WJHW1: (Angrily) I am feeling furious at WJHM2... (she is cut off)
Facilitation comment: This woman goes over the group edge in expressing her anger in a direct way towards another participant. WJHM2: I bet! There are relationships and interactions always going on. We hear about big stories, little stories. Big relationships, little relationships...it’s overwhelming. I feel defended. What do you expect from me…as a white man today. We could play that out. With all these dynamics and so many levels going on. I feel the day and I feel myself part of the day. (Laughs in an uncertain way)
Facilitation comment: The white Jewish man acknowledges his defensiveness and discomfort at being the focus of the anger of a member of the group. He misuses his rank in cutting the woman off before she can complete her thought and interaction with him. This is a clue to possible future work of the group...particularly in the area of relationship and sexism.
WCHM: (Calmly) It seems absolutely perfect. As a result of the limited experience we have had in the group last night, I can see how I have limited myself to certain relationships. I also know that in order to step forward in the world and make room within myself for all of you, I have got to open this out...and that sounds exactly what we are doing today. I think we are on a good path.
Facilitation comment: This white man talks in a calm and detached way, although he enters the group process at a moment of conflict and tension. He feels comfortable and protected even in this environment, and is able to stand back and observe the discussion. This is an indication of privilege, the social ability to stand back from a situation and observe it in a calm and detached way. Mindell in the interview comments that “there’s something of an inflation here--‘I have to make room in myself for all of you’…The white man behaves as if he is the grand power of us all, and acts this way. He doesn’t see the others as needing to make room for him. He doesn’t see himself as the minority status--he sees himself as the great ballroom.”
Additional comment: In a Worldwork seminar in 1993 a white South African man was in the center facing 300 group members who were angry at him about the condition of racism that had occurred for centuries in South Africa. He was addressing the group in a calm and reasonable manner while the group members were angry and upset with him. This increased the group fury even further. He was unable to recognize that he was able to maintain a calm, detached demeanor due to his social rank and privilege in an emotionally painful and difficult social environment. ACHM: (with a heated and angry voice) I have got to say that when a white man says that, standing in the position of observer, it pushes an awful lot of buttons in me. Because that is a privilege to be able to stand back and have relationships. You don’t have to connect. I am not allowed that, I am not afforded that. I have to connect in order to survive--I have to watch you. I have to know you. I don't particularly want to know you, but I have to in order to be able to function in the world. That’s my belief. So when you say that in that sort of observing kind of way, "Oh I think this is good, I am really enjoying this"--and I am sorry as I don't mean to make fun of you, as I understand you are being very sincere. I am not just speaking to you, there are parts of all of us that do this. I do this too, I have a white man in me. Something else has to happen, and I want to see it happen today. That’s my wish that we need to get involved. Going back to what WJHM1 said about why am I numb. That was a numb thing to hear, when you said "this is interesting, we are moving in the right direction." How does this effect me, how does it effect you. I want to hear about WJHM2’s pain, his anger. I want to hear how this is affecting people. All of those articles that were read were just about numbness. Just watch the news and it takes care of all of our pain, all of our concerns. Just read about it, close the paper and get on with our lives, and pretend it doesn't matter. Its not fitting into my life today. Because the news takes care of it so I don’t have to deal with it. So connect into where it takes me. The fact that we are separate, the fact that there is an incredible edge that we are on, and I feel it, and we just can't get into it. We want to be nice, we want to be nice…there is a marginalization of feeling, there’s a marginalization of just hurting. Let’s be nice, let’s be cordial, like that’s going to do something. Being nice is not going to do much at all except maintain the niceness. That’s all. I'm sorry.
Facilitation comment: The African American man does many things at this moment in the group process. Firstly, he goes fully over the edge in the group process. Previously people have described their pain or anger or hurt but not embodied this in the moment. Here he addresses the side of the group which is needing to be nice and apologizes to this culture in the group, and also goes over the edge in standing for his anger and pain. He also addresses the observing attitude of the white man (and his own inner white man) and the way he uses his privilege to distance himself in ways that can be hurtful to others. He also supports the previous white man’s need to open out into a wider range of relationships by meeting him in this exchange and sharing more deeply of his own world experience with white men in relationship. In going over his edge, he encourages other group members to follow and share more of their not-nice sides. Throughout his talk, there is a siren going on in the background, highlighting the urgency of his words. In Process Work, external signals in the world frequently emerge as a synchronistic way of drawing attention to attitudes and background feelings and thoughts that need to be honored. Mindell in the interview adds, “The statement--‘I have to watch you, I have to know you’--you need to learn the rules of the game. Every marginalized woman or man has learned the rules--you’ve got to kiss ass. Otherwise you’ve had it. That’s a hot spot.” And the marginalized person will “hate you for not recognizing the rank difficulties.”
