Whose BEAST Are You?

I feel protective. My friend has embarked on a necessary lawsuit to address wrongs done to her by someone she trusted. Generally I shun litigation as a means of conflict resolution, and I understand that in some cases it is the best path to justice. My friend shares this ethos, and has so chosen a like-minded lawyer. Her opponent has a very different mindset, one of fierce aggression and, sadly, meanness. In talking with Friend, we both feel her vulnerability, the risk of getting steamrolled in her efforts to be fair and equanimatous, even in the face of intense acrimony. She wonders if her lawyer (and she herself, maybe?) can withstand the vitriol flung their way without 1) returning in kind and/or 2) acquiescing simply to get through.

Over breakfast, I tried to articulate what she needed in her lawyer, and wrote it to her later in an email, so she would have it to mull over and expound on. What follows below is a lightly edited version of my message to her, and some reflections of my own after writing it. I love how talking and writing bring me so quickly and effectively to new insights and syntheses of ideas, core values, and resolutions. Onward, my friends!

I get (and validate!) that you sought a lawyer who is “not a fighter”… and you also need an effective advocate. Not adversarial for sure, but assertive and strong.

Like a quiet, confident alpha—tall and straight, with commanding posture–someone who knows they can own the opponent if they want to, but feels secure enough to not need to flaunt it.

So there is a degree of BADASSERY required here too:  You need someone SMART, and SHARP.

Looking for a metaphor here… Not sure why I gravitate toward vehicles—Bullet train? Mack truck? Snowplow? Maybe because the process is necessarily movement, transportation is required, and there is a destination, the path to which presents multiple and formidable barriers?

The BEAST: The US presidential Cadillac—that is your ideal ride to the other side of the lawsuit (over the bridge? Through the morass?)!

Big, black, heavy, SOLID.  GROUNDED and MOBILE at the same time.

Heavily armored–DEFENDED and SAFE, but not weaponized (I think).

Moves with purpose and agenda, no wasted fuel or frivolous trips.

People see it coming and move out of the way with respect.

And if attacked, the cargo–you and your interests–are protected.

Can plow through traffic if absolutely necessary, but only does so as a last resort:

Move or I will move you, make no mistake.

Try me.

Strong back, soft front. Steel spine. Claws and horns only when needed.

Strong and effective, non-adversarial, yet energized advocate. I’m thinking parent, friend, sibling, physician, adult child of aging parent, activist.

BEAST. I can be yours if needed, count on it.

Letter to Self, November 4, 2020

Dear Cathy,

HOLY COW what a year, amIright?  How are you?  What was yesterday like?  I know you wanted to sign up to work the polls, and decided to be at work with your team instead.  Maybe they didn’t need you, but you thought it was right.  What was the vibe, could you feel the pulse? 

How have you observed people holding their own stuff together, and helping others do the same?  How have you done this… and not?  What do you need right now?  What does the family need?  And your teams?  Friends?  Leaders?

Today is your friend’s birthday, make sure you call her. 

And maybe keep the calendar clear this weekend (except for that alphabet workout on Sunday, of course).  Give yourself and the family time and space to breathe and settle down.  There may not be an outcome for a while—it’s anybody’s guess at this point!  It’s all so nuts.  Whatever happens, we must find a way to recover and reconnect; this is imperative.

How will you conduct yourself in the coming months, regardless of the outcome? 

Looking back, you have learned and matured much in the past 4 years—STRONG WORK, MAMA!  Haha, finally, I get to say this to myself. 😉  Remember when you could not help but RAGE and YELL on Facebook, when you succumbed to impulsive ad hominem, then felt helpless and exhausted?  The exhaustion feels different this time, no?  It has more meaning, more purpose.  Because you have done the inner work to show up as your better self.  You have reflected, consulted, read, challenged, practiced, rejected, regulated, and engaged.  You’ve also basked in the nourishing light and warmth of mentors and role models, showing you the value and fruits of magnanimity and grace.

You participated better this time.  You wrote and mailed postcards.  You phone banked to fellow Chinese Americans.  You focused more on what you’re for than what you’re against.  Most of all, you did your best to elevate conversations.  You seek the Strong Middle, where people can have heartfelt, empathic, and often uncomfortable conversations, in service of connection.  You compromised none of your core values, and held certain ones in front, like curiosity, kindness, respect, and generosity.  Often such attitudes were not returned, from either ‘the opposition’ or ‘your own side’. 

But you got enough to keep going, and now you’re stronger.  And it’s all stoked the embers of positive change—the rock circle around your inner campfire enlarges.   You’ve found friends who also seek connection across difference.  Together you will create wider space and build a beautiful bonfire—visible from afar, inviting, welcoming, warming, and inspiring.  There’s a knock you can no longer ignore; you are called to do more.

Let this letter serve as your ethos manifesto—a first draft, at least.  When you feel frustrated and hopeless, when all you encounter tell you it’s a lost cause; when you feel attacked and diminished, and tempted to behave badly or give up, read this.

It’s an Infinite Game.  The goal in an infinite game is not to ‘win’; it’s to stay in the game.  Others may play to vanquish you, your cause, or one another.  This will never happen—there will always be new players; the issues, conflicts, and polarities will never go away.  Your job is to modify the game, to make it more humane for all players, while you advance your finite goals.  The costs of playing should not outweigh the rewards as they do today.  You know you can help rebalance, to give voice, strength, and power to those whose Why is connection.  That is how you will leave the game better for having played.

Center.  Ground.  Focus.  Engage.  This mantra served you well for years.  You know your own core values.  Their roots run deep and strong; they hold you up; trust them.  You know the truth of your message, no matter how it gets assailed.  You also draw strength and light from your amazing friends. They will stand by you—and you them—you hold each other up high.  Trust that, too.

No ad hominem.  Your mantra for the past few years:  Present. Open. Grounded. Kind. Loving. Smart.  You can be strong and flexible—strong back, soft front, wild heart, as Joan Halifax and Brené Brown write.  It serves no one for you to engage with negativity.  Firmness, directness, and steadfastness, however, along with fairness, humility, and accountability, will get you far.  Standing in these practices, I am confident you will regret less in the end. 

One Day, One Moment, One Breath at a time.  Everywhere you go, in every challenge, mindfulness emerges as a universal sustaining practice.  You always have your breath.  You can always use it, this quintessential polarity that teaches us about simplicity and infinity.  Lean in to it.  Draw in strength, respire peace.

Finally:  Dance.  Less news.  More music.

You’ got this.