Opening spaces for re-humanisation in a virtual world on steroids

I moved into my family home over the Christmas season - temporarily, as I like to remind people who ask (and those who don’t). It had been 10 years since I last fully unpacked my bag in London, storing it away in the cupboard in the knowledge it would not come out for more than a week. Two weeks later, it’s still in there hidden behind bags of books, and other random items that don’t belong together. Although I intend to find them a place on a shelf or give them away, I’m not that keen to do it yet. Cupboards are good for that. I think it’s got something to do with acceptance or letting go. If you know a good therapist, get in touch. 

Our work at the Rose Castle Foundation puts relationships at the heart of reconciliation. The term reconciliation can often be reserved for stand-out examples of bridges that have been rebuilt from the rubble of pain and conflict. We understand the reconciliatory process as two or more people willingly choosing to breathe new life into a relationship that was fatal at worst, and apathetic at best. When we talk about relationships being at the core of reconciliation, we recognise the four relational dynamics of being reconciled to God, the environment, others, and ourselves. You wouldn’t be wrong to feel a little uncomfortable thinking about them as being separate. When we look at one and begin to pull back its layers, it reveals something of the nature of the others.

Yet we often find our human brains prefer to separate things out, to dualise them. We sever the world in order to understand it – or conquer it. In an age where we have more access to information than ever before, it is a necessity for us to create starker boundaries so we can process a bulk of information more easily. The discipline of good leadership here is to then reintroduce nuance back into our findings. To put flesh and bones on ideas that affect real people.

This is where pentimento comes into it. A pentimento is when an artist would paint over a previous painting, often a portrait, with a new portrait. It was not uncommon for an artist to finish a portrait and the patron would take a look and ask for a more flattering version of themselves. The artist would then paint another version over it. Not another person, but two different versions of the same person. The word is Italian for repentance. We daily face this separation of things when it comes to our relationship with ourselves. The writer John Sanford tells us that we create an idealised ego image of “this is what a good person looks like” which can often be based on people we admire and look up to. We take our favourite parts of their personality and create this ‘pride position’. However, when we create a pride position, we automatically also create its inverse: a ‘shame position’.

There is an internal dance between the idealised version of ourselves on display, and much like that cupboard in my bedroom, the parts of us that we prefer kept hidden away. We judge the various parts of ourselves based on usefulness to our relationships and show others the things we have concluded will keep us safe, noticed, powerful, influential, and acceptable. The ‘shame position’ is full of parts of us that we have shoved down and neglected, things that we feel would inevitably lead to rejection, guilt, or shame. They get put in a bag at the back of the cupboard. All the while we fail to understand that these parts are not simply killed off by being out of sight. They still have a pulse. They inform our lives and come back to haunt us when we are in a weakened emotional or ego state and exacerbate our relational breakdowns. Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung termed this proverbial cupboard ‘the Shadow’. The shadow is not hostile in and of itself, but our dedication to judging, hiding or ignoring it, blunts it off to becoming harmful if unresolved.

With hope, Jung reminds us that 90% of the shadow is pure gold. The work is figuring out how we reintegrate these neglected parts of us back into our lives. We do this skilfully, gently, and relationally, much like the work of reconciliation. It is reconciliation, and a vital part of it. Bringing together the severed parts of us that were always meant to be known and loved wholly and completely is the process of re-humanisation.

In a previous Rosebite, Owen May asked us the question of whether it is possible to build trust across difficult divides in a virtual environment rather than a shared physical space. This is the question we are responding to right now. This virtual space on steroids has given us new opportunities to have a conversation on how we show up with vulnerability in a space that feels devoid of moments of surprise and human interaction. Technology looks more curated, but it is us humans who give life to it and make it into whatever we want it to be. Swords into ploughshares.

At the Rose Castle Foundation, we’ve been blown away by the excitement of friends and partners to the rolling out of our new Virtual Workshops - taking the core learning journey of our residential programmes and exploring them in the spirit of Digital Hospitality. Residential experiences and hot chocolate around the fire will soon return. Meanwhile, there is a conversation to be had on how we develop as leaders that show up wholly across physical divides. There is also a cupboard that needs looking at tonight.

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