Putting Trust and Faith in the People

in #politics7 months ago (edited)

amberjyang_cosmic_oil_painting_of_activists_and_dogs_sitting_in_6b58dba5-4ed1-44d7-87ca-c854fde3842b Large.jpeg
AI-generated image on Midjourney, "cosmic oil painting of dog people sitting in a circle and talking"

The other day, I was watching a fascinating episode of dog trainer Cesar Millan work with a huge Pitbull and a German Shepherd, who wanted to tear each other's faces off. At his training center, the two dogs engaged in a bloody and vicious fight. After several moments of pulling them apart from each other, Cesar got them both in a calm state and then brought them back together, even when his film crew openly questioned whether that was the safe thing to do. "The last thing you want to do when dogs fight is to separate them for good," he said. By getting them back into the same space, they learn to create a new memory of each other that fosters coexistence, rather than tension and fear. By the end of the week, the pet parents were shocked to watch their dogs, the same ones that tried to kill each other for years, play with each other in a happy-go-lucky state.

What I love about Cesar Millan is that he doesn't focus on treats and rewards to change dog behavior. He meets them on an energetic level. He gets dogs to face their fears in order to build inner security, patiently waiting as they bark, whine, quiver, bite, or jerk around until they reach a calm state. Then he shows them affection. Watching him work with aggressive and violent dogs is amazing. Cesar doesn't say much verbally, yet his body language and energy results in dogs laying down in a calm, surrendered state almost instantly.

The natural state of a dog is calm and relaxed. When the dog is in fight or flight mode, or sees everything as a threat, it can't see clearly and acts out. Most of his work is actually training humans to change their energy in order for the dog to surrender and trust their leadership. Dog aggression and violence is usually because there is no leadership for the dog to put its trust in.

This seems to be quite aligned with the human world. In our society, you see humans biting each other's heads off figuratively (and possibly literally if they got the chance). The endless noise of society hinders our ability to think clearly and listen to each other. Polarization, divisive narratives, and rampant censorship are fueled by social media algorithms and the 24/7 news cycle. Cancel and call-out culture stunts free speech and disregards the complexity and greater good of humanity. The power elite depends on the masses fighting with each other in order to further harmful agendas that covertly shape society to their benefit at the expense of the public good. How do we build a different narrative that supports civil dialogue, and the willingness to question forces keeping us divided and fearful?

As Frances Moore Lappé shares in her book Getting a Grip: Clarity, Creativity, and Courage for the World We Really Want, a culture of fear and rigid thinking causes most of us to shut down and to see others as potential threats. However, a democratic culture invites new, diverse ways of making sense of societal issues. It builds trust. Just like Cesar helping create a new memory and experience for the two dogs to coexist together and face their fears, I deeply believe that we need to create more spaces like this in human society.

At the root of this vision is investing trust in people to self-regulate, make different choices, and collaborate with one another. Conflict and tension needs to be faced in order for this to be possible. As Gandhi once said, conflict is as common as breathing. Breathing is automatic and unconscious, as are many behaviors that drive conflict. He also said that conflict reveals. It reveals deeper truths about who we are in relationship to what’s around us. Getting honest and real with ourselves is how we open up to the lessons that conflict reveals.

Our culture has a tacit assumption that if we can just gather enough information on ourselves and our world, it will add up to a whole. But when you stand back to look at something, there are always details that are hidden from you.
— Philip Shepherd, embodiment coach

Relating to each other across our differences creates authentic relationships and builds effective communication skills. It also invites us to cultivate a healthy inner life. We learn to work with our own blind spots and projections in order to access a wider view of reality. We realize there are things we can't see from where we're standing. We open up to the complexity of the real world with humility and curiosity, instead of reducing our reality to a static and simplistic one. Yet most importantly, working through our differences builds our sense of the common good. Building relationships where there were none is just as important as material goals like policy change and critical media literacy skills.

When I was doing restorative justice work at a high school, I quickly learned how ill-prepared our administrators and public institutions were in role-modeling this way of being and relating to each other. Normalized in the system were something called "No Contact Contracts," where kids who got into fights (or were about to) would have to sign an agreement with a school administrator that orders kids to stay away from each other or they face suspension and possibly serve time in juvenile hall. This was the norm at all the schools I worked at.

