Empowerment, Diversity and Difference...Really, have we come that far?
I just returned from a wonderful 5 days in Boston where I presented my research on Creating Growth Fostering Communities at a conference on Relational Cultural Theory at Wellesley College. My interest in RCT began back in the 1980's when I was introduced to the work of Jean Baker Miller, MD through her new book at that time entitled Towards a New Psychology of Women. She and other women researchers were looking into the established developmental theories of the time, Freud, Erikson, Object Relations and others that were only based on male development and claimed to be the norm.
Interesting how far we've come along these days. Now we know that only half the world is men and the other half women. And that not all people are the same race, ethnicity, religion, or have the same sexual orientation...I hope!
In any event, I learned about oppression and how being born into a culture that operates in oppressive structures leaves an imprint...a 'footprint' if you will on our lives. I learned about dominant and subordinate relational setups and how that is called 'power over'. I also learned how the antidote to power/over relational models is to create relationships based on 'power with' or 'power from within'.
I learned how girls grow and develop differently than boys...not in a less than way...just differently. I learned how their way of thinking involves care and concern for the interconnectedness of relationships...How their thinking involves both head logic...and...heart logic and that head logic is not better than heart logic..both are required for thinking and evaluating.
I learned about stratification and privilege...you know...the one's who have and the one's who don't...remember that's the way we learned 'who was who' and 'who got what' based on some arbitrary system of privilege.
I thought all those years ago that I was just learning and having my consciousness raised about the plight of 'women and blacks' ( that's how we said it back then). I'm a Boomer who lived through Civil rights, Martin Luther King, the Vietnam War, Kent State Protests, Women's liberation, Gloria Steinem, Janis Joplin...and all that jazz (or should I say sex, drugs and rock n roll). Then in the 1980's I discovered what it was called...oppression...power/over.
I began teaching a Psychology of Women course and I used Jean Baker Miller's book Towards a New Psychology of Women...and...added another voice articulating the new discoveries in moral development ...Carol Gilligan... written about in her book In a Different Voice. I was on fire, alive and spreading the message to girls and women who came to college. And they were responsive. They too loved being able to share their life stories and have their experience, their thinking and their feelings validated through the work of these women. They too learned about power over structures and the imprint left in their lives.
I've been teaching Psychology of Women for over 25 years. I thought in the beginning that I would only be teaching this information for a few years and we, meaning, we as 'women and blacks' would move on. I, again being a Boomer, had some idealistic notions that the world would change and that marginalization, acceptance of difference, stratification and privilege would somehow be gone!....How naive of me to think that such an oppressive structure...such a prominent way of being that has been around for over 4000 years could be shaken in just the blink of my teaching career.
My passion of all these years has been to see if it would be possible to create a nurturing community of people that could develop their own sense of empowerment through growth fostering relationships transforming power-over to power-with and power from within. To see if people who had been so imprinted by oppressive structures could heal and create the kind of nurturing community they so desired.
Exuberantly, I discovered that it is possible...for I have had a healing and empowerment group going now for some 15 years. People have come,done their work and left. Others have stayed since the group's inception. Some come for awhile, leave for awhile, and come back for awhile. An open door policy for nourishment and growth is the key.
This is the work I presented at the conference. This is the kind of work that will change the world.
And "Yes"...I am a Boomer...And "Yes" I still am naive...And "Yes" I still believe that as much and as long as we human beings have lived in fear, suffering, strife and struggle of power over structures...we hope to and we are creating growth fostering relationships. We are raising our children in nurturing families. We are celebrating and embracing our differences. We are doing the compelling work of dispelling our fear and reaching out to one another to create a global community that realizes how very much we are connected and need and depend on one another for our very existence.
We are all people of color, coming from diverse origins, travelling different paths, holding different preferences and persuasions, sharing experiences of joys and sadness, love and pain.
It is through our connection...not...rugged individualism...that we have survived this far...and those connections are creating our future. ROCK ON!!!