The Many Ways to Fight
by Joy Reichart, New Ventures West, guest contributor
“I think being a poet is fighting. I think gardening is fighting. Feeding people is fighting. Being a street medic is fighting. Creating beauty and art is fighting. Teaching people to feel despair and not collapse is fighting. A sustainable revolution needs raised fists in the streets, and it needs so much more than that.” —Jessica Phillips, NVW Enrollment Director
A few days ago my friend Kirsten drove me to a medical appointment. While in the back, I heard raised voices. Emerging into the waiting room, I found Kirsten confronting an older white man who invaded the space and privacy of the patient ahead of him. When the woman behind the counter told him to step back, he began severely verbally abusing her.
Obviously Kirsten couldn’t sit by and watch. She had to say something—indeed, yell something, because nothing else was stopping this guy. By the time we were heading out the door it was a full on verbal altercation—a necessary one. The worker thanked Kirsten in the moment, and even followed up later to ask if she could share her info as a witness to what had happened.
She fought, I flew.
None of this was easy for Kirsten. When we got back in the car she had to cry and shake a bit to steady herself. “Not today,” she said through her enraged tears.
The day before, Roe v. Wade had been overturned by the US Supreme Court. Enough had been taken away by the most privileged in the world, motivated by greed and interested only in things going their way. (Of course, there’s lots more to this human being than what showed up in a 2-minute interaction, but his behavior in this moment spoke volumes.)
I was in awe of my brave friend as all this transpired. At the very least, if this guy tries something like this again, some small part of him will remember being called out for his behavior. Maybe he’ll even act with a bit more respect next time. Maybe.
I was also very aware of my own instinctual reaction to the situation: as horrifying as this man’s behavior was, I didn’t join in the fight. Autopilot kicked in and my words left me. I silently moved toward the door, simultaneously willing Kirsten to follow me and profoundly grateful that she was the one who was nearby in that moment and not me.
“If you’re not angry, you’re not paying attention.” (Aren’t you?)
This is a struggle I’ve had for years. With a deeply wired shut-down response to confrontation, I’ve felt ill-equipped to contribute to what I’ve perceived as The Fight. To wit: anger leads to action leads to change. That is the dominant narrative I’ve seen for years, online, on TV, in my community. Now even at my doctor’s appointments! As such, part of me has taken onboard the idea that the only way anything changes is through screaming protests in the street, through loudly confronting anyone who demonstrates the slightest ignorance, and through being just plain pissed all the time.
I see how anger moves and motivates. I understand how it draws lines, sets boundaries. As much as I’ve worked on developing a body that has room for anger and its attendant behaviors, it will never be my go-to response. That has felt like a deficiency—one I’ve judged myself harshly for. This judgment has stemmed my curiosity around what I actually do have to offer.
There’s lots more to it.
Of course there are things I’m angry about in this world, but I’m also fascinated. I’m also grieving. I’m also, honestly, accepting. The world is unraveling in ways we simply cannot re-weave, no matter how hard we fight. This unraveling is necessary. That’s the only way we’ll eventually reach the soil underneath it all: the truly nourishing stuff that supports new growth.
This is a truth that vibrates deeply in my bones, and I see how my extraordinary privilege allows me to have this broader view at all. I long to contribute to our world’s remaking. I am ever curious about how my less angry orientation can be part of the conversation—indeed, how it can be part of The Fight.
That’s what led to this conversation with my friend and colleague Jessica Phillips, quoted above. Jessica is a longtime community organizer and ritualist, always willing to name and challenge harmful ignorance when she sees it. She is also a deeply spiritual, nurturing, wise, and loving human—and an Integral Coach who has worked alongside me at New Ventures West for years. She too acknowledges the irreversible crumble, but unlike me, has always been someone inclined to, in her words, ‘go down swinging.’ It was in response to this that I brought my dismay over being in a body that is reticent to take any swings at all.
I invite you to read her response again.
“I think being a poet is fighting. I think gardening is fighting. Feeding people is fighting. Being a street medic is fighting. Creating beauty and art is fighting. Teaching people to feel despair and not collapse is fighting. A sustainable revolution needs raised fists in the streets, and it needs so much more than that.”
The clarity and wisdom she brought in this moment was vital for me. If anyone knows about The Fight it's Jessica, and what she showed me in these few words is that it is not simply about being angry. It’s multidimensional, comprising infinite subtleties, choices, and ways to contribute. Angry or not, we each have the potential in us to join it in our own way. In fact, we probably already are.
What’s your way?
Does this story open any possibilities for you? What’s your relationship to these changing times? Are you a fighter, an artist, a healer, a steward? What rings true as your authentic contribution?
Here are some ways that my Integral Coach training (and subsequent practices of mindfulness, martial arts, and deep self-reflection) have helped me in this exploration. Hopefully, they can support you too.
- Awareness of growth edge and self-generation. I began my coach training so conflict-avoidant that I wasn’t able to understand the value, richness, and power of conflict at all. A decade later, I understand it as an integral part of human interaction and growth, and an essential part of how we evolve. Can you make a practice of self-observation to loosen your survival patterns and make space for a wider range of responses?
- Felt sense of what is true. When the world spins a strong narrative that devalues our ways of contributing, a deep connection to our own inner guidance is crucial. That knowing lives in the gut, the skin, the spine, the throat, the connections between our muscles and bones. The body is our instrument for determining what is true, and it gives us the capacity to stand in that truth. From there we can feel into what action to take. What practices might you take up to deepen your somatic awareness?
- Responding from presence. What ultimately brought me back from the “I’m not angry enough” story is the understanding that Integral Coaches share: that life is infinitely complex and emergent. We each inherit unique narratives from our families and cultures, and through our bodies we carry those narratives forward. In our methodology, coaches avoid formulaic responses, instead focusing on cultivating a presence that is deeply attuned to how each client finds meaning, experiences belonging, and makes contributions. What are some ways you could - or do - cultivate presence and attunement to your own engagement with life?
- Nothing is possible without community. Look at the massive lessons I learned just from two friends over a couple of weeks. Learning, wisdom, and growth come in many forms, but none of it happens in a vacuum. Communities of like minds and hearts mirror, normalize, challenge, and support us. My Professional Coaching Course cohort, my dojo, my colleagues, friends, and other communities inspire and champion my deepest growth. What communities are you a part of, and how do they help you step more fully into your authentic response to these challenging times?
You are invited to see how Integral Coaching can support you in finding your own powerful, authentic response to these times. Get started at a free event and, if you wish to explore the method further, take $100 off our virtual introductory workshop using the coupon code MINDFULLEADER.
Joy Reichart is the Communications Director at New Ventures West in San Francisco.