and committed violent trespass while our elected representatives were processing the Electoral College votes.
Today’s events did not just happen in a vacuum.
For a mob to rise up, there must be provocation, regardless of whether it be real, perceived or imagined. There must be extreme grievance, usually for an extended period of time. There must be a perception that there is little alternative to be heard other than to rise up. Peaceful protests become mob riots only when the conditions are ripe.
We can debate who is to blame, who is responsible for what and who should be tried and punished. No doubt that will all happen soon enough.
1. Democracy is a shared agreement, a context for our relationships with each other. We do not construct democracy alone. It is something we must do together, actively, not just once, but day after day after day.
2. Democracies survive when they ensure that everyone's basic needs are met. We have to care enough about others to make sure they all have the basics: food, shelter, clothing, health care. Delivering these basics while shaming those who need them is not democracy.
3. Democracies thrive when the people thrive. Democracy thrives the most when all the people thrive, not just some. Democracies thrive when people can achieve their potential and contribute their unique gifts to their world, whatever that means. For some, like my sister who is severely disabled, it might just be their dignified presence in life. In a thriving democracy, every person matters and everyone counts, even those considered by some to be a "drag on society."
4. Democracies fail when the people feel their basic needs are not being met and the social contract is broken. Democracies fall to authoritarianism when a strong leader appears to be able to do for the people what they have not been able to do for themselves.
5. When a democracy starts to fail, we the people—and we alone—are responsible for it failing. We are the people who make and continue to make the agreements that we share with others to keep democracy going and to make democracy thrive.
We each must ask ourselves:
"How have I contributed to the present situation?”
"What can I do to further freedom for all?"
Finding fault doesn't work. Recent history proves that demonizing one another doesn't bring us together or solve our problems. Judgment of ourselves and others only cements the problems, weaknesses and inadequacies in place.
Over 30 years ago, Sonia Johnson, in Wildfire: Igniting the She/Volution (Wildfire Books, 1990), concluded that:
The means do not justify the ends.
The means are the ends.
Whatever we do, that is what we end up with.
When we turn to fault-finding, blame and judgment, we create more fault-finding, blame and judgment. These thoughts pave the way to more separation, more “I’m better than you” and more “You’re not good enough” justifications for letting or making others we blame struggle even more. Judgment puts one person or group below another person or group and holds them there. We might feel better when we're "on top" but not so great when we're the ones on the bottom.
Judgment keeps everyone stuck with little room for anything new to happen.
Simply put, judgment doesn’t work.
“If you’re telling me that I shouldn’t blame or judge someone who has hurt me, are you asking me to act like it didn't happen or to condone what they did?”
That’s a good question. And it turns out there is a third way:
Assigning responsibility acknowledges what happened to bring us to this point.
When we assign responsibility instead of placing blame, we remove the imbalance of power that comes with blame and judgment. We set aside the disapproval that would allow us to criticize, ignore, dismiss and diminish what someone has suffered or struggled with that led up to the problem at hand.
Blame and judgment make us dig deeper into our positions as we justify and defend ourselves. Assigning responsibility looks forward to what is possible, while assigning blame can only look backward and stop us from seeing what's possible.
When we assign responsibility, we also give ourselves permission to admit what we could have done differently or better, where we can improve, and how we might need to grow. Assigning responsibility rather than blame frees each person to learn from what has happened and adapt to changing circumstances rather than get stuck.
Assigning responsibility--in a responsible way--creates more freedom and choice and empowers everyone to act according to their "better angels" going forward.
Unless someone’s a sociopath, most people can tell you why they ended up doing whatever they did. Often they did it out of hurt, anger, frustration, fear, annoyance, anxiety or some other pent-up emotion that seemed to justify their actions. Very often, it was a long road for them to reach the point of acting out in a way that’s harmful.
Adolf Hitler rationalized his way through the Holocaust, right along with many others who supported him or passively stood by for their own reasons. Many historians have discussed how the rise of the Third Reich might never have happened if Germany had not been stripped of its ability to thrive after World War I.
Here in the United States, we have seen decades of erosion of the ability to thrive for growing numbers of people. The COVID-19 pandemic has poured gasoline on this trend. Poverty, hunger and uncertainty have increased dramatically in the wealthiest nation on earth. That trend cannot continue without dire results for our democracy.
When frustration, fear, fatigue and despair take over, people resort to whatever strategy appears necessary for survival--physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. (I teach a whole short course on why and how anxiety drives that process and how to stop it, if you’re interested.)
I believe that’s a good thing. We can’t meet a challenge that we can’t see. Now we can see more clearly how our brothers and sisters, parents and children, co-workers and friends are struggling because we haven’t made sure their basic needs are met. In Red, Blue and Purple states, nearly everyone can feel it.
This is not the moment to despair. This is the moment for rising to the challenge, where, as in the Chinese character for “crisis”, risk meets opportunity.
We don’t have to wait on anyone to rise and meet this challenge. As members of the shared agreement called democracy, we are the answer we have all been waiting for. The power lies within each one of us.