WJHM2: You don't have to apologize.
Facilitation comment: This Jewish white man supports the African American man’s expression and anger. Encouraging greater emotional expression in the group. At this moment there is also confusion in the group as to who apologized, who should apologize etc. Mindell in the interview comments that the apology of the African American man comes from the feeling that “he knows that he has attacked the white man and feels uncomfortable about it himself. He knows something is not quite right. He sees the white man as outside of himself, only. Even though he said it’s also inside. He hasn’t really portrayed that. He hasn’t said, let’s grow together. This is a lot to ask, I haven’t seen anybody do this…This would be a new world, where we’re all growing together. Otherwise it’s still the oppressor and the oppressed who then go on oppressing everyone else. It’s a grand vision. But if we don’t have visions like that we don’t have another world. We just have social action and not psycho-social action. A psycho-social activist knows that social action never really works deeply enough unless the activist her/himself shares the problems that she is accusing others of--the sharing of it, and the sense of growing together and modeling growing. Instead of telling somebody to grow, you’ve got to show them how. Social activist just says grow, and the psycho-social activist says grow too, and adds to it the attitude of ‘I’m gonna show you how’, and then models what she wants. Not just expects the other one is going to know how to do it.” Facilitator WJHM: We must be apologizing to something that says, 'You ought to be nice, you ought to be sweet, you ought not to bring in your true feelings. You should keep things somewhat at an objective and distanced level.'
Facilitation comment: The facilitator here brings awareness to the group of the role of being nice which is circling around the group. In embodying this figure more consciously it assists the group members in addressing this figure and defining more clearly the spirits and issues that the group is working on. The facilitators could be more effective here in defining both roles which are present in the group, the one of the angry role in the group and the rankful role which encourages being nice. ACLW: That was my reaction when we were talking about compassion. We might have friction here and there, but we are trying to get to this compassion. If that happens that is wonderful, but it is not my goal here. My goal is to get to my truth wherever that goes. I could leave here abrasive. I don’t know, I don’t care. It frightens me, I get nervous when I get into a group situation and people start talking about coming together as a goal. This scares me when two or three people are setting this up as the goal. This whole nice thing area.
Facilitation comment: Again the attitude of the one who insists we act in a nice way is being addressed. Although the fear is only partially expressed, this woman is talking about the repression of her angry side by the attitude of keeping things nice. ACLW(She now indicates to a white man who was raising his hand previously and states): You wanted to say something and had raised your hand and WJHM1 came right on in there. The word privilege came up and I started thinking wow! That WJHM1 jumped right on in there, and for me white man privilege came up. And you (referring to WJHM1) jumped right in to take your turn.
WJHM1: That’s because I was interrupted twice.
ACLW: So you ran over them.
WJHM: I did, I did that.
ACLW: That’s what I am talking about, white man privilege. I am going to get mine anyway.
Facilitation comment: The African American woman addresses the white man directly at this moment, with a fury towards the numbness and unconscious use of rank. Mindell in the interview states that “becoming an oppressor is by not knowing the painfulness of our own marginalized selves. And that’s a matter of people dealing with rank. Everyone, it could be in the black community too. Everybody with rank does the same thing. They marginalized their own oppressed nature, so she’s on the right track. She’s angry with him, but somehow people aren’t pointing this out, the difficulties of marginalizing one another on the spot. Everything is happening so rapidly in the process, but looking on from the outside as the facilitator you could say, “Friends, there is something in the room which says ‘I have rank and I don’t need to know my own pain. So let me ignore my own pain and let me ignore everybody else’s pain.’ There is rage against this statement.” Mindell continues, “Everybody needs to know that everybody does this [is rank unconscious] in every situation. Otherwise a person who is in a so-called less rankful position goes home and is certain that the rankful one is the other and doesn’t realize it, and inadvertently hurts people in their own families out of rank unconsciousness. I’m interested you see, not just in the overt racism, sexism, homophobia. That’s big enough. But more, in everybody growing and stopping rank unconsciousness in a general way. Otherwise the community could kill every white man in the whole universe. You would still have the same problem.”
This African American woman presents an important learning about the concept of white male privilege and rank. She identifies one trait of this rank in being able to interrupt another to take care of one’s own need, irrespective of the other’s situation or need. Another trait previously mentioned is the privilege of being able to stand back and observe. As these traits are behaviors and background attitudes, they can be adopted at times by others apart from white men. This is acknowledged by the previous African American man, stating that he too has a white man within him. The white man is experienced as a role or position in the group, occupied by white men, but quite available as an attitude to anyone picking up the oppressor role. In this instance, the role of 'white male' was adopted by a white male against another white male. This leads to the idea that white men can be oppressed by the very attitudes that they embody.
