I have a coach named Gail whom I love.

She congratulates me on what I’m doing right; when she notices something I could improve on, she calmly tells me what I did, then how I could do it better. Here I am, 62 years old, and just this summer, I’ve refined my throwing style, can catch more flies, and you shoulda seen the line drive I hit last week! In fact, I’ve adopted Gail’s voice in my head, trying to learn my own effective internal coaching. “OK, don’t yell at yourself,” I’ll think. “Let’s see, I didn’t hold the bat right. Next time I’ll bring my arms out further.”

Many years ago I had a very different kind of coach. She yelled, she shamed, she pitted us against each other.

We won, but 40 years later, I still feel my lips curl up, my solar plexus clench in anger and fear. Low level hatred. I didn’t learn much that year, and eventually quit the team.

Gail invokes co-creativity. I want to show up as my very best self, encourage my teammates, give my all. The other coach used domination and contempt (sprinkled with moments of bestowing her approval to those she favored) to control us. I showed up, but mostly remember feeling tight. There was no “playing” ball. It was work.

All of this came to my mind today when I was interacting with some folks on Facebook. They were expressing strong views about a political candidate. When I disagreed, they became more strident in their negativity, emphasizing their points stridently and WITH CAPITALS. I felt the familiar burn in my chest, the one that happens in my own particular response to domination. First I want to fight, then I collapse out of my aggression. Then I want to cut off the dominators, never speak to them again. In other words, I submit, but at the cost of relationship.

As I’ve said elsewhere, hierarchy is immediate in Reactive Brain. Mammals become either mobilized or immobilized as we divide ourselves into those who dominate and those who submit. Social order is quite efficiently maintained by this instant sorting.

However, there is a high price to be paid  for hierarchy’s economy.

The transition into Reactive Brain (and thus, domination and submission) has multiple negative repercussions, including (but not limited to): 1. A decline in our cognitive functioning; 2. Disconnection from our own inner experience, and so disconnection from others; 3) Our focus stays narrowly fixed on the perceived threat, making creative thinking nearly impossible.

As I witness (and participate in) the wider social conversation, I see attempts at domination all around me. From the shouting, interrupting, and chest-thumping of our politicians and media stars; to the contempt used by all shades of political persuasions, left to right; to the vast array of declarative statements (including CAPITALIZATION OF POINTS BEING MADE) the fight to come out on top is on.

Much of  what I hear and read could be deemed to be all in the spirit of a good debate. However, as I tell the couples I see, debate can be fun, but it is at the expense of relationship. There’s a winner and a loser. There’s a dominator and a submitter.

As we collectively find our way through the very difficult, complicated, and somewhat frightening issues facing our species,

we need all of us to come together and be part of the solution. That will require a “power with” framework, one where we speak in a non-blaming, non-dominating (and submitting) manner about what is unarguable with respect, valuing what every one of us has to give. We can’t afford to lose any players, and we certainly need everyone to show their best stuff.



Watch for my new book, The Inner Map, coming out soon! I’ll be teaching the (Core) Essentials Retreat Weekend on October 4-6. Sign up before 9/4 for the early bird rate!



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