There are two big ways we tend to view political organizing. One approach is from a place of strength. The other is from love.
- Strength is setting and enforcing boundaries that protect what we hold dear. It’s also containing, neutralizing or marginalizing the opponent.
- Love is acceptance, compassion, and a humanizing force. It’s also engaging and persuading the opponent.
I have written about this before, and I put together the infographic below to illustrate what Carl Jung called “the tension of opposites.”
It’s a big topic, but to help boil things down, I focused on this question:
How do you deal with people who say or do racist things?
Do you "call them out?"
Or "call them in?"
- “Calling out” is the path of strength, and it’s just what it sounds like. It’s openly (and sometimes publicly) naming oppressive words or behavior, so that everyone is clear it won’t go unanswered. It is, in a way, an interpersonal form of protest.
- “Calling in” is its gentler counterpart, on the path of love. This is where you reach out to the offender to persuade them to change their behavior. (Read how a bunch of students successfully called-in Derek Black, a former white supremacist leader.) (Please see an important update with more context on calling-in, a few paragraphs down.)
These kinds of conversations are social change at the ground level. And much of what applies here, also applies to the bigger picture. In other words, the way we think about these kinds of conversations tends to carry though to how we think about social justice organizing, movement building, and advocacy in general.
Three things before we get to the graphic
1. This is not about political centrism.
To the contrary, this is about knowing what we stand for, and ever more skillfully advocating for it. Particularly in a time when our political center has drifted so far to the right, this is about being clear on what values and causes we hold sacred, as we are both strong and loving as we work to address social issues.
2. This is not about favoring one approach over the other.
Instead, this is about is taking a step back and seeing the larger dynamics that play out over and over again in our politics. And to find the wisdom that arises when we can “hold the tension of opposites.”
None of this is new. Buddhists have long talked about the “middle path,” which “describes the way or path that transcends and reconciles the duality that characterizes most thinking.”
3. This IS about winning.
A common misconception I hear is that empathy is all about being "nice" to racists, and giving them the benefit of the doubt. It's not. The reason to integrate the paths of love and strength is to become stronger and wiser in everything we do, so we can win, dammit.
[UPDATE: 5/10/17] 4. This is about how we are with each other.
I’ve gotten great feedback since I published this, and I wanted to incorporate some of it. Generally speaking, “calling-in” is used as a way to frame conversations with people we are in community with. The Derek Black reference above is interesting because it is exceptional.
But in most cases, no one is “calling-in” a card-carrying white supremacist. (Unless he happens to be your uncle, and you are trying to maintain that relationship.) It is emotionally exhausting, and as one friend of mine pointed out, after 500+ years of ingrained racism, persuasion doesn’t work well.
So perhaps it’s not about trying to persuade racists to be less racist, and Trump voters to give more of a crap about us. Not because that’s not a good thing to do, but because we’ve got plenty of work to do, just building bridges within the progressive community.
After all, I’ve most often witnessed instances of calling-in and calling-out within progressive groups where we share values. And both approaches work and fail -- in instructive ways -- at building the strong, resilient, and connected communities we need to transform racism in this country.
Please keep the feedback coming. I’m still learning.
Here it is.
It’s drawn from my personal experience, and I’d love to hear how this resonates -- and doesn’t -- with yours, in the comments.
This is not just about big picture stuff, because we all dance in this polarity every day. It’s in questions like:
How do I stay open to feedback, without being a doormat?
How do I get others to hear me, without being a dictator?
How do I set firm boundaries with the people I love, while staying connected and kind?
Do you see the Love/Strength polarity showing up in your life and work? If so, I’d love to hear how in the comments.