Dreamdoor Series: Part 3 – Eldership

Eldership grows in part from having experienced the issues yourself, having known yourself as both victim
and oppressor…Elders themselves have made the leap from one-sidedness to compassion.

~Arnold Mindell, PhD.  Sitting in the Fire.  Page 51.

 

 

It was my first political meeting.  We were starting to organize a local chapter.  The regional coordinator was in the area and called an impromptu early morning meeting to give us a quick orientation.  One of us had stepped forward to be the chapter leader.  The rest of us were ready to assist.

 

The meeting hadn’t gone for more than a few minutes before things became toxic.  One of our team abruptly criticized the leader for a series of recent, unclear communications.  The leader became immediately defensive.  The toxic back-and-forth escalated to the point of the leader taking on the role of victim and declaring a desire to leave the group.

 

Welcome to the team.

 

I know toxic communication when I hear it; in part because I’m a systems coach and toxic communication is a common failing of teams.  But my real expertise comes from my own unconscious use of toxic communication and having it damage relationships – both personal and professional.  I am a recovering toxic communicator.  I know toxins, especially the ones served up in this meeting:

  • Harsh Start Up – Beginning a conversation with an abrupt, negative and accusatory tone.  (Yup, been there, done that…)
  • Criticism / Blame – A complaint that attacks a person’s character or personality.  (I can chalk up the end of my first marriage in part to my mastery of this toxin.)
  • Defensiveness – Turning criticism and blame away, often back on the original criticizer.  Rather than diffusing the situation, defensiveness escalates it.  (Score three-for-three.)

 

The regional coordinator stepped in and quieted everyone down.  The incident was about to be stepped over when I stepped in.

 

“Before we move on, I just need to say a few things.  First, I hear both of your concerns.  You,” indicating the criticizer, “really want us to have clear, concise communications.  I agree.  This is really important.”

 

“And you”, indicating the defender, “want us to see that you are doing your best.  Thank you for being the one who stepped forward to lead the group.”

 

“As we go forward, can we remember that we are all coming from a place of good intent?”

 

The effect was immediate.  Everyone took a deep breath.  The feeling in the room softened and the meeting proceeded in a productive manner.  The leader agreed that it would be good to get some help with communications in the future.  Would anyone step up?

 

It was not my intent to step forward that day.  In fact it was the last thing I planned to do.  But I had come to take a stand and bring awareness.  My first lesson in eldership had begun.  “…The leader follows a plan; the elder honors the direction of a mysterious and unknown river.1

 

I was in.

 

___________________________

[1] Mindell, Sitting in the Fire, Page 184.

 

Judith MacBrine dba The Mirror Group © Copyright 2012

One Response to “Dreamdoor Series: Part 3 – Eldership”

  • Grace B:

    Judith…as always, I am so inspired by your willingness to be so transparently human for the benefit of all of us. Which of us has NOT served up a plate full of toxic communication to others?

    Your generous sharing of the ways you consciously elevate your own communication and invite others to do the same is such a lovely example of how eldership can look in any of us, regardless of age.

    Thank you!

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