RESISTANCE IS FUTILE
The world is changing at a pace that is staggering. From the escalation of political polarization, to the increase of wealth disparity, to the increasing occurrence of necessary and complex conversations around sexuality and racism, we can clearly see that massive shifts are taking place in our social, political, economic, ideological and religious landscapes. Standing our ground and pretending that this is not happening, or claiming that it is not natural or necessary, is a naive and privileged position, not to mention dangerous, since it means we are insisting on operating with old tools in a new world. There will be casualties.
However, for all the resistors out there (and I have often been one!), there are also those who have mustered up the courage to embrace the change that is happening, who have confronted their fears of the unknown and have met the challenge head-on with all its risk and complexity. These are the people who dive into change in the best ways they know how, often feeling ridiculously unprepared but with an openness to adventure and the humility to learn.
POSITIVE RESPONSES TO CHANGE
At The Leaders Journey, we hear story after story about people and groups with varying positions reaching out to listen to one another and to do the hard work of trust-building and community restoration, amidst deep and challenging differences. We want to acknowledge and celebrate those stories, as well as the collective human spirit we see rising up against all odds, and in defiance of comfortable habits, to meet these insurmountable challenges and to grow.
I’M NOT ANXIOUS… YOU’RE ANXIOUS
What is also true is that change always brings anxiety, and all human beings have normal, patterned ways of responding to anxiety. These patterns involve behaviors that indirectly harm others and harm the collaborative process we are all capable of. In systems thinking there are four anxious patterns that humans typically engage in. The two discussed in this article are triangling and distancing/cutoff.
Here is what we know about triangling. Triangling is a reactive response to anxiety – a perceived or real threat to one’s physical or emotional well-being. Triangling is about making sure you are the most “right” person or group, often by co-opting others into your plan or onto your “side” in order to win. It also involves vilifying people you perceive to be on the “other side,” and speaking about them, rather than directly to them (rumors and gossip). Political maneuvering is another expression of anxious triangling. This maneuvering exists beyond the political realm and applies to any group of organized human beings. Triangling moves anxiety rapidly through systems.
Distancing is another expression of anxious reactivity. This takes the form of emotional cutoff, physical distance, or both, from those things or people with which you feel unsafe.
One of the practices that helps us increase our emotional maturity during anxious times is taking personal responsibility for our anxiety. This does not mean that we don’t feel anxious, but that in the face of that anxiety we choose to behave differently, moving toward one another and speaking to one another in a way that we would want to be spoken to, instead of engaging in reactive patterns of behavior. Essentially, this is how we grow and are built up to become mature human beings. Moments of anxiety (e.g.: when observed difference are perceived as a threat) can become opportunities to differentiate and stay connected. Instead of distancing from the process, person, or group, and triangling in the form of political maneuvering or gossip, we can move toward one another in our anxiety and work together to help everyone find a preferred outcome.
Let us be clear: we all have clear and observable patterns of both triangling (in the form of political maneuvering, gossip) and distancing/cutoff (from institutional processes and from one another). We want to express a reminder here that all of this is natural human behavior in a heightened state of anxiety. Change is coming, which means inevitable conflict and loss. Many of us have already been experiencing conflict and loss for centuries. This is deeply stressful.
That said, there is also real hope on the horizon.
A TOOL FOR NAVIGATING THE ANXIETY OF CHANGE
For those who want to take on the work of showing up maturely and effectively in an anxious system, and for those who have already given your energy toward this goal, we want to discuss a tool for navigating the anxiety of change. And we want to invite you to consider integrating this practice into your daily interactions with others.
This tool is for identifying and addressing integrity gaps – our own, and others’. As human beings we do not always do what we say we will do. When our anxiety and reactive behavior pop up and we don’t speak or act in the ways we said we would speak or act (or when other people don’t speak or act in the ways they said they would speak or act), an integrity gap emerges. No one does this intentionally or because they are bad people (there’s no shame in it!). Mostly, it’s our anxiety and reactivity that highjack us and create challenges in maintaining our integrity.
The Leaders Journey has a process called “Honoring your Word” that can help us clean up the mess when our anxiety causes us to act in ways that we didn’t intend. We can restore our integrity, and the integrity of our work places, families, neighborhoods, and faith communities, by honoring our word or by asking others to do the same. This process involves:
- Acknowledging the behavior that created the integrity gap with those who were involved (When did you act poorly? Who did you harm with your words/actions?);
- Asking what the impact was on those involved, and letting their honest feedback sink in so you understand what that must be like for the other person;
- Offering a heartfelt apology;
- Re-promising to the original commitment or a revised commitment.
The Leaders Journey hopes that all of us who give our energy (and our word) to being engaged in the process of creating a better world for everyone will continue to challenge ourselves to act with great courage – to wade into the change, to acknowledge our anxiety, to look for our integrity gaps, and to honor our word with one another. This will require humility, resilience, reconciliation and great bravery.
ENTERING THE BRAVE NEW WORLD
We believe this is a pivotal moment in history, and the intentional ways we deal with one another as mature and complex human beings in the midst of change will not only bring healing, but will move us forward toward an integrated, whole and collectively beneficial future.