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Mod. 6 - Letter From Your Wiser Self

Review your weekly case project assignments. Reference notes taken in your transformational change framework. Add details as they have been coming into focus. As a reminder, the creative cycle reflects ways that creative practices can enable collaboration across differences in ways that intentionally engage different system levers and foster emergence.

In your letters from your wiser selves, I'd like you to address the following elements —

  1. What do you understand now that you did not fully understand before about what is hindering change in your project? What can enable meaningful change in your project?

  2. What have you learned about the ways in which you are uniquely positioned to contribute to positive change within this project? Where does your power feel strongest? How can you leverage this as a leader? What nourishments do you need to do this?

  3. How will you use the insights, principles, processes, and tools introduced by this course? Why?

  4. What advice would you like to offer yourself, a helpful reminder or kind words, for when the going gets tough? What advice would you like to offer your fellow students?


Dear Future Self,

First off, woah! How do you look so good? Is it that new moisturizer or did botox finally become affordable? In either case, bravo!

This letter is a reminder that during the Covid-19 pandemic you discovered a graduate school degree program that was being started at MCAD that would provide the impetus for you to go back to school, continue your education and gain new skills and tools that would help frame and support your ongoing career in the arts. At the time you were learning new concepts and frameworks to apply to both your personal and professional life about how people and companies function and the reasons why they function in the ways they do while also learning how to challenge them in ways that would lead to more sustainable growth for both humans and the planet alike. One such area was a project during Leading Transformational Change, a course with Professor Kiley Arroyo in which you were asked to choose a project for the class that would serve as an ongoing case study to demonstrate your comprehension and retention of the course’s concepts and frameworks. You chose “Changing The Relationship Paradigm” as your course project, partially inspired by your experience at the time of learning how to exist in a mixed queer relationship and the challenges that brings both internally and externally, and from an interview between Dan Savage and Ezra Klein where they discussed how the American Sexual Revolution that started in the 1960s, and had evolved through the present time, generated unprecedented levels of acceptance for different forms of sexual and gender expression, but how an equivalent Relationship Revolution that would generate acceptance for different expressions of relationship forms had not occurred with it.

In the course, you applied this idea to the transformational change framework and explored some of the barriers that have prevented the Relationship Revolution from occurring and how to overcome them. One of the biggest barriers in generating wider acceptance for different forms of relationships you identified were the twin layers of social arrangements and power dynamics that perpetuate the existing relationship status quo. While those arrangements and power dynamics were starting to change slowly at the time, largely speaking, their grip on society continued in much the same way they had for the last century. During the course you were introduced to different cultural frameworks and worldviews from across the globe which have had longstanding practices that supported different kinds of relationships beyond traditional American models, and you also identified how queer theory in America had developed similar ideologies and practices that supported the long-term health and societal advancement for those individuals who identify as queer.

One of the important lessons you learned in the course was that the vast majority of people who benefit from the status quo, don’t even realize how many others there are who have a different experience from them and are not receiving those same benefits. While that issue is problematic in its own right, you learned that one of the reasons people don’t see those differences, is not because they are willfully ignorant or racist, or homophobic, it’s because they’ve only ever known that one experience and have never been taught or learned how to embrace and engage with people from other backgrounds who are different from them. While that doesn’t change the external reality, it does create a very important internal choice, to view those individuals with the same care and humanity with which you view the groups who have been historically marginalized, or to impose judgment and blame for upholding the oppressive systemic imbalance. At the time you were taking this course, there was a very real sense in the cultural and especially political zeitgeist about Americans being “more divided than ever” due to a combined series of events and factors that triggered en masse, the human tendency to self-select into tribes of people who agree and share the same values as one another.

During the course Professor Kiley Arroyo shared something truly beautiful: “Healthy ecosystems are hovering between belonging and becoming.” Said another way in application to your course project, “Healthy relational ecosystems hover between comfort and tension.” If we stay too long in belonging or comfort, we become stuck in our ways and stop growing. We begin to create relational and ethical siloes of interaction with the people in our lives. Conversely, if we sit for too long in becoming or in tension, that growth mindset of curiosity can lead us to become destabilized because we have opened the floodgates of just how siloed our realities truly are and just how little we actually do know about other groups. That desire to collaborate across differences could also lead us to people who are different from us, but may not be ready to engage with that sense of curiosity and desire to grow and learn, and could inadvertently end up reinforcing pre-existing judgments on both sides and cause us to revert to our tribal tendencies. The key is being aware of the constant, dual, dance-like nature that exists between belonging and becoming, or comfort and tension, and striving for balance in the impermanent and fluid process.

