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Cookin' on the Stove I Know...

harm is never in isolation. violence is never private. pain is never meant to be experienced alone. therefore, repair and response is communal. ~ amy howton,

These words have been cookin’ in me since I came across them a couple days ago in a lazy Facebook scroll. Well, actually, it was more of a targeted exploration of some Fire&Water friends’ Facebook pages. How is all the unrest unfolding for others in the circle? I have been wondering.

The “stove” these words are cookin’ on is an old established one…or perhaps simply the only “modern appliance” my adult leader-self has known: professionalism, well-boundaried interdependent self-awareness, streams of psychological wisdom that have shaped me in clinical pastoral education settings for over two decades. Know your role. Stay in your lane. Seek the support you need, but tend to your own pains responsibly, without projection onto another, others. Claim responsibility when necessary. Be accountable to your own ancestral healing work, know your triggers, tend them gently. Don’t look to those you lead to hold your own pain. As Olympia Dukakis quips in Moonstruck: don’t shit where you eat.

Clearly I want desperately for the opening words to be more true than these. I’m not sure they are.

Harm is often in isolation, almost by definition. Someone gets singled out, whether on social media or at the back of the proverbial pack. It’s part of why conformity is so seductive. It’s rooted in our amygdala/reptile brains, hardwired for survival.

Violence is private, of a sort, as the pack often races ahead. It is not private in the sense that violence is necessarily an interpersonal act, harm experienced by one or both in the encounter.

Pain is never meant to be experienced alone. Meant, by whom? Human life is pain. I do know personally that pain can be felt, grieved, released best when not-alone. But is that community-wide or in specific smaller containers able to hold the pain responsibly…?

Therefore repair and response is communal. YES. Healing only comes with communal witness. True community is that which attempts for safety, witness, healing, even as it can sometimes be the source of further injury. We heal when we grieve, communally witnessed.

As a leader, then: how am I responsible to my calling, the Whole, and myself when I am in great pain?

Is it an adolescent act to place your pain into the communal Whole, hoping it will re-gather around you to protect you, while potentially doing harm to anyone "outside"? My decades of pastoral formation say it is an adolescent act, pouring one’s pain into the Center for all to see.

But is it part of today’s leadership-decline that pain is not expressed openly, across supposed ‘leadership-community’ lines?

What if the community needs to step up to lead-as-one in such times? What would that even look like? Is it simply showing up, holding a non-judgmental space, investing in co-creating a different leadership culture? What if community can elder the elders? Only if they receive... And I suppose it's unlikely today, anyway, given so much unconscious mother-father baggage we all carry.

I know less than when I began, it would seem!

Listening still…in Love.

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