During my time in the public schools, I worked with a group of about 20-30 Latino boys who were all gang affiliated in some form. Swimming in a culture of trauma, toxic masculinity, and tribalism, these boys would do anything to hurt each other in order to establish their dominance. I even lost a few boys I got close to, who got stabbed to death. School administrators, police officers, teachers, and families had no clue what to do with this violence except to double down on their punitive threats. This did nothing but exacerbate the tension.

After building close relationships with these kids and working with the different groups separately, they came to a resolution on their own that I supported wholeheartedly from a distance. Instead of living in fear 24/7 and trying to kill each other, they would meet up outside of school hours with boxing gloves. Kids would step up to to be referees, and the boys who had problems with each other would learn to fight with rules and boundaries in place in order to avoid incarceration or worst of all, death. It was all self-organizing.

Meanwhile, I would hold circles for the boys to come together and talk about what was going on in their own lives. We would sit and practice different breathing and mindfulness techniques, creating a new memory of being in the same space together in a relaxed and regulated way. Kids would say pretty dark and heavy things in the circle, and we had strong agreements in place to honor the confidential space we created together. When kids from different gang factions realized that "the other side" had experiences almost identical to theirs, things shifted even further.

The results were magical. The kids would shake hands or bump fists after the boxing rounds. During a circle I facilitated, the Norteños kid would look at the Sureños kid and say, "I don't want to be your friend, but we cool." For anyone who understands gang culture, you know this is a big fucking deal. When the administrators and police officers met with me to ask what I was doing with the boys that was making such a big difference, I didn't tell them that they basically created a boxing club on their own to settle out their problems. I knew this would be shut down immediately.

Yet eventually, they found out. All of the kids were suspended, some got transferred to another school, and some were on the track to get expelled. I was written up and reported for being complicit and encouraging them to do this. I tried my best to gather support around me to advocate for these kids, but I couldn't find anyone who wanted to stand with me against the status quo of bureaucracy and liability fears that shape public school policy.

Something I'm noticing is how little trust and faith we put in people (and dogs) to make different choices. The power structures in our institutions and political systems seem to think that control, silence, and fear are the most effective ways in creating a sane population. A common saying from twelve-step programs and family therapy circles is that any social system or individual is as sick as their secrets.

Instead of getting traumatized kids to talk, we shut down conversation and dialogue which only fuels tension and drama. We censor and smear dissenting voices on social media. Fearful and reactive, conspiracy theorists jump to speculative conclusions in response to the secretive nature of our government institutions, which adds to the noise of the chaotic information landscape. Things all makes us sicker as a society. It reduces us to our worst qualities and reinforces limited beliefs about ourselves and the world.

Back in 2016, I had attended a Native American Art Festival in Sacramento, CA. One of the photographs I saw stopped me in my tracks. Looking at the caption, it was a photograph from the early 1930s. It was a Lakota Sioux medicine man staring right at me, his eyes a paradoxical combination of fierce and soft. The Lakota Medicine Men were much more than shamans and healers. I read how they loved doing everything backwards, from riding horses backward to wearing their clothes inside out. What stood out to me the most was how these men felt that their purpose was to encourage people of their tribes to question things. Things were done one way, but could be done another. To do so, they worked to remove hate and fear from their people.

Evolutionary history shows two primary modes of existence for humans over time. One of them shows that we can be brutal, competitive, selfish, and cruel. However, for most of the 200,000 years of human experience, we've existed in close communities with our lives depending on each other. Cooperating, protecting, and sharing with our neighbors. The question for humanity seems to be: What brings out the worst vs. the best in us? I want to live in a society where we question the beliefs and authority systems that keep us separated and not working together. Not so much because we're "all one," but that those narratives don't give us the full picture of reality. Another way of being and relating to each other is possible that isn't so driven by fear. I'd love to see a culture of activism or any social movement hold this as primary in their calls for change.


Fantastic post. You made a difference in those kids' lives despite the system being stacked against good outcomes. And you're quite right that another way of being and relating is possible.

Your AI dog people are delightful: )