Love in the Spirit of Inquiry: co-reflecting about good men. Silvie LeMuzic for Yes/And Podcast #3

Blog by Silvie LeMuzic

A group of women doctoral candidates, at various stages of our action research journeys, read Hilary Bradbury and William Torbert´s book Eros/Power – Love in the Spirit of Inquiry together as part of our book club. We see our action research as inspiring efforts to transform what no longer works into what does. Reading Eros/Power helped propel us further.  

Two of us,  Louise McCulloch and Silvie LeMuzic then invited Hilary Bradbury to a Zoom-co-reflection.  We share the recording and discussion with you, so you too feel invited to speak your own truths into being on matters of gender and power.

First, then, we are grateful to Hilary and Bill for being fiercely courageous in writing about their mentorship relationship and how it helped shine light on their work. We saw this as a book for women, and for men, if they are willing to go out on a limb in sharing about (gender) privileges and problems. Witnessing their relationship makes it a little easier for us as readers to muster up our courage to speak about what needs to change in our own relationship to power and gender. 

In hosting the conversation, Louise and I entered with a rendition of a Celtic mythical story called ´What Do Women Want?` – this version written by Dr. Sharon Blackie from her 2019 book “If Women Rose Rooted – A life-changing journey to authenticity and belonging.

”

It poses an all important question!´What Do Women Want?!´ Hint: Women want sovereignty! Hilary wondered about our choice to start with this myth.

The mythic story provided a way to articulate something transformative in reading Eros/Power, namely that it indeed takes two to tango. Both partners in dance must know the steps well and surrender to each other and the music for the dance to flow. The Eros/Power book cover does show a woman and a man deeply connected in a tango, albeit with the woman leading (not typical of tango). Is this a symbol of sovereign people in practice? But we wondered, how do men and women see through their cultural conditioning to be sovereign?   How do we dance a new dance having only learned old steps?

In Blackie’s mythic story a good knight, Gawain, the nephew of the king, must marry a ‘difficult’ woman. He does not, however, resort to domination and control over the Lady. This despite her not appearing as a normal woman. In fact she looks like a monster with wild animal attributes.  Remarkably Gawain has compassion towards and displays signs of honoring her regardless. She gets to make her own choices; she gets to follow the path that is best for her. Gawain feels no need to impose his choices. In this way, we have a happy ending.  Gawain frees them both from what (spoiler alert) was an evil spell by the dark knight. 

Blackie elaborates: «…The story shows the feminine principle of Sovereignty being honored; it also shows the ´good masculine´ in practice. The ´good masculine´ is essential to the functioning of a healthy, balanced world. In decrying the repression of the feminine in our culture, it can be all too easy not only to blame men for the mess the world is in, but to set ourselves against them. Men – our brothers, fathers, lovers, friends – are not always the enemy, and to think of them as such would be like placing ourselves against half of nature, half of our own souls. Men too have cultural expectations foisted upon them, and, increasingly they are speaking up about all of the ways in which Western rationalism has distorted their image of themselves.» (Ibid p. 244).



Yet in truth we continue to live in a male minded, a male storied world.  I deeply resonated with Hilary’s amazing willingness to share her truth, vulnerability, and courage with the reader. Equally, I reacted to a what seemed to me the WASP (White Anglo-Saxon Protestant) influences that privilege but also blind males. 

Was Bill merely dipping his toes in reflexivity-waters? While also  boldly courageous in his willingness to «tell all», to me his reflexivity seems unable to see – nor receive – the truth of Hilary’s lived experience in a patriarchal academic setting. All the more reason to underscore Blackie’s point: In decrying the repression of the feminine in our culture, it can be all too easy not only to blame men for the mess the world is in, but to set ourselves against them. My own coming to see how deeply washed we are in patriarchy is part of my reaction which became a major lens through which I read the book for me. Now I can imagine more transformative dance moves.

You may view/ listen to the recording of our conversation as part of the Yes/And podcast series, also available at soundcloud.