Additional comment: Proponents of the men’s rights movements identify with much of this oppression of men by the ‘white male’ role. A frequently used example of the men’s rights movement is the custody courts in the legal system. Men’s rights advocates feel that the legal system discriminates against men and tends to side against them in decisions of custody, access and contact with their children. Paradoxically, the legal system is highly dominated by men, mostly white men. In this case, some white men are discriminated against by the very system which they embody and represents them. The idea that the 'white male’ position is a moving role which can be adopted by many different people at different times is not meant to reduce responsibility on white men who act in oppressive ways, but to recognize that white men too might be oppressed in this process. ACLW: (continues) It’s something I battle, I encounter it all the time. And then I heard, "Am I going to get set up as a white man?" I openly state that I deal with a lot of rage about white men in America. I feel the invisibility as a result of being an African American woman in America. An overweight, over forty, African American woman in America. As large as my body is, as colorful as my skin is, sometimes I am just not seen. Walking through a door, driving in my car, anywhere. That’s something that’s my fire, everytime a bumper word comes up. For me it comes up as white man as victim. Everybody’s talking about making the white man the oppressor, making the white man the bad guy...It turns around as 'we are people too'...Absolutely! But there is a way that when you turn yourselves into the victims that you are escaping from looking at your participation of what’s going on. It’s how I can be an oppressor, by not looking at how when I turn myself into a victim and act out on that [I become oppressive]. That’s how I become an oppressor.
Facilitation comment: The African American woman expresses her anger and rage. She introduces some of her experience of being socially marginalized, through being an African American, a woman and aged over forty. Her challenge to white men to discriminate between how they oppress and their own feelings of oppression and victimhood is important. In group experience it is often difficult for the white men to address accusations of how they might oppress, as the message is often combined with the rage of the person feeling oppressed and this person’s own marginalized oppressor, the man’s own sense of oppression and previous shame, and the man’s abuse or difficult personal history. White men have also been protected within the structures of social systems which tend to support their social rank.Further, social rank is expressed in many forms, one of which is the ability to choose to change direction. This is a privilege often taken for granted by those who have it (often done by those in the role of the ‘white man’). Changing the focus of attention can be socially oppressive to those others who do not have the privilege to do so. This changing of the topic of focus from one who needs to be accountable to one’s own personal needs has been seen as behavior typical of the 'white man'. The ability of the person in the ‘white man’ role to stand in this fire is difficult, and requires the awareness and capacity to place her/his other needs on hold for a moment.
Additional comment: As cultures change, white men are being increasingly confronted as to how they use their social rank. Bill Clinton, as president of the United States, was publicly confronted for his sexual affair with an intern (lower rank), although the practice of this type of sexual affair was condoned and accepted for many years prior to his time.
I recall my own personal learning on the use of social rank at a Worldwork seminar in 1993. At this time, the group was working on sexism and many woman in the group were furious, demanding that men look at and be accountable for their own sexist attitudes and talk deeply about why this might be so. I realized that part of my oppression, and related desire to oppress, was my revenge towards my mother who had hurt me deeply in my childhood. I began to tell the group my story of my own personal pain in relationship to my mother and how I might be taking out my revenge in relationships. Needless to say the women in the group became even more furious and silenced me with a roaring voice before I had even completed my first sentence. They stated that they did not want to hear about my mother and any excuses I might have. The group at this time required of me to address my participation in the issue and not my own personal 'victimhood'. The next speaker at this seminar was a white man who had been my mentor. He stated he was different from me and was not looking at how he might want to take revenge or the pattern of his relationship with his mother, but that he was upset at the aggression of the women in the group. He was also silenced by the fury of the women. The women did not want men to escape their participation in sexism by focusing on their 'victimhood', the dynamics of relationship or any other topic. They needed men to use their privilege and 'white man’ power to stay focused on the issue presented, and to keep their focus on the needs of the women participants at this moment. The dynamics in the group created an unusual situation, where the culturally marginalized voices were supported to come out. The playing field had momentarily changed so that the usual patterns and dynamics of male communication and the isms related to this were silenced. When white men later complained that they no longer have the space to focus on what is important for them at a given moment, the response was that they now had an idea of how marginalized groups feel all the time in this 'white man’ culture.
Facilitator (WJHM): I am listening, I am listening. I notice you are looking over there (WJHM 2). I am here too.
