A better way to social change than shaming oppressive mindsets
At EQUUS, we donate our meeting space and learning campus at Thunderbird Ridge to a local multicultural and multiracial organization founded and led by Native women called Tewa Women United. Once or twice a year, they gather here for their Elder meetings.
Founded in 1989 as a support group for women from the Pueblos of northern New Mexico, Tewa Women United concerns itself with the traumatic effects of colonization, religious inquisition, and militarization leading to issues such as alcoholism, suicide, domestic and sexual violence, and environmental violence. They create safe spaces to transform and empower one another through critical analysis and by embracing and reaffirming their cultural identity. Their mission is to end “all forms of violence against Native women and girls, Mother Earth and to promote peace in New Mexico”.
When the Elders — the Sayas — arrive at Thunderbird Ridge along with their cohort of younger caretakers, it is my and Scott’s cue to disappear so that they can attend to their important business. Afterward, they often invite us to share some watermelon, or a bowl of homemade hot beans, to which we enthusiastically say ‘yes’ because it is a time to sit with the Sayas and hear a story, or some relevant piece of precious wisdom.
On one such afternoon, Scott and I, the Sayas and caretakers were sitting together on the portal looking out over the horse paddocks, Scott and I nibbling on an offered peach. A younger member of the group was speaking about the #MeToo movement. She was fuming about the various famous men appearing in the headlines for their sexual crimes, and other men she knew who were behaving badly, and proclaimed with much passion and righteous anger, “Yeah, it’s time we really call them out!!” I nodded in resolute solidarity.
But out of the corner of my eye, I saw one of the Sayas shaking her head slowly. Small-framed, with a beautiful ancient face in which every line revealed the twists and turns in her long life, she sat silently for a moment. Her quiet pause pulled us in like planets around a sun. “We need to call them in, not call them out,” she said quietly.
I’ll never forget that moment. It shifted my thinking around social activism strategies, as well as my own personal approaches when I’m pointing out an offense to another. Of course, she stated the obvious — using oppressive tactics such as shaming, blaming, judging, i.e. calling out in all its myriad forms — is just using oppression to fight oppression. Through calling out, we too become the oppressor. Given oppression is the water we swim in it’s no wonder we fall into that trap, but if we are going to be effective at ending oppression we’re going to have to come from an altogether different paradigm.
Calling in — what does that mean exactly? For me, it’s an internal posture of bringing someone towards what I know is good and right and true. Rather than a sense of sending someone away to their proverbial room, it feels more like an invitation to join something — something bigger than me or them. It’s like sitting on a picnic blanket in a lush open field, patting the ground next to me and saying, ‘you over there, you look really hungry, come on over here and share this really amazing meal with me!’ It’s that kind of feeling. It requires I come from a space of love and presence, and deep trust in what I’m inviting them into.
In one of the Wisdom Circles I am facilitating, this concept of calling in is taking hold and many are learning and practicing its art form. As one participant wrote:
“In order to ‘call someone in,’ I need to be able to integrate and reclaim my shadow, the broken parts of myself I may not wish to acknowledge, or even be aware of. For example, if I’m caught in repetitive patterns or conditioning where my core wounds are triggered, I’m likely repressing more vulnerable emotions and telling myself stories that may not be grounded in reality. My fight response is activated, and I’m more likely to be reactive than responsive. Rather than recognize my feelings, needs, and desires, my first impulse is to project my fears, shame, and judgment onto others, blaming or criticizing them, instead of feeling my own pain or seeking to deflect this. Once I summon the courage to ‘be with’ all of my emotions, including those that are more raw, I can then create the spaciousness, curiosity, and presence to be with the emotions of others.”
How it looks in action can vary greatly. Sometimes it can be expressed fiercely, sometimes softly. But it’s the energy behind the invitation that creates the possibility for transformation (as another Wisdom Circle participant described — being fiercely soft). In larger social contexts we see an example of calling in with former NFL player Emmanuel Acho and his Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man. And personally, I’ve witnessed the power of calling in within the microcosm of my own life, and the lives of my clients who are really working this piece and showing up differently. When we have the presence of mind to call in, we are much more effective at bringing someone over to harmony, mutual understanding, and cohesion.
Mind you, I’m not calling out the act of calling out. As one Wisdom Circle participant discovered, there is a natural evolution to learning the art of calling in. At first, finding our voice means experimenting with proclaiming strongly our requests and needs. We move from silence and opting out to raising our fists, pointing fingers and pounding tables — a decidedly healthier effort than passivism. And now that we have found our voice, let’s use it more powerfully and transformatively.
So the next time you find yourself in a position to advocate for justice, equality, or truth — socially or personally — explore what it is like to call the other or others in. Call them into a new world you know is possible.