Here’s an advance warning. I may mention the word ‘feminine’ a few times later on in this article. But before you raise your eyebrows and hit the back button, this is not a feminist push. It’s not a gender thing at all. This is about the future. Our future. And if you think I’m scaremongering, take a look at the article I read last week in New York’s Daily Intelligencer (1), which is in reference to one of the topics I’ll be referring to, and which, if we stay on our current trajectory, will undoubtedly jeopardise the future of many a living thing (including us).
Depending on where you choose to hang out when it comes to the books, articles and media you consume, you may or may not be aware that things are getting just a little serious when it comes to the future of the human race. Some say it’s not a matter of whether our planet survives, but whether we do, as a race.
I know. It sounds rather too dramatic for most of us. Too big a concept to grasp. Perhaps most of our brains aren’t built to cope with such enormity, who knows. So we mostly turn away and hope it’s not true, or diminish it. We laugh, raise our eyebrows, or usually just do nothing. Take my Mum as an example. She recently used a phrase to describe the people who came out in protest against the Tidal Lagoon project in Swansea(2). During an account of her visit to the marina, she mentioned there were protesters there, calling them “do-gooders”, which rather shocked me. Yet my parents are amongst the most environmentally conscious people I know. They grow their own veg, waste very little, recycle everything, walk everywhere and save water for the precious resource that it is. So why the dismissal of people who want to make a stand for our environment? Scratch away at the surface and we find lots of possible answers.
Fear & Denial
What do we fear? What is it that still makes the majority of the mainstream populous shun the idea of demonstrating against the damage we are doing to our planet? What is it in us that allows others to make huge, irreversible decisions on our behalf and on behalf of all future generations? Is it fear of standing still? Being left behind as each nation clings to the idea of power and competition? For short-term profit and gain? Apathy? Or is it our lack of connection to nature, to our own hearts and to each other? We’ve surely never consumed more nature programmes on TV as we do now, yet in the last 50 years the earth has been more radically changed then by all previous generations of humanity combined (2). So why are we still in denial and will the human race pay the ultimate price for this?
Rather than get into an argument with my Mum on the topic, I decided to put it down as a generational thing. That isn’t what it is, but it was the best I could come up with in the heat of the moment. After all, activism is actually pretty cool nowadays amongst Gen Y and beyond. Everyone from big fashion brands (3) to Marie Claire have taken activism under their wing and it’s now seen as pretty cool to join a march, or sign up to an online 38 Degrees pledge, joining millions of others in doing so.
We are beginning to find our voice, there is no doubt. And in the main, most people sign up because they genuinely feel a grievance against political systems, politicians, women’s rights, climate change, war, nuclear power and gay rights (to name a few) and not just to latch onto activism because it’s the latest trend. Nowadays, certainly amongst the younger generations at least, it seems it’s becoming that little bit safer to stand up for what you believe in, without being judged or typecast as ‘do-gooders’. Sorry, Mum, you’re out-dated.
When we talk about how we’ve rapidly destroyed huge swathes of the planet, we tend to categorise this as climate change, yet there are many other roads we’ve taken as a species which are slowly destroying us. These decisions and actions have come from a state of mind, of being, which is no longer tenable.
Outdated systems & the need for change
Much of it comes from the patriarchal system we’ve adopted for over 3000 years. And it’s this system of power and decision-making that has caused such devastating results. Ones that we can no longer ignore. Yes, it’s brought us advances in science and technology, but the domination has also led to an imbalance of masculine and feminine principles (regardless of gender), creating a distorted way of doing things that exclude or marginalise essential aspects of human intelligence. And it’s here that I draw you back to my opening point on feminism. This is not a gender discussion, as in many instances we may include women in some of these unsustainable masculine traits, as much as we may men. We must all take responsibility for where we are now, whether it’s in adopting or allowing the decisions we’ve made, to get to this point.
We’ve lost sight of the more profound and life-nurturing gifts of the masculine. Such as the passion to protect life and the vulnerable, the sense of honour in duty to the community, the depth of brotherhood, courtesy, modesty and chivalry. And in devaluing the feminine, we have lost some of the essentials of living and being, such as listening, nurturing, intuition, empathy, compassion and reverence for the sacredness of our bodies (4).
