The following is from an email exchange I had with a client who responded to the questions: What is your biggest goal and your biggest obstacle. They wrote about challenges in their family, the pandemic, political parties, and feelings of betrayal and shame. What I wrote is below.
My heart goes out to you here. It makes sense that you feel on edge. It makes sense that you’re rethinking the past and re-examining the present with new eyes. It makes sense that you are very present to how the realities of this year are affecting the people around you — the people you love.
I don’t have kids. So take this for what you will. >> Parents will fail their kids. Kids will fail their parents. Lovers will fail each other.
We humans will make mistakes over the course of our lifetimes that will hurt or harm other people. We will say or do things that will teach the people around us lessons that are incorrect, damaging, dysfunctional, and shitty.
Unfortunately, that is the deal of living as a human in this modern era. We can’t extricate ourselves from that reality.
So, yes, we will feel betrayed by our parents, lovers, kids, friends, colleagues, confidants, and more, especially in times like these when the world is on fire, huge ice sheets are collapsing into the ocean, a deadly plague is running rampant through our communities, the governing party is dismantling democratic norms and institutionalizing authoritarianism, foreign governments are working overtime to sow social discord throughout the American populous, “digital armies” are churning out ridiculous conspiracy theories and outright lies, 30 million people are out of jobs, and hundreds of millions more are struggling in significant ways. We are stressed. As individuals, as families, as a people.
Many of us feel betrayed because we also feel out of control, confused, scared, isolated, confronted, ill-equipped and unprepared to comprehend, much less address and solve the enormous problems we are facing.
Betrayal is disloyalty.
Loyalty is a strong support, allegiance, or devotion to someone, some thing, or some group.
And in this moment, it is important to ask yourself: To whom or to what am I loyal? Where are my loyalties?
Am I loyal to myself, my lover, my spouse, my kids, my job, my desires and aspirations, my parents, my earth, my town or city, my friends, my friends’ friends, the political party, my elected officials, my neighborhood association, my local donut shop, the brand of my favorite sneakers, my morning routine, my social media feed?
To whom have I declared myself loyal? (consciously or unconsciously)
At this time we are being tested in our loyalty. I think its because many of us are not completely conscious about to whom we’ve agreed to be loyal. And we haven’t defined what loyalty looks like for us.
We’re loyal to people, groups, places, things, beliefs, and identities — all the things that tell us who we are as people. And this is a time when we’re being called to get clearly conscious about who we are, what our values are, and where we place our loyalties.
We all learned loyalty at a young age. We learned to be devoted to some people over others, to some behaviors or qualities instead of others. As adults, especially adults who want to live consciously, intentionally, and connected, we have to get even more transparent and honest about what we are devoting our lives to — where we are loyal. It just isn’t enough to keep doing it like we’ve been doing it and think that everything will be ok that way.
With all that being said…
I want to say 4 things here, and each thing could be expanded to an untold number of paragraphs, but we don’t have the space here. And these come in no particular order, because it is all so complicated.
1. Yes, we can love someone who is kind and gentle and open and sweet to us and who is also willing to vote for and align themselves with powerful people who can wield massive institutional force to terrorize, incarcerate, murder, torture, impoverish, and abandon people who are not “us.”
Perhaps the person who loves you and is kind and gentle with you and who also supports the increasing fascism of the right-wing party in power just hasn’t done enough work to understand the intersecting oppressions and privileges of race, class, gender, disability and more as constructed in America. (2020 is a clarion call to do this work now!)
2. Both major political parties in this country are ultimately ruled by big money corporate interests that always put profit over the basic needs of people, the planet, and dignity. Now, one of those parties is on the fast track to authoritarianism, and that party (the GOP) must be completely repudiated at the ballot box in November. And, the Dems have a long history of policy choices that have harmed and killed millions worldwide. So, neither party is the party of saints.
3. “Politics” in a democracy is answering the questions of how we will allocate tax monies to fund the fire department and school system, how we will write laws to protect workers or ensure that our waterways are not full of toxic pollutants, or how we will take care of the most vulnerable members of our society.
“Politics” is NOT declaring that some people are worthy to live and others to die. “Politics” is not debating whether our society should be white supremacist, fascist, and authoritarian or whether it should be equitable, safe, and just for all people. “Politics” is not a debate on whether your life is valuable or whether I have a right to exist. The debate of whether or not Black Lives Matter are not “politics;” they are a departure from humanity. They are a discourse of death and destruction.
I hope you can notice the difference here. America is based on the ideal of “liberty and justice for all,” and it is our civic responsibility to advance ourselves and our nation to that ideal.
Each year’s vote is not a ticket to the destination of “liberty for all” that we may desire. Each vote is, hopefully, one step closer on the long journey to liberation.
It is a struggle. That is why it is called a struggle. The movement for abolition, the struggle for liberation and freedom from enslavement and abandonment, is literally hundreds of years old.
If we take our civic responsibility seriously, we walk and work the struggle of “liberty for all” in every part of our life, not just at the ballot box or on the social feeds.
4. Every day we choose to be where we are or who we’re with. We make those choices physically, energetically, spiritually, emotionally, psychologically. We choose to be with the people we’re with. This is part of loyalty, connection, and identity. And each day we can choose to go deeper in relationship or to pull further away. That includes relationships with kids, parents, family of origin, partners, friends, siblings, co-workers, etc.
We can choose to tell the people we love that their words and actions (including their votes) are actively harming us or other people we love. We can choose to be honest with them about how their love for us and their votes for racist candidates actively destroys the thread of trust between us and therefore damages our relationship. We can choose to invite them into the work (#1).
We can also choose to leave, take a break from, increase distance in any relationship we are in for any reason. This is also an act of loyalty.
But we can’t change anyone. We can’t change their opinions, their beliefs, their loyalties, or their identities.
So, to your point about blame and shame……… Stop.
You are doing the very best you can with what you’ve got. If you want to do better, then let’s increase what you’ve got to work with so you can make different choices that more accurately reflect your values and loyalties and increase your ability to move from love, always.
Blaming or shaming yourself or others will not support you in making choices from love. It will not support you in loving the people in your life who feel betrayed. It won’t help you be accountable to the people in your life who need you to show up for them or who are asking you to be responsible for your actions and choices. (Because accountability is an act of love.)
We also have a choice as to how we feel, how we think, and who we choose to be. You and I, we, are not static creatures on auto-pilot, incapable of transformation. We are dynamic creatures constantly changing.
So, you have lots of choices in how you feel when someone tells you they feel betrayed by you. You can choose shame and collapse or you can choose empathy and understanding or you can choose rage and rejection. Who do you want to be?
You can tell yourself the story that these people are terrible and you can’t trust them. You can believe that you’ll never have the love you desire and you need to break up with everyone.
Defining our loyalty is an act of love. It is also an act of leadership. Not just leading with love, but being a leader of your life and taking a clear and conscious stand that defines you.
The fact that you wrote to me with this struggle is an act of love — love for self, love for kids, love for partner, love for family, love for country.
This. Is. Not. Easy.
And… You can do this.
And it is what you (and I, and lots others) are being called to do right now. Stay in the LOVE.
So, quick recap:
Check-in with where you’ve placed your loyalties.
Get conscious and clear.
Check-in with your kids to be accountable, reaffirm your support of and for them, ask them what they need.
Choose where you will invest your leadership to love in action.
Keep asking for help and support. None of us can do this alone.
We need communities of people to do all this — politics, love, family, justice, freedom, and learning.
With fierce love always,
***** Comment below: Which parts of this were helpful for you? What is your take away?