Holding the Space for Transition


Two weeks of summer vacation done and gone, holy cow! And the hot, muggy Chicago summer has begun in earnest.
Gone are the manic-depressive weeks of sixties one day, eighties the next, keeping jeans and shorts, tank tops and sweaters, all on hand because I never know what I’ll walk out to in the morning. The summer schedule is always looser: later starts at camp, no homework, and ooohh, the longer days! The extra sunlight saves me every year. Just as I think I’m going to lose my mind from the dreary gray of this lakeside climate, I’m suddenly able to start a 90 minute bike ride at 6:30pm and still get home before dark.
Every year it feels the same–summer sneaks up on me in late June, arriving suddenly and with great force, like opening the front door to a smothering blast of hot, humid air. But sometimes I’m able to pay a little more attention, and I may notice the trees budding and the crocus shoots pushing through still-cold soil, as early as April. The Transition is actually quite long. Maybe it’s Mother Nature’s way of teaching me patience. Every year I lament (loudly) the halting, stuttering, ever agonal and prolonged Chicago ‘spring.’ I swear, it feels like winter refuses to let go its death grip of cold and clouds; it must be pried away like the fingers of a long dead frost bite victim, hands wrapped around the city like a vice, contractured muscles rendered immobile at a cellular level.
But now it’s officially summer and I’m going to make the most of it. My youngest is getting confident on her bike. Soon we can all get out on the lake path to access Chicago’s beaches, no fighting for parking. We will also be road-tripping more this year–why else should I have the giant SUV with such a sweet sound system?? I will weed that garden, plant more herbs, and use them all up in my recipes this year. We will visit the Art Institute, go to free concerts downtown, and spend as much time outside as possible! Hallelujah, it’s SUMMER!!!
Now is the season to reframe my use of time, to do it better. Perhaps this Transition has also been more gradual than I realize… The urge for more efficiency and productivity has lurked around my consciousness for a while now. So many things to do, so precious little time–take care of patients, participate in professional societies, present talks on physician wellness, spend quality time with the family and friends, move my body, eat healthier, and write this blog!! This year’s spring to summer Transition feels in some ways, so typical, and in others, a little revolutionary.
I have ten more weeks to make it all count, and then the next Transition begins–summer to fall. That may be my favorite part of the year–harvesting apples and squash, putting the cozy sweaters back on, and witnessing the visual symphony of leaves turning. Somehow I’m always able to slow down and savor this period a lot more easily; it feels more peaceful, less frenetic.
How fascinating! I’m in such a hurry to escape winter’s cold, dark grasp, that I miss (or ignore, fail to appreciate?) the small but reliable signs of a Chicago spring. But then, after a couple months of sweltering heat and humidity, I welcome the crisp autumn air–I relax. And though I know the long, dark winter approaches, I can revel in the colors, the school supplies, the new academic year. Our friends who left for the summer return, and I look forward to the holidays, with the food, the gatherings, and the exchanges of greetings, gifts, and warm wishes… And did I mention the FOOD?? 😆
So I set myself the task hereafter, to slow down and Hold the Space for Spring, the most challenging Transition of the year here in Chicago. I can continue to practice patience, calm, and appreciation for all that nature must do to bring forth the glory of summer here. Maybe I should set an alert to reread this post next March…

Holding the Space: Beyond ‘Agree to Disagree’, or, A Discussion of White Male Privilege

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I recently found myself engaged in another oppositional conversation on Facebook… and it was a very good thing.

It was the ‘Week of Brock Turner,’ the Stanford swimmer convicted of 3 felony counts of sexual assault of an unconscious woman behind a dumpster. He was sentenced to 6 months in the county jail, only 3 months of which he would likely serve.  Social media erupted more violently each day with outrage and revulsion.  I, like many others, concluded that this represented a stark case of white male privilege at play, and I stated as much on my page.

A friend quickly denied the concept. We agreed that the sentence for Brock Turner’s heinous crime was absurdly lenient.  I wrote that I might have been more accepting of the outcome if he had owned his wrongdoing, and conveyed a sincere apology to the woman for violating her so egregiously.  My friend replied, “You’re nicer than me, I think he should have his balls chopped off.  But I’m old school.”  We both saw the result as unacceptable, but explained it from totally different points of view: he attributed it to the Turner family’s high socioeconomic status, and not to privilege of race or gender.

I shared this article, which I thought explained the phenomenon, one of unconscious bias, with relevant scholarly references.  He shared this article, claiming that white male privilege is an idea promoted by the political left to retain power over minorities.  I posted a link to Michael Kimmel’s TED talk, explaining the essence of privilege—that it is invisible to those who have it.  My friend then posted this article, a logical refutation of white male privilege based on what the author describes as the fallacy of critical race theory.  We each followed the other’s links, and criticized the content thereof (with civility, of course).

