Last week I went to see the @Large exhibit by Ai Wei Wei on Alcatraz near San Francisco. Wei Wei is a global activist who reminds us that freedom is both powerful and fragile and that we must hold ourselves and our politicians/other leaders accountable. Most people vote for freedom, but few live it — and that is not more obvious than within our current global context. Not only is freedom constrained in Wei Wei’s mother country China, but throughout the world in various visible and invisible forms and subtleties.
Physical Challenges to Freedom
Alcatraz was a functioning prison from 1933 to 1963, housing the “worst” criminals of the time, prisoned for kidnapping and bank robbery. It seemed as if those crimes, which now rarely occur, pale in comparison to the barbarian acts that seem commonplace today. Just last week, extremists took the lives of cartoonists and shoppers in Paris going about their daily lives, for what westerners think was an attack of democracy and freedom of speech (I do not condone cartoonists mocking Mohammed). Such brutality goes on every day in a physical way, killing innocents, from the Israeli occupation of Palestine, to ISIS leaders beheading journalists, to suicide bombers killing people at open-air markets, to Americans at war in Iraq. Such brutality also goes on everyday in less visible ways, such as domestic violence, police brutality, exploitation of children, illegal tracking of national citizens, limitation of freedom of communication, speculative products or trading that “kills” people financially or economic sanctions that “kill” peoples’ livelihoods.
For example, at school we’re taught to follow the rules or get punished. At work, we’re taught to follow the boss or fear getting fired. We might even sign employment contracts sold as attractive, but links our visas to unfair clauses. As customers, we’re oft-trapped when seeking services provided from close-to monopoly companies, limiting our choices.
In an invisible way, brutality goes on everyday in our minds. Our self-talk often reflects the ways we were treated as children, frequently with impatience about achievements and proving our worth — as if bullying us to kowtow to societal rules. In my own practice, I meet clients in various organizations too scared to speak up in meetings for fear of losing their jobs, as if saying anything the boss doesn’t want to hear is a threat to their livelihood. In another example, in a course that I’m taking with the Presencing Institute through edx.org, a survey of the students showed that most people say that FEAR (note the world cloud on the right) prevents them from listening and communicating with others in the way they want to listen and communicate. Fear is the most intense internal prison that contains people around the world, which has been and still is constantly reinforced by society. From childhood, we’re taught to abandon our inner power, our inner wisdom, for the sake of listening to “experts.” When we’re kids, the experts are our parents, then our teachers, then university professors, then bosses, maybe our spouses, then doctors, accountants, lawyers and the list goes on. Fear controls our thoughts, feelings and behavior unless we consciously choose another route.
“Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery, none but ourselves can free our minds!” –Bob Marley
Most common inner prison
Fear. Every unhelpful thought and behavior flows from fear such as being critical, judgmental, pessimistic, defensive, suspicious, untrusting, reactive, aggressive and the like.
To emancipate yourself from mental slavery, experiment with this approach:
1) Become aware of your constantly-changing thoughts and feelings and face them without judgement. What do you say to yourself? What do you think?
2) Learn from your thoughts and feelings and then shift into the person you want to be. If your thoughts and feelings were your sisters who cared about your best interests, what would they wish for you?
3) Use new paradigms or assumptions to think, feel and act. Assume that all people are good or all people do their best. How would you be different as a leader?
Expansive emotional capacity is the highest priority for leaders today. When leaders learn to reframe inner prisons, they are able to think clearly and act in response to the situation at hand. Otherwise, leaders will continue to do what’s happening around us — default to a directive leadership style and limit engagement, creativity and innovative solutions for the future.
Are you a prisoner or free?[ Image by Freepik ]