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Archive for February, 2009

Eliminate the Trace of Violence

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

My aunt passed away last weekend, a life-long victim of abuse, self-hatred, domestic violence, anorexia and alcoholism. I am saddened, not so much from our loss of her life, but from her loss of what her life might have been. 

I think verbal abuse of children or between spouses in the presence of children is one of the most toxic, deepest wounding forms of violence that plagues our society. It goes unnoticed, without visible scars, it induces shame, fear and doubt, and it leaves a conditioned, distorted understanding of how to communicate – with anger, aggression and violence. Those who have experienced verbal abuse in their early childhood often either internalize the experience where the violence goes on to rot their inner health or externalize it through acting out, projection and violence towards others they identify as more vulnerable. It takes great courage to embrace and heal the aftermath of verbal abuse. This is especially true among those living in a culture that frequently rejects therapy as an indication of weakness, or worse mental illness, where violent aggression is an established form of international diplomacy, where violence is at the core of entertainment and where fear-based discipline in parenting or even pet ownership is acceptable.

Patricia Evans writes, in The Verbally Abusive Relationship, “We are aware of politically and economically repressive systems that are maintained by physical force. We are less aware of psychological repression. This repression is maintained by verbal manipulation and coercion…Repressive systems perpetuate themselves as long as they remain unrecognized.”

Within relationship, the power that the abuser exerts over the victim is driven by a desire to dominate. It does not recognize that there are two equal human beings choosing to be in relationship, but suggests there is an inequality that legitimizes one’s right to control the other. This oppression leaves the victim confused, hurt and frustrated at the difficulty of communication, the lack of acknowledgement and the inability to move forward together in mutuality. The fear of reprisal, loss of love, or aloneness can motivate a victim to continue to attempt to address the imbalance in the relationship, sacrificing their ability to protect their own value and boundaries in the process. But the two realities of the abuser and the victim are not reconcilable unless each is willing to work together to heal the wound at the root of the violence.

Individually and collectively as a society, the most significant first step we can take to eradicate verbal abuse in relationship is first to explore our own histories, heal our own wounds, deepen our own consciousness and eliminate from our own actions any trace of violence that might distort our own reactions. Any time we feel a “charge” around something or someone – perhaps anger or disapproval or envy – that is usually because we have something that is being triggered in our past that is unhealed.

My spiritual teacher has defined unconditional love as the unrelenting desire to support the highest path for awakening in the self and other. Similarly, a reality of co-creation is a shared experience that requires both parties of a relationship to participate, and does not exist within a cycle of violence.  Civil discourse, deep listening and loving kindness are tools less utilized to resolve conflict, but they are some of the most important capabilities we each hold within us.

Today my heart is heavy for my aunt who was never able to make the transformation from victim to survivor.  May her memory teach us how important it is to end these cycles and heal ourselves, so that we may love others as whole beings committed to each other’s highest path.

Buddhist Economics

Sunday, February 1, 2009

This past month, SocialEdge hosted a dialogue about how religion can lead us to an alternative economic system. This topic is of a particular interest of mine – in particular the intersection of consciousness and social change. 

I would start by suggesting we look for wisdom in the mystical traditions that underlie religion, rather than religion itself, which has often distorted these essential truths. Among these wisdoms, the most relevant to this discussion might be the simple premise that we all suffer and also that we are all interconnected.  These are, in their simplest forms, the driver of individual behavior and the reason there is an impact of that behavior on the larger eco-system. 

By way of a little more explanation from the Buddhist tradition: The cause of our individual suffering is usually because we want things to be different (we want what we don’t have and we don’t want what we have).  So, we constantly grasp at things or push away or try to avoid our experiences.   This can also be explored through the lens of attachment and detachment. 

Attachment is driven by concepts of “me” and “mine”. This leads to greed, defining oneself by an identity or other social construct, seeking power over others or the desire for wealth beyond need. Extreme attachment to a way of life or power can eventually lead to violence. Even in the social change arena, people can experience attachment to their agenda or solution, causing competitiveness between groups with a common purpose who may better able to collaborate. 

Detachment is the opposite extreme.  This is where people think “this has nothing to do with me” or “that’s not my problem” or “I don’t deserve this”.  In these cases, people abdicate any responsibility for others, the greater whole or the common good.  In the social change world, this arises in the form of burn-out or disillusionment. 

The Middle Way is a path of healthy and conscious engagement. Consciousness is self-awareness.  On an individual level, it means cultivating mindfulness to understand the nature of suffering in oneself and others and acting out of a place of compassion that seeks balance. On a collective level, greater consciousness can guide change agents and leaders towards decisions that create change responsibly and effectively in support the optimal health of an interconnected whole.  

Now what would an alternative economic system look like in a conscious society?

 As one part of a larger conscious economic system, I propose employing a mechanism I call social project finance (SPF).  SPF is a high-engagement financing method whereby the best social innovations globally are replicated on a project basis with the joint participation and investment of the business sector, civil society and local government.

 Quick example. Currently, we leave social value creation primarily up to the citizen sector or government to pursue, often independently.  In particular, that leaves value that is enjoyed by the private sector (often with the greatest resources) that is not paid for by those stakeholders.  Take HIV/AIDS for example – a disease with wide reaching individual suffering and an interconnected web of global impact. This is not just a social issue.  The pandemic has major economic consequences in terms of worker recruitment, retention and productivity, health care costs, the distribution system for drug treatment, etc.  Rather than expecting responsibility to fall on the shoulders of any one nation, one drug company, the choices of each individual, and the activities of a network of civil society organizations often competing for the same pool of resources, what if all stakeholders came together to find an optimal solution, with a shared investment for shared gains? This can be done on a very small or very large project basis.   

Where possible, an SPF approach would bring together all core stakeholders to negotiate and structure a joint investment that (a) ensures an equitable sharing of the total project cost burden, (b) in proportion to the social and economic value each will gain from the project and (c) facilitates social investment on a scale greater than any one entity could pursue alone.

So, instead of a factory in Cape Town creating its own AIDS program, while foreign aid pours into NGO or government AIDS programs with little accountability, and social entrepreneurs struggle for the resources to scale their innovative solutions… Instead, the most productive and innovative solution should be identified and replicated where needed via a joint-investment of resources from all sectors. Companies invest in proportion to the future benefit they will receive from an increase in factory productivity due to healthier workers.  Municipal governments invest in proportion to the fiscal cost savings achieved from a more effective AIDS treatment program. And thus the investment for each stakeholder is structured according to the expected social and economic return.

A somewhat similar approach has been used in the US to create common green space in dark alleyways fraught with violent crime.  The municipality issued a bond to raise the funds to convert the space to a beautiful park-like setting.  The bonds were repaid via the increase in property taxes that resulted as home values increased when crime went down in the area.

Using mechanisms like SPF more frequently would represent a more conscious and equitable approach to creating social change and economic wellbeing.  Importantly, it would incentivize productivity and sustainability as the driver of free market social innovation.  It is a model aligned with the perspective that we are all connected as global citizens and thus we should invest our common resources in that same manner. Finally, it would help allocate resources more effectively towards creating the highest common good for the economy, environment and society.

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