High Performing Business – Discernment – Mama Bear
Michelle LaBrosse, CCPM, PMP, PMI-ACP, RYT
I’ve been contemplating lately how to develop empathy on the terror, hatred and disdain happening in our society right now stimulated from the very divisive election. And it got me thinking about Mama Bears. Many of us are much like Mama Bears – very attached to our “babies.” Living in Alaska, it is a well known survival strategy to never get between a mama bear and her cubs. It’s easy to have empathy for them and respect the capability of terror they could inflict if you accidentally come between a mama bear and her babies.
The “babies” in this case are our ideals and identities – whatever those happen to be – political affiliation, religious preference, sexual orientation, some ideaology. Yes some identities are irrefutable – such as the sex at your birth, the color of your skin, the genetic features of your race, where you currently reside in this moment. How much is attached to these ideals and identities though, will impact the ability to discern the significance of perceived threats. The Mama Bear cannot discern the level of threat if you are between her and her babies, and will at least maul you, if not kill you. People with similar attachments as a mama bear will have in kind instinctual responses based on their capabilities. Just like the Mama Bear, it has far less to do with the actual threat than with how much damage they can inflict to protect that to which they are attached.
My first public relations advisor told me almost thirty years ago – do not call someone’s “baby” ugly. This was a metaphor to not insult whatever someone held dear to them. It was a good survival strategy then and it feels even more important now.
Several years ago I stumbled upon a work relating to attachment – Miquel Ruiz’s book on the Five Level’s of Attachments. When considering the root cause of the disgust and disdain I’ve been seeing from this election cycle, it is related to the level of attachment to identities and ideals. The more attached to any one identity or ideal, the stronger the perceived threat when another is challenging the attachment. Anger, disdain and hatred is a secondary emotion to fear. This is happening for many of us right now. The more judgmental, controlling, rigid and predictable, the more like the Mama Bear.
But being a Mama Bear is damn dangerous – for everyone. Including the Mama Bear. A bear that mauls humans often gets shot. Their behavior is dangerous to others, and especially dangerous to themselves. Attachment to our ideals and identities drives our instinctual responses to perceived threats, impeding our abilities to find more peaceful resolutions to the challenges of our times. Gaining perspective on our attachments is a journey of survival – for ourselves first and foremost.
For this reason, I reflect on these four dimensions of my behavior related to attachment levels – because I not only want to survive, I want to live in a world where peace and prosperity is our norm rather than hatred, conflict, and maliase. The ability to discern threat levels is related to attachment levels. To move from the bottom right to the upper left of the above diagram, I contemplate where my attachments are creating:
1. Judging Behavior – what can I be less attached to so I can be more accepting?
2. Controlling Strategies – how can I be more go with the flow, understanding and compassionate to what another is expeirencing?
3. Rigid Responses – instead of creating polarity, it has to be this way or that way, where can I be more flexible in how I’m responding to situations?
4. Predictable Reactions – rather than reacting with hatred and disdain when someone makes a remark I find offensive, how can I be more spontaneous in my reactions?
This is not rolling over and allowing others to abuse and mistreat me – far from it. It is about addressing what creates the protective behavior in the first place – which is strong attachment to identities and ideals. Recognizing this root cause can help develop more balanced attachments with better discernment regarding perceived threats. This is a start to becoming part of the solution.