 

Notes

Silvie can be reached here: http://lemuzic.no, Linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/in/silvie-le-muzic/

Louise can be reached here: /website, linkedin

Hilary’s work in raising consciousness about Action Research happens at Action Research Plus Foundation.  The website has a ton of resources for action researchers: https://actionresearchplus.com/what-is-action-research/

The book Eros/Power is available, e.g., at Amazon where the reviews are interesting too! https://actionresearchplus.com/review-of-erospower-love-in-the-spirit-of-inquiry-bradbury-and-torbert-2016/

Hilary also has a new book How to Action Research for Transformations: https://actionresearchplus.com/how-to-action-research-for-transformations-book-hilary-bradbury/

Time markers in the recorded conversation:

00.03 – Introductions, and the ´What Do Women Want?´ story as a bridge to discussing Eros/Power
16.16 – International cultures´ take on reading the book & trying to address the eros/power themes, what is left unsaid between the sexes – cutting us off from our power, patriarchal structures, thinking and language by conditioning, giving up privilege
35.08 – Abiding by gender narratives, realm of practice in relationships, driving forces for dynamics between genders, wanting all voices to matter, truth-telling, the potential of body-mind, share stories of life where they feel safe, or no transform is available, the idolization of youth, but what about the power of the crone, or hag, or queen, or empress?
51.03 – Patriarchy, neoliberalism, complicit or goodies, joining the patriarchy as women, or create spaces of resonance instead of being shut down anxiety, build trust, bring about change by speaking things into being; sovereign in different areas of life, transform through our relationships with the materiality of life; money, food, sex, learn or dare, to speak from our hearts, attuned to what we want to see happen, instead of spending energy on opposition, gather, practice, come together, remind each other
1.12.56 – Hilary´s new book, 25 years of how do you do Action Research, being a change agent and also a subject of change, new governance, getting things done – together!
1.15.13 – Conduct the way we gather so we walk our talk: The Table meditation, Dr. Lisa Miller/ Gary Weaver, end of conversation.

Louise reflects:
What I am left wondering about after reading this book and the wonderful conversation/reflection with Silvie and Hilary is about what I want in the world not just for me but for us i.e. men and women. I want this thought to frame my reflection. Within this, I wonder about Ken Gergen’s book “Relational Being: beyond self and community” and a possibility that arose for me when reading it, that we can choose how to respond in dialogue.

We perform when we engage in dialogue and a performance doesn’t always have to go as it always has. Part of a performance is what is uttered or performed but part is also how it is received and how we choose to interpret it and respond. We engage in “co-action” or co-create meaning together. So, what if interpretation isn’t just about “what is” but also about “what could be”?

I could look at this book and choose to merely see it as the way things are between men and women but how would that serve us? It might drive us further apart as we think about differences or lead to blame. I could notice that other women have had similar experiences to me and reinforce “truths” in my head about what I think “reality” is between men and women.

Maybe I could deny my potential power to create something different and instead give it all to you to create the meaning for me which is easy to do if you are used to experiencing powerlessness. I could resort to silence and not speak because I assume that this is just how things are. Maybe also this comes from the earlier stages of action logics and their associated types of power as discussed in the book.
But maybe instead I could choose to orient towards this book with a hope that might allow me to interpret in the moment with a future direction in mind and move into later stages of action logics. As the introduction in the book invites “too often a screaming silence holds us captive at this very intersection where instead creativity, love, curiosity and openness could thrive.”

This book invites us to reflect and engage in mutual inquiries together. It invites us to lean into our experiences (happy and/or painful) together and learn from our co-reflections. As we discuss in the recorded conversation, for me there is also something in this about “deep” understanding. By this I mean, being with each other and accepting of ourselves and others exactly as we are in any given moment.

So, in terms of “what could be” with this book, I wonder about how it could help us (women and men) to move towards deeper understandings via our co-reflections and noticing within ourselves as we do this. Developing myself on a continuous basis so I can “be with” for us. So, we can both feel deeply understood by ourselves and each other and learn within that process. I feel the need here to also express appreciation for some special conversations that I have had over the past few months with the EUSG/Louis Klein and Tamkeen which invited me to deepen my noticing about “understanding”.
I wonder if we can deeply understand, if we don’t experience understanding within ourselves for ourselves first? I am far from perfect in terms of trying to deeply understand. At times, when I read this book and heard the stories inside, I feel sad to say that my initial reaction was judgement. And I know that part of the reason for this is because there are parts of me that I judge too. I realised that these are the moments that I really needed to pay attention to as they often indicate things in me that needed to heal or be examined or questioned. I notice that the judging stops me from going deeper and if I want to reflect then I need to move past that.

