On being allies, accomplices or adversaries

Posted 11/21/19

Let’s face it: we’re tribal.

We like belonging. We like being “right.” We like being a part of the in crowd, however we might define “in” — whether based on popularity, entitlement …

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On being allies, accomplices or adversaries

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Let’s face it: we’re tribal.

We like belonging. We like being “right.” We like being a part of the in crowd, however we might define “in” — whether based on popularity, entitlement or something entirely different.

But I don’t think too many of us are conditioned to look at our commitment level to our own tribes objectively enough. Case in point: I read a fascinating article about “allies” and “accomplices” recently. The author defined the stark differences between allies — those who open doors for us, who help us feel less alone, who don’t get in our way — and accomplices.

What accomplices do, when compared to allies, is, in the words of author and marketer Seth Godin, an “extraordinary leap forward.”

“To become an accomplice,” he writes, “…means that you’ve risked something, sacrificed something and put yourself on the hook as well.”

Allies support, but they don’t really lean into the work at hand. And the work can be hard. Real accomplices, on the other hand, ultimately figure this out. They learn that “this work — the work of being an accomplice — might cost you something,” writes Willie L. Jackson II, who teaches ally skills workshops. “Perhaps your comfort or social standing, or maybe even your safety. Real advocacy and comfort rarely go hand in hand.”

Disruption, he says, “isn’t easy or polite.”

We’ve seen that for what seems like a year of Saturdays now in Pittsboro, with disruption and disruptors streaming in from near and far — protesting, flag-flying, sign-carrying, baiting, taunting, and even getting arrested — in defense of their beliefs and convictions.

But as the battle lines are drawn, the two “groups” seem to me to be two groups of allies. They’re not true accomplices. Most think they’re accomplices, because of their perceived risk and sacrifice, but they’re not. They’re not for a simple reason: they’re not committed to a real solution. They only want to get their own way — everyone else be damned. Because of that, they’re doomed to failure. It’s plain to see: flags and fights and arrests ad nauseum, with no end in sight, and it’s always “the other guy’s” fault.

Here’s how Jackson sees it: “The physiological impact of conflict and stress prompts the brain to release cortisol and adrenaline into the bloodstream, putting the body into a fight, flight, or freeze response. In this state, we are biologically primed to respond to imminent danger — not to do complex thinking or bring our social graces to bear.”

Taking a gun to a protest, spitting on someone, endless taunts and name-calling — that’s definitely not “complex thinking.”

As a consequence, Jackson says: “Despite our best intentions, our liberal enclaves, our high-minded ideals, we all have more learning to do.”

But he adds this: “There’s something comforting in this universal growth opportunity: None of us have it all figured out.”

None of us. Not just those on the other side of the road, but the rest of us as well.

The opposite of an “ally” is defined in these terms: belittler, detractor, adversary, enemy, foe, opponent. These make up the bulk of the mess-makers in Pittsboro, the chatlisters, the Facebookers.

Wouldn’t it be something if more of them became accomplices?

Accomplices “care more,” Jackson says. And it ultimately shows.

“For some people, the growth opportunity might involve slowing down, taking up less space in conversations across difference, and becoming a more active listener,” he writes. “For others, it might mean admitting when they’ve made a mistake and offering a genuine apology to the person harmed. For others still, growth might look like having the courage to speak up and communicate the impact of an unfortunate altercation.”

Our shared history, he says, is “more complicated and interdependent than we tend to discuss.”

But we don’t think that deeply. We don’t lean in. We forget we share a future as well.

What we’ve seen is nuance being relegated to the shadows. Creating spaces where accomplices on all sides can discuss the problem more expansively, Jackson suggests, is what we should be passionate about.

That’s something we should raise a flag to.


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