In 2020, Covid allowed many to breathe a sigh of relief as they pressed pause on the treadmill and shared sourdough stories and banana bread recipes with each other. Then things returned to a new quite comfortable normal in Aotearoa New Zealand.
But in this latest drawn out disruption, it has been hard to find any silver lining. In fact, I can’t name one person I know who hasn’t been triggered (i.e. in projection, commonly surfacing as an emotional response to another person) in the last six months as Delta raised the stakes.
Aside from the usual finger pointing at politicians and the media, things got personal. Families have been divided, work colleagues at war, and political leanings disrupted as we debated and sided with vaccination statuses and lockdown protocol. So if there has ever been a time to practice shadow work, it was through this lockdown. E.g. “They (finger pointing to the vaccinated or non vaccinated) are so arrogant/dumb/one-eyed/selfish/patronising/gullible”. But if we are to come out of this better than when we went into it, then it is time to get curious about one’s own processes. This is beyond ‘being kind’ for the sake of it. While it is better to be tolerant, it is our intolerance, suppressed or otherwise, that needs to be examined. That is why we ask you to consider - who have you made wrong over the last few months? What quality in that person has made them wrong in your eyes?
For me, I made ‘wrong’ a friend here on Aotea Great Barrier Island, someone whom I have adored for many years precisely for all the reasons she has chosen not to get vaccinated - she lives, off the land completely sustainably and organically. She lives fairly isolated; she is a meditator, a healer, a warm earthy values-driven spirit whose presence enriches my life. This year I made a call to get double vaccinated and she made the call not to get vaccinated. So what would that mean for our friendship? It confused me. Judging another as completely wrong is slipping back into the Reactive way of being in Leadership Circle terms. When distant, critical or arrogant tendencies in the protecting area are dialled up pretty high it denotes a deep fear - of irrelevance and/or vulnerability. Both hyper-individualist anti-vaxxers and hyper-vigilant pro-vaxxers are likely to be playing in this area. When I did pass her on the street (at a distance I might add) we avoided the conversation where we defended our choice because we both realised we thought the other was gullible, short-sighted and possibly a little ignorant of the real issues. Me?? Being any of those qualities? Surely not! But I am sure she could describe some of the choices I have made in the past regarding how I have lived my life, in those terms.
Many think the unvaccinated are unbelievably selfish and stupid. While the unvaccinated often see those who willingly consent to vaccination as naive, complicit and ignorant of the greater issues. But both of these viewpoints adopt sweeping generalisations. With my friend, selfishness is a quality that I cannot reconcile with her because she is certainly really generous of spirit and heart. Did I feel she was ‘stupid’? Well, to be honest, yes, I did think this and clearly assume I have some sort of superior knowledge and way of being. The arrogance of me. I also know that ‘stupid’ is a shadow of mine that I have worked on for years as I wrestle the “on to it” mask away from my ego.
We are in the midst of a complex systems issue (aren't we always you might ask? Well, it appears that this is one of the few times we have woken up to it). Delta has meant that many have reluctantly been forced into conversations around privilege, equity and the limitations of political systems and institutionalised systems such as health and education. For me, I sense that the health and education systems need to change way beyond paying teachers and nurses more (although let’s just do that regardless). But I simply don’t know what or how or where to start.
Getting one’s head around systems complexity is in itself paradoxical. i.e Renowned systems scientist Peter Senge considers that it is very difficult for business executives in particular to accept complexity because many of them need to see themselves as being in control. Behaving in the ‘right way’ and then by contrast rejecting the ‘wrong way’ of being is part of the performance of successful management. But who gets to say what is right and what is wrong? Transformation on a systems level fundamentally runs counter to wrong vs right.
Senge proposes that if we are to lead through complexity with any level of effectiveness, we need to give up this fixedness and get used to being in the ‘not really knowing’ space. We need to engage in dialogue without our ego getting into projection. This is why leading through complexity is only really able to be effective in the self-transforming stage of adult development (Kegan) or in Leadership Circle terms, the Integral phase, where only a few play. In this space, leaders have some sort of shadow mastery, getting curious on a continual basis the foibles of their own ego and playing with how their own polarisation can get in the way of progress. They give up the idea of knowing they are ‘right’ and play in the ‘not really knowing’ space which opens up the possibility of systems change. So for me, while I’ve been dialled up to 9/10 on pro-vaccination, the “right” way to be for the majority, I realise being so determinedly right and judgemental on those “wrong” people, has had its limitation for my own process of growth i.e. my loud ‘banging of the vaccination tambourine’ has contributed to the achievement of a national goal that will allow life to return to some form of normality. But then, normality was what I wanted to change in the first place. So, it’s been a confusing time for me and I feel my head hurting as I wrestle with a complexity outside of my level of conscious maturity.
I saw my friend again this morning outside our local post office and felt a little sad because I wonder if I will ever give her a hug again. She will avoid it, not to protect me from Covid but to acknowledge the allergy that the vaccinated have to the unvaccinated. Sadness is not an emotion I have been aware of during my ruminations and bleatings on Covid related issues. If I have been emotionally triggered, the reaction has usually been anger or frustration at those ‘idiots’ who won’t get vaccinated. But underneath anger is always hurt and emotional confusion. And it is precisely this shared helplessness and vulnerability that might lead to more compassionate and curious approaches toward solutioning on a systems scale. I deliberated on whether I might send a reflection on such a contentious and divisive issue as vaccinations but how you are about this reflection and what has played out in general is all part of your development process. Most want to avoid the vaccination conversation but there is richness in examining the discomfort. So I’ve told you what happened to me, but what about you? How did you wrestle with complexity over this period?
How about journalling on the following:
Who did you make wrong during this lockdown?
What was the quality in them that you made wrong?
What makes the opposite quality so right?
How did it make you feel to make someone else wrong vis a vis your 'rightness'?
Where does that wrong quality live in you?
In what way might you be accused of being this?
What system needs changing in this world?
How might you be contributing to keeping that system just the way it is?
We would love to hear from you about your insights through this lockdown. We are all good for banana bread recipes but do share with us an a-ha moment about your own process and/or how this impacts on systems transformation. Because that’s what our work is about - the deep connection from the personal to the global.