On this very subject, I am currently reading a book that I can’t put down. Called ‘Pioneering the Possible — Awakened Leadership for a World That Works’(4). It’s one of those books that takes over your every waking thought. When I’ve not picked it up for a few hours, I can feel myself aching to return to it, like a comfort blanket. I can’t entirely say why that is, because it’s a book filled with some of most frightening statistics I’ve ever read — agonising first-hand stories of the greed, dominance and aggression that has pervaded the human race for all these centuries. Yet it’s also a book of great hope. It’s a book of possibility and potential. In its simplest form, it’s about the leadership required from each one of us, as individuals, to save ourselves and save our beautiful planet. And it’s this leadership that now requires an altogether different approach. One that re-instates the feminine principles we so lack in the world. It also happens to be written by a woman I greatly respect and admire.
I was introduced to the author, Dr Scilla Elworthy, just over a year ago. We met, along with her equally pioneering business partner, Karen Downes, in the back of a small coffee shop in Kew. We were there to discuss the possibility of creating and filming a video workshop together for the wellbeing platform I run. Amongst the many qualities Scilla is so passionate about when it comes to pioneering leadership, the one that particularly stands out to me in her book (as well as at their brilliant event they ran last month called Femme Q)(5) is preparation — know your stuff. Feminine qualities are all very well, but if you are not prepared and not equipped with the facts, then you’re dead in the water. Yet I hadn’t prepared for the meeting at all. Rather, I’d brought with me an open mind, heart, optimism and boundless energy for my venture. Of course, I’d had a little look into their careers, but mostly I viewed it as a meeting of hearts, in the spirit of seeing what evolved. It was the phase of life I was in at the time. A ‘seeing what emerged’, exploratory, phase. Yet on arrival I immediately felt like a little girl. I was in the presence of wise women indeed.
I could so easily have felt small, yet Scilla’s energy immediately enveloped me. There was an openness, a kindness, an acceptance. She reminded me of an aunt I adored and hugely admired, who too, had spent her life devoted to giving others a better chance. Scilla is wise, strong and intelligent, yet warm and compassionate. She could be grandiose (you’ll her accolades below), but there’s not a drop of it. There’s a presence to her that is almost inadequate to even attempt to explain. I can’t fully describe the essence; you have to experience it for yourself.
Scilla Elworthy’s Story
Scilla’s story begins a long time ago. She’s been campaigning for most of her life and felt deep compassion for others from a very young age. At 11, she felt utter shock and disgust at herself for shooting a bird whilst playing with her brother’s shotgun. That struck a cord with me, as I‘ve ’had exactly the same experience and it has never left me. Then at 13 she watched the Soviet invasion of Budapest on TV and immediately rushed to pack her suitcase so she could run and help the children she saw throwing themselves against the Russian tanks. She’s an activist, it’s in her blood — which makes her rather on-trend in today’s world — a true model to us all. I don’t need to point out the obvious to you, but it’s clearly a vast cry from the unhealthy celebrity culture that has dominated our culture for the past 10 years or more. How we look is top of the agenda. It’s now, more than ever that we so desperately need this kind of female role model for the younger generation.
In 1982 she founded the Oxford Research Group to develop effective dialogue between nuclear weapons policy-makers worldwide and their critics, work which included a series of dialogues between Chinese, Russian and western nuclear scientists and military, for which she has been three times nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. She also founded Peace Direct to fund, promote and learn from local peace-builders in conflict areas; an organisation that was voted ‘Best New Charity’ in 2005. In 2003 she was was awarded the Niwano Peace Prize, and was adviser to Peter Gabriel, Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Sir Richard Branson in setting up ‘The Elders’. More recently, she also co-founded Rising Women Rising World, advising the leadership of selected international corporations and teaches young social entrepreneurs. Her TED talk on non violence, which I recommend you watch, has been viewed by over 1,100,000 people and is called Fighting with non-violence(6).
Masculine & Feminine Principles
Now, back to the coffee shop, where we took a few moments of stillness between us, to voice what we were most passionate about in life. Women like Scilla and Karen have big, big visions. Brave visions, lofty visions, plans to reshape the future, all our futures, for the better. And they, along with FemmeQ, an organisation which they were just in the throes of birthing at that point, fully embody the belief that in order to re-shape the future we so desperately need, means bringing into balance the masculine and the feminine. They believe our issue is this:
We are out of balance.
