June 29

The Shame and the Gift

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(Part 1 of 2)

When you don’t speak out it’s a millstone around your neck. It plugs into a sense of shame and unworthiness, the feeling that your voice isn’t worthy of being heard. From there it’s just a hop away to the sense that “my experience doesn’t matter.” And that’s almost the same as “I don’t matter.”

We evolved in tribes and deeply want to be connected to the tribe or group. We want to contribute to it and we want our voice to be heard.

But there’s a definite risk to doing so: The tribe has a consciousness of its own and that consciousness doesn’t tolerate non-conformity because it threatens the cohesiveness of the tribe. The tribe doesn’t know what to do with it.

I think this is a fundamental human problem: How do we fit our unique I into the collective We?

Or perhaps I need to say it’s a fundamental problem for me. This is the question that fascinates and drives me personally. I think it’s key to our evolutionary survival. The tribe needs individual gifts to make it’s way through our multi-faceted emerging crisis.

But often the gifts are held back because of what I’m pointing to.

The tribes we belong to, including family, work and spiritual communities, put invisible pressure on us to behave, think and feel in a way the tribe approves of. Members conform to this pressure invisibly and seamlessly out of love and loyalty to the group members. It’s what being a group member is.

Trouble is, this out-of-consciousness conformity to group norms creates a conflict with the depth of the self. Now the “I” must suppress its own knowing so as to not jeopardize its good standing in the group. It gets drawn toward the who-am-I-to-say-this “shame” side of the shame-gift continuum. As I see it, this dynamic is more or less always in operation..

The I and the We are in a dynamic tension. They struggle to make room for each other but they’re not sure they can afford it. This is stressful because the stakes are high. The risk is potential exclusion for the individual, which in the long history of the tribe has often meant death. On the other hand the tribe is threatened by deep change and wants to close it’s ranks against the truly new. Usually neither the tribe nor the individual know that it’s through this dynamic tension that new things come into being.

Oy vey!

How do we work with that?

Basically in a “conscious group,” which I define as one one that names this unconscious problem and makes a light-hearted welcome for the tension that’s there.

I’ll share Part 2, thoughts on the “conscious group” in a few days.

In the meantime I’d love if you share any thoughts or comments on the blog. I love when you write me personally but I’d prefer to see more conversation within the tribe, rather than privately. That said, feel free to write!


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