Several screens into the thread I realized we were each trying to convince the other, to change the other’s mind. It wasn’t working, duh.  I found myself sucked, again, into a typical tit-for-tat, back and forth argument over positions.  It started to feel like an exercise in futility.  Finally I wrote to my friend that I will study more (I still don’t really understand critical race theory), and meanwhile we can agree to disagree.  I thanked him for engaging, and we concluded the conversation amicably.  It got me thinking though:  Once we agree to disagree, what then?  Where do we go from there?  I still believe strongly in the existence of white male privilege, and he still strongly does not.

Let’s assume that both he and I—indeed most of us—are, in fact, kind, decent, compassionate, and intelligent people. Let’s assume also that we all seek productive and positive relationships with others.  What, then, are the best and worst manifestations of our respective beliefs?  I think it’s an important question.  How could we Hold the Space for the answers?  Here is my attempt:

 

White Male Privilege Exists

Worst manifestations

  • “All white men are misogynist pigs, oblivious to their inherent, unearned privilege, who perpetuate the oppression of women and people of color.” This attitude oversimplifies, generalizes, and stereotypes.
  • “All institutions are insidiously and irrevocably driven by white male privilege, and the only way to overcome this oppression is to treat it/people aggressively. We need to shame them in public until they get it.” This militant attitude incites and provokes, further alienating the very population it seeks to convert.

Best manifestations

  • “We all cannot help our unconscious biases—they are indoctrinated from a very early age and operate beneath conscious awareness. It does not automatically make anyone an inherent racist, sexist, or otherwise a bad person.” I see this as a nonjudgmental, objective, and mindful framework. It recognizes things as they are, however much we dislike them, with patience. It does not pit one group against another, and allows us to approach one another with openness.
  • “We can do our best to call attention, with civility, to white male privilege when we see it playing out in the workplace, social settings, etc.” The goal here is to bring it from unconscious to conscious awareness, where it can be better managed by intellect and reason. This is exactly how we work to overcome stereotypes and other unconscious biases. The first step is awareness, which can come much more easily in settings of nonjudgement, curiosity, and shared humanity.
  • “I will monitor my own biases in all realms, and look for contradictions to my assumptions.” Because I believe white male privilege is so prevalent, I risk over-attributing. It is my responsibility to check my perceptions against reliable and objective truths, or at least seek others’ perspectives for balance.

 

White Male Privilege Does Not Exist

Worst manifestation

“The concept of white male privilege is colossal lie, confabulated by the political left to wield power over minorities. Anyone who ascribes to this fallacy is unworthy of intellectual discourse.”  This attitude dismisses not just the idea, but the people who believe it.  It leads easily to name-calling and accusations, defensiveness and contempt.

Best manifestation

“I don’t believe in white male privilege, but I recognize other important contributors to poverty and social disparities. I will reject attempts to shame my point of view, and refrain from slinging insults in kind.  I pledge to work with others to effect positive change though good-faith pursuit of shared values and common goals.”  This is what I wish for someone on ‘the other side’ to say.  It takes the conversation beyond ‘he said, she said,’ and allows both parties to stand side by side to tackle important issues from different, and possibly complementary perspectives.

 

I am grateful to my friend for engaging with me on this topic. If not for him, I would never have come across the articles he posted.  I would not have questioned my position, or thought to consider the origins and merits of an opposite one.  The conversation called on me to practice critical appraisal as well as openness.  And while my opinion remains unchanged, its application is now more nuanced and thoughtful.  I like this idea of getting beyond ‘agreeing to disagree.’ By identifying the best manifestations of our respective beliefs, we can all contribute to a more just future.

Holding the Space for: Fear

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Here is my best explanation for my unintended blogging hiatus: I’m afraid.

Afraid that the A to Z Challenge was such a success (as assessed by me), that nothing I write hence forth will measure up. Afraid that I used up all my good ideas in the challenge and I have nothing more useful to say.  Afraid that if I keep writing, I will only repeat the same tired ideas, and become noise.

I am also afraid of disapproval. I feel called to write about sensitive topics (I know, this is the third time I’ve brought it up—it’s coming, I promise, I’m setting the stage here), and I fear backlash from readers.  I’m afraid of being attacked—for both my position on a given issue, as well as for my effort to consider all sides.  “How can you hold this view, you must be ignorant and stupid!”  Or, “How can you call yourself a (fill in the blank group) while you allow (the opposing group) space on your blog to promote their ignorant and stupid views?”  I want to do the right thing, which is allow—even invite—opposing opinions.  But I am afraid of losing control of the whole process, of getting sucked into verbal wars over opinions and beliefs.