Too much masculine and not enough feminine. I wrote about this myself some time ago here. If you can, take a moment to read through these and you’ll find that it’s easy to recognise these qualities in ourselves, both men and women. There is much crossover. We talk about the women in power or at the top of organisations adopting these inauthentic masculine qualities, too, in order to survive. If you watched the recent brilliant TV series called Broken, you will have seen this in action. A young black man is shot by a white police officer and the events that lead to the killing included a female police officer ‘taking control of the situation’ by firing tear gas into the boy’s eyes. The officers cover up for each other’s mistakes, for her fatal mistake, but it’s in one line delivered by an officer who feels compelled to tell the truth, that we truly understand. He tells us how hard it must have been for her to compete in a man’s world. The only female officer. How she has to prove herself tough enough, on a daily basis in order to survive and be respected by her male officers. How she must demonstrate her power and assert her independence amongst her male colleagues. That, he says, is why she made the mistakes she did. She lost sight of patience, her intuition and trusting her instincts, all qualities which would have saved the boy’s life and the ensued suffering felt by so many after the event.
Do you recognise yourself in the inauthentic areas of this chart? I know I do. The impatience, independence, control and at times, fear. You may, as I, feel ashamed at this. You’ll no doubt laugh, but when I look at the authentic masculine qualities I’ve listed here, I think of Poldark! He is fallible of course, as we all are, but he is also a marvellous example of a man in his authentic masculine. It seems unlikely that most women would adopt many of authentic masculine principles you see on the chart, but importantly, it is easy to imagine that men, as well as women, could (and do) adopt so many of the authentic feminine qualities. FemmeQ says:
“All over the world, in all systems, we see the devastation caused by the old patriarchal system, and the global consequences that cut across societies, geographies and generations. The feminine intelligence that exists in both women and men is now needed to face the current crises and bring a radical shift in the way we live and lead.”
FemmeQ’s strapline is the same as Scilla’s book: ‘Pioneering the Possible’ and to date, has comprised of a summit in Berlin last year, and then last month, a magnificent pop-up event held in Gloucestershire. Attended by both men and women, it felt uplifting. A medley of talks and workshops to help us understand the problems we face and the qualities we need to adopt to help turn the tide of change. Change we so desperately need in the world, such as compassion, active listening, inclusivity, intuition and regeneration.
Out of destruction comes hope
Scilla’s book, in my opinion, is a modern bible for life. And whether the topics I discuss here are new or familiar to you, I urge you to read it. It’s a book where if followed, will help lead us to an altogether different future. One of hope, rather than hopelessness. Which would be rather ironic, as Scilla highlights in her book, it has been our interpretation of parts of another bible, the Book of Genesis, which has, for so long, contributed to much of the destructive thinking and behaviour in so many parts of the world. Take, for example:
“The Earth Is Ours” (i.e. humans have the right to do as we like with the earth).
It’s these, along with other historical constructs, beliefs and value systems (“maximise profits” — endless economic growth) which need massively updating if we are to make this leap in consciousness.
And it’s here I will leave you to ponder. Could you adapt to be the change you want to see in the world? Do you have what it takes to be an authentic leader — a leader in any capacity, in any area of your life? Are you prepared to look at, and challenge, every part of yourself — do the inner work required? If the answer is yes, then begin with reading this book. And if you are willing to throw yourself into the “radical mastery of your inner being” which Scilla suggests is the only route to authentic leadership (I would strongly agree), then we can indeed, pioneer the possible and provide the awakened leadership required for a world that works.
(1) The Daily Intelligencer — http://nymag.com/daily/intelligencer/2017/07/climate-change-earth-too-hot-for-humans.html
(2) Swansea Tidal Lagoon: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-38571240
(4) Pioneering the Possible, Scilla Elworthy: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Pioneering-Possible-Awakened-Leadership-Activism/dp/1583948627
(5) FemmeQ: http://femmeq.org/
(6) Fighting Violence with non-violence Ted Talk by Scilla Elworthy: https://www.ted.com/talks/scilla_elworthy_fighting_with_non_violence
Dr Scilla Elworthy: http://www.scillaelworthy.com/
Inauthentic & authentic — explaining masculine & feminine traits: http://learnshedlive.com/explaining-masculine-and-feminine-authenticity/
Karen Downes: http://femmeq.org/portfolio-items/karen-downes/