I recently finished reading the book Power and Love: A Theory and Practice of Social Change, by Adam Kahane. A number of the themes he raised in the book have had a kind of haunting effect on me. One point that I keep revisiting is the idea of approaching vulnerability as a source of wisdom rather than as a sign of weakness. Here’s an excerpt from the book that captures this beautifully:
In healing ourselves (and others), our wound becomes our gift. It points us to the part of ourselves that is sensitive and vulnerable and so requires our compassionate attention…Rachel Naomi Remen, a medical doctor who works with cancer patients, once said to me “A shaman is someone who has a wound that will not heal. He sits by the side of the road with his open wound exposed. The stance of such a wounded healer is fundamentally different from that of an expert curer: the doctor in the clean white coat who stands, objective and healthy, above his patient.” Our capacity to address our toughest social challenges depends on our willingness to admit that we are part of, rather than apart from, the woundedness of our world.
This just feels so profoundly true to me…not just intellectually, but from my own experience, especially during my past few years at COCo. Given that our mandate at COCo is to support the development of healthy community organizations, we often talk about the importance of walking the talk- being a model organization ourselves. But what exactly does it mean to be a model? I think more than anything it has to do with being reflective and open about our blemishes and errors and the challenges we face in our journey to be the best we can be. So instead of modeling a perfect structure, we are modeling a way of relating to our structure that is experimental and inquisitive. And I think this stance is reflected in many parts of the organization, from financial management, to conflict resolution, to governance. We’re never going to be perfect, nor I think should we aim to be perfect.
This open-wounded stance is a difficult one for me to take. But I find it easier to practice at an organizational level than at an individual level since it’s one step removed from my own ego. I see a huge potential in community spaces being places where we can practice this stance more regularly and in ways that will spread more widely.