In this time of simultaneous whole system, multi-system transformation we are called to vulnerability & courage in all facets of our lives if we are to skillfully & effectively resist that which harms us & reimagine the world that we want.
The word ‘Resist’ may bring to mind certain associations. Things like people taking to the streets or occupying spaces or ‘The Resistance’, an American political movement that rose up following the 2016 election, that focused on traditional tactics such as advocacy and voter mobilization to engage in electoral politics and legislative issues.
For sure, these tactics belong. Our movement to make the world a safer, more free, more joyful, more just place for as many people as possible needs a diversity of tactics and requires all of the gifts that we all bring to the work. Alice Walker names this beautifully (of course), when she says, “For we can do nothing substantial toward changing our course on the planet, a destructive one, without rousing ourselves, individual by individual, and bringing our small, imperfect stones to the pile.”
But these tactics are not what I’m referring to when I say Resist. What I mean is this: Oppressive systems don’t go away on their own. Harmful policies don’t just disappear. Bad behavior doesn’t naturally change. If we are experiencing something harmful that violates our needs, we have to actively disrupt it. We have to actively defend ourselves from the harm we have not consented to.
We have some sense, perhaps more heightened in this modern political moment, about how to resist policies and systems we don’t like at the large, structural level. Sure, there is a pervasive feeling that things are so big and messed up that we as individuals are too small to deeply impact change. And, at the same time, people have a lexicon of how to take small, concrete steps to do just that — write the letter, call the legislator, go to the rally.
But in our more immediate lives, how do we push back on systems, policies, and behaviors that harm us? That block us from offering our whole selves to the work of making the world a safer, more free, more joyful, more just place for as many people as possible?
One of my favorite, concrete examples comes from sociocracy, a democratic governance structure and decision-making tool that prioritizes equity and efficiency. The brilliant Ted Rau shows very clearly in his article The Myth of “Natural Flow” that, “the absence of intentionality around turn-taking manifests in oppressive patterns.” Many people find that initially they do not like intentional turn-taking in meetings or discussions because it may feel rigid, non-organic, or stifling. However, by choosing intentional turn-taking we are making a conscious effort to Resist, a practice that is rarely comfortable, by disrupting oppressive communication patterns. We know how bad it feels to be stuck in a conversation in which we are ignored, interrupted, and dominated. And while it is hard to push back against that, we ultimately choose to do so because it is in service of our freedom. We Resist.
So, how do we Reimagine? To stick with the same example from sociocracy, if we have resisted the oppressive communication pattern, then we reimagine by practicing a new communication pattern that is rooted in our values. In sociocracy we intentionally practice taking turns speaking in meetings and dialogues as a way of operationalizing equity. We commit to the initial discomfort of a new practice. We build a new set of muscles. We take the extra time to engage in this practice because we know it is in service of what we are creating. If our outcomes are going to be successful, our creation process must be strategic and intentional.
To zoom out from this specific example of sociocracy, reimagining is about aligning our actions with our values. This is important (and by that I mean strategic and a predictor of success) for a couple of reasons.
First, as individuals, we cannot transform the world if we are not consciously engaged in the practice of transforming ourselves. As groups, we cannot create externally that which we are not cultivating internally. We cannot offer to others an experience that we are not having ourselves. Our organizations cannot live up to our values of equity and justice if we are not practicing equity and justice within the container of our work.
Secondly, there is a consideration about DNA here. Momentum explains that social movements have DNA: story, structure, and strategy. Once DNA is created, set into motion, and begins to evolve, it is very hard to change. When we consciously and actively weave our values into our stories, structures, and strategies, we are consciously creating the DNA of the world that we want to inhabit. We are planting the seeds for the harvest that we want to reap. The way we do things fundamentally influences, dictates, and determines what we are able to accomplish. To strengthen the muscle of constantly asking, “Does this action align with my values?” is to engage in a daily practice of investing in what we actually want, not what we are compelled to settle for within the oppressive structures designed inside the imaginations of people who hate us.
As John O’Donohue, the Celtic poet, philosopher, and theologian, so beautifully reminds us, breaths come in pairs. For me, that feels like the most sustainable and enlivening metaphor through which to understand Resist Reimagine. Our lives are a constant interplay of defending ourselves and our communities from that which seeks to hurt us, and simultaneously creating ways of being together and co-creating the new world that affirms our wholeness and our basic humanity. It’s hard work. There is discomfort and pain. But there is also joy waiting for us inside this struggle. May we have the courage and wisdom to breathe in and breathe out, Resist and Reimagine.
Originally published at https://www.resistreimagine.com on March 4, 2020.