by Judy Ryan
I often reflect on how many people are “checked out” at work, home, and school; they are suffering and barely surviving, rather than overcoming and thriving. The main reason for this outcome is that we are taught (directly and through modeling), that in and of ourselves we have very little power or influence and shouldn’t think otherwise. Most people see or read about someone like Nelson Mandela or the Dalai Lama and think, “Yeah, that’s not me.” And then, because we decide this is so, the possibility of being just as helpful and harmless is out of our sight and reach. This perspective sets one on a path to thinking and feeling hopeless, helpless, scared, and small, which leads to seeking answers and solutions externally. The thought is, “Maybe if I band together with a religious, philosophical, military or political group, I can become more effective and together we can make things better.” The problem with this idea is that most groups do not put a high priority on harmlessness and therefore can’t adequately represent what works while bringing only positive results.
For myself, I require an unwavering commitment to being helpful and harmless. Many believe this is a pipe dream. I know it’s not (I teach it, and see people doing it every day with astounding results!). What is required is willingness to put down the old, and work hard to develop and promote the new: kindness, equality, dignity, empathy, and shared power in new and bigger measures. Any activity that makes a person, whether inside or outside of a group, feel angry, hurt, oppositional, fearful, righteous, or coerced, has too high a price tag and must be discarded in order to make room for something better. The pseudo-power of using force and believing in conversion through it is very seductive. And while we humans need and want to be connected in community, we have an obligation to prepare ourselves to connect while peacefully and manifest trustworthiness of behavior.
I believe community only works well when people
have developed their internal leadership and can
maintain their ability to be helpful
while remaining harmless.
We need to help adults and children in homes, schools and companies to learn systems for doing this and to make them as important as–or more important than–making a profit, getting a grade, and having more stuff. With the recent marches, I have searched my soul about both the positive and negative effects of collective action. I believe community only works well when people have developed their internal leadership and can maintain their ability to be helpful while remaining harmless. While I can point to real changes, which many believe could only have happened through struggle and opposition; I also assert a lot of collateral damage and setbacks have occurred due to that struggle and opposition. Too often people have settled for new legislation when what’s been needed is sustainable and comprehensive resolution that only comes from within the heart. This type of core change requires highly trustworthy and caring relationships and conversations.