Practicing Radical Inclusivity (abridged)

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Practicing Radical Inclusivity through Awakening to the Spirit of Love and Kindness: a keynote talk by Mica Estrada to Pacific Yearly Meeting, July 11, 2020

[The following text was excerpted from Mica Estrada’s complete keynote talk, which is published at: https://westernfriend.org/media/practicing-radical-inclusivity]

In the story of The Woman who Outshone the Sun, fear enters early. The protagonist, Lucia, is perceived as different and “everyone felt a little afraid.” Even though the elders said she should be honored and respected, the people turned away and shunned her. And so, “us” and “her” emerge to preserve the “us.” This happens all the time, of course, even in our Quaker community. There are people we want to serve on committee with and those we do not. There are those who, when they rise to speak, our bodies get a little tighter, anticipating the words. I just want to be clear that “us/them-ing” – or what is described as “ingroup/outgroup” cognitive bias in the social psychology literature – is something that can happen everywhere.

This is normal and automatic, really. We want to protect ourselves, and thousands of years have shown us that being able to scan and discern who is safe and who is not (even if occasionally incorrect) is essential to survival. When our sense of safety depends on the world being a certain way, and not connection to Spirit, our context matters a lot.

The story of Lucia goes on to illustrate the way that fear can become domination – behaviors or systems that use power to bend the will of others. In the story, out of fear, the people act to make their will occur. “They treat her cruelly and finally drive her from the village.” Easily, we can make a judgement that these people are simply out of order and that domination is wrong or evil and definitely “them (not me).” I feel this when I see the news that ICE is training citizens to round up immigrants or news reporting that Latino and African American residents in the U.S. are three times as likely to become infected by the coronavirus as white residents, and nearly twice as likely to die.

But is domination really the expression of all evil? In some cases, domination (like fear) increases our ability to survive. Sometimes, bending the world to our desired will can bring us food, shelter, relationships. Because of this, our brains connect having our own way with security and when we don’t get our own way, we feel vulnerable and yes, fearful – sometimes leading us to try to bend the world to our will.

I want to offer here a simple belief I have: Our social systems mirror our inner systems for survival. In the case of the United States, our social systems mirror the inner systems of survival of white, landed men who seek to protect themselves at the expense of other people and the planet. This isn’t a kind way of being. It is selfish. And for some of us, sacrificing others for financial security seems insane. I still do not understand it.

This state of affairs is not just in the past. Physical and systemic domination is occurring day in and day out, some of us suffering and some of us prospering in this world. And while it would be easy to create an us/them dichotomy here, I ask you to step with me to a different place in our minds – a place where things connect. Where domination and oppression are not just out there in the world, but also in our own community.

Quakers have a checkered relationship with the dominant and dominating culture. There are times when Quakers have chosen equality over domination – for instance, when men chose not to tip their hats at people with higher status. But, as Vanessa Julye’s book Fit for Freedom, Not for Friendship asks us to recognize, Quakers are complicated. William Penn, for example, seemed to be living in the Light or at least seeking such a way of living. And yet, he was actively engaged in slave ownership and trade, and lived on stolen Native lands.

Quakers writing in defense of Penn describe how he referred to Black slaves as servants – but he did not give Black people their freedom nor did he return Native lands. His life embodied a dominating and exploitive system that was driven by fear of losing power and wealth, a system that inflicted fear onto millions.

I bring up William Penn to point out that we humans and the institutional systems we create are complicated.  For this reason, Quaker meetings of all sizes have struggled to push back systems of domination and oppression, while at the same time preserving practices that perpetuate it. We know this is because Friends do not always experience respect, kindness, or love in our meetings, committees, and community gatherings. And I want to note that even today friends of color encounter different levels of wounding in response to white supremacy, racism, and prejudice (all the fruits of a dominating culture) within our Society of Friends.

Further, domination is not only in our larger institutional systems and Quaker meetings, but also in ourselves because what is in us, repeats in our communities and in our societal structures.  Evidence of my own internalization of the dominating culture occurs every time I seek to fulfill my own will in a way that does not respect the dignity of another person. It occurs each time I am more centered on being right than being kind.

I believe that domination is hard on our souls, on our psyches, and even on our bodies, because it is antithetical to the truth. One of the most powerful things we each can do is heal our traumas, forgive when we can, and mend the brokenness inside ourselves that feed dominating ways of being. As we become more whole, so will our relationships to each other, and perhaps even our larger community will benefit.

These words written by Javaughn Fernanders to Pacific Yearly Meeting several months ago describe what Radical Inclusivity may mean for us: “Reading a slew of books is great, having an intellectual awareness of white supremacy in institutions will undoubtedly deem you ‘woke,’ but will you be lit on fire to implement a radically inclusive invitation to Friends of Color, not to only to join, but to run PYM?”

What I hear in these prophetic words is that, if we want to be radically inclusive, we will have to let go of what is precious to us – perhaps power, perhaps things that make us comfortable and safe. This will require deepening our faith in Spirit, trusting that a love greater than ourselves will guide us forward, even when we can’t see how things will unfold. Here are three concrete actions we can take to deepen with intention:

Daily practices: Let us resolve to do our best to listen each day to God/Spirit/the Light – to place our will and belief in Spirit. In preparation for this talk, I read many mystics from many traditions, and all of them strongly state that having a daily practice of connecting to the divine through worship, meditation, contemplation, prayer, or however it is that you connect to Spirit, is essential to remembering and staying awake to the interconnection of all things – including our connection to Spirit.

Re-connection in real time: In addition to a daily practice, finding ways to reconnect when we get disconnected during the day is important. I have practiced these “4 A’s” when I find myself responding to words or actions that trigger me to feel threatened or fearful:

I Awaken to what is happening. Name it.

I Affirm: “I am safe,” or “I am open,” or “I can stay at ease.”

I Allow myself to tap into that deep safe place and listen to the truth – connect to Spirit, Love, energy of peace, the Light.

I Authentically act with love, compassion, and respect.

This practice is a way to connect, to stay awake, to be available to radically include others in a genuine and loving way. It stops the automatic processes that may cause us to dominate others, to make us feel secure at their expense.

Focus energy on what is loving and kind: When we try to change habits of mind or practice by suppressing thoughts or behaviors that we don’t want, this actually primes them and makes them more accessible, to the point that we may unconsciously go in the direction we are trying to avoid. The antidote is to focus on what we want, practice the new mantra, thought, behavior we want to grow, and ignore what we want to get rid of.

Every day there is opportunity in our Quaker practice to deepen us spiritually. If that is occurring, then I believe the gifts of the Spirit will be more common and present in our interactions with each other. I believe that our traumas will begin to heal and so will our conflicts with each other. When our love is powerful and our power is loving, domination is no longer part of how we relate to each other. If we live into this, I believe we will be living into a new, more radically inclusive way of being that has the power to transform us personally, our Society of Friends, and perhaps help us be more of what the world needs right now. ~~~

Mica Estrada is a Behavioral Scientist whose early work focused on conflict resolution, forgiveness, and problem solving. Her current work focuses on social influences that increase care of our planet and greater equity in the world of education. She is a member of Strawberry Creek Friends Meeting (PacYM).

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