Bearing Witness

Sometimes your task is just to bear witness. And it can bring all of your humanity to the surface. Bearing witness is not necessarily a neutral task. It can be a deeply emotional, heart wrenching but necessary role. It can be absolutely vital to the person(s) or situation you are called to witness. And the question becomes – are you up to it? Are you up to all it asks of you?

candle in people circleIn our Worldview Intelligence Personal Leadership program one of the models we use is the drama triangle. We use it to help participants understand the patterns and roles in drama – our own or others – through how we tell our stories.

It is easy to get caught up in drama – our own or someone else’s. There is some pleasure in the telling of the story, in trading power for sympathy. It is especially easy to get caught up in someone else’s drama with the often mistaken belief that we can rescue them from their own stories, rescue them from themselves. There is something insidious about drama that has people wanting to engage the story, the gossip, the inside scoop of it, to offer advice and solve problems rather than to sit patiently for what wants and needs to unfold. It can be hard to remember that their story is not ours to tell.

I sometimes notice I have to stop myself from embroiling myself in another’s drama, stop the words “how can I help?” from spilling out of my mouth. It is very appealing to imagine ourselves as a “prince” riding in on a white stallion to save the day.

However, you cannot rescue people from themselves and you cannot save them from their own journeys. No matter how hard you try. It is not yours to do. If this is not yours to do, then what is – aside from your own healing journey?

Sometimes it is to hold the space, to bear witness. If the journey you hold space for is intense and heartbreaking, it can be heart wrenching to be a witness. It requires all of who you are to be present. This can seem like no action to someone who desperately wants you to intervene and yet it is sometimes the only action that is possible.

To witness another person into being. To hold the space for that healing journey. These are gifts beyond measure that would be lost if you are not up to the task of bearing witness, not up to the task of listening, or holding space, not up to the task of keeping yourself out of a story that is not yours to live or to tell.

Don’t go looking for it, but when it arrives, notice and appreciate the deep gift of bearing witness. Allow yourself to be heart broken too. Bring compassion to your listening. And, notice the person you bear witness to is not the only recipient of the gift of bearing witness.

Today, Finally, I Cried

This is the first morning in weeks I woke up alone in my house. As I sat with my coffee, taking in more of the stories, today, finally, I cried.

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It is just over 3 weeks since the US election. The world has fundamentally changed. Yet, for me, much is the same in my life and work. No on the ground ripple – not yet. I have watched my news feed spiral almost out of control with stories of anxiety, grief, fear. I have read so many stories of people who have felt the fall out, have experienced first hand the overtness of anger and violence that once simmered under the surface and now is being expressed in checkouts at grocery stores, shouted slurs on the street, hateful words painted on people’s houses and cars. Divides that are tearing families apart.

I have read the stories of people whose wounds have been opened wider, being re-wounded by the level of public discourse that has misogyny, sexism, racism running more visibly and publicly than it has in some time. More of the undercurrents we do not always see.

I witness the spillover of fragmentation, polarization and fear across international boundaries from Brexit, the US election, France, Turkey and even here in Canada where it felt like we escaped from the brink of this in our own election to new disruptions surfacing with various provincial or party elections.

I am heartsick that women do not support the emancipation of women and do not support women’s rights. I am aghast at levels of misogyny so deeply entrenched in society that some women will subjugate themselves to it without conscious awareness. That people see others of a different colour, nationality or background as somehow less than. That there are white men who believe that they are somehow entitled because of the colour of their skin and their gender.

I am heartsick for the stand off at Standing Rock, the difference between how that situation and white resistance is handled. I am heartsick for an earth that is bleeding and hurting and for people who do not want to see what is right in front of their eyes.

I am heartsick for those who pine for a way of life that no longer exists, that is remembered in an idealized memory, who want the world to go back to a way that it was or a way that they wished it had been but maybe never really existed.

Not being able to predict the future – ever, but certainly not now in some of the most unpredictable times I have witnessed in my life time, I do experience fear and anxiety about the world stage, about what will happen next. I hold the grief of my own experience and of all of the stories I read.

teardrops-flowerI have also read the stories of so much courage. People standing up, holding the space for others who are under attack, coming to the support of people through words and deeds, rising to their openhearted humanity.

I noticed for awhile that the positive focus, the positive, aspirational things I usually post got lost in advocating for and against politicians and political stances. I need to continue to be aware and definitely stay woke and gradually I have noticed a resumption for me of more inspiring stories, a focus on the future I want to move towards.

I do not know that I can influence the course of world events. But I can do what is within my power to do. Last week, my partner, son and I took part in a community dinner in Halifax, sharing Thanksgiving with newcomer families who have been refugees. We met a lovely Syrian family who live near us and it was a heartwarming experience. Four hundred people in all showed up for the dinner hosted by Engage Nova Scotia.

The Worldview Intelligence work my partner and I do is focused on creating exploratory space between people with differing worldviews – from slight differences to vast differences. And even though sometimes we wonder how to bridge the vastest differences, we just keep putting one foot in front of the other and bringing this work where it wants to go. And it is important work in the world right now.

I hold my family close and focus on the issues and joys that we need to deal with – report cards, weddings, careers, Christmas.

I hope if I am called to courage in a public space to support someone I may or may not know that I will find it within me to rise to that challenge. I hope nations find it within themselves to rise to the courage that is needed now. I hope that the seeds of disturbance have answering seeds of courage and renewal with more of us determined to find more ways forward that embrace the diversity of the fullness of humanity.

And in holding all my own conflicting feelings, in holding so much of the grief that is spilling over in the world right now, in a quiet moment all by myself this morning, with my coffee, today, finally, I cried.

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