4.2 Editor's Pick
June 16, 2018

A White Man trains in Authentic Leadership at Naropa University.

I just completed the first part of an Authentic Leadership training retreat at Naropa University. My colleague, Dave, did it recently, as well.

At one point a discussion came up around privilege, gender, race, and power—a discussion that, as founder of Elephant, I encourage from all perspectives, (please write, below) not in accusatory terms but in frank, honest, constructive terms.

That said, I’m wildly ignorant. I know this. I acknowledge this. I know history, pretty well. I believe in equal rights, and the ongoing and bumpy journey thataway. I acknowledge my privilege and hope to have the…er, privilege, to use myself up on service of this beautiful, terrible world.

But I also am curious. I want to learn, so that I can be a better boss and human, both. If you’d like to apply to join our team, you can do so here. We’re lucky to have staff from all over the world, and most of our team is female.

But I, of course, am a “white man.” And in the retreat, at one point, someone pointed out that most aggression happens by men, toward women. And that I, as a white male, may be more comfortable with aggression.

I pointed out, then, that I am not comfortable with aggression. My mother went through domestic abuse, when I was young, and I witnessed a little of it (though she protected me, and extricated me, so I have no memories of it, and thankfully little direct trauma).

And I pointed out that “white” is a blunt term. My family, quite recently, could not do business unless they changed their last name (‘Lewis’ is a fake name). On my mother’s side, my family would have experienced pointed prejudice from all sides only two generations back.

But I am white, and male, and privileged. I grew up poor, but I was privileged to have a powerful single mother who guarded my education. Education is our best investment as a country.

I can not equate myself with those who are, today, experiencing real and direct prejudice and abuse of power. Whatever our background and present reality, we can all, together, work toward real equality. With curiosity, sharing, eager resolution and even, at times, celebration. For unraveling the systems of hate and suppression is a beautiful, if difficult process. We can begin with acknowledging our many forms of up-power, and down-power, and resolving to work to be of benefit to all.

Aggression creates aggression. Love is stronger than hate, and it can be active, not passive.

Or, as Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche urged us, never give up on anyone. Read more, here.

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Tracy Morley Jul 1, 2018 12:55pm

If we are talking generally I do not choose to see myself as 'white'. I see myself and everybody as a collection of miracle organic cells. It is a leveling truth for me. If our skin cells have evolved to help us survive in the elements of our environment, again, more awe inspiring stuff. I trust we will all become more educated and alignment with this deeper truth. I wonder if, generally, there may be a deep underlying lie at work that has been programmed into us by society's contructs - that being - we are 'inherently bad' instead of 'inherently good' and hence, cannot trust our deeper nature. Society reinforces this by building it's rules, threats and punishment to keep us all in check, otherwise there would be caos. I think these core constructs are outdated and were historically built on fear and a need to control others. This projection and continued reinforcement of this lie causes 'victim mentality'. Meaning, if we beleive this, we will feel we are the victims of life and fear the very essence of ourselves. We fear going inward to meet ourself which prevents healing and our unique truths. The constant fear of self causes stress and one of the stress responses is the fight response. Other strategies we have used to cope include, isolation, addictions, split personality disorders, ego masks to hide behind and harsh inner critic voices, to name but a few. All lead to of mental health struggles. What if it is true that at the core of human life is a need to survive and that can be achieved more effectively by working together as a whole and trusting in our inherent awesome creative power of the goodness that we already are, we just have to believe it.

Monica Hanna Larto Jun 17, 2018 4:03pm

Waylon, I applaud you on asking for help to better understand how to love others and decrease aggression. I am a white female who has a mental illness and been abused with very little street smarts skills and lots of book smart skills with little knowledge of how to connect the dots. Long winded sorry. My mother felt, as a child, I had too much energy and therefore did not instruct me wisely. However, she educated me in books. I have a passion for self learning. Doing for myself what my mother should have instilled and having other loving strong women -sometimes men - teach me how to take it from concept to process and action. My ex husband also abused and neglected me, so I feel in my 40something body I have the emotional state of a 20something person. I write my own free blog, for others with a mental illness to learn to overcome their accepted illness and cope with life as best as possible bringing healing and wholeness to them. I work outside the home as often as possible. I do not get any assistance unless I ask for it from my closest friends and my parents. They give what they can, especially of the emotional support. I am blessed to be poor financially, and rich in love and closeness with 5 relationships. I struggle with 3 relationships but that is with a man I love and my two children. This is because of my underdeveloped personage. Honestly, even when I am crushed from the financial and relational aspects of my life, the 5 good relationships pull me up, dust me off, and set me back on my feet holding me there till I believe in myself and take off. You are right! Love is stronger!

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Waylon Lewis

Waylon Lewis, founder of Elephant Journal & host of Walk the Talk Show with Waylon Lewis, is a 1st generation American Buddhist “Dharma Brat.” Voted #1 in U.S. on twitter for #green two years running, Changemaker & Eco Ambassador by Treehugger, Green Hero by Discovery’s Planet Green, Best (!) Shameless Self-Promoter at Westword’s Web Awards, Prominent Buddhist by Shambhala Sun, & 100 Most Influential People in Health & Fitness 2011 by “Greatist”, Waylon is a mediocre climber, lazy yogi, 365-day bicycle commuter & best friend to Redford (his rescue hound). His aim: to bring the good news re: “the mindful life” beyond the choir & to all those who didn’t know they gave a care. elephantjournal.com | His first book, Things I would like to do with You, touches on modern relationships from a Buddhist point of view. His dream of 9 years, the Elephant “Ecosystem” will find a way to pay 1,000s of writers a month, helping reverse the tide of low-quality, unpaid writing & reading for free online.