Two Stories of Women and Men – Part 3

women and menI participated in a simple and instructive “Listening Circle” at the Systemic Constellations event in Croatia this week. Amid all the goings on with international presenters, most of which were wonderful, and meeting new people from all over, there was this simple space to hear each other.

It wasn’t that different from the Listening Circles that I and many of you know, by whatever name they’re called. Places in which your experience and perspective are welcomed just as they are.

When we can tell the truth of how things are right now, and when it’s safe enough to really say, something is noticed that’s usually hidden from view.

That something is usually hidden in the social conversation between women and men too. In fact it’s usually hidden in all of our social conversations. We enter them with inherited or social biases about what’s important to notice and miss the good stuff.

Pretty much all the good stuff. Terrible isn’t it?

The political conversation, ever since there were two different tribes, has a framework of us and them, and how to manage that. There is an us and them when there is, but it’s also true, and just as true, that there isn’t any us and them when there isn’t. And there’s a strong case to be made that getting to “just us” is where we need to go in this fractured world.

The conversation with women and men is similar to the political one.

Because of our social conditioning (aka evolutionary development), virtually all of us have been locked into the experience and perception of our own sex. We don’t notice this usually. We’re usually bound to see what our tribe does.

Think of Elizabeth Bennett and Mr. D’Arcy in Pride and Prejudice and how different their motivations, objectives and context were. They simply lived these without having an analysis of them. There was no stepping outside to have a look, just lives lived from within their particular points of view.

This is still the case today for women and men. We’re commonly locked into the experience of our own sex. We have judgments but no frame for holding them. We’ve little practical understanding of mutuality, just like we don’t recognize the implicit us and them in the political conversation. The result is that we perpetuate the duality.

Of course we do have a feminist analysis but this is, in my view, as yet one-sided and unintegrated, making the picture more complicated and difficult to see for women and men both.

The way out of the labyrinth is simple – but not easy. It’s to be in a safe enough space that we can speak what’s true for us – and listen to what’s true for others – without slipping into the unconscious bias. It’s tricky! But we do know how to do this and many of us are learning to do it. Slowly and modestly, but we are learning.

My time in Europe will be spent learning from those who are doing this and continuing to be in “listening circles” of different kinds with many of you. However, the conversation about gender feels like it’ll take a back seat for just now. Reply to this email and let me know if you’d like to be notified when it happens!

Details of this week’s Listening Circle here

Two Stories of Women and Men

two stories of women and men

two stories of women and men

Two stories of women and men I heard this week got me thinking .

The first was told by an Irish friend in an online group conversation when the subject of women and men came up . . .

The powers-that-be wanted to build a motorway through one of Ireland’s ancient sacred sites. A woman called on other women to come to the site to stop the work from happening. But not only did she call the women, she called the men too, to come and protect the women. At the critical juncture, the women were on the inside of the circle and the men were on the outside, surrounding the women and facing out.

were on the inside of the circle and the men were on the outside, surrounding the women and facing out.

In our small group who heard the speaker (who was there) tell this, I think we immediately recognized the archetypal elements of the story and its power. I wouldn’t want to be the one charged with busting that circle up.

But the most interesting thing is what happened after when the women who’d been inside that circle talked about it among themselves afterwards: they described themselves as being “stunned” by the experience. They were amazed at how they felt being inside that circle, protected by the men.

I like this story. It gives a good place to women and a good place to men both. It emphasizes the nurturing, inward role of women and the protecting and outward-facing role of men. And it implies a mutuality in the two. The story is powerful because it resonates with our evolutionary history in some way. If it had have been the women on the outside facing out and the men on the inside facing in, would each have felt the same clarity?

As I’m imagining it, the women felt taken care of, respected, loved even, because the men were putting themselves on the line in their defense. They felt proud and useful and the women felt cherished and protected.

Further thoughts arose in the group hearing the story. How cool it would be if women felt appreciated, seen, and cherished for their life-giving gifts as they walked down the street! How cool if the men on the street knew the women were supporting them, cheering them on, valuing them. Loving them even! How cool if would be if that was the vibe we walk around in.

As we spoke of this in the group, some heartwarming relaxation and calming started to arise in the group “field.” We felt a body sense of the realness of that mutual support, at least among us, even if the street scene was still far away.

Here’s a quick sketch of the second story which I’ll leave with you to see how – or if – it “cooks” with the first for you. It’s a story I’d just heard in another context and I shared it in the listening circle.

A bit of set-up: I’ve long used an inner process called “Focusing” as a way of self-reflection. (Focusing developed out of a research project into what happens internally for people who are successful in therapy; it’s practiced by a million or more people worldwide.)

The story concerns my friend Bruce Gibbs who taught Focusing to a church group of ten men and ten women. Each year he went back to see them. After ten years the ten women were all still there – but none of the men!

A number of questions arise for me from the confluence of these two stories. What would it take for a world in which women and men feel seen and cherished “on the street” – or is that a laughable fantasy? Why do men leave, or show up less often, in many contemporary places of self-exploration such as Focusing? And is there a common dynamic that underlies both stories?

In the next two weeks, I’ll share some thoughts on the two and outline a conversational experiment to follow.