Developing our healing muscles

“When we polarize light and dark, our healing remains partial and obsessive, easily undone.” p. 27

I turn again this week to Miriam Greenspan’s work Healing Through the Dark Emotions. As this opening quote suggests, for true healing we need to do more than classify our emotions, experiences and thoughts into good and bad or positive and negative. Indeed, as Greenspan argues, failure to recognize that these are dynamic polarities can stymy our attempts to learn and grow.

What makes clinging to static, polarized categories unproductive? Why does such an approach slow or limit our healing? One key reason is that it keeps us stuck in a fixed mindset. As I’ve described in Do You Seek to Demonstrate or Develop Diversity, the fixed mindset keeps us reliant on external motivators such as tangible rewards or punishments and puts us at risk of only taking action when someone is compelling us to do so. This damages our chances for healing because typically you only gain the approbation of the external world if you get over your hurt quickly and move on with your life.

In line with the fixed mindset, the wider world is attuned to the demonstration of healing and considers it a one-time thing. Furthermore, the all-or-none outlook of the fixed mindset says that you are either well or ill, healed or still hurting. However, the work of learning from challenging feelings, events and ruminations occupies the liminal space between broken and healed rather than neatly falling into either of these two categories. As such, at the present moment there is little respect for such healing work and perhaps even less support for people trying to find their way to a broader-based sense of what is good and bad. Returning to wholeness, however, is a continuing process, one which requires you to construct a fuller and richer sense of your place in the world and the world’s within you. Embracing a growth mindset when it comes to healing means that one seeks to uncover the value in the pain, the good that not only can be recognized but also developed.

“When we can broaden the story of our suffering…emotional alchemy happens quite naturally. We learn that suffering | does not have to deaden; it can also enliven. It does not have to weaken, it can also strengthen. It does not have to diminish but can enlarge us. We go to ‘shrinks’ to reduce our suffering, when what we need is to open to it and let it expand us.” pp. 26-27

As I discussed in Educating Our Palates About Development, adopting a fixed mindset has another disadvantage: it can often mean giving up when the going gets tough. You see yourself as having only a fixed amount of strength or capacity to engage in the healing process. And when that process does not flow smoothly and easily, when you can’t cope perfectly with new or existing setbacks, you may decide that there is no way forward because something internal to you is eternally broken. From this position you cease to strive for clarity in terms of your emotions and beliefs and instead begin to process things through the lens of the passive victim. In this state, all of your energy and zest for life dissipates.

“Painful emotions challenge us to know the sacred in the broken; to develop an enlarged sense of self beyond the suffering ego, an awareness that comes from being mindful of life’s difficulties, rather than disengaging from them; to arrive at a wider and deeper perspective not limited by our pain but expanded by it.” p. 27

Because despair, fear and grief are a part of being human, so too is healing. When we face tough situations, be they ugly and unpleasant words and actions or major shifts that force us to reappraise our lives from the ground up, we are not powerless. We can use the lens of diversity and inclusion to build bridges that join the positive and the negative into a greater, healing whole rather than erecting walls that divide us from ourselves and others in our suffering world. That is the diversity dividend.


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The Diversity Dividend by Katherine W Hirsh is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.


Miriam Greenspan. (2003). Healing through the dark emotions. The wisdom of grief, fear, and despair. Boston: Shambala.

Developing our healing muscles

Mercy, Forgiveness and Resolutions for the New Year

“Turning personal or national suffering into a source for healing is never easy, but unless that remains our top priority, we’ll be left with a world in which everybody has a finely honed sense of how his particular past allows him to undermine someone else’s future.” p. 66

“[The] marriage of justice and revenge is always a death spiral. We know that all it does is give us just enough moral high ground to do to other people precisely what we wouldn’t want done to us.”

I had already chosen to focus on chapters 1-4 of You Don’t Have to Be Wrong for Me to Be Right in this post, however the material in chapter 3 – “The Shadow Side of Faith: Learning That We Can Be Both Victims and Victimizers” – and chapter 4 – “Vengeance, Forgiveness, Justice, and Mercy: Recognizing the Sacredness of All Our Feelings” – felt particularly apt given the ongoing conflicts around the world and the debate here in Germany over how to foster the integration of refugees without a loss of identity or integrity on either side.

With these quotes in mind, and, if you have read it, the first four chapters of Hirshfield’s book, consider the following questions:

  • What personal issue are you grappling with where you would benefit from letting go of old hurts? Where do you see your nation suffering from an inability to move beyond past wrongs?
  • When have you allowed your desire for justice cloud your judgment? When have you found room to exercise mercy and forgiveness rather than seek vengeance?
  • Where have you created difference, separation or rejection by labeling others? By labeling yourself? How can acknowledging and accepting diversity in yourself and in others help you to fashion a more integrated and balanced life?

Note that these need not be life or death concerns, they could be, as Hirshfield describes on page 94, as simple as sharing your distress and exploring possible motives after hearing a friend’s negative comments rather than holding a grudge, looking for an opportunity to respond in kind or pigeonholing him or her as rude and unpleasant.

I’d like to close with one more quote and a thought on resolutions for the new year:

“[T]raditions exist not to serve the faithful, but to help the faithful serve the world. The traditions are there for anyone to use to craft his or her own life.” p. 51

As we move into 2016, seek to craft your own life and better serve the world by rediscovering your own traditions and making connections with diverse traditions outside your own. This forges the diversity dividend.

*All quotations are from Brad Hirschfield. (2007). You Don’t Have to Be Wrong for Me to Be Right: Finding Faith Without Fanaticism. New York: Harmony.

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The Diversity Dividend by Katherine W Hirsh is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

Mercy, Forgiveness and Resolutions for the New Year

An invitation to inspiration

If you are going to create a series on your blog called “Inspiration Shout-Outs,” you need to start with a topic likely to spark enough interest to bring people to The Diversity Dividend and then inspire them to engage in online dialogue about it. Numerous sources of inspiration came to mind. However, what caused me to settle on You Don’t Have to Be Wrong for Me to Be Right: Finding Faith Without Fanaticism for the first piece in this series was that it had already prompted me to reach out. Indeed, some of you reading this post may recall receiving some rather breathless emails or seeing social media updates extolling the wisdom it contains back in 2008.

I want to begin therefore with the quote that had moved me to broadcast my delight at discovering this book:

When faith simplifies things that need to remain complex, instead of giving us strength to live with complexity, when it gives answers where none exist, instead of helping us appreciate the sacredness of living with questions, when it offers certainty when there needs to be doubt, and when it tells that we have arrived when we should still be searching–then there is a problem with that faith. p.9

My aim with this first “Inspiration Shout-Out” is to start a conversation about the value of holding opposites such as those mentioned above in a creative tension; that is, on the need for embracing that which is appealing and joyful, as well as that which is worrisome and painful, in ourselves and in our traditions. Thus I invite you to join me for an ongoing discussion exploring:

  • being wrong and being right
  • safety and certainty and discomfort and doubt
  • believing and questioning
  • giving and taking
  • commitment and openness

Let You Don’t Have to Be Wrong for Me to Be Right kick-start your journey toward a way of living that arises from acceptance and wholeness, not denial and division. This is the diversity dividend.

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

An invitation to inspiration