The prompt to write this letter revealed something unexpected. I hadn’t considered until I started writing just how much my upbringing as a conservative, Evangelical Christian gives me a unique position to contribute to positive change in the relationship revolution because my power is knowing both worlds and their respective tendencies, strengths, values, and weaknesses. As a leader I can leverage this power by thoughtfully and carefully engaging as a kind of mediator between the two different sides (when appropriate) and use my role to draw them closer to one another and hopefully begin to see eye to eye. I need to remind myself that while I experienced a great deal of loss and pain as a result of my complex upbringing, it also generated a very deep inner strength and conviction within me that nourishes me and has now given me a unique position to make a difference in the relationship revolution.

I will use that new understanding of how my upbringing is actually a source of strength in tandem with the insights, principles, processes, and tools introduced in this course by reminding myself of two of the Mi’kmaq principles we were introduced to: “Two-eyed seeing” or Etuaptmumk - a guiding principle coined by Mi'kmaq Elder Albert Marshall, and Kaswenta - “Equal but differentiated”.

To look for and focus on the good in others and the benefit their values and worldviews offer in complement with my own. The two go together beautifully and remind me that for two eyes to see clearly, they must be given equal attention, care, and consideration, whether the eyes are personal, political, or professional. It’s far too easy to let ourselves fall into the trap of self-segregating into groups of like-minded people. The temptation is to focus on the harm and past injuries committed by people who hold opposing views, but that only pushes them away further. We have to be partners in accountability and find ways to enact the principle of Proverbs 27:17 “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.”

Ben, don’t forget that you are not alone in the fight to create a lasting, sustainable, and more equitable future. I know you are susceptible to being discouraged by the loneliness of this work. It can be overwhelming when it feels like everyone else around you doesn’t understand what you’re doing, wonders why or thinks you’re crazy for intentionally pushing a boulder uphill day after day when it appears like everyone else is just kicking pebbles down the road. So to help support you in the future, I am going to demonstrate the power of how your Evangelical upbringing can be used in tandem with the multicultural knowledge and progressive values you now espouse by sharing the Bible verse that you committed to memory at the age of 13. 1st Corinthians 10:13 says “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.”

Growing up closeted, this verse initially spoke to me as a source of strength to help me pray the gay away. But the part of the verse I’ve come back to numerous times, even as an adult who has largely rejected much of my Christian upbringing, is the portion that says, “he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear.” The Greek word translated as temptation here is “peirasmos” and is also used to convey testing or trials. I have adapted this principle outside of its original context, (something a colleague describes as queering) to remind myself that any temptation, test, or trial I experience is meant or perhaps even designed for me to experience. If I could not survive the test, if I couldn’t bear or endure it, then I wouldn’t experience it. Of course, this view doesn’t apply across all hypothetical circumstances. Nothing will. But it has proven to be a consistent source of strength and a reminder that I am exactly where I am supposed to be, doing the work I am supposed to be doing, and interacting with the people I am meant to interact with so I can learn, grow, and do the work I believe I am meant to do.

My encouragement to and hope for my fellow Mackerels is that in the moments where you’re feeling overwhelmed, like you’re barely keeping your head above water and wondering if you’ll survive, to remember to take a deep breath.

Recall the experiences, lessons learned and trials you’ve survived that have brought you to this current moment, and remember that you survived those, and you’ll survive this one too. You’re exactly where you are supposed to be, doing the work you’re meant to be doing. It doesn’t matter if you believe that sense of purpose comes from a higher power or from deep within yourself. It matters that you are the one feeling the weight of the responsibility, knowing that the impact of your decisions will affect you and those around you. That heavy feeling can feel like it’s triggering our body’s internal fight or flight system and that can cause us to lose sight of the bigger picture. Remind yourself that you are in this place because you are the one person who is uniquely positioned to consider the various elements that go into making this decision and that it is an honor, a privilege, and a reflection of all the work you’ve done to date that qualifies you to be the one to make this decision. You understand what has come before that has led to the current moment and the future impact and ripple effects this decision will have in your sphere of influence. No one else sees the situation in the way that you see it, and no one else knows the situation in the way that you know it. Take one more breath and then trust your gut. Trust yourself to make the best decision you can make given the various considerations and confidently move forward knowing you have done your best to make the decision that will reap the most benefit for what the context requires.

The end of 1st Corinthians 10:13 says “But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.” Whether it’s God or your own inner strength, you will endure this current moment and find a way out. Nothing in the verse says it will be easy or that an angel or vision will appear and give you the answer. It says you will be tested, and you will endure. Buttress the feelings of self-doubt, go deeper within yourself to find that source of strength that has grounded and guided you; that has grown stronger and more resilient through time, trial, and error, and has been reinforced by the encouragement of those who believe in you and have helped guide you to where you are now. Then, take one more deep breath, and confidently take that leap of faith.

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