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  • Vanessa Anstee

Respecting our humanity in a polarised world

Updated: Mar 21, 2019


Last week heralded International Women’s day and with it, social media has been full of blog posts. Women championing other women. Men celebrating women. Women challenging women. Men challenging women. Up until now I have found myself withdrawing from these types of conversations. They feel far more complex than we choose to consider.


Yet my inner wise woman knows this is a familiar edge for me. It would be far easier for me to stay safe in my primary identity of silent observer than to have an opinion. My inner wise woman laughs, kindly, at the irony of this. She knows that fear is driving my behaviour of withholding. The familiar fear of being judged, ridiculed or worst still out-smarted. Boom. That familiar fear that so many of us hold of simply not being enough as we are. The one that has us waiver and doubt. This is not just a female foible. I know men that doubt and question if they are not enough. I believe it’s a human tendency and that shame is the emotional wind that blows through and keeps these conversations hidden.


I feel uncomfortable in how polarised so many of our conversations are becoming. They seem narrow, blinkered and one dimensional. If we look to the concept of deep democracy (Arnold Mindell) for inspiration we are encouraged to consider that each voice and feeling needs representation in order for a group to know itself and resolve issues. It’s a process that allows for members of a group to try on completely new roles other than their usual ones and to speak freely from those places. Through that freedom of expression and exploration of different viewpoints the whole group find new insight about how they are functioning and what wants to happen.


On international women’s day I found myself disappointed, longing for a richer, deeper conversation. I noticed how I wanted to broaden the conversation beyond women and hear all of the voices not just the polarised ones. I wanted to encourage deep democracy so that those shy voices can speak and offer their insight. I found myself hungry to see our shared and common humanity and the challenges that being human and fearful bring us in terms of natural evolution.


I can’t help but wonder what would be possible if the teams and organisations that we worked in were able to adopt the principle of deep democracy? Could we get beyond the rhetoric and symbolism that tries to prove progress in the face of discrimination? Would we be able to support those that feel ignored, marginalised and disempowered?

In my experience lack of awareness amongst leadership and misuse of rank can lead to empathic failure. The marginalised voices seek some kind of revenge. They comply and end up neither engaged or disengaged. They simply go through the motions.


The Centre for Right Relationship in their systemic coach training refer to this phrase, “who knows what is good and bad.” It reminds me of the Rumi quote, “Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and right doing there is a field. I'll meet you there.”


That’s the place I’d like to help people reach because these are the kinds of conversations I think people need to have. Ones that start with a mutual recognition of each other’s humanity.



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