Desmond Tutu once said If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. These are strong words so let me explain why I agree with him by sharing a story and some insights. At the start of lockdown I set up a WhatsApp group for our immediate local community so that we could keep in touch and check in on folk especially the more vulnerable members. Recently one member posted Katie Hopkins’ video in which she questions the integrity of the #blacklivesmatter protests. It certainly caused controversy on the chat. I felt quite strongly observing initially and then discussed it at length with a couple of neighbours I met out walking.
The path to social justice
It was interesting timing for me as I had just taken part in a six days healing focus rather like a retreat where I took time to meditate and write on the topic of justice and fairness. I came out of that process with a clear sense of what I want to learn in terms of further education. Furthermore, I have been approached to be on the board of a Black organisation with the purpose of changing the face of education here in UK so that is part of my next step and path. What also has become clear to me as a learning on this journey is that neutrality is harmful. Let me explain why.
Sharing my process and stance as it unfolds
Yes it takes courage to speak up but to those whom much has been given much is expected. The bigger challenge for me is that I am a very passionate person and can be quite raw with my emotion. This is particularly the case when it feels as if people are going through the motions or playing a role. In those moments it is hard to stop my disruptor from coming to the fore. As part of the healing focus I meditated on Ar Ra’uf which means gentleness and kindness. Afterwards I found myself writing this:
My gift is kindness coupled with fierce love. This allows the softening of my heart so when I need to call out the inconsistencies that I witness, I do so with love and compassion, rather than coming from the anger of the wounded self. I choose to bring healing wielding my sword with laser precision and humbly acknowledge that I am a work in progress.
For some these words hold contradictions but my sense is that if we are to move forward in this world we need to get comfortable with paradox. For me this stance helps me be with the world as it is.
How does all this relate to you?
I feel it is important on two counts. Lockdown has brought up emotions for many and those along with the aftermath emanating from the recent US events reveal the collective trauma we are all in. Those who’ve studied trauma have learned that when witnesses to injustice do nothing, it’s a greater source of distress for sufferers than the act of brutality itself. This is because “neutrality” is a form of deep invalidation.
When we humans experience invalidation from others, it sends a message to the survival parts of our brains that we aren’t valued or protected. Over time this feeling of lack of safety can harm the brain and nervous system; and destroy bonds of trust and connection.
Personal trauma as seen in relationships
The research by the Gottman institute suggests that in fact this kind of neutrality is perceived as a betrayal. When you look at couples in relationships, the inability to emphasise often comes from unhealed trauma within. Take a moment to try this out for yourself: can you remember a time when you were growing up and felt scared, in pain or unsafe and were told “you brought this upon yourself?”
A way to heal
Working with the Colour Mirrors system, we learn that the experiences that we have are a mirror back to us to help us see what we have not yet accepted in ourselves. Let’s go back to our couple where one has shared something that has caused them pain and the other has remained neutral unwilling to empathise with them or unable to do so. Often times this leads to a row because the other person feels as if they have not been heard and so feel hurt and betrayed.
The way to heal that is to take 100% responsibility for your action even if you don’t feel it is all your fault. Sufis call it tawba. Don’t try and bargain just accept that you played a role in it whatever happened. I like to use Ho‘oponopono, an ancient Hawaiian practice for forgiveness and reconciliation. And the bottle in the photograph represents the first line of Ho’oponopono “I am sorry.”
It is a real challenge to take full responsibility in any given situation but the gift when you do ask forgiveness in this way is that Source gives you insights into it at a deeper level than the story. It also helps you to develop a sense of humility and respect for all other beings so that as Don Miguel Ruiz wrote you stop taking things personally.
If that’s not enough what the Gottman Institute research discovered is that you have to carry out this practice 20 times to heal the limbic brain from one episode of invalidation. 20 times for one incident of invalidation on a personal level with your partner or for any incident where you have contributed to the collective issue of systemic racism. The good news is that neuroplasticity – the brain’s ability to reorganise itself by forming new neural connections – means that practising a form of tawba for small things can lead to lasting change.
What I am saying is that whether we are looking at an incident of personal or collective trauma, we each have a part to play. It is time to take personal responsibility and recognise the power that you have in creating a better world. Together we can create a fairer society where social justice is the norm using a practice like tawba or Ho’oponopono. This will also enable release and the integration of all the parts of you that were hurt in the past so you can stand in your sovereignty.