by Miki Kashtan
By Anna Barnett, Communications and Outreach Manager at BayNVC
January is near, and Miki is getting ready to begin her next year-long Leveraging Your Influence program – and also her last one, since co-facilitator Aya Caspi is set to take over starting in 2017.
I had my first LYI experience two months ago, when I attended the one-week-retreat version of the course. Miki pours into this curriculum everything I adore most about working with her and BayNVC. The audacious vision of systemic change, the attention to the change agent’s inner transformation, the concrete practices and commitments.
With all that in mind, I’m planning on joining Leveraging Your Influence again in January, this time for the year-long program. Since LYI forms the frame of my new year, this seems like a good moment to reflect on what I took away from my first time. Here are three of the things I learned:
1. Humility and nonviolence
Every Leveraging Your Influence course finds different themes and threads, drawn from the group of participants, their interests, and challenges that arise on the spot. At the October retreat, we dived headlong into addressing racism and white privilege within our group. I’m white, and I went into this process anxiously, but also with some sense that I understood the problem. I’d read many articles, taken anti-racism 101 training, and even once tried teaching a Sunday school lesson on Peggy McIntosh’s “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack.”
I’m not sure whether to laugh or cry about that now, because – to make a long story short – when I was invited to really listen to what was going on for people of color at LYI, I started realizing that my approach was fear- and privilege-based, and harmful and alienating. For example, more than once I apologized for a racist microaggression and then immediately withdrew from that person. In my mind I was doing the right thing by acknowledging my racism, but this tactic did not involve any listening, and my withdrawal reinforced separation along racial lines. I came away from LYI mourning ways that I lined up with oppression and hurt people who I like, respect, and want to support.
LYI’s nonviolent paradigm challenged me to take in the harm without moving to blame. It was a huge stretch, and it allowed me to shed my fear of these conversations and connect with a fierce sense of care. I’ve recommitted to facing privilege, minus the hope that I can be super savvy and not mess up. I don’t have the inside scoop on racism, and I want to attend first to the people who do, not to my performance anxiety.
The focus on racism gave me a lot of practice in dealing with shame, and I noticed something kind of amazing. Shame is painful and hard, but it’s also easy to go to – it’s an ingrained habit.
Using tools like self-empathy and NVC mourning, I could surface the grief below the shame. It was like standing up straighter. In fact, it did make me stand up straighter. Unlike shame, which I see as essentially pointless suffering, grief has healing and generative properties. Once I shifted into this stance of alignment and strength, I wanted to change my habit. I now want to keep standing up to my grief instead of collapsing into shame.
3. The figure-8 of outer and inner work
Miki talks often about moving step by step toward noncooperation with dominant and dysfunctional systems. She says each subversive step calls for self-empowerment and willingness to stretch inwardly, and you also need a supportive community to keep you going.
I noticed this many times in the retreat. I was determined to show up as fully as I could; if I could see a way to stretch, then I reminded myself of what I’d been learning, I asked for help or empathy, and I did it. By the week’s end, I think I absorbed and stored this cycle at the body level. I could feel the way that courageous personal stretching and radical social change experiments make room for each other. Each seems to draw on a well of energy that the other refreshes – especially when I’m also drawing support from people around me.
So if that was my first LYI, what am I hoping to take away from my second? There’s a lot I can’t predict, since each of these workshops functions as an improvisational learning lab. Still, I can make some wishes: I’d love to form local community, especially with others who (like me) identify as activists and organizers. I always want to turn toward my spirituality more, and let that inspire acts of loving resistance. I have a lot of thinking to do about money, and LYI offers quite a bit of that. And I often feel a queasy disconnect from activists who want what I want, but whose tactics or tone don’t match my ideal of nonviolence; what about bridging that gap?
Whatever else happens, I’m looking forward to having plenty of time to savor and integrate what we encounter, month by month. I’m really curious to see what’s possible when I inhabit this learning lab for a whole year.
Are you curious too? You can come to the first session of Leveraging Your Influence in January without committing to the whole year. There’s an application to fill out first.
Image credits: Top: White Privilege, by Tina Leggio, Flickr, (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0).