How do we instead bring compassion to these moments for ourselves and others? Where I feel pain how do I firstly hold myself in that and honour my own experiences? And how then can I potentially support learning from my pain and remain open? For me this comes about from deeply listening and being compassionate with my own pain, being a friend to it so that it can feel heard and settle. But as the book asks “how does one succeed in interacting mutually when both parties have experienced emotional traumas to which they themselves cannot yet give voice?”

How do we know what we don’t know? We don’t know but maybe we can notice how we react and or what we see in our co-reflections and bring that noticing with us on our inner journeys. I wonder about how we can listen and notice so we can get past these wounds and notice the wisdom beneath. Wisdom that invites learning and a “being with” ourselves and each other.
I want to share a lesson that my daughter who was about 6 years old at the time taught me. As a mother, I was so frustrated by the fact that I was trying to be the best mother I could be but my daughter wasn’t always listening to me! I had reflected to the point where I had realised that by listening I often meant that she wasn’t doing what I told her to do. Having experienced quite a “controlling parent” in my teenage years where I didn’t feel heard at all, I wanted a more balanced approach even with my then young child. I started reading books about parenting with empathy and love. One day when I thought I was doing a great job of expressing my empathy with my daughter and using the sentences as I had read, my daughter turned to me and said “mummy, please stop doing these parenting things on me”. She obviously felt like a guinea pig and not deeply understood!!

My heart sank and I felt hurt, sad and a little bit unappreciated for all the work I was putting in trying to be empathetic. But I slowly started to appreciate this amazing lesson and moment that my daughter had given to me. Understanding and empathy are about truly “being with” someone. I was being “empathetic” because I wanted her to listen to me!! This wasn’t about her it was about me and my need to be listened to. How could I expect my 6 year old to give that to me? And could I truly expect anyone to give that to me? Was that fair? And if not then how could I give it to myself?

How could I truly be with myself and be kind and gentle and a friend to me and my wound that needed to be listened to? Because at the end of the day I know me better (in any given moment) than I can expect anyone else to (if I choose to orient inwards). And this realisation and further reflection created an opportunity for me to hold myself (more often but not always) in my moments with her which in turn created an openness for me to be more with her and us as I was much more attuned to me. By holding myself I could then hold her more too and be more attuned to each moment.
How then do we get to deeper understanding so we can be with each other and hold each other with our pains? How do we hold a space for ourselves and each other so that we can remain open to reflection and learning even if we feel hurt or remorse or shame from reflecting on our experiences? Can we create a gentleness and deep understanding with each other? Instead of reacting to experiences and merely allowing them to evoke feelings such as anger and guilt, maybe instead we can invite a wisdom of hoping for more to create a different response.
Is eros and power something that exists or is it something that we are continuously creating? If we are not happy with the current “reality” of how eros and power exist in this moment then maybe we can reflect and learn and create a new “reality” together? I am so grateful for the beautiful opportunities that this book and the conversations that flowed from it created for me to listen and become more intimate with myself. I think this is so important as otherwise how do we enter into conversations where we don’t need something but are in a position to give empathy and understanding to each other.

Rather than entering conversations where we consciously or unconsciously require the other person to respond in a certain way. If I approach a man (or woman) and need them to hear my story then what invitation do I create and what space do I create for us to be with and mutually inquire? Or is there only one “right” performance from them to respond to what I say?

If I hold myself and allow myself to flow with what happens and hold a dream of co- creation and co-inquiry then maybe I can be in the moment in a different way. It is not just about what I say or you say but what each responses invites and how I receive it and what I invite in return?
I wonder whether all of us just want to be deeply understood. And if so then how do we lead with our hearts and the hoping that lives there and not just with our wounds? How do we care for and
listen to our own wounds? Maybe we can care for our wounds separately and together by cocooned them in our hearts and showering them with love before inviting them to emerge in a different form as a “hoping” for something different that we can create together?