Despite a broken back, I love going to physiotherapy. There is nothing like starting your day with an engaging conversation about social change, trickle-up policies, and leadership styles with an almost complete stranger as he holds your body in various awkward positions. Recently, my physiotherapist and I have begun brainstorming how to solve the social issues we observe on our way to work in our sessions, and, as I left his office today, I realized that I love physio so much because I feel like I’m talking to the older, Italian, male version of myself.
Yesterday, we ended the conversation discussing leadership styles. He mentioned that he has learnt over the last few years that his leadership style is disruptive: not because his personality is abrasive or overwhelming (he is very affable and personable), but that his ideas and what he says are distinct from what everyone else is thinking and that he isn’t afraid to question the norms.
He told a story of when a city official told him that a public housing idea he had wouldn’t work because that isn’t the way the tendering system around public lands works. Of course I interrupted him to inject that that means that this is the exact point where change needs to happen. That we created the tendering policy in the first place, so of course that means that it can be modified when we note that it is the barrier to implementing needed change. “Exactly!” he exclaimed, interrupting me, and proving his point that disruptive isn’t storming out in protest, but it is naming that a different possibility could exist and that it is fully possible to get there. It does require, however, a willingness to think sideways and to consider systems as a whole.
Taking a page from what I have been learning from some wise mentors about stewarding my own sense of possibility, I asked him where he could think of small ways of piloting his idea and where he could gather a group of likeminded folks from across a spectrum of backgrounds and expertise to quietly test some housing initiatives with them and come up with a small plan of moving forward. We talked about how to think about ways of doing things differently in a small spaces, rather than trying to change the whole system at once, in a way that could point to the possibilities of bigger change. However, that still requires keeping that big vision forward, naming ideas and ways of thinking about issues differently and moving from there.
To do this works means to claim the gift of disrupter and to use it well.
To be prophetic, to be a disruptor, is not to simply point out that everything is terrible. It is to invite us, out of the very real rubble of destruction, death, and despair, into a new sense of possibility and future. I do my work not because the world and all of us are doomed, but because I love this world and I love us and out of that love, I see the change is possible. Calling out that possibility within all of us is the most life giving and beautiful work I can imagine, in my day job or anywhere else.
It starts with being able to see ourselves, on an individual and especially on a collective level.
I wonder how we can name the gifts that we bring, as individuals, as communities, as cultures, as organizations and how that shapes our understanding of our impacts and what we want to specifically steward and use. For so much of my work in Latin America, I thought of myself as an accompanier, as an outsider with power and privilege whose best role was always nameless supporter. I deeply love the idea of accompaniment and walking together to face challenges and to support each other, of bringing each other alongside in our journeys. The downside is that sometimes that method reduces the accompanier to simply that: the one walking alongside, who doesn’t bring a lot but is there with a helping hand if needed, but could very well be anyone.
This model or way of talking about ourselves can sometimes limit healthy self-reflection. Just little ole us doing some small things to maybe, every once and a while, make a difference. However, without knowing what the gifts are that we offer, we cannot truly live into them well, or even offer them. And in order to address the things that need balance, or the tensions inherent in every gift, we actually have to be able to claim confidence in the gifts, to name them, to celebrate them, in order to talk about the shadow side. This is true on all levels.
There is no space for false modesty in the work of calling forth possibilities.
I will never be able to stop seeing and naming different ways forward simply because they seem obvious to me. Yet now that I can see this as I gift I bring, I can play the long game and think more about when and where to use that power. Naming a gift means to choosing to use it wisely. It allows also us to be attentive to the gifts of others.
This doesn’t mean there won’t be bumps along with ways, but without the bumps, we won’t learn the things we need to know to get to where we are going. Case in point: I hurt my back but I learned a whole new way of thinking about city politics and leadership in the healing process!
Tell me a gift you are celebrating and how you steward it!