Power to Love

by Michaela McCormick

The revelation of our Sakyong’s abuse of women has shaken and cracked the foundation of our beloved community, and rightly so. We are left to assess the contradiction between his pronouncements of kindness and compassion and his repeated disregard of his students’ worthiness of those innate qualities. By exacting such violence on women, he stripped them of their autonomy, and degraded his own and their dignity. He must now find humility and make reparations.

Many decades ago, Frederick Douglass said, “Power concedes nothing without a demand.” By courageously stepping forward and making their ordeals public, the survivors of the Sakyong’s abuse have reclaimed their autonomy and demanded his accountability. Fortunately, but certainly not as expected, he has decided to step down while a full investigation is done. The word “demand” may sound too aggressive to many Shambhalians. We strive to live our lives “beyond aggression,” and to be gentle with each other. That is our ethic, our understanding of our nature, But too often, we fail to act out of that, and in this instance, many of us failed to acknowledge our teacher’s aggression and demand that he cease it. Many of our leaders and others in close contact with the Sakyong have been complicit in the harm done. We need a radical restructuring of our systems of governance and pedagogy that includes all the groups that have been marginalized. Before we do that, we must clean the wound thoroughly by airing all the instances of abuse and complicity. We must be tough as well as gentle. We must fiercely demand the truth from ourselves and each other. Without that, a workable reconciliation is not possible. Trust will not return.

We need to get back to loving each other – and we can. The practice and habitual systemic pattern, on the part of the Sakyong and other leaders, of exercising their power over the rest of us has not only hidden harm but has also suppressed the skill, creativity, and wisdom of many of us. In the name of cultivating the power, i.e., basic goodness, within each of us, we have been stymied in developing and exercising power with each other. The collective use of “power with” is not something in which our teacher has much experience. He is a monarch, mostly insulated from all but the center of our mandala. Many other teachers from other traditions have taught us how to reach out to the margins, build our collective power, and love each other fiercely while grappling with our differences. They include Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Rigoberta Menchu, Mahatma Gandhi, Ella Baker, Audre Lorde, Nelson Mandela, Dolores Huerta, Grace Lee Boggs, and many, many more. They have always gone about their work imperfectly, but they never claimed monarchy, nor did they stop listening to those most harmed by the existing power structure and its injustices. While some did not always have a firm grip on loving themselves, they understood that that was just part of the journey. As Rita Shimin, co-founder of the Untraining on Racism, says, “Loving yourself is a political act.” As she also knows, racism, and every other system of oppression, is about power inequality, and loving is also relational and universal. We are here to love each other, and to quote Cornell West, “Justice is what love looks like in public.”


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