Leadership as a Warrior Path
Excerpt from, Warriors of the Heart
Written by Danaan Parry,
Pages 9 - 16
Telling The Truth About Me
My Path to God
The effective management of change is a vital part of the being the new Warrior of the Heart. It calls for a new model of facilitative servant-leadership, one that empowers rather than controls.
It’s hard for me to believe that my very first taste of this new kind of leadership didn’t occur until my early thirties. Prior to that, every model of leadership had been the old win/lose, hard model of power. And then there was Abe…
I had been a scientist with the Atomic Energy Commission at their laboratory in Livermore, California for about six years. I had just been promoted to project manager, which thrust me out of the laboratory and into a management position without any training in how to manage people.
Terrified, I looked around for some training that would teach me how to deal with human beings as well as I had been taught to deal with electrons, cloud chambers and quantum levels. I found a few short courses in traditional management theory and that helped me to cope with timelines and budgets, but no one was talking about people, about how to deal with their feelings and wants and fears. As I look back, I see that I was really searching for some way to deal with my own internal desires and fears and confusion.
I began to notice that, in my inadequacy as a manager, I had adopted a “get-tough” style of leadership, which was really a “don’t let them see how frightened you are” style. My bosses loved me for it, my subordinates were beginning to hate me for it.
One morning, one of my engineers walked into my office, his face drawn and white, his tie hanging crooked and limp around his neck. He had obviously been awake all night. His name is Sam, a long drink of water from Tennessee with a drawl as long as he was. Now, the day before, I had told Sam to whip up a budget for his part of our project, because I need it this morning to take to the director for approval. Sam leaned weakly on my desk and said that he had not been able to finish the budget. I could sense that something was very wrong with Same and he looked on the brink of tears. I felt the terror build in my stomach and throat. If I wasn’t very careful, this guy was going to let his feelings out, all over my office, and well, we couldn’t have that, could we?
And then it came, my worst fear: His tears. Through them he blurted out his story. He had come home from work the night before to find a note from his wife on the kitchen table. She was gone, with the two kids, with every penny in their savings account, without a trace. He had been on the phone all night trying to find her, with no hope left in him.
And now he was looking at me, thought wet, red eyes. Waiting for me to respond, to reach out to him in some way. I tell you true that I have since been in bombings, shoot-outs and riots where my life hung by a lucky thread, but I have never been as scares as when Sam looked at me, his soul ripped open and exposed to my reply. He was asking me to feel. Damn him, doesn’t he know I don’t know how! Men, even equals, don’t expose themselves to each other like this. And I’m his boss! This will not do!
And so I said it. Out of the depths of unspoken fear and unacknowledged pain in me, I said that which has lived with me for fifteen years, I said, “Sam, we don’t pay you to bring your domestic problems to the office.” I think he died a little then. I know I did. He slithered out of my office. I fell back in my chair and from something still alive in me came the cry, “Oh Danaan, you need help so badly.” I thought my head would explode.
Proving that there are indeed no coincidences in the world, the very next day a colleague told me about an “organizational dynamics” course at U.C.L.A. for managers. Desperately, I applied and was accepted The “course” turned out to be an intense T-Group (Encounter Group) at Ojai, California, where ten middle-management type from ten different companies were “locked up” in a suite of rooms for seven days, with a leading psychologist or psychiatrist in attendance with each group of ten. If I had known that before arriving in Ojai, I would have never gone near the place. But there we were, ten slick, up-and-coming bright young men, groomed for the top and defensive as hell. And there was Abe, Professor Abe, Dean of Psychology at Haifa University, Israel, with a list of titles as long as his beard. The rules were that we could have all the food and drink we wanted but, except for an occasional all-group lecture, we could not leave the suite of rooms for seven days.
“Piece of cake,” I said. I can coast through this untouched. I don’t know what the unspoken rules are, but I’m an expert at finding them out, so no sweat.
The first day, we were so pleasant to each other, I gave my credentials, my impressive education and my accomplishments. We all did. Professor Abe said perhaps ten words the whole day. On the second day, the ten of felt each other out some more, established a pecking order, discerned each other’s weak points and nerve-endings. By the end of day two, we had run out of conversation, out of games, out of patience.
On the third morning, someone told the group how fed-up he was with the rest of us, how shallow he thought we were. We ate him alive. Like a team of piranhas, we systematically tore him apart emotionally and picked his bones clean. When we was a pile of quivering rubble, we turned on the next-weakest member and did the same. Finally, here was a vent for our resentments and fears, and we used all the skill we had accumulated on our paths to becoming managers to viciously attack each other. By the fourth day, we had attacked everyone. I had been folded, spindled, and mutilated, too, but somehow it felt familiar. Isn’t that what men are supposed to do to each other? How else could they relate to one another under these circumstances?