Facilitation comment: The facilitator moves to the physical position of the white man being focused on. He does so to acknowledge that the white man is now holding a role for the whole group, and that he is not alone in this role but is a representative of the timespirit that needs expression. Sometimes one person standing in a role which is difficult and under criticism or 'fire' can be personally painful for this individual. Encouraging others to feel what it is like in this position and to learn from being in this place, as well as creating a possibility to relieve the person from this role, is an important function as a facilitator.
Additional comment: I recall my painful learning of this at the first Worldwork seminar on the Oregon Coast in 1991 when Worldwork was first being developed. This was an especially intense time of experientially learning together. At this time role theory was just being developed, and the awareness of supporting all sides in the heated fire of exchange was not always in the group’s or facilitation awareness. At one moment, the group was working on homophobia and was looking for the ghost of the homophobe. I found a moment where I had been homophobic and mentioned this to the group as a way of finding a role and assisting the group. The group then became furious with me and criticized me for having a thought like this. I felt awful, apologetic for this thought, as well hurt by all the criticism and began to cry. I felt what it was like to be stuck in a tough role by myself. Facilitator WJHW: I would like to make a metacomment that we are in the process, and I hope that is OK for everyone.
Facilitation comment: Although there was no explicit consensus to focus on the issue of white men and privilege, the group intensity and focus has drawn us there. In a sense, the group is making an unexpressed agreement to focus on this issue. By stating that she hopes this is OK for everyone, the facilitator is making everyone aware of the place we are being drawn to and creating a container to support the issue that is emerging. Deeper into the work
The group is now entering the process of wrestling with the issues that emerge between participants in the work. The 'cooking' of this process is analogous to alchemy, when the container is set, the prima materia are placed into the pot together and the fire is increased. Here, the consensus of the group to work on this issue is established, the container and form held, and now the interaction of the various sides can occur. WJGM: He (ACGM) mentioned that he and I had just returned from a retreat for gay men. I was aware of how I felt very vulnerable, as this is not usually the first piece of myself that I lead with, especially in a group of people who had met the night before and I am the new person. So I noticed my vulnerability and that I choose the moment to come out. African American people have other experiences. But then what I realize is that in a certain way it’s also my way of holding back until I am in my most privileged place, and that the privilege was stripped from me in a way that I am then immediately identified as a gay man. This made me vulnerable in a way that you are used to being vulnerable (referring to people of color), where as I could hide behind my decision to come out rather than be at my most vulnerable. I am protective of my feelings. I am learning especially that this is valid at the moment when the whole white man issue emerges. Once I saw my truth, I cash in some of the 'chips' of my privilege.
Facilitation comment: Here a gay Jewish man reflects on the way he uses the rank of being white to protect himself when in vulnerable situations. He notes that the option to present his race due to the color of his skin is less of a choice than sexual orientation. He also questions how the rank of having this option is used and how he personally might use his privilege of being white as a way of protecting his gay identity through holding back and staying withdrawn. He recognizes his privilege as a white man of being able to choose when to enter certain conditions, if at all, and the safety of this position. The issue of relative safety is important here. In a group where many of the members have qualities which are marginalized and not presented to others by choice, such as race, the issue of safety becomes a very different process. The question of whether one is vulnerable or not becomes less relevant as the person will always be vulnerable and in danger of others’ projections and prejudice towards them. Safety then becomes more a focus on personal skills and less a request for an externally safe environment. As the African American man said earlier, "I have to watch you (white men), I have to know you, I don't particularly want to know you, but I have to." This African American man needs to be aware of his environment, who the people are in his environment, and how they behave. He needs to stay conscious and awake for his own personal safety. Safety does not come from an external agreement to create a safe environment, but from the marginalized persons’ awareness of the condition they are in, and their ability to deal with this condition.
Additional comment: I had a discussion on safety with an African American man at a Worldwork seminar in 1997. The issue of safety had been presented in the Worldwork group of about 300 people. Questions had emerged about rules of agreement of behavior, how to create a safe container for the group and individuals in the group, etc. This had been a particular concern for mainstream participants with more social rank, such as the white participants. The African American man stated that he never even looks for safety in a group. As an African American man, the idea of creating safety in a group is not relevant, as this for him is rarely a possibility. The world is not a safe place. He uses his skills and awareness to find those people in a group who can 'watch his back' and care for him in time of need. And he keeps the awareness that he is not safe as a way of staying sharp and interpersonally conscious in the group. The reliance on rules of conduct in a group to create safety has the risk of perpetuating a particular arrangement of social privilege through the creation of this set of rules. Although important for many people, it can create a condition where the external structure becomes the focus in developing safety at the cost of the development of interpersonal awareness and skills.
ACGM: I really apologize to WJGM for outing him. (laughter in the group) I am obviously not back in reality, because if I was in reality I would be particularly aware of this, if I want to come out it’s my trouble. I have.....