20 Jul Responsible for the World
I find myself wondering about my responsibility as a pastor in these divided and concerting times. To me, it seems clear that we have a president who is undermining democratic norms and values and appealing to an energy of fear which shuts down creative and compassionate response to collective challenges. Many historians see troubling signs that we are following a path well-trod by previous authoritarian leaders. To many, these signs are clear for all to see. Yet, for others, there seems nothing that the president can do that will convince them that there is reason for concern. Their concern is only that the president’s opponents are leading us to ruin. If I speak out, I risk alienating many. If I do not speak out, I risk leaving others feeling lost and powerless.
A few years ago, I was introduced to a model, called the Karpman drama triangle. The triangle recognizes that we live in systems which tend to lure us into roles that frustrate creative breakthroughs. The Karpman triangle identifies the three roles of victim, rescuer, and persecutor. A therapist used this triangle to help me lead my family out of an impasse in our collective relationship. My son was having difficulty dealing with his personal trauma and taking responsibility for his life. You might say that he was stuck in a role of victim. My wife, his step-mother, saw me as protecting and rescuing him, and so found herself stepping into the role of persecutor to try to create some movement toward health. In these roles, there was much pain for each of us and little change.
I shared this model with them and the corresponding scripts which could lead us into a new way of being with each other and ourselves. The suggestion was for my son to experiment with a new role, that of creator instead of victim. For me, the new possibility to practice was becoming coach instead of rescuer. For my wife, the invitation was to become challenger instead of persecutor. Change did not happen instantaneously or without encountering our fears, but much has changed for each of us. My son is on his own and our relationships are much healthier.
In a recent conversation with this same therapist, we wondered together about the Karpman drama triangle as a tool for dealing with our current political and social reality. He observed that Trump appeals to all three energies of victim, persecutor and rescuer. He sees himself as victim and stokes the feelings of victimization of his followers. He persecutes minorities, immigrants, women and those he sees as other and fuels others to act ever more boldly as persecutors. He promises that he alone can rescue us from the troubles before us. All of us, those who oppose and those who support the president, can practice watching these roles and energies at work in us. Of course, all that I or anyone can do for another is offer this model for consideration. Our practice is for ourselves. As we practice showing up in a new and more responsible way, we in a small way begin to create a new energy among us.
When I am tempted to throw my hands up in despair at what is going on among us, the opportunity is there for me to flip the script from victim to creator. Writing this blog is one small attempt in this direction. When I am tempted to yell or scream at or belittle ones who support the president, I can choose to try on the role of challenger instead. How is challenger different from persecutor? A challenger would seek to do more than simply demonize the other. A challenger would seek to understand and stay in relationship, while also expressing what the challenger finds troubling about the road we are on. If we fall into rescuer energy, we will tend to over-perform and over-identify with what is happening. We might become obsessive. A coach will not tell others how to think and see, but will also be willing to take risks of communicating challenging information.
No doubt, if collective change is to happen, it is going to have to come in both directions, from supporters and opponents. As we try on new roles in our responsibility for the collective, will we welcome those on the other side, challenging us to see what we don’t currently see, or to show up in new ways ourselves? I keep searching for new ways to be responsible for what is happening in our world, because despair and rage don’t get me very far.
Cynthia Bourgeault makes use of the law of three from G. I. Gurdjieff. Gurdjieff identifies his own triangle of holy affirming, holy negating, and holy reconciling. Most of us get stuck in dualities. My vision is right. Your vision is wrong. I must oppose you with all that I have. Gurdjieff’s insight is that both affirming and negating energies are necessary for something genuinely new to occur. The trick is help promote energy and space for something higher to take place. The idea is not to extinguish the other, but to dance with the other in a new way. This looking for and holding space for the reconciling or the new requires patience and humility and great courage. Sometimes it feels better to lash out in rage or to ignore troubling realities and hope they go away. Something in us knows better and is being asked to show up more fully than we have been asked before. Are we willing to be more responsible for the world than we have been until this moment? The new will not happen unless enough of us answer yes.