Avoiding the ruts of injustice within and without
A warning that I find myself offering with greater frequency these days is “watch out to avoid the deeply cut grooves.” These are the depressions that have been worn into the road by a repeated pattern of travel. These are the familiar ways that establish and maintain systems of power. Whether it be power with, power against, power under or over, individuals and organizations who have committed to be just, equitable and inclusive are committing to shifting power patterns.
Equity and justice are about power. We who claim a commitment to building justice and equity are in the business of shifting power, period! It is for us to move beyond the deeply cut grooves, find our way out of the ruts. We tend to have very little practice in recognizing or naming power dynamics therefore, those who make a claim of creating equity and justice must submit to radical exploration and radical truth-telling. Rigorous and regular self-examination is required in order to identify those grooves worn ever so deeply, for they’ve become the bane of our wholeness. Unexamined, they prevent us from establishing new paths, new openings, new ways of being.
There are a set of patterns that I frequently notice when accompanying groups or organizations who have declared a commitment to equity. I attribute this set of patterns to a category that I’ll refer to as dis-acknowledgement of power.
Dis-acknowledgement of power is multi-layered and makes for a treacherous journey on the path to equity (lots of ruts). I could use descriptors other than “Dis-acknowledgement” like denial, lying, projection, or avoidance to name a few. I choose dis-acknowledgement because I want to emphasize that there are steps taken that actively counteract knowing. I want to emphasize the fact that systems of oppression get created, established and maintained by actions, by specific behaviors, procedures, policies and processes. I want to reflect back to those who have asked that I accompany them, the choice points – the actions they took to either adhere to the system of oppression or to counteract it. I want to encourage (to support what the heart knows) – to encourage steps that match the frequency of their vision of a just and equitable organization, a just and equitable community or a just and equitable society.
Years ago, I sat with the top management of a non-profit organization that did amazing work in the world. They had a hierarchical structure, especially for a non-profit organization. I was brought in to assist them in actualizing their third strategic outcome, “To Build a culture of Equity and Justice in their Organization.” When I brought up the question of how this management team used their individual and collective power, everyone was taken aback. One of them, correcting me declared, “We barely have any power in this organization.” The longer the discussion went, the more insulted they were that I would make such an assertion and the more I realized that a major part of my work (if they would still have me), would be addressing this very question. Addressing how they used their power, how power moved through their system and their impact in creating, maintaining or de-structuring the status quo was central to their achieving that third strategic outcome.
I love this work of accompanying those on the path to justice. Yes, there are moments when I feel discouraged, especially in these times with rallying calls across the world for reestablishing and strengthening systems of exclusion, control and power-over. What keeps me going in the midst of it all are the same practices that I encourage from those with whom I work: 1) Self-examination and radical truth-telling, 2) Finding the patterns or grooves that perpetuate oppression and taking steps to dismantle them, 3) Nurturing the heart so that it can accept and offer compassion and grace as we bumble along this road filled with deep ruts. In keeping these practices we find that we have created new pathways!