Do we need it all?
I’ve been absent from here the last several weeks. You may have noticed.
I got - quite predictably and quite commonly - stuck in my head about what I even have to offer to this space, what I’m even trying to accomplish with this newsletter, what I hope comes from it between us.
So today, I’m at my computer, after having started and stopped dozens of drafts of different pieces ranging from an exploration of what I’m discovering by allowing myself to have my bare feet inches deep in the dirt and pulling up invasive vine roots to make space for my new garden, to screechy manifestos raging against the system of racial capitalism in which we are all complicit and which makes us all sick and miserable, to a bookish study of trauma, separation and integrating shadow identities. Today, I’m committed to publishing whatever ends up written after this in the next hour, because the stories in my head I’ve been tormenting myself with all of Aries season and so far into Taurus season, too, are not real life. They’re made up and they’re manifestations of the worst of our society’s beliefs about bodies, women, abundance, hope, and love. And I much prefer a practice of living in reality and contributing there.
Over the last decade (at least), I’ve been in a practice of not just intellectually agreeing with non-dualism and that things are “both/and” instead of “either/or” or binary, but really living it. It’s incredibly difficult because it’s not how our brains are wired to survive. Our brains are constantly, in every nano second, scanning our environments to see if, in the words of one of my meditation teachers, we’re about to eat lunch or be lunch. It’s a mechanism that has kept us safe for millenia and it’s deeply wired. It’s what’s responsible for our negativity bias (since being lunch is quite immediately and irreversibly consequential; and skipping lunch doesn’t have an impact on our ability to survive for several days). It’s also part of why we all struggle to see that everything is at least partially true and that things are rarely (maybe even never) either/or, since our brains don’t quite know how to compute that we just might eat lunch while also being lunch. So, I’m one of approximately 8 billion humans who struggle with this concept.
I think about this concept in my life every day. It’s something that underlies virtually all of my coaching with individuals and teams. We all really, really struggle with holding that multiple, even competing ideas, can be and are true at once.
For example, I spent nearly ten days in a full scale assault of the aforementioned invasive vines along a fence by my house. It involved the purchasing of a hatchet (which, like, are just RIGHT THERE in the aisle of home depot. No ID, no employee held key to a glass case required. Blew my mind!). For years, I’ve held a rather simple story that one of the best ways to care for the earth is to allow her to rewild. To not touch anything that’s alive, to let it do it’s thing. Except, that’s not quite right, I’ve discovered. Our species has the capacity to be fully responsible for all that happens on Earth (and we should step into this, since undoubtedly we bear the responsibility for its rapid destruction), but we’re meant to be a companion species, to tend to the other species that we cohabitate this planet with. That’s us at our best and, for much of our history, that’s a role we’ve played.
So leaving the invasive, non-native vines to take over my fence line and grow their roots to tree size proportions underneath my freaking driveway wasn’t the right call. Insisting, for years, that this was the only right and best answer was me falling into the trap of binary, dualistic thinking. What will replace these vines that didn’t offer resources to much life beyond themselves will attract bees, butterflies, earthworms, night crawlers, birds, and more. And, these creatures need all the help they can get right now. So I did have to kill many things that were alive - even thriving - so that something more alive could be born.
I think about this concept, too, in how I’ve struggled over the right way to make social change. I’ve found myself at different points believing that incremental progress is important and necessary. We do, after all, need the relief that comes to millions of people with the conviction of a police officer like Derek Chauvin who unquestionably committed a horrible, unjust, gross act against humanity when he murdered George Floyd slowly. These moments often provide the resourcing that people need to keep going to the next challenge in the quest for freedom and liberation. We need the “small wins” in bigger change efforts, we’re told. Except, if we’re not careful (and this is often), we end up advancing the very system we stand against by choosing this path of incrementalism. As we’ve all seen, the media can write however many headlines about this case being a moment of change in policing, but the reality is that dozens of people have been murdered by police since his conviction last week. The day before Chauvin was convicted, a police officer used his knee to pen down and strangle Mario Gonzalez to death in Alameda, California. If incrementalism was the answer, surely this wouldn’t have happened. If incrementalism was the answer, surely the advent and proliferation of body cams would have stopped cops from being so cavalier and deadly in their actions years ago.
In other points of my life and career, including now, I’ve been drawn to more holistic, full-scale, transformational change. I’m not interested, for example, in celebrating the conviction of Chauvin, not because what he did wasn’t horrifically wrong by any measure of morality, law, or even the tenants of every major religion on Earth, but because the reality is that celebrating his conviction asks me to celebrate a broken clock being right twice a day. The system of policing was born from a dual objective to patrol the south for runaway slaves and violently quash labor organizing in the north. It’s purpose is to protect what is considered private property on land that was genocidally stolen from Native Americans. Convicting Derek Chauvin might bring relief and help us all to rally in Alameda for Mario. I know it does for many. But it also asks us to root for a system that, upon sentencing will have only more violent options: torture via solitary confinement, or likely death in general population (by inmates or his own hand). Leaning into our capacity for vengeance in this case given our collective outrage because of Chauvin’s power and identity only ends up with us saying these are okay options for this system to have for others, and we need only investigate the question for five minutes to see that those who will be most harmed by this collective cheering will be more Black, Brown, and poor people. At the same time, this whole scale level of change that is necessary is overwhelming to conceive of. To believe in abolition, as I do, is to believe that everything about our society must change. It’s incredibly difficult to get folks to believe, let alone find the resourcing they need along the way to stay in it in the most challenging moments and for the long haul. And while social change is achieved by far fewer people agreeing to it than we typically believe, it’s not often won by ideological purists or micro communities.
So I find myself returning to my ongoing practice of how to hold that everything is true, only partially. Of nondualism. I don’t have a clue what the answer is, I’m sorry to disappoint you, beloveds. I know I’m more drawn to full scale change than I am to incrementalism, but I also think it’s not reasonable to ignore the truth that incrementalism offers: we need resourcing along the way to do hard things. We need to be able to celebrate. And perhaps there are important victories in incrementalism.
I’m asking myself today if the answer lies in rejecting the premise entirely. If the answer just might be that, given the volume of designed surplus suffering and given the countdown of the too few years we have to find answers so that our species and those we do have the privilege of serving as companions to get to survive on earth moving forward, if the answer isn’t simpler than I’m making it out to be. Maybe we need all of it. We need the folks that are fighting for a more just justice system alongside abolitionists doing everything they can to tear the whole thing down. Maybe we need recycling programs and individual efforts to reduce consumption alongside those that fight the 100 corporations who produce the majority of the rise in greenhouse gases problem. Maybe we need more equitable educational opportunity alongside revolutionaries who fight for the redistribution of wealth. Maybe what it looks like to fight binary thinking here is that we simply need it all and that we have to find ways to not play into capitalism’s agenda by competing with one another when we disagree; that we have to find ways to have abundant solutions to the abundant suffering.
I have no idea. My hour is up, though, and I promised to publish whatever got written, so here you are. One of the fears I have in doing this whole newsletter thing is that I will be horrifically embarrassed in the future about what I believe today (spoiler: I will). Perhaps this is one of those posts that I might come to regret. But today, it’s landing in your inbox. I’d love to hear what you think. What are you fighting for? Why? How are you thinking of this binary between incrementalism and whole-scale systemic change?