When you don’t know yourself-
When you don’t know others…
You’re hostage to the … UNSPEAKABLE!
Like Michael Jackson says, “You’ve been hit by-You’ve been struck by! The UNSPEAKABLE!” OK, he actually says Smooth criminal, but hear me out.
Chris Hedges writes,
“When we cannot tell ourselves the truth about our past, we become trapped in it. This is especially true about race in America. Our undiscovered self cripples us.”
This last weekend I took part in a dance and psychology workshop called Shadowtender. This project helps people explore their shadow, the parts of themselves they do not want to see. When you throw something away from yourself, say, “That’s bad, that’s not me!” it’s a part of yourself you cannot bear to look at.
When we think about race, when we talk about it, and when we uncover different ways to look at it, we help uncover biases and beliefs that people have. I taught a bias workshop last year that helped white people look at their unconscious bias around race. It was very uncomfortable for them. And I don’t think I actually succeeded, in that one hour workshop, in actually getting anyone to SEE their unconscious bias. but I TRIED! Lord how I tried. I have a friend who does bias trainings and he now does not accept gigs that are less than 3 hours long. One hour? To deal with ALL BIASES? It’s not going to cut it my friends. Learn from my mistake!
It’s not just our shadow about race. It’s our shadow about perceived weakness. Femininity. The LGBTIQ community. When I worked at the Urban League, I wanted to support the gay community as well as the black community. Because sometimes the black community has been homophobic. So I wanted a gay choir to sing at our big dinner, to send the message that we all stood together. My CEO said, “The churches wouldn’t like it.” So we didn’t do it. I share this with you to say; Bias can cut all sorts of ways, in all sorts of communities. As usual, I thought I knew better, and my actions would have alienated people in the black community, even if they felt right to me.
At a societal level, at a MACRO level, we have a lot of work to do. Umair Haque says, in his article “Why the Work We’re Doing Today is Shadow Work”
“Just as a person’s shadow is a thing crying out to be made whole, so is a society’s. A society has a shadow too. Just as a person’s dark side is made of their anger, fear, resentment, cruelty, greed, vanity, selfishness, and so on — so is a society’s. And just as a person must be brave enough to confront their shadow — while being wise enough to understand that it is like a child that needs a mother, not an enemy, an adversary, or an animal to be caged — so too a society must confront its shadow, gently, truthfully, if it wishes to endure, grow, and prosper.”
Our shadow is coming out in our culture now. And we have people working at every level to start looking at and cleaning up the messes we are uncovering. There is no shortcut in this work. We need to look at who has privilege, and who has not. Who is allowed to show their emotions, their personality at work, and who is not. Who is allowed to make mistakes, and who is not.
Have you truly looked at your shadow? I don’t just mean what you’re good at and not good at. I mean your shadow as it relates to ways that you sabotage yourself, or break down trust at work. If not, why not?
Haque writes, “We are still afraid to question these great systems, these ideologies, which have held us back for so long. If I say to you “capitalism, supremacy, and patriarchy are at the root of this mess,” the New York Times will probably call me a “radical.” But it’s just common sense.
He writes, “We’re still hesitant to go to the roots. To really take on the systems and ideologies which have resulted in this mess called American collapse. We’re brave enough to tend to the branches — but the roots, the darkness they live in, still frightens us. We’ll welcome trans people and blacks now — but we’re still afraid to condemn patriarchy and supremacy. Do you see how funny it is when I put it that way? Because one is just the effect of the other. The only reason we would do one but not the other is that we are afraid — to go all the way into our darkness.”
What can you do?
Next time you get mad at some piece of oppression- perhaps how women do not get paid enough, especially women of color, consider this a branch. Next, tie that branch, out loud, to the roots of oppression, which is capitalism, and patriarchy. We need to learn how to name, claim and interrupt oppression, every day. That’s why we made the podcast, Name It!
If our undiscovered self cripples us, then it is our imperative to understand that self, and to understand others even if they don’t understand themselves.
Here’s a quote from the Robert Green book, MASTERY, that really struck me. “Like many people full of drive and intelligence born to a low station, Franklin developed strong people skills and social powers. All else denied, the analytical mind will pick apart behavior, and Franklin became adroit at human relations.”
Women have been “adroit at human relations” for centuries. As we’ve done emotional labor, and worked hard to understand the people around us, all other avenues of ambition being closed to us, we’ve been trained and work hard to understand and manage our emotions, our expressions, and try to manage the emotions of others- as a way to survive. According to immigrant women of color I’ve chatted with, this goes even deeper- modifying your personality at work to fit into the dominant culture-trying to get people who are in charge to like you. Never being able to be your true self. Knowing that white lady tears could get you fired.
If you want to know yourself, one of the best ways to begin is to start to know others, and understand yourself through the mirroring that comes with the various kinds of human relationships.
Here’s how you can discover yourself and your shadow:
1. Look at your unconscious biases. Especially racial ones.
Read some books! Like White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo. So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo, The Body is Not An Apology by Sonya Renee Taylor. Chris Hedges says, ” We can’t be worried about political expedience. We have to unite with ALL of the world’s oppressed. we can’t decide who among the oppressed is going to be convenient, politically, to support. We have to stand with all those around us who are being victimized and exploited. It is the same fight. And we will only win it when we fight it together.” As Desiree Adaway says, “Let’s All Get Free.”
2. Learn your strengths.
What are your strengths? Gallup did a poll for 30 years of 30 million people, and found that there are 36 strengths people generally have. You may believe that you have to work on your weaknesses, but according to their research, you actually need to stay with your strengths. Because that’s where you can really shine. So for example, my strengths of positivity, strategy and individualization mean that I can generally find the bright side in a given situation, I can persuasively speak about it, and build a strategy around what to do next, and treat people like individuals as I strive to understand them.
When you are ready to apply your strengths to work, you will be able to cut away the things you’re not good at, and focus on the ones you are. You’ll also be able to see how your strengths blind you to other people’s weaknesses. And in this way, you’ll be able to communicate across different strengths, and reach them. This will help you be a better leader!
3. Look at the stories you habitually tell.
What do those stories reveal about you? What would you LIKE your stories to reveal about you?
When I looked at this book, The Story of Your Life, I was struck by how common the different plots in our lives are. The love plot, the loss plot, and the mastery plot. And then the 4 complications to these stories. The money complication. The children complication, the escape complication, and the sex complication. How do you tell stories about yourself? Can you watch how others tell stories about themselves? What’s the energy behind the stories? Does it bring you up? Or let you down? Who plays the villain in your stories?
Here’s how you can know yourself in relation to others.
Look at human design and destiny cards.
For the last 10 years, I have worked with Human Design and the Destiny Cards to help people know themselves, know how they respond to the world, how others respond to them, and how they can get more of what they want by applying their strategy and design to their lives. These two personality typing systems have proven to be much more accurate than the Myers- Briggs or DiSC assessment in my estimation.
If you’d like a reading to learn about how your cards or your chart applies to your personality, I’m happy to help you. Just let me know.