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August 19, 2013

What Does the Movement Need to Effect Social Change?

At the June convening of cohort two, we gathered in small groups around an illustration of a tree, its roots hidden in the earth, to discuss the root causes of violence. We labeled each root with the social structures of domination – patriarchy, sexism, racism, classism, able-ism, adult-ism, colonialism, capitalism and more. Questions arose: If one of the social structures of domination were eliminated, would another social structure of domination root and take its place? If these roots of violence are ever renewing, shouldn’t we go deeper than the structures of domination? What is in the soil that sustains the roots?

After the convening, I continued to think about the soil between the roots, the unconscious or invisible culture of violence and the narrative we tell ourselves that nourishes these roots, that narrative we tell ourselves about why things are the way they are.

As a movement, we often focus our work on eliminating social structures of domination. Instead, what if we focused our collective power on the culture of violence, or the narrative we tell ourselves? Over the course of 5,000 years, we have fabricated a narrative of humanity that is a story of domination - be a dominator or be dominated, exert power and control over another human being or risk being controlled.

Here’s the astonishing, mind-bending truth – it is a narrative that we can choose to disbelieve. We can move beyond this binary choice and in a new direction by challenging and going deeper into the narrative – Are real or perceived threats of domination a consequence of our fear of our vulnerability? Do we fear vulnerability because we fear being human—or is it that we fear we are unworthy or fear being reduced to something less than human? Do we fear love as the greatest demonstration of the relinquishment of power?

What if we embraced the narrative that there is nothing exceptional about being vulnerable, that in fact, vulnerability, with all of its uncertainty, risk, and core of all emotions, is what we should seek out? What if our movement became the champion for vulnerability? What if we all demonstrated vulnerability in all of our spheres of influence – with our partners, children, family, friends, colleagues, and community?

Embracing vulnerability as a movement to end violence seems counter-intuitive to our historical defensive stance and our outrage at violence against women and girls. But would it allow women and men, girls and boys to be more compassionate beings, to practice compassion with ourselves and with others? What if we expanded the circle of compassion beyond those near to us, to include the others? In recent years, the expansion of compassion has increased our circles of reciprocity and our partnerships as we understand that no person or group should be privileged with respect to any other person or group. We have been consciously or unconsciously exploring these concepts of vulnerability and compassion, for example the increased awareness of the importance of the parent/child attachment (the original circle of compassion) and trauma-informed advocacy, shift toward positive social norm campaigns, and the promise of social-emotional learning curricula in our schools.

The evolution of our reflective consciousness will challenge the narrative fostering a culture of domination. Vulnerability will no longer be a characteristic of the weak. Compassion will no longer be defined as a feminine characteristic. We will be able to recognize that all people are vulnerable—for to be human is to be vulnerable—and that we all, men and women, have a stake and ability in nurturing compassion.

As a movement, we need to continue to make the time and space for these conversations, knowing that the roots are settling into the earth.

Art by lizar_tistry