These days the world seems awash with people feeling powerless. Especially around politics, finances and family. We’re prone to looking outside ourselves for a sense of control, for our power. We’re on a quest to conquer our feelings of powerlessness by slaying encountered dragons; an endless cycle of us vs them cos-play.
Feeling powerless (and powerful) have absolutely nothing to do with anything outside ourselves. Feeling powerless happens when we don’t own our own personal power. We want someone else — be it an individual or institution — to fill the voids we’ve created within. We seek to anchor ourselves in distraction rather than in fulfillment of our own personal decisions.
We can play the “shame, blame and disdain” game and write off others we see as threatening our beliefs. But that only serves to embed our sense of powerlessness. Someone else will always appear to confirm the bias we have against our own power. We can’t do anything about what anyone else thinks or does. When we truly believe we are powerful, when we truly believe we are worthy, no one else can make us feel less than that.
Case in point: I’m a gay woman. When I stopped being uncomfortable with my sexuality — when I stopped having internalized homophobia — suddenly I no longer encountered “homophobic people” out there.
How do we become accountable to our beliefs AND accountable to the truth and facts? First, stop focusing on the solutions to the problems we see. Our solution-oriented approach always finds facts and truths that support our perspective. With so many perspectives, all we’ll ever see is our differences.
Second, be open to recognizing that we don’t know what is or isn’t true. We don’t know the facts about anything. We actually don’t. We know nothing. Most things that twist our knickers are based on information from others, and interpretation from others, and marketing (aka propaganda) from others; folks who are bent on bringing us around to a mindset that benefits them in some way.
I grew up in a household that ate Crisco® and margarine instead of the lard and butter my grandparents and earlier ancestors consumed. Proctor & Gamble told us these industrialized foods were healthier. Heck, they even provided us with playbooks for their use (aka cookbooks where every recipe used Crisco® or margarine). Through the miracle of hydrogenation, they turned a lamp oil – which was also used to make candles and soap – into something we ingested daily. By marketing it as a healthy food. Turns out, it’s not. When the truth came out, know what P&G did? They sold their stake in Crisco®!
Today’s media reminds me of the hydrogenation of our thoughts. We’re fed a packaged version of truth and fact that has no bearing on creating the world we truly desire.
Third, start acknowledging what we believe and the biases in our beliefs. Dial down by asking yourself: What is it I truly believe? Martin Luther King, Jr. believed that one day man (the generic shortened term for “humans” widely accepted in the 1960’s) would be judged not by the color of his skin, but by the content of his character. King’s decisions, his approach to racial equality, led to his belief becoming reality because of a shared goal regarding the basis on which people’s success would be determined.
What do you believe? And where can you find your beliefs echoed in the beliefs of others, whose proposed solutions appear – on the surface – to run contrary to what you believe? Psychologist Karlyn Borysenko discerned two powerful common beliefs during a single bridging-the divide conversation with a boots-on-the-ground Black Lives Matter activist. These might resonate with you as good starting points:
- We all want children to feel safe when they are out and about in the world.
- We all want police to refrain from killing innocent people.
Our approach to achieving our goals – our solutions – may vastly differ. And if we focus on the facts and truths of these differences, we all spin our wheels until we’re stuck in a deep, dark hole of despair. Instead, keep listening, keep opening dialogues and exploring our common ground when it comes to our goals. Build community. One on one. Person to person. Calmly dissect situations and solutions with appreciative inquiry, with honest, authentic forward-moving questions.
It all begins with us. With our tiniest willingness to practice listening and clarifying what we hear as a path toward discovering our common ground. With our willingness to see each other as collaborators with common goals, rather than as enemies bent on mutual destruction. Whatever we think of “the other” is what we truly think of ourselves. Own your power today with a sense of peaceful purpose. And make that purpose be to connect in a new, more effective way to those with whom you appear to disagree.