Sacred Discourse
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From Foe to Friend

May 10, 2018

When was the last time you had a presumption about another person pierced?

Recently, at a multi-day training, one of my colleagues and I were having lunch together, after having engaged in exercises during the workshop that created connection. Previously, she had said that she used to work for a large corporation in Canada. At lunch, I asked her which corporation, and she said Enbridge.

Hearing that word sparked an immediate visceral resistance. A few years back, I was very involved in grassroots environmental activities to oppose a new pipeline across Northern Minnesota that Enbridge wanted to build, so that it could extract and transport more Tar Sands oil from Alberta, Canada. After a breath or two, I shared my story.

What followed was an opening for a new conversation, as I learned of Enbridge’s internal discussions about how to reach out to First Nation communities affected by the pipeline. I was surprised, as I knew of plenty of evidence on “the other side” of actions that Enbridge has taken that were exactly the opposite of reaching out. Yet, I was intrigued and encouraged by learning of these internal conversations, even if the external activities may not have matched the possibilities.

I had an instant opportunity to consider my own story of Enbridge. I could now see beyond the corporation’s public activities and connect with a former employee that shared my hopes and visions for the future. And, to learn that there were others who shared her desire to bridge the divide between the company and the protesters.

I remembered testifying against the pipeline, appealing to the Enbridge team sitting at the table in front of me that we are all in this together, and that we needed to find solutions that served our collective future. I appealed especially to those with children, to the future of the seven generations to come. The structure for public testimony was just a one-way street; there was never an opportunity to connect with the other, to talk about shared interests, like our shared desire to leave our children a better future.

I wonder what might have happened, and what could happen today, if there had been an invitation to connect with the other in a relational way. What might have happened, or at least what seeds might have been planted, if we were able to have a conversation about what mattered to us, similar to the conversation I had with my new friend at the recent workshop.

What could happen if we went further, and we each connected to and shared with each other what we experience as sacred in our lives.  Where do we find the connection both within ourselves and others, with what gives us life and inspiration?

Stephanie Dowrick, in her book Seeking the Sacred: Transforming Our Views of Ourselves and One Another, states “from the sacred we may learn enough to keep one another safe.” This is the starting point for Sacred Discourse, namely, the choice to connect at such a deep level that it causes us to consider what is best for the other, not only for ourselves.

Dowrick also states: “Our search for the sacred may be as individual as our fingerprints. Yet it connects us effortlessly to all living beings. It lets us discover what is most treasured and transformative in human existence. It lets us see existence itself as entirely precious. What we regard as precious, we will naturally protect.”

What might we choose naturally to protect, if we start from what is sacred for me, and for you? What might happen if we chose to engage from this state of connection, a radical new paradigm?

I am certainly aware of the enormous assumptions about how the world works that serve as barriers to having this type of conversation. Our current economic and societal structures are not built on the question of what is Sacred. And, of course, we, as a society, are well-trained to be in opposition, including saying most anything to put distance between our righteous view and the extreme view of our opponent. And, where has that approach gotten us to?

When we chase the aggressor from the same paradigm in which the aggression occurred, we have no chance of achieving the needed fundamental change for humanity to continue to exist. We may achieve short-term wins, that keep us fighting for the next short-term win. And, while we enjoy the brief win, the societal conditions that may ultimately lead to the extinction of humanity will continue to exist.

Albert Einstein famously said, “we cannot solve our problems with the same level of thinking that created them.” At the least, we need to think from a new paradigm. Even more than that, though, we will all be served by speaking, and listening, from the heart. Choosing to relate and connect from a collective intention to create a world that is better for the other, as well as ourselves, is the new, radical paradigm.

My connection with my new friend helps me again to see the possibility of what can happen when we set aside engrained assumptions and choose to view the other as a possible collaborator, someone with whom we can find ways to work together toward a sustainable, just, and thriving future. 

Thomas McSteen