Charles Eisenstein and “the space between stories”

charles eisensteinAccording to Eisenstein, who spoke last week in Asheville, we are transitioning from the “old story” of separation to the “new story” of inter-being. The “old story” was domination and hierarchy, competition, judgments, and war; the “new story” is interdependence, relationships, and empathy. “If we really understood one another’s worlds, we would not judge,” he stated. “We would see that our judgments are delusional.” As in the process known as Circling, the question we want to ask in order to inhabit each other’s worlds is “What is it like to be you?”

“Real stories can pierce ideologies like racism and homophobia,” he said, whereas simply attacking police as racists changes nothing. For example, in South Africa there were Truth and Reconciliation committees in which people told their stories of suffering to the perpetrators of apartheid; there was no bloodbath, because people were deeply heard. How can we create conditions for people’s stories to be heard?

Why do we judge?

“Judgment is a deficiency in understanding. Judgment is chiefly a pain avoidance mechanism, channeling it into hatred of others,” said Eisenstein. “So we must learn to feel the pain, instead of channeling it into judgments.” He added that our society does not provide channels for grieving properly. “Judging ourselves for judging does not solve the problem either.”

“What’s wrong with you?!”

Every child hears this growing up, from frustrated parents and teachers. Is it any wonder that most of us grow up feeling deficient, not good enough, and believing there is something fundamentally wrong with us. In the “old story,” goodness or virtue was seen as overcoming our basic nature – like the concept of “original sin.” What if instead a teacher gently asked a misbehaving student, “What’s going on for you?”  “From true understanding comes appropriate action,” Eisenstein emphasized.

Why not focus on what is “right” with a person? The story we tell ourselves about others does determine our behavior toward them, and often the outcome. Eisenstein told a story of a woman who held fast to her story that despite their early criminal behavior, “These boys just want an education.” The result was that their behavior transformed for the better!