Going High When Others Go Low

Calling Forth the Best in Each of Us to Create a World for All of Us: How Experiential Educators are “Going High When Others Go Low”
By: Marilyn Levin, MSW, author of Experiential Activities for a Better World
View a free preview of Marilyn's AEE Webinar on Courageous Compassion

Just this last week we had a fresh reminder that when confronted with a shared crisis like the “epic” Hurricane Harvey in my home state of Texas, we readily access the best of who we are - our courage, kindness, generosity and tenacity. Our best qualities bridge divides and help us rise above the legitimate complaints, injustices, and crises that are part of the human experience. They also enable us to break free of the norms of shame, blame, pettiness and polarization that perpetuate our suffering.

Honoring and encouraging these highest human qualities has been the inspiration behind my founding the We Go High Project - a resource network to inspire, inform and provide guidance on “Going High When Others Go Low” and a whole system Innovation network of constituents from diverse sectors in the field. In a recent AEE webinar, The We Go High Project shared tips for going high. I will share a few here and point to further resources at the end of the article.

Responding to Turbulent Times

1) Find solace in the profound transformation that is currently underway.
“Throughout history, the really fundamental changes in societies have come about not from dictates of governments or the result of battles but through vast numbers of people changing their minds – sometimes only a little bit. Some of these changes have amounted to profound transformations – for instance the transformation from the Roman Empire to Medieval Europe or from the Middle Ages to modern times.”  Willis Harmon, Global Mind Change.

2) Choose to hospice and midwife as the most effective response.
“The job of our time is to hospice the death of the old unsustainable systems and structures with compassion and love and to mid-wife the birth of the new sustainable systems and structures and new ways of being.” Lynne Twist, The Soul of Money

That is a huge task indeed! So what does this look like? Some aspects include:

a) identifying and releasing old patterns that contribute to anything you don’t want in the world,
b) remaining present to every belief, thought, feeling, word and action you bring to the world so it creates what you want, and
c) bringing compassion to ourselves and others when we fall short so we can stay empowered. Next, we’ll look at some factors that interfere with our best efforts to hospice and midwife - cultural conditioning, social trauma and the collective emotional field.

Cultural Conditioning

One challenge to our role of shepherding in the new world is cultural conditioning. We usually think we fall short of our amazing capacity because of personal failing, but it has more to do with how we have been taught, trained, and indoctrinated. A few pieces of this cultural conditioning include:

1) Having a negative emotional reaction to things we are not used to. We want to interrupt this so we can delay judgment based on our initial reaction and evaluate things for their true value.

2) Getting rigidly attached into the “truth” especially when it comes to “right and wrong”. There is actually no such thing as “truth” or “reality” independent of who is observing the reality. Take a flower for example. Human beings with sight visually perceive the color and texture of the flower. A bee will experience the same flower as ultraviolet wavelengths of light. And a bat will experience the flower as the echo of ultrasound. So, whose reality is accurate? All of these and more! Access to a full view with all of its complexity will serve us well so that we can address our mutual concerns with wisdom from many sources.

3) Thinking that attacking and ridiculing the “bad guys” is the answer. No one does their best work while under attack. In a world that emphasizes judgment, criticism and fear of difference, we have created an environment that is not conducive to the best work of anyone involved. Holding other’s accountable without participating in the judgment, shaming and dehumanization that we say we don’t want in the world is crucial.

Trauma and the Limbic System

In addition to cultural conditioning, social trauma and healing research has shown that trauma has a profound impact on us all.
“The second World War, Apartheid, post-slavery economies, a 15-year war in the Middle East, child soldiers in Sudan and immense loss of life in Syrian are just some examples of the big trauma impacts that effect all aspects of our culture. To become part of the solution we must face these truths awakened and bring their impacts into conscious awareness.” Thomas Hubl

Trauma, especially long standing trauma, impacts the limbic system – the fight or flight center of the brain. The limbic system in overdrive causes an exaggerated experience of everything and increases intensity, urgency and reactivity. Luckily the fields of social healing and neuroscience are uncovering ways to address limbic system issues and the many other negative impacts of trauma. Anything you can do to move yourself and others into more mind, body and spirit well being will serve us all.

Cultural Emotional Field and Self-Care

Another important aspect of how we create the new world is the emotional field we swim in together. It is best for us to resist getting caught in either of two extremes – denial/shutdown or emotional reactivity. Both are important tools. The first is used to manage overwhelm and the second to release powerful emotions. But being stuck in either one blocks us from accessing our highest level of creative problem solving.

Instead we can train ourselves to respond with compassion and transcendence. This allows us to be strong like a supple tree that makes it through an intense storm. Deepak Chopra puts it this way “Fighting the darkness ensnares us in an eternal battle. Transcending the battle is the only way forward.” We can still fight and resist (when that is the right strategy) but we need to do so from compassion and transcendence so we aren’t just adding to what we don’t want in the world.

We can also hold our wellbeing as crucial to creating the world we want. In an era of constant crises, caring for yourself is the first step in breaking the cycle of perpetual trauma. As you do this for yourself, the process will teach you how to better assist others in the journey. Thank you for who you are in the world!

For more resources and free guide to “Going High When Others Go Low” go to: wegohighproject.org. Or visit our facebook page.

Book: Experiential Activities for a Better World (English and Spanish).


Marilyn Levin, MSW is proud to be a long time AEE member/leader.  She is a social entrepreneur focused on whole system collaborative Innovation and social healing and transformation.  She is an activist, a professional speaker and trainer and the author of Experiential Activities for a Better World. She is currently having a blast with the We Go High Project www.wegohighproject.org.

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