Then we remembered Abe. And we attacked him too. We were good at it, screaming incompetence, hurling charges of mediocrity and stupidity at him, firing thinly veiled arrows of anti-Semitism his way. After all, he had just sat there for four days, apart from an occasional comment or suggestion, which were of course all nonsense and useless to us. How dare he call himself a professional. We sure surely going to advise our superiors to demand our tuition back and sue this charlatan for malpractice.
But it wasn’t working. Our teeth weren’t ripping flesh. He wasn’t biting our hooks, wasn’t taking our bait. And yet he wasn’t protecting himself, either. He wasn’t defending his position. He was just there. It was like he could take in the whole world and love it and feel it and not be crumbled by it. Damn him!
I told him he was a fake and he asked me how I felt when I said that. I told him he didn’t give a shit about me or how I felt, so stop pretending. He asked me if my father had ever given a shit about how I felt and I started to cry. Oh, God, not now, not in front of all these men, please—I’ll do anything not to cry. Please.
And he’s got his arms around me and he’s holding me. And he’s telling me about his father who died in a Nazi concentration camp and he’s crying and I’m telling him about my father who never touched me, never told me he loved me, and I’m crying. Sweet Jesus, we’re just out there on the rug on our knees and our tears are smeared all over our faces and we’re hugging. And there’s a part of my brain that’s still hanging on, still analyzing the situation and it’s saying, “They’re looking at you, you fool. They’ll use this against you. Your’ hugging another man, you’re crying and you cannot do this!” but that part of me is getting smaller and smaller and the rest of me is just there, with the tears, mind and Abe’s, and our bodies tight together and feels so, so good. Oh, God, if my father had pressed his body against mine like this. If he had cried with me, not just when he was stinking drunk. But this is now and I’m healing; I am feeling. I can feel and it’s so, so good.
In the final three days, we somehow were able to reach past the years of deadness and confront and comfort and heal one another. Not everyone, but most of us, learned to cry and to touch and to feel, together and Abe was just here. A word here, a story there, a hug, and a laugh, and a shared pain.
I had found that I could feel. I found something else that week in Ojai, although it would take me ten years to full comprehend it. I had found a model of a new yea of using power, of leadership. It is the force that can heal the world.
My first act when we were “let out” was to call Sam and ask for his forgiveness. It is again no coincidence that when my own marriage fell apart one year later, Sam was there by my side to comfort me.
As I write about my experience with Abe at Ojai, I realize that after more than fifteen years, it is still primarily a feeling, emotional learning memory for me. I know this because I cried, deliciously, as I wrote about it just now. However, these many years later, it is also important to look at what Abe was doing in our group of managers that not only allowed me to feel my feelings and experience, a breakthrough which changed my life, but which also modeled a new form of leadership. He lived a way of using power in a group (that’s a definition of leadership) that I had never experienced before; one that planted seeds in me which began to sprout ten years later when I entered the field of international conflict resolution. So, what was Abe doing with me? What was he not doing?
One of the things he did (or somebody did) was to “create a safe space.” This jargon expresses what has become the first rule of conflict resolution, as I have formulated it in my work and teaching. It is impossible to resolve a conflict, or to bring a group of people to a deep level of sharing unless you have first created a psychological and physical “space” within which the work can be done.
Secondly, Abe “allowed conflict.” Such a simple statement and so difficult, usually, to achieve. You and I have been taught from birth (or before) that conflict is not okay. It is dangerous and to be avoided at all costs. Furthermore, we are taught that if you avoid it, if you pretend there is no conflict when there really is, that it will all ultimately “go away.” Just pretend long enough and it will disappear. That is, of course, a lie. Conflict (when it appears) will not “go away.” Instead it will, when denied, “go underground.” It will burrow deep into your body and psyche. It’s like pretending that a wound really isn’t infected when it is, and covering it with a tight bandage so you can’t see it. It then spreads internally, infecting the entire organisms, becoming much more difficult to heal.
Abe let us play our games. He let us run our numbers. He knew we would run out of patience and cover-ups and niceness, and then when the conflict surfaced, he “allowed” it. He let us rip the band-aids off each other’s wounds, so that the air and sun could get at them. But he also, ever-so-subtly, directed the energy. I can see in hindsight that we never really did annihilate anyone. When we got close to it, when someone was close to their limit, he would comment on the unfairness of another, of the similarity of one of us to the poor victim, and so we would leave the original focus of our vengeance and redirect it at the next victim. We all were shaken, but not toppled. We all were bent, but far from broken. We all were brought to a common experience of seeing our old defenses and games, which had worked for years, not working anymore. There’s no reason to let go of old ways of being and explore newness if the old ways still work.
