Picking Sides: Us Versus Them
Hi and welcome to the fourth video in our “People Problems” series. Today we are looking at the problem of “Us Versus Them.” This video is happening at a really poignant time in our national dialogue. We are in the process of trying to remove Confederate monuments, but of course the problem goes much deeper than that. The results are protests and counter protests and angry language and violence and loss of life. In the middle of this very strong us-versus-them dynamic we have rhetoric which is telling us that the right thing to do is to pick a side. Pick your side, stand your ground, speak your truth.
Knowing this is all happening, I realize that what I’m about to say can be hard for some people to hear. But here it is: any time we engage in conflict, whichever side we are on, we are reinforcing the pattern of conflict. We are creating the seeds for that conflict to re-emerge.
The Heart of Conflict: Disempowerment
Conflict itself is based on an experience of disempowerment. We feel as though we don’t have power, our voice is not heard. In addition, conflict requires that there be a winner and a loser. What happens when someone is already feeling disempowered and then loses in the conflict? Does that suddenly cure them of their experience of disempowerment? Of course not. It reinforces it.
And that disempowerment does not stay down. It pops back up again and again. Even if we win a conflict the victory is only short-lived. Even if we get that monument removed or we get that law passed or we chase off the enemy, they’ll come back. We’re going to be engaging in a constant struggle of conflict. If that’s not what we want then we have to choose a different path.
Conflict Within, Conflict Without
The path starts with realizing that the conflict that’s happening out there in the world is the same as the conflict that’s happening within us, this person we see as the enemy represents to us a part of ourselves that we are fearful of or that we hate. It’s a story that we don’t want to be true about ourselves but it is it’s true, and it’s causing us pain.
That story is almost always about victimhood. Some of us have literal stories of victimhood. We can point to a time in our lives when a person who was an authority violated us, and we were not in a position to defend or protect ourselves. But others of us might have more subtle stories, of where we were taught that we were not very valuable or our opinion wasn’t worthwhile. Either way, at some point you get ticked off that you’re being treated like a victim, that your rights are being violated, your body is being violated. You want to react, and that comes out as anger which moves into conflict.
Choosing Action, Not Reaction
But that reaction isn’t coming from strength or power, and doesn’t create strength or power. It just creates more and more reaction. If we don’t want to live in the reaction, we have to choose action. That means we acknowledge the story within us. We allow ourselves to feel it and own it, and then we heal it. As we heal it the story loses its power and the lie that it was holding it begins to dissolve.
We discover that we are powerful, that we do have a voice when we stand in our wisdom and stability and in our true compassion, our true nature. As we move differently in the world, we also discover that the person we once thought was our enemy we now recognize as someone similar to ourselves. They are struggling with the same kind of story we just healed. They’re no longer a raving lunatic to us; they’re someone who we understand and have compassion for. Because of that we also offer the opportunity for them to heal their own story. That is the way things change. I say that not just from my own perspective, but from generations of peacemakers who have taught that this is the way to peace, including dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Reframing the Story
I realize it may be hard for us to imagine that peace is even possible when it seems as though we are losing ground. We’ve spent a long time as a country trying to establish experiences of dignity and equality and safety and civility for everybody. Now it seems like we’re losing ground. But that’s only true if you tell the story from that perspective. Another way to understand the story is from the perspective of spiritual healing.
I once met with a lady who had a traumatic childhood. As an adult she had established a really nice life for herself. She had a stable family and a loving spouse, and she was successful in her job. But now she was in her fifties and she was discovering that the pain was surfacing. She was starting to have panic attacks and digestive problems and she couldn’t sleep at night. She was worried that she was cracking up, that she was losing ground that she had gained.
But, as I shared with her, from my perspective I believed that she had gotten to a point in her life where she had created such an environment of stability, that she had developed so many resources, and that she had cultivated such wisdom and compassion in her own life, that her soul was bringing the pain to the surface so that she could finish it. Instead of the pain representing the abyss that was sucking her down into the vortex, it became an invitation for her to climb the next mountain peak to do that last bit of work to claim her freedom and joy.
Our Opportunity for Change
I believe that the reason we’re having so much tumult right now, with all the pain coming to the surface, is because right now we have the resources available to heal this pain, to change this conflict. There are enough people in the world who are standing in the Third Way. They’re there the spiritual healers, and the people who work with Reiki and meditation and yoga, and all of those who faithfully follow the teachings of the Buddha and Jesus the Christ and all the other peacemakers.
There are enough of us right now in the world committed to a path of peace that we can heal this. That’s why it’s happening. We just have to decide if we’re going to do it, whether we’re going to ask the right question. Which isn’t “How do we beat Trump? but, “How do we save Trump?” It isn’t “How do we overwhelm the Klan?” It’s, “How do we rescue them from their stories?” We start by rescuing ourselves from our own.