him to begin to trust humanity. She offered him something rare: she didn’t judge him. She didn’t seek to condemn him for his choices as a radicalized Jihadist, yet she still brought a brilliant tough love in holding him accountable for the effects of his behaviors. Her balance of compassion and sternness presented a way of being he’d never experienced. One that moved him to see life differently.

As he reflected upon the physical abuse he endured as a child and a deeply rooted self-sacrificial narrative driving his behaviors, he learned to let go of the extremist mentalities and opened his mind and heart to the possibility of a life free from hatred and blame. He found that celebrating the connection he felt to being Muslim didn’t need to be about violence or radicalization. He found shedding his “us versus them” mentality brought him internal peace, which reflected in his external release from violent ways.

What led him into adopting a radicalized Jihadist perspective was not inherently about religion, it was about unresolved issues inside himself. And what led him to shift out was not about religion, rather about learning to see the unresolved source of his pain and take accountability for how this affected his motivations and choices. And similarly, he also underwent a realization process that illuminated how he was as worthy of love as any human being on the whole planet.

When we hear people’s stories, we can more easily understand how they made certain choices. Previously held labels of who are oppressors and who are victims begin to dissolve. The dissolution results in a complexity beyond a right and wrong way of thinking. This complexity may be disorienting at first, yet it’s in this gray area where we can see people as humans rather than judge them for their choices as right or wrong. It doesn’t mean we still can’t hold people accountable for the effects of their actions, yet we don’t need to judge them. Perhaps when we show up with the intent to listen, learn, and understand, we contribute to the resolution of a conflict rather than maintaining the tension through our own fears, judgments, discomforts, and need to blame others. And we just might learn that our own need to blame those who have engaged in methods to which we disagree can quickly illuminate our own hypocrisy.