Abe was present. Just as most of us have taught to avoid conflict, so too we have developed ways of manifesting our avoidance. We have learned to “disappear,” either physically or perhaps just psychologically. When the going gets tough, when any amount of unpleasantness or disagreement surfaces, we “go out to lunch.” This gives rise to the saying, “his lights are on but nobody’s home,” as we look into the blank eyes of someone who has taken their consciousness somewhere else so as to avid the unpleasant moment.
Abe didn’t do that. He stayed. He was totally present, available, to each moment, to each attack on him, to every game and avoidance each moment, to each attack on him, to every game and avoidance technique we tried. He did not judge them or us. He was just there, open to us. He was, in some indefinable way, vulnerable and yet strong, soft and yet unbreakable. Like water. That’s it, it was as if we were throwing rocks in the sea. He could take them all, not needing to throw any back at us. He remained the sea, powerful and available to us. Somehow that allowed us to do what we needed to do to cleanse ourselves. It gave us permission to be the nasty little rock-throwing adolescent boys that we were never allowed to be when we were adolescents, in a “safe space” where we could let go of our armloads of rocks and then see who we really were under that pile.
Abe was able to let go of this position. From the moment I met him as I tentatively peeked in the door of the suite of rooms at Ojai, it was quite obvious that this man was a professional. As I furiously reread the brochure to establish who he was (which for me at the time meant what he was, how many degrees and from where), I had an insight that he was much more than any degree on that sheet of paper (which scared the pants of me, because for me, people were what it said on that paper).
Yet, on that fourth day when we were kneeling on the floor, our bodies heaving and sobbing in rhythm, his cracking voice telling me about his father who never came back from the concentration camp, he was only Abe. There was no clever act there to induce us to “break.” His guts were all over the rug, his vulnerability to me totally present, his pain unhidden.
Sure, at some moment prior to our body-to-body encounter, he probably held some mental picture of how he could assist me in my growth. But out there on the floor was no Ph.D. psychotherapist, no head of department of the University of Haifa Out there was Abe, vulnerable soft, available, with no labels in sight. He brought to that moment something that I have come to see as the most important element in leadership, in peacemaking, in just being a human being –INTEGRITY.
It takes integrity, courage and a deep sense of self to be able to “let go of one’s position.” And these are qualities of the Warrior of the Heart. These are the characteristics of the new path of leadership, new politics, new relationship. When your use of your own power does not depend on your external position, but on a deep feeling of connection to your internal source, your SELF, then you can allow yourself to relinquish your position, your need to be right at all costs. Only then are you able to hear the other person. Only then can you create the environment within which real healing, real win-win outcomes can occur.
It’s so easy to get stuck in our positions, because we are taught that, in some vague way, we are our positions and if we let go of them we’ll lost. Lose what? It doesn’t matter. The fear of losing is so great, the worry about appearing foolish, or stupid, or unlovable is so ingrained and terrifying, that we feel we must defend our positions or die.
What do I mean by “our position?” It usually has to do with “being right” or this is the way it is” or “this is who I am, nothing else.” You hear people say, “Well, that’s just the way I am” or, “Well, out in the real world…” Our position might be, “Look, I’m the trained teacher here…(or therapist, or M.D., or mommy, or the man in the family, or…).” We’ve got it all figured out, we know how it works and we don’t want any more input.
I learned a lot from Abe in those few days. He gave me a model for a new way of using power, a new way to be a leader through empowerment and giving permission. That kind of leadership allows people to feel that they did it and can do it again. That kind of leadership doesn’t create a few gurus; it creates thousands of empowered people who are ready to take responsibility for their own lives. That kind of leadership is a Warrior of the Heart.
In the field generically known as “peace-work,” we’re loaded with positions. “My definition of peace is better than their definition.” “Our peace group is on the right track, those other groups are just kidding themselves.” “You can only be for peace if you’re antinuclear. Anyone who supports nuclear energy is obviously not for peace,” etc. Sometimes, in our zeal to create peace, we create win/lose battlegrounds that actually block the path to true peace.
Can you think of an “Abe” in your life? Has there been someone in your life who has helped you to redefine your limited view of reality, (your Tonal), into an expanded sense of the Nagual?
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