On April 28, at 12:15am, I commented on Emily Heath’s post, “On Restrooms, Gender, and Fear.”  It’s the 11th comment.  Rereading it now, I cringe at how condescending it sounds, even as I meant to express empathy and connection.  Two readers replied in opposition, one who asked me if I was insane and wrote, “How insulting.”  For two days I debated whether to reply, and finally decided against it, as I unilaterally concluded that both of these people were likely not looking for an ongoing conversation.  I realized that while I thought of my comment as speaking directly to Emily, I was, in fact, writing to her entire audience.  It made me think twice about expressing my opinions publically, and I learned an important lesson about writing for public consumption:  Comments are not the best space to express my opinion fully, and I never know how anyone will respond.  And, I should probably not write about emotional topics in the middle of the night.

Still, I feel a need to contribute my voice to the important conversations. And while I am agitated that it’s taken me so long to get started again, I see now that I needed this time to work out a plan.  I needed a pause to regroup and distill my purpose.  I needed space to define my focus: not taking sides on the issues, but rather exploring nuances of idea exchange.  I may write something that offends someone.  It will not be intentional.  I may need to field some personal attacks, or attacks on my ideas.  That’s okay, I can decide how I will manage each on an individual basis, and on my terms.  This blog is my space, after all.  Most importantly, though, I have a wide and deep network of people who can help me monitor my words and provide perspective on the words of others.  I’ve got this.

Impatience with myself has disrupted my sleep and distracted my days these last weeks. Why could I not just pull it together and write something already?  Now I know, I was Holding the Space for my fears.  I knew something different and significant was coming around the corner, and I had to take a breath before treading this new path.  Part of me has worried about what readers think of my absence—perhaps sensing my fear and hesitation, losing confidence in my writing, as I may have, for a while?  Maybe I’m just projecting.  And just as I wondered if I would ever come back, I found this piece on bravery by Glennon Doyle Melton, who writes the blog Momastery.  She writes, in reference to people yelling for two kids to dive from a cliff into the ocean:

Over time I have come to believe that brave does not mean what we think it does. It does not mean “being afraid and doing it anyway.” Nope. Brave means listening to the still small voice inside and DOING AS IT SAYS. Regardless of what the rest of the world is saying. Brave implies WISDOM. Brave people are not simply those who JUMP every time. They do not necessarily “do it anyway.” Brave people block out all the yelling voices and listen to the deepest voice inside the quietest, stillest place in their heart. If that voice says JUMP, they jump. And if that voice says TURN AROUND – they turn around, and they hold their head high. Often the one who turns around shows GREAT BRAVERY, because she has been true to herself even in the face of pressure to ignore her still, small voice and perform for the crowd.

Brave is: To Thine Own Self Be True. And Brave parents say: I trust you, little one – to Be Still and Know. I’ll back you up.

My still small voice was saying, “Wait, wait for it. You’ll know when you’ve got it, and then you’ll move.”  Now I know, I’ve got it, and I’m moving.  I’m excited to see where the next leg of this blogging journey takes me, and what I will learn along the way.

Summer Series 2016: Holding the Space

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Well, hello again, friends! It’s been a while–again!  *sigh*

Sometimes things happen that we can’t quite explain… Like why, after writing 26 enthusiastic posts in 30 days, I could only manage to publish one thing in the ensuing 42 days?  How fascinating!  I’ve entertained several intersecting theories…  And while it’s been a fun and frustrating exercise in introspection, it is now time to let go the analysis, take what I’ve got, and move on.  I know I will integrate it all in the long run.

So today, I officially launch Healing Through Connection Summer Series 2016: Holding the Space.  For the rest of June, July, and August, I will explore the various meanings and applications of this concept, and what its practice teaches me.

To me, “Holding the Space” means slowing down. It means being with things the way they are, without rushing to criticize, blame, judge, intervene, reject, fix, suppress, resolve, deflect, escape, annihilate, deny, or ignore.  When we practice Holding Space, we allow more.  We tolerate better.  We find peace.  For an excellent description of the practice as it relates to caregiving, see here.

The concept has swirled in my mind almost nonstop these last few months. It’s triggered mostly when I see conflict and controversy, and also in times of transition, challenge, agitation, growth, and uncertainty.  I have referenced it in my writing before, sometimes using the actual words, other times alluding indirectly.  Here are some recent examples:

https://catherinechengmd.com/2016/04/29/atozchallenge-withhold-judgment/

https://catherinechengmd.com/2016/04/20/atozchallenge-opposition-and-openness/

https://catherinechengmd.com/2016/04/01/assumptions-and-appreciation/

https://catherinechengmd.com/2015/11/19/look-for-the-helpers/

https://catherinechengmd.com/2015/11/11/reconciliation-is-for-kids/

https://catherinechengmd.com/2015/10/27/he-for-she-we-for-us/

My purpose in this series is to share personal reflections on Holding Space, as I grapple with important social, professional, and personal questions. As I wrote in my previous post, I may venture into controversial territory, but my intent is not to argue a particular position.  I wish, as always, to focus on relationships.

Please join me on this journey. Solitary reflection is helpful and necessary, but it’s almost always more fun to welcome companions on the expedition.