Deep Democracy

Celebrating difference is, in my view, one of the most critical challenges we humans need to face. I say this because it seems to me that intolerance is at the heart of many of the issues we struggle with today, both personally and globally. If we could move from intolerance to acceptance, I believe the world would be a very different place.

'Difference' sits before us like the ugly frog sits before the Princess in the story of the Frog Prince. He begs to be taken seriously, loved and accepted - warts and all. Naturally, there is enormous resistance on the part of the Princess to kiss this revolting creature. But when she becomes open, gives the frog a chance and kisses him, the ugly frog becomes a handsome Prince.

This is not a heterosexual romance. This is a story about loving and becoming intimate with our own inner shadow - the parts of ourselves we reject, think are ugly, horrible or disgusting. This is a story about accepting our inner diversity. And as the story outlines, when we pucker up and become intimate with the parts of our inner self that we dislike - they too take on a new degree of beauty.

This is also a story about valuing and understanding the origins of everyone's viewpoint, beliefs and behaviours. Arnold Mindell, a world renowned author and psychotherapist, calls this process 'deep democracy'. He explains that deep democracy is an internal and an external process. Internally, it means that we value all parts, all feelings, all moods, all thoughts - we take them seriously and give them room for expression. By doing this we can, in many instances, resolve our physical symptoms and life problems.

Externally, this means adopting an attitude of curiosity and openness to all voices in society - even those who we don't want to hear, such as those with a different political or religious perspective. It means: "trying to appreciate the origins of everyone's viewpoint, including those who want peace and those who want conflict and war". To shut down another's viewpoint is to adopt the worst qualities of terrorism. Facilitating groups around the world, Mindell has demonstrated how most conflicts can be resolved through taking this one step alone! Because when we shut down voices, those voices, needing to be heard, will escalate and use any means to be heard - and this is the situation we have in our world at the moment.

Creating deep democracy starts at home. The more we can accept our own inner diversity, the more we are capable of being open to the diversity 'out there' in other people. The less we have intolerance about aspects of our self, the less will be our intolerance of others.

How to develop a 'deeply democratic' attitude?

1. Develop an attitude of curiosity towards the viewpoints, beliefs and behaviours of others: Mindell suggests that if we really try and understand the origins of another's perspective then most conflicts will be resolved on the spot. Mindell believes that something worthwhile lurks beyond every position, belief and behaviour. The meaningful qualities lurking behind terrorism, for example, might include: self-sacrifice, passionate belief, loyalty, action around social and political change and commitment to a cause. Whilst the methods being used currently cannot be condoned; at the root of such action reside qualities that are needed in the world!

2. Developing sensitivity towards those who we dislike: This can be a most difficult task - but one I suggest is worth learning if we are to change the health of our global community. Those who disturb, annoy, bother, and anger us are likely to represent aspects that we dislike or disown in our own psyche, thus making it easier to 'write them off' than to 'put ourselves in their shoes'.

3. Adopting a Holographic view of the world: Put simply, this means believing that everything you see out there is also a reflection of your inner reality. For example, many of us identify terrorists as the enemy, and see them as 'other' than us - yet many of us have inner terrorists, who shoot us down, criticize us, abuse us, expect perfection or demand we adopt only one belief system. If we pick up our own inner terrorists, we have taken a huge step towards understanding and changing the presence of terrorism in our world.

Speaking on social issues is not something normally associated with psychology; yet many people I see are deeply affected by what is going on in the world. Rather than feel powerless, I am motivated to see people move to a new kind of social action; where we pick up the challenges happening in the world and see them as our own; where we stop waiting for someone else to fix the world; and where we stop fighting with something out there and instead discover that 'out there' is really 'in here' and that's where we have some real power to create change.

Here's to changing the world!

Posted on 05 November 2004 in - Library - Culture and Society - Human Condition - Relationships

Michelle McClintock

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