We have a culture that says, “press on, despite.”
Press on despite overwhelm
Press on despite fear
Press on despite pain
Press on despite sickness
Press on despite exhaustion
Press on despite grief
Press on despite…
AND as you press on, don’t admit:
Or in pain
Whatever you do, don't admit you're human, with all the vulnerability and messiness being human entails.
This harms all of us.
Our hard-wiring for threat detection is an evolutionarily exquisite system that dutifully executes its primary responsibility: keep us alive.
That said, this adaptively brilliant neural network does not differentiate between physical and social threat - and that can quickly turn it into a liability, particularly in our current environment of unrelenting, real and perceived, physical and social threat.
Overly sensitized and highly primed at this point, our systems are making instantaneous assessments -- and often overestimating or misinterpreting the type and degree of threat we face.
Real or Perceived.
Social threat or Physical threat.
Our system interprets it all as Face-Eating Bear.
"Everyone is so tense."
"Everyone is so sensitive."
"Everyone is so short-fused."
Everyone has a system so primed by the compounding, cumulative toxic stress and trauma of recent years that activation misfires are happening more frequently.
The reaction generated by threat-detection discharge or (mis)fire can be very difficult to interpret or understand by those around us. And one person's misinterpretation of threat often generates damaging, counter-reactive activation in the other person, setting up a confrontational feedback loop that can derail careers, destroy relationships, and in the extreme, can turn deadly.
Sometimes, and in some places, we need to "armor-up." Showing up as our authentic selves is not always a reasonable option. And while everyone deserves spaces in which they are safe to be vulnerable and authentic, it is wise that we balance the idealism of that messaging with the reality of lived experience.
It is a pretty human thing to overuse adaptive strategies to the point they become maladaptive, and the degree to which we have become imbalanced - favoring transactional interactions over relational engagement - is a significant source of pain and distress for everyone. Structure and process and measurement of professional training outcomes have become so heavily weighted that the relational interactions that resource us with meaning, insight, and joy have withered.
This harms all of us.
Quality and outcomes and standards matter a great deal.
We can acknowledge and embrace our humanity and summon our compassion into places where high-stakes decisions are made while simultaneously holding ourselves and each other accountable.
These are not mutually exclusive propositions; there is a third way.
The remodeling and restoration of organizations and institutions begins with leaders who recognize and value robust, authentic engagement, and who demonstrate willingness to learn, practice, and model skills of trauma-responsive leadership including transparency, agency, and compassionate empathy.
And while the primary responsibility for institutional culture falls to leaders, we all can learn and choose to show up differently - and better - with and for each other. We all can learn the skills of recognition, regulation, and response. We all can learn to notice, understand, and choose - rather than react - to what is occurring.
This cannot be accomplished from arm’s length. This is not an academic exercise. There is no shortcut, 5-step hack, or easy button.
This is Slower-Closer work.
We are hard-wired for threat detection.
We also are hard-wired for the antidote: Connection
Connection disrupts toxic stress. Connection mitigates trauma. It simply does. And in doing so, our wounds can be converted to sources of sacred wisdom.
Practice holding space for someone.
Let them hold space for you.
Laugh - meme if you need to!
Chocolating almost always helps.
And, of course, hydrate...