You may ask, "What can I do? I'm just one person. How can anything I do make any difference?"
I say to you:
Every moment you have the choice to stop, breathe and take notice of your good inner promptings.
Every moment you have a choice to be, say and do the next thing that is available before you.
Given all the possibilities for the next thing that you can be, say or do, what feels expansive? What makes you feel contracted or diminished?
Imagine for a moment how doing or saying a certain thing will make you feel. When you do, you harness the power of your inner guidance system. All the logic of the pros and cons your mind comes up with cannot beat the inner knowing of what makes you feel expanded, peaceful and even excited vs. what makes you feel contracted, diminished and less-than.
One breath. One moment. That’s all it takes to know.
And if you don’t know yet, give yourself time to pause until you do. Very few choices must be made immediately. You can even pause a heated conversation and make a commitment to come back to the discussion at a time you both can agree on.
Allow yourself to go into a state of relaxation. Play with the possible choices in your imagination and notice how each one makes you feel. Expanded? Or contracted and diminished?
If you haven’t let yourself be guided by this inner wisdom system, it may take some time for your good inner guidance system to come online. Don’t fret.
Take care of yourself in all the ways you know you should: eat right, sleep well, exercise, and take time to just be quiet. I guarantee that giving yourself some breathing room will let all the gunk bubble up and get out of your way so that you will know what is right for you and what is yours to do.
“How does all this fit with saving democracy? What can I do about the politicians or the protesters? I don’t have any power. I'm not sure I want to get involved.”
To that, I say, oh, but you do.
You can do a lot about our political situation.
You do have power.
And you’re already involved.
What you say and do right where you are, in the time you have, with what you’ve got, you contribute to where we stand right now and you affect where we go from here.
Your words and actions ripple through your relationships and your community, and you have an impact on people’s thoughts, feelings and lives. You are constantly planting seeds with what you say and do and how you respond and react.
Are you planting seeds of harmony or discord? Abundance or lack? Kindness or uncaring?
You may never know the fruits of your seed-planting personally, but we all can see what we’ve collectively sowed.
On a practical level, every day you have opportunities to practice kindness and take better care of both yourself and others.
You can learn about issues and challenges we face and vote locally and nationally.
You can volunteer for a cause that inspires you. Many organizations have figured out how to accommodate remote volunteers, so you don't even have to leave home during the pandemic to make a difference.
You also have the opportunity to take five minutes a day and leave a recorded voicemail for your representatives in government. I call mine several times a week and voice my opinion about different issues. It takes so little time and yet it’s the most effective way to make your voice heard, second only to seeing them in person.
Here’s an easy way to get your representatives’ numbers and put them in your phone to keep them handy:
1. Text your zip code to (520) 200-2223. You'll get a text back with everyone's contact info. This includes your state reps/general assembly.
2. You can call every day on the different issues you're concerned about. You'll either get voicemail where you can record your message or a staffer who will note your concerns. After calling regularly, my congressman's staffer knows my name and voice. We each have an important role in our democracy, and I tell her every call how much I appreciate her ability to listen and the grace with which she always listens.
3. Tell the staffer (or record on the voicemail) your name and that you're a registered voter and give your postal zip code, then briefly and respectfully say what's on your mind. On voicemail, you'll usually have about two minutes to record your message.
Closer to home, you have daily opportunities to talk with the people in your life, in person or remotely, and listen to what challenges they’re facing. You can lend a caring ear, and, if they’re open to suggestions, you can help them come up with possible solutions. You never know when simply listening without judgment will make all the difference for someone.
Every day you also notice--without judging yourself--when you feel fear, anxiety, anger, frustration, loneliness, hurt and other feelings that make you feel contracted or diminished. This is your opportunity to acknowledge what triggers you, where you felt something similar in the past, and begin to unpack the patterns of trauma that you may have experienced and/or inherited from past generations.
You can allow yourself to heal and release the old patterns that cause your own "knee-jerk" reactions to whatever's happening now. (If you want help, reach out. I'm available and so are many other talented folks who can help.)
One of my favorite questions is:
That question opens up a world of possibilities that were missing from my awareness just a few moments before. We tend to focus on what we know and forget that we don’t know what we don’t know. Curiosity, in this case, pays.
For something new to come in, we have to be willing to take a breath and use the power of our imaginations rightly. We can imagine a new choice, a new possibility, that hasn't been present, before we can make a difference or create a new outcome.
Every person on the planet has the power to imagine a better world. You have that power. I have that power.
Together we can ask what’s missing, the presence of which would make all the difference. Doing so will help us focus on where we want to go—together—and remind us that:
There is no freedom without personal responsibility for our choices, moment by moment.
We have the power to imagine new choices that expand us and help create the world we wish to see.
When we love one another, even with our differences, freedom lives within us, for us and through us.
We create democracy together or not at all.
I believe in you.
You matter, and you make all the difference, right where you are.
I see you doing amazing things.
Thank you for being here on the planet at the time of humanity's awakening.
Jackie Ambrow, MA, CHt
One of your Joy Gypsies at Transformation Roadtrip.com