Since I was a child, I have tended to get into arguments with my uncle, repeating the same patterns over and over. (With him and few or no others.) Most recently, when I last visited my family which lives on another continent, it was over the topic of wolves. Our country has ten or fifteen wolves or so, and he is adamant that they should be shot. The conversation went along these lines…
- Me: Why should they be shot? Don’t they have as much right to life as anyone else? They were probably here long before us humans, so we are the invaders. And there are lots of us, and very few of them, so if anything they are the ones needing protection. (The usual Spiral Dynamics Green arguments.)
- Uncle: They are a danger to people. Would you like your child to be eaten by wolves on their way to school?
- Me: If you are concerned about that, why don’t you work for traffic safety, or even eradicating all the wasps? Traffic and wasps kills quite a few people every year, while there is no recorded instance of a wolf ever killing a human being.
And so it goes, with both of us deliberately pushing each other’s buttons, getting more caught up in emotions, and more entrenched in our particular and increasingly fixed views. (Even writing this, I notice some jitteriness and emotions coming up.)
It is an example of both of us getting caught up in habitual patterns, even as we see it happening, and even as we both (most likely) see that we both agree below the surface of particular strategies, and that we both have valid and good points. Even as we see it, we can’t help getting caught up in it…
We both have the same deep wish, which is to support life. For him, it takes the form of wanting to protect people. For me, wanting to protect a species that is almost eradicated. Our wish is the same, although our emphasis, perspective and surface strategies are different, at least as they come out in an entrenched conversation like that.
And I also see how we both take perspectives that comes out of the conditions of our lives.
He (and my father) grew up on a farm, hunting for much of their food, and during difficult economical and social times (including war), so they needed to actively take care of humans and fend off threats from nature. Their lives were precarious, and a deliberate and active protection of their family and community was appropriate in those circumstances. Humans obviously, and appropriately, went before animals.
I grew up under quite different circumstances, in a country now peaceful, safe, prosperous and social democratic, where everyone were taken care of. For me, seeing that humans were generally safe and well of, it was natural to expand my circle of concern to include animals and the natural world. For me and my generation, taking care of other species was a luxury that we could easily afford.
Seeing all this, a space opens up that includes both of us…
There is an understanding of where we each are coming from, and how we defend perspectives based on our own background and circumstances. There is a recognition of how we both have the same wish, to support life, although it is sometimes expressed in different ways. There is a recognition of the validity of both of our perspectives, and a willingness to find strategies addressing the concerns of both. And there is an empathy for both of us, a heartfelt allowing and holding of each of us where we are.
The more I sincerely explore it and what is true for me around all of this, the more there is a release from being blindly identified and caught up in these patterns. From a sense of separation, there is a sense of intimacy with himself, myself and the situation. From frustration, a new appreciation. From truly believing the perspective I promote, a recognition of the validity of both perspectives.
Even if we go into the same old patterns again, there is a new appreciation of both of us, even in the midst of our stuckness. And that makes even the stuckness worth it.