How to be an instrument of change during a time of Extreme Division

Like an indecisive 18-year old college student trying to choose a major, Americans are literally trying to sort out who we want to be when we grow up. Everyone in my orbit, including me, are working through the question – what do we do now as we face a divided country?

Some say do a little bit of everything while others say focus on what's most important and do that well. I think there is value in both of these things and I see a bigger problem on the horizon. Our inability to develop a shared vision for change.

I find myself wondering if during this time of high impermanence, we could give birth to something beyond our wildest dreams -- something better than what we have built to date. As part of a community of progressive leaders, it is really easy to default to what we know, rallies, protests, policy actions, research, etc. These are important actions and we should be thinking about what else is possible.

So what question could we be asking ourselves in favor of advancing greater connection?

If I want to be an instrument of change, I find that I need to be deeply grounded in a set of core values that speaks to me. This is easier said than done. We receive signals about values from many directions over the course of our lives. Yet we spend little time developing, honing and deepening our relationship to those values in order to stay focused on what we want to accomplish in our careers, our communities and with our families. 

As a woman of color, and the daughter of an immigrant mother who came to this country seeking feminine liberation, growing in a rich and diverse community, it was hard to locate my identity. So many stories and lost histories and separation of migration, made it difficult to have a clear identity. At best I knew I was a good daughter, who feared God (thanks to Catholicism) and at worst, I knew I wasn't white and that being white came with privileges I didn't have. So over my time in college, It became more about who I wasn't and less about who I was. There in fact was no space or time to find my own identity as I worked to provide at home and send money to Colombia. It took me almost 15 years post college to get back to me and 20 in total to relocate and grow my core values. 

So what happened while I was searching for those values? I advanced everyone else's cause. I learned the stories of communities, survivors of violence, I learned to listen with different ears to women who were struggling to be heard and others who were being treated liked second class citizens. I listened to stories of blackness, the African diaspora and tried to locate myself somewhere in there. I also learned to listen to my body and let go of the suffering that I carried in my self from being told my stories were not true, my insights invaluable and my body was not beautiful. I was tossed around by my own people, by white communities and by men who felt they had the right to speak about me even when not spoken to and the women who were willing to listen --- and much more. 

I tell this story, as a means of highlighting reconciliation. If we want to be agents of change, we have to begin with ourselves. I had to be committed to the constant evolution of my own identity. Even as I emptied out the labels others had given me, I still had to choose what I wanted for myself and what my unique gifts were. In order to stretch my ideas of compassion for others, I had to deepen the compassion I had for myself.  This country needs to learn to listen with new ears. 

As a coach, I hear stories of oppression, shame, humiliation coming from women no matter their economic status. They literally and energetically reject their identities to fit into the mainstream identity which is impossible-- impossible because the mainstream identity refuses to identify itself in any deeper way. Women are complex beautiful beings with deep and unique gifts that can transform society. If we allow ourselves to explore those gifts, individually and collectively, the possibilities for change and intervention are limitless.  

So let's stretch ourselves and our ideas. Let go of the egos and ask ourselves, what healing and reconciliation do I need to do with myself before I work with others? What transformation do I need to undergo before I can support transformation in my family and my community? Can I go deep into each aspect of my identity and its complexity to reflect back a sense of purpose, energy and clarity that is not about the deficit of who I am but the wholeness of who I am becoming? 

If I can do that individually, I can work with others toward wholeness. It doesn't mean we have to wait until our garden is tended. It means we have to be active, engaged and bring a deep sense of cultural humility to every conversation. 

That depth is the beginning of making ourselves an instrument of change.