How the premises of DD work when extremes are in the field

In the world today polarisation is omnipresent also in our daily conversations. How can Deep Democracy find answers to questions that occur in interaction between people. Is the method strong enough to sit in the fire? Myrna Lewis, founder of the Lewismethod of Deep Democracy in conversation with Fanny Matheusen, instructor of the method in Belgium.

Fanny: In organisations where I worked lately I met a lot of people with extreme mental health problems. The roles of autism, and psychopathy were present in these organisations. Sometimes in a very extreme way. Often also attached to people in leadership positions. The team where I worked with had the desire to throw them out, to get rid of these people. I know from my Deep Democracy perspective that although you can ask or oblige people to leave, that the role will stay. So these practices urged me to state these questions: is there always a pathway to keep everyone on the bus? Is it safe to spread the role if this is a role of 'insanity'?

Here are some thoughts form Myrna’s side: For people with specific problems or needs, the Deep Democrcay method surely offers opportunities but is as well a challenge or burden in other ways. If we talk about autism what would surely help a person in a leadership position is to be able and to learn to follow the four steps in decision making. The guidelines structure for them the interaction. What would be difficult for people with autism is that they don’t talk so easily about emotional stuff. They would prefer to talk about task oriented stuff. So we will need the others to bring in the emotions. And here’s an insight: everyone finds it hard to bring in emotions, we’re not used to do that. So in a way there’s no need tot make autism bigger than it is. Normalize it and recognize that in a way we are all autistic. People with autism can be seen in this way as a gift for others or their organisation. They give us the opportunity to become aware of this side in ourselves that is afraid, confused to express emotions.

Fanny: That is a beautiful way to loosen the burden of this role of autism. And at the same time I realize that this will not do as an answer to the problems of the team I have in mind. They really ask themselves: regarding that this person holds the role of autism so strongly, is he in the right position? So in a way they ask themselves: do we want a person with autism in a leadership role or is it not compatible?

Myrna: You can have a debate about this question. It is sensitive but can bring a lot of wisdom in the group if you can clearly state the debate: like for instance the question: is he in the right position or is he not? In earning the grains, you give people the opportunity to take back projections and see what’s their part in what happened. As well for the team as for the leader.

Fanny: But what about with the role of psychopathy in a leadership position. To me it seems a tougher role to tackle because what’s typical about psychopathy is that the people who hold this role are often very bright, intelligent and strategically clever. They will not take any account on what’s happening, but often put the blame on their ‘victims’.

Myrna: To resolve tensions in such a team where psychopathy is a role, the first thing to do is to recognize that there was a system default. A person can play out the psychopath as long as other people don’t talk about what’s happening with each other. The psychopath tackles them one by one. And if they do not talk amongst them, he can keep on doing what he does. In a way the ‘victims’ become perpatrators by not speaking out. That’s why there’s often a feeling of guilt. They didn’t assist each other. So in a way you need to flip it. They talk about a person that did harm to them, but ask them: what do you do now? And what did you do? Eveybody is taking part in the system. To recognize this is the first step in healing. More difficult and, to be honest, maybe not possible even, is to get the person in the psychopatic role to recognize this. Those people are one of the toughest groups to work with. They don’t feel any guilt.

Fanny: And once people recognize what happened, a lot of stuff deep down under the waterline, you can start using the tools to lower the waterline and resolve the tension further?

Myrna: Exactly. That would be the next step to do. Where craziness is in the room, it tends to weaken when you give people tools to tackle it.

Fanny: One of those very powerfull tools is throwing the arrows and go into conflict. The question I want to ask you here is about the premises before we go into an argument or a Let’s Talk. Before we even start, we go through tree premises: no one has the monopoly on the truth; we do this to learn; we are in relation. Anyway how you state it, these are very important principles. And unless you have an agreement, you cannot start the process.  So my question at this point is, what do you do when people don’t agree? When they say eg. ‘these are not people for me, not humans, so I’m not related’ or ‘I am right, I have the truth’.

Myrna: Can you give an example of when and where this could happen?

Fanny: I’ll tell you an example, not out of my own practice, but of some participant in the course. She told the story that she was living in a neighbourhood with much racial tension and problems in living together. She wanted to do something about it trying to use the Deep Democracy tools. She organised a meeting with people of the neighbourhood. The polarisation came out strongly and right at the beginning of the meeting. She wanted to have the argument but people didn’t agree on the premises. She felt inconvenienced. The meeting stopped and people went home with the unresolved tension. I confirmed her that anyway it was the right thing to do not to have the argument. I also think she was not in the neutral position. That could have caused even a more stronger polarisation. So maybe she should call someone in from the outside to facilitate. Would that be an option you think?  I’m curious to hear your view.

Myrna: If people don’t want to be in relation, we cannot use the Deep Democracy tools, that’s clear. The first thing to do here, as I see it, would be to talk in their groups separately. The tensions in the ‘black’ group and the tensions in the ‘white’ group should be tackled first. And than there would be space to see if they could work together. So in the group that wants integration, they need to look at the existing racism they have. This role will come up if they talk to each other in this group. In tackling the issue of prejudices and racism amongst them, they already heal the field. They can think now about ways to approach the other group. In the white racist group, the group that doesn’t want even to speak to people of colour or their ‘integration-friends’, you need to search for some sprinkle of connection. In a way they would have a question about: ‘if we want to live here, how do we let make it work?’ You could have a debate on this. And try to gain as much role fluidity as possible in healing the field. In both groups a neutral facilitator is a must. The woman that initiated the meeting now, was herself too much involved and even if she could have taken a neutral stance she would not have been seen by the others as neutral enough.

Fanny: Yes, sure, because there where already so many stereotypes going around. In such a field, neutrality becomes even more important.

Myrna: Indeed. Stereotypes make us not want to see the person who he or she really is. We don’t want to go in relationship and so we hide behind the stereotypes. So stating: ‘I don’t want this connection’, ‘I don’t want to talk to them’ is in a way saying 'I don’t want to see the person'. To get a breakthrough on this part you could use the metaphor of a divorce. It’s clear that two people divorcing don’t want to be related as partners. That’s why they divorce. But could there be a possibility to parent together and stay related as parents?

Fanny: This metaphor can be very useful I think in setting out the why of the meeting where both groups would gather after having had their own sessions. This metaphor would lower the expectations of what will be the goal of meeting each other. We don’t have to be friends, but can we see how we can be neighbours?

Myrna: Yes, that’s also being in relation isn’t it?

Fanny: Thank you for this supervision talk. I will check in with some of my learners in exploring this further.


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