Last week I wrote an opinion piece on my thoughts about how we could prevent gun violence for the Lily, a woman-focused publication of the Washington Post. Everytown for Gun Safety had asked me to serve on a Veterans Advisory Council and I was happy to do my part for the team.
Later in the week I was going through my facebook feed and I was taken aback by the hostility and aggression that complete strangers were directing at me in the comments of a post that I had made public by request. People with NRA logos as their profile pictures called me some pretty nasty names, questioned my integrity, and questioned my military service. My favorite – brought to my attention by my dear friend, Mike Shore, accused me of being a “gun-fag mental masturbator.”
You know. Just another day at the office.
The other day I saw a quote by Martin Luther King Jr. that said, “There comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but he must take it because conscience tells him it is right.”
I think he’s got a good point, but today I want to talk about the fear doing so brings up for you as a change leader. Let’s break it down in slow motion.
Imagine me sitting on my couch, late at night, absent-mindedly scrolling through my facebook feed. Oh, there’s a comment on my post. Let’s see [click]….wait – what?!?
When I read the mean and hateful things people were saying about me, my heart raced immediately. A brief wave of nausea roll through me. I noticed my brain kicking into fight or flight mode. The back of my neck tingled and my vision narrowed to focus in even more closely.
All this in an instant, from words written by complete strangers.
I am imagining maybe you’ve been there, too. That in your work to create change in the world, you’ve taken a position that’s unpopular or unsafe, and felt the full heat of the status-quo monger push-back.
In a future weekly email, we’ll hear from a guest contributor who is a communications expert their expertise on what to do in these social media situations. And there are better and worse responses. But the key word here is responses. Not reactions.
I knew that night sitting on my couch that the very first thing I needed to do was to come home to myself. Months before I had asked my friend and mentor, Katie Hendricks, her advice for staying present and connected when it feels like the whole world is falling apart. Her words of wisdom stuck with me: First, you must come home to yourself. Breathe. Move. Wiggle. Put your hand on your heart. Talk to yourself with kind words. Whatever it takes to return fully to your presence, because when fight or flight kicks in, Elvis has left the building. (I added the Elvis part there, but you get the gist). You have to be here – be present – to create change.
Then, once you’re back fully connected with yourself and inhabiting your own body, look up and see who else is present and make an energetic connection with them. Those of us who are conscious and present and awake and committed to creating positive change – everyone on this mailing list – we need one another now more than ever.
Then respond. But not before.
It took me three days to respond. Three days for trolls with pretty much zero friends/audience to network ride on my social media friends/audience and spread their hate. Ultimately I decided to delete their comments – they are not entitled to my “platform” so to speak. The point I want to make here is it’s partially about what you decide to do, but don’t decide that until you are back inhabiting your body fully. Easier said than done.
I offer to you Donella Meadows’ words from her prophetic article “Leverage Points for Systems Change” (if you haven’t already read it, please bring this short, powerful piece to the top of your reading list):
“So how do you change paradigms? …You don’t waste time with the reactionaries; rather you work with active change agents and with the vast middle ground of people who are open-minded.”
It is my greatest pleasure in life to work with active change agents through the Billions Institute. I wish each of you a wonderful week and I invite you to bring your awareness to a few things, as our own awareness into our own experience as change leaders is a good part of the work:
Is your conscience telling you that perhaps now is the time to take a position on an issue, even if it is unpopular or unsafe to do so?
When you get scared in your day to day work to create change, do you have reliable ways to come home to yourself? To connect with others? Then respond?
Are you working with active change agents and with the middle ground of people who are open-minded? What else might you like to do with them/us?
This is all part of the work for large-scale change and I encourage you to have fun with it, because friends don’t let friends lead large-scale change alone. I’d love to hear your answers to any of those questions – just hit “reply” and let me know!
Shift Results is hiring a Project Manager.
Sandy Hook Promise is on a California hiring spree.
July 10th – 13th: Skid Row School for Large-Scale Change in Los Angeles. Deadline for registration is June 19th and we have a few more spots. These are the last available spots for 2018. We’ll be announcing 2019 dates soon!