If you see me at a party this holiday season and kindly ask how I am doing, pardon me if I remove my jolly holiday mask and respond candidly.
“Not great,” was my answer, over jalapeño poppers, at a friend’s recent Christmas gathering. The world as we know it is crumbling down. Already, it was slipping in that direction – half the population apparently thought so – but living in our bubbles we didn’t notice. Now we’re waking up, having to face the truth of this Trump upset and watch the parade of right-wing billionaires marching behind their leader, straight into the halls of power, determined to undo whatever good Obama managed to eke out during his two exalted terms.
The news reports are disturbing and getting scarier by the day. Almost afraid to look, I squint through ‘got-hope’ glasses and tell myself: he will be reasonable, he’s in over his head, maybe it won’t be so bad. I’m white-privileged and can still enjoy a bountiful celebratory Mexican spread complete with high-end mezcal imported (under NAFTA) from Oaxaca. At least the stock market is going up (I’m not sure exactly why) and I won’t be sent across the border (though maybe I’d like to be).
But it’s not good enough to be a good loser. And that’s the #silverlining. When it’s just another middle-of-the-road Dem in there looking a lot like a Republican, cozying up to the banks and oil interests, I can remain an arm-chair liberal. For the first time in my lifetime, I matter, I’m needed. The situation is so extreme, there’s almost freedom in it, permission to act out, to take my role as a citizen seriously.
This time around I have no choice. Change begins with me. Okay, I may not change the #RedStaters. I’m not ready yet for that challenge. First, I’ve got to look at my Self.
Where AM I? And where are you on the Change Curve NOW?
I find this model (based on the work of Elizabeth Kubler-Ross) helpful in my work with leaders confronting change in their organizations. So how does it apply to a large-scale societal shift? It still comes down to ME.
First there’s Denial. Many of us are still there. In Denial we avoid news and the ugly truth. Pick your news story du jour: the gratuitous Carrier deal, grandstanding over 700 jobs, a drop in the bucket compared to Obama’s unsung 14 million; Trump’s promise to “drain the swamp of alligators” when all he’s doing is introducing a variant species; the Exxon-Mobil snakehead; his refusal to divest from his business interests; the seedy Russian connection; and, one of my favorites, our new President charging the American People $1M a day in rent so he can spend his weekends in comfort of his beloved Trump Tower!
Oh, let’s not forget the benign pizza joint in upper NW DC that was raided by a gun-toting nutter, driven by # falsenews that the restaurant owners, along with Hillary, were involved in a child sex ring. Disgusting. Even more disgusting, people believed it!
Okay, the expletives are an indicator I’m moving out of Denial, allowing reality to sink in, and getting enraged. Good for me! That’s Resistance, the next stage on the change curve, an excellent place to hang out (for a while).
In Resistance, I face the truth and face my fears, taking the news in, perhaps in bite-sized morsels, hopefully from trusted sources. Though, frankly, I’ve got a gripe with the entire #mediamachine, the way the collective of outlets handed Trump the victory on a silver platter in exchange for ratings. So I have to be careful how I digest what I read and see and hear. I engage with friends, try not to hide my dismay, talk, listen, yell, post, and get real clear: this IS happening.
If I don’t, I can slide back into Denial. And that subtle version, where I downplay the impacts, is most dangerous.
Bear with me as I draw a connection that I hope won’t sound disrespectful or exaggerated. Over Thanksgiving, I read Night, Elie Wiesel’s prized memoir about coming of age in the Nazi death camps. The thematic thread he weaves throughout the story begins right up-front, when no one will listen to the ominous warnings of Moishe the Beadle.
By page 10, “German soldiers – with their steel helmets and their death’s-head emblem – were already in our town, the Fascists were already in power, the verdict was already out – and the Jews of Sighet were still smiling.”
Then, a third of the way through, “Most people thought that we would remain in the ghetto until the end of the war, until the arrival of the Red Army. Afterward everything would be as before. The ghetto was ruled by neither German nor Jew; it was ruled by delusion.”
Of course we all know where this horrific story goes. Once the boy arrives in Auschwitz with his father, he has no choice but to open his eyes. “I pinched myself: Was I still alive? Was I awake? How was it possible then men, women, and children were being burned and that the world kept silent? No. All this could not be real. A nightmare perhaps…”
Yes, a nightmare and a mind-boggling reality.
Which is why we must deftly move along the Change Curve, out of Denial and into Resistance, where we hit rock-bottom, and, only then, can we move forward into Exploration.
We don’t have time to stay stuck, nor can we skip stages. The latter is a trap I fell into myself, eager to shift to Exploration mode at a brainstorming dinner with colleagues recently. We had come together with flipcharts and markers to discuss how to put our facilitation and change skills to good use given this new political reality. And we walked away with a can-do game plan.
But later that night my subconscious awakened me to the truth. I dreamed I was part of the resistance movement and we were being hunted down by an army of guys wielding machine guns. The hotel in PG county where we were meeting turned into a bloodbath. I hid behind a white upholstered chair in the lobby as bullets reverberated, glass shattered, and blood splattered the walls. I awoke in a panic asking myself: Was a hero or a coward? Will I stand up or hide out?
Feeling my fear, fearing my ambivalence, is part of the process. As one of my mentors used to say, “All resistance is information.” Ironically, I have to get past my own internal Resistance to become part of the bigger Resistance that will propel me forward.
In my next post I’ll talk more about the way forward – and the What NOW? Drinks and Dialogue event my colleagues and I are organizing to help ourselves get past Denial and into the streets!
Stay tuned, comrades…
“The opposite of love is not hate, it's indifference.” ― Elie Wiesel