I have been working with activists and those dedicated to social and racial justice both in the US and around the world. I’m refining the Respectful Confrontation methods to offer skills for a new kind of activism that addresses the needs of our times.Many of us agree that the old form of activism that “fights” against the establishment (over-using the “masculine principle”) leads to more fighting, deeper divides, and few new solutions. As I develop a new training called “Respectful Activism,” I understand that what is essential is seeing that success begins with examining the power of the “feminine principle”.
I’m inspired by the work I am doing with the Gender Justice department of Oxfam, an international NGO, whose focus is to use principles of inclusivity, respect, compassion, vulnerability and the empowerment of others as a new kind of leadership. They have recognized that using the old, more patriarchal approaches to leadership are not in alignment with what they are advocating. The Respectful Confrontation methods I’m sharing with them helps them to embody these new principles as a way to gain more trust and credibility in the communities they are working with, leading to effective, lasting change.
I understand that these terms (masculine, feminine) are outdated, polarizing ways to define our reality. However, let’s explore them and find a way to shift this paradigm.
According to Taoist teachings, Yang, the forward-moving principle, characterized as being masculine, and Yin, the backward-moving, receptive, feminine principle, are the two forces that keep the universe in motion. This doesn’t mean male and female, it is simply a way to describe them. Of course, men move backward and women move forward. Both are present at all times and one is dependent on the other.
History shows us over and over again that leaders, empires, and nations that have carelessly exerted their masculine principle have ultimately toppled. Why? Because the obsession to keep pressing on and moving forward had depleted their power and resources and left them weak and open to attack.
You see this play out in our daily lives. We were told to work hard, succeed financially, do it alone, be the best, win even at the expense of others, put work before relationship, and use unscrupulous competition. These are the philosophies and ways of a society out of balance in its masculine principle. We develop stress-related illnesses, can’t seem to connect with others, overwork, and we feel unfulfilled. This goes for both men and women!
The first step to moving towards a society based on cooperation and respect is to acknowledge that we all are living in this out-of-balance way and are all responsible for the present situation. By first recognizing that this extreme use of the masculine principle leads to disempowerment and then admitting that we all have had moments where we acted in this way, we can begin to heal the centuries-old pains and wounds of mindless, destructive masculine power from which we all suffer–both men and women. This doesn’t mean that the masculine principle is bad. Not at all. The masculine principle is only destructive when it is used unconsciously and irresponsibly.
The masculine principle is essential for growth, creativity, and for relationships to begin and develop. Without it, we all stagnate and we atrophy. A flower would never be pollinated if a bee didn’t get into its masculine principle and go out seeking nourishment. A Mona Lisa would never have been painted if an artist hadn’t grabbed some paint and a canvas and had the confidence and perseverance to create a masterpiece.
To be assertive requires humility and reverence. To step out of what is safe and familiar, not knowing what the consequences might be, demands courage and unwavering confidence.
However, once you get moving and put yourself out there, it is essential to follow with the feminine principle – to open to deeper levels of awareness, model power in vulnerability, and move back into balance. When you feel in harmony with all things, you will be more effective in having an impact, and your interactions remain beneficial, collaborative, and peaceful.
By using the receptive force in the feminine principle, you pick up on opportunities and can make choices that are not based on reactivity, but on wisdom. Unlike cowering in defeat or running away, this approach makes receptivity and defending yourself a powerful strategy and necessary tool. Many may think that a backward-moving, receptive action is passive. Not at all. Passivity and weakness are ways to run away from life. The feminine principle requires the courage and self-confidence to stand your ground in the face of adversity, and use whatever comes your way with flexibility to persevere and succeed.
Ultimately, when you integrate the two and understand the dance of assertion and receiving, you have an open engagement with others, with your surroundings, and with yourself. It is from your vulnerability that your true power is revealed. Instead of fighting or submitting, you step into the necessary role of Protector, Nurturer, or Respectful Leader. This is the model for a new way of leadership that creates inclusivity, respect, co-creation and lasting change.