Communities Change Fierce Civility
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Joe Weston

Post-election. From my heart…


In Respectful Confrontation, we engage in an exercise where two participants stand face-to-face, to “confront” one another. We do so in order to mirror the literal definition of the word “confront” that you can find in Webster’s Dictionary: To cause to meet. To bring face-to-face. In its truest form, the word “confront” carries no antagonism.

I guide the participants through this exercise, first connecting them to their own core in their lower belly and with their heart. As they stand, I ask them to become present, connecting with their personal power in their core and their power of compassion and respect in their hearts. Then I ask them to make eye contact with their partner. From their core and heart, they connect with the core and heart of their partner.

This can be an uncomfortable process. It takes courage to be present, to maintain eye contact; to feel their own power and with honor and respect, engage with the power of another. The nervous system gets activated. Participants want to shut down and quit. They want to escape.

And yet they stay connected.

I then ask them to notice all the thoughts and assumptions that arise about their partner that ultimately have nothing to do with that person – it’s simply their story about that person, maybe based on gender, race, age, choice of clothing, status, level of attractiveness, to name a few. I ask that they avoid judging themselves for having these thoughts – we all do it. I then ask them to set those assumptions aside and see the person for who they are and not who they think they see. Discomfort and resistance deepen.

And yet they stay connected.

Nervousness arises, laughter arises, fear arises, attraction arises, tears arise, more resistance increases.

And yet they stay connected.

And then a moment occurs when, fully present and connected, the humanity of each partner arises and, with honor and respect, they connect with the humanity of the other.

At this moment, I suggest to the group that in this level of connection, war is not possible, crime is not possible, hunger is not possible. Instead, there is peace.

Afterwards, as we reflect on the exercise, the group acknowledges that moment of recognition of what they knew as children before they learned to judge and label, as well as of a possibility of how it could be. I commend their courage, discipline, grounding, focus, presence, generosity, and most importantly, curiosity.

The cause of much of our suffering and hostility, crime, war and injustice, is judgment and labeling. The unexamined stories we create about the other that creates separation and moves us away from what unites us all – the humanity in our hearts. Curiosity is the antidote. Standing face to face requires empowered vulnerability, and it cuts through the many layers of distractions, pain and fear that keep us from our birthright – to engage with the world from our humanity, to respectfully speak truth and hear the truth of another.

So what happened on election night?

We weren’t listening. We were so locked into our need to be right, to be heard, to “win”, we couldn’t see that both our “allies” and our “opponents” were suffering from a system that is not working. The 99% of our population has been screaming for change. And I suppose the only way the Trump supporters felt that their suffering would be heard is to throw a Donald Trump into the conversation.

Well, we are now finally listening and most likely paying dearly for the outcome.

After more than a year of studying this election, I learned to separate the Trump voter from the man himself. I can have understanding and compassion for the Trump voter who, like most of us in this country, have been disempowered. We bought into a political, economic and media system that has cleverly distracted us from seeing that if the 99% were to unite, and not work against each other, this would be a very different country. For this reason I can find common ground with all. Robert Kennedy said in 1968, “What we need in the United States is not division; what we need in the United States is not hatred; what we need in the United States is not violence and lawlessness, but is love and wisdom, and compassion toward one another, and a feeling of justice toward those who still suffer within our country.”

Yes, we need to find ways to reconcile and we need to understand the natural laws of balance – the more you move too quickly to one side, there has to be an equal move to the other side. We will all spend a long time dissecting the causes of the results of the election. However, what I cannot tolerate is the opportunity this has opened for systems that foster separation, hatred, greed and the disempowerment of those who are different.

Trump winning the White House is a misinterpretation of one of our most basic American Dream stories – “anyone in this country can be president.” What that should mean is that, like Abraham Lincoln, you can come from a poor or disadvantaged circumstance, and, with hard work and discipline, get an education, go to law school and become a lawyer, or join the military and become an officer, or run for local office and move your way up to the national scene, and eventually run for president. It was never meant to be interpreted in a way where anyone with enough money, power or influence can step in without any experience and become our president.

And yet, here we are. How did we get here? Many of us stopped listening; many of us stopped being curious. And now we find ourselves in a situation where we have a president who is not qualified, and where power will be given to many who have no interest in engaging with the humanity of those who are different, and who feel fully free to propagate hate and disempowerment. For them, respect, political correctness and equality is a sign of weakness. Bullying and building walls are their world vision.

In the Respectful Confrontation system, I define conflict as any encounter that creates separation, the breakdown of relationship and the disempowerment of others. And I define confrontation as any encounter that creates the deepening of relationship, bringing individuals closer together and the empowerment of everyone involved. My concern is that we will be moving into a phase of conflict, where the bully is celebrated.

My question to myself, and all of you, is “what are we going to do to counter the conflict with more confrontation?” How do we engage with the humanity of those who are different and who are willing to create new surprising alliances to overcome hate, injustice and inequality?

While I believe that Respectful Confrontation offers the skills and courage to do so, I don’t know if I have all the answers. But I do have questions. I have certainly been asking myself many questions and looking at my own level of judging and labeling.

But here are two:

To the Trump supporter: If you condemn racism, bigotry and oppression, what actions will you take to truly listen to the plight of those who are systematically disempowered?

To the Clinton/Sanders supporter: Why is your judgment and harsh labeling of the Trump supporter more righteous than theirs towards you?

We have to start somewhere. I would suggest we start with curiosity, and the courage to stand face-to face with others, in empowered vulnerability, and cut through the many layers of distractions, pain and fear that keep us

from our birthright – to engage with the world from our humanity, create new alliances, and to respectfully speak truth and hear the truth of another. Let’s continue to be inspired by our great teachers – Jesus Christ, the Buddha, Martin Luther King, Jr., Aung San Suu Kyi, His Holiness Pope Francis, His Holiness the Dalai Lama, to name a few – and recognize that in 2016, loving thy neighbor is a national and global effort.

From my heart to yours, many blessings for courage and compassion toward yourself and others.


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