Every once in a while, life gives us something precious even though it might not appear that way at first.
A few days ago, I logged on to Twitter to discover a friend deep in a ‘heated’ exchange. My friend, like myself, was born into the Labour Party Tribe and I watched her struggling to communicate with an elected councillor from the Tory Party Tribe. As I have some experience of ‘doing business’ with elected Tory councillors, I joined in when my friend began to struggle and began my own exchange instead. This blog is one of the outcomes and, I’m hoping, will be one amongst many.
Party politics in the UK – and probably elsewhere – is a battle between the two major political tribes, Labour and Tory, which stem from two very different root systems. Loosely described, Tories traditionally represent successful individualism within society whereas Labour draws its power from the collective groups who are often employees of Tories if they are not working within what remains of our public services. Unless circumstance requires that members of the Labour and Tory tribes work together, the two often don’t have much contact with each other and this absence of relationship contributes much to the deepening divisions between the two. Please bear in mind that, presently, these are very real ideological battles and very real people are dying as a result.
What drew me to the struggling exchange between my friend and this Tory Councillor – Nadia Cenci – was her willingness to remain within the conversation. Here was a Tory genuinely engaging with people outside her own tribe. I have a great deal of respect for anyone willing to make such a move and did not want to see such a potentially valuable resource go to waste. What I wasn’t prepared to do was engage from within the traditional battle positions. I needed to find new ground where we could meet ‘under the flag of truce’. In the following days, Nadia and I negotiated ground where we could do this. For those who may be interested, the root of this truce is buried deep in good manners. Neither of us are going to have all the answers. Neither of us are perfect but both of us are deeply concerned with the ‘health’ of our respective communities and the very serious problems we, as a whole, are facing. As far as I can establish, we are both looking for genuine, workable solutions and are willing to learn from each other beyond the present frame of UK party politics.
The ground I use when I talk to Nadia belongs to women. The traditional politics of tribal power within the UK, regardless of allegiances, is male-oriented. In other words, it is designed primarily by and for men – of all political parties – which means that the needs and interests of women have been sorely neglected. As women, we are subject to the same kind of harassment and derision if we step outside the loosely defined ‘Rules of Acceptable Behaviour for Women in a Man’s World’ and we are going to face the same struggles to resolve the social problems now besetting us. This is common ground for any woman, in my experience, regardless of whatever might divide us in other ways. For my part, I know that I cannot creatively contribute to conflict resolution unless I feel safe enough and I bring this wisdom to our ‘kitchen table’. If I need to feel safe enough, then it is important to ensure that all those involved feel the same way too because, in my own mind, we are not likely to reveal the really important issues without it. And the really important issues? Amongst women, these are likely to dwell within our feelings because women draw on our knowledge of emotional intelligence in order to find resolutions.
To access the knowledge and wisdom of emotional intelligence requires safety and in human relationships, that is built upon mutual respect; the recognition that everyone brings something valuable to the discussion. At the beginning, when distrust is most likely to derail such truces, having good manners allows each individual to find their own safety in their own way. It reminds me of those first meetings with psychotherapy clients. Most people (who can afford therapy) only turn up in a therapeutic consulting room when everything else they have tried has failed to resolve their problems. A new client is frightened, confused, and desperate enough to choose to encounter a stranger who might be able to help them. One demand they place upon themselves is the expectation that they must trust the therapist from the very outset. Emotional intelligence says that they are asking too much of both themselves and the situation. Sometimes my clients would be able to articulate this ‘trust requirement’ and my response was to say this was not my expectation of them. Trust is earned, not given – what makes the real difference is a willingness to trust. In my experience, this awareness of earning trust, together with good manners and if appropriate, humour, are the basic tools to creative human interaction – bring them to a women’s truce and we may have a genuine opportunity to negotiate a big enough peace for everyone; women and men, children and elders.
Bear in mind that this blog is about creating boundaries of safety for two women of different tribes at war with each other. As one of the two, I believe it helps to be as clear as I can be about my own motivations and to ensure that, as a matter of mutual respect for the individual, Nadia feels safe enough to express her own self before we ever move off into exploring new directions. From my perspective, my new travelling companion has already surprised me and her willingness to explore our collective problems whilst remaining true to herself is a genuine delight. Without Nadia’s suggestion, this blog would not have been written – already we are creating new ways of interacting. This is mutual creativity where one inspires the other. Additionally, Nadia is as willing as I am to make this a public exploration via the social media as well as a personal relationship. This means we can invite other women to observe, to participate if they wish and to share their own wisdom, especially when we ourselves stumble or find ourselves caught in the leg-irons and traps of outdated thought-forms.
In a human world that places so much emphasis on death and destruction, that two women from warring tribes can come together and thrash out enough of an agreement to create a potential region of truce seems, to me, little short of a miracle. That Nadia is a woman who is open to the possibility of miracles suggests that, together, we might find more.
If that isn’t grounds for cautious optimism, then I don’t know what is.