A Sore Subject

I have had so many inquiries from those of you who have been following my journey this year, regarding my having taken a job with a friend to write a screenplay.  I have posted many funny and amazing stories about this journey of taking one man’s experience and writing a screenplay that does justice to his extraordinary moments.  All in 120 pages.

My work on this project took five months of my life and led me to amazing people and my going to The Film School in Seattle, fly fishing with Tom Skerritt and his wife Julie, finding amazing mentors to work with me, learning about fundraising and producing. What I have learned about myself as a writer and about the business of making movies has been invaluable.

Yet, what I have learned about the way the industry works has been disheartening even more so than I already thought I was aware of.  In the end, as those who become agents or lawyers in the mix do, the project was taken away from me, contracts disregarded, I was not paid and my friend vanished in search of Hollywood.  So I lost a friend. It is always hard to deal with any disappointment or feeling of betrayal anytime, but when it happens with a friend, I am always stopped in my tracks and need to find my way to making sense of what happened.  And I notice here that I use the phrase, “I am always”.

What I have come to know is that betrayal is commonplace.  Betrayal is to be expected.  Betrayal is in fact …necessary.

The irony is this.  My very first screenplay of nearly 20 years ago was entitled “A Necessary Betrayal”.  It is very appropriate that I must revisit my premise in that screenplay in my own life.  The pitch went something like this: “The wife of a pedophile priest finds her own dark side in the arms of another”.  Very melodramatic eeh? The rub in that story was….who did the betraying?  Did the priest betray the wife and the children or did the woman who dealt with her pain and claustrophobia in the church, betray him?  Did they each betray themselves and their higher sense of what is right?  All of the above.  So, in that story the pain of the betrayal by someone she loved led her to see how she had betrayed herself and in fact was capable of the same things she railed about.  Hmmm.

Wiki says this about betrayal: Betrayal is the breaking or violation of a presumptive contract, trust, or confidence that produces moral and psychological conflict within a relationship amongst individuals.   It always seems easier when it is an organization or anonymous person you feel backstabbed by, but when it is your family and friends it is an entirely other thing. We least expect betrayal from those we have learned to trust. The hardest part of this story is the need to ask this question:  How am I responsible and how did I contribute to the outcome and create the betrayal?  This question is far more difficult to sit with than the event of loosing a job, or pay or a friend. Because if we answer the question honestly, we cannot be a victim.

In the end this question leads to our inevitable responsibility for “self-betrayal”.  I, in fact, did not listen to my inner voice whenever it cautioned me to not take this project.  I over-road my inner knowing for the glimpse of a possible future for the story I was writing being on the screen. This was no different from my friend over-riding his loyalty to our agreement for the lure of a possible bigger deal in Hollywood.  Therefore, as within, so without.  OUCH!  My inner reality of self-betrayal was mirrored by the circumstances of betrayal in my relationship to my friend and the project.

This awareness is life changing.  In embracing the painful truth of this, there is no victim.  I am not done to.  I am a creator in my own outcome. In all honesty if I had listened to my own voice from the beginning I would not have taken the project.  I believe this wholeheartedly.  Bravely, each of us would do well to look at those betrayals in our lives that we hang on to or feel so effected by.  Affairs, swindling, robberies, cheating, broken promises done with intent, broken contracts for a better deal.  How have we contributed to those outcomes?  Has our fear created a response in kind?  Have we failed to speak up when we see injustice happening?  Did we fail to confront our deep intuition that a husband is cheating or a boss is ripping us off?  Did we have our head in the sand?  Why?  These are hard but necessary questions.  Blame is far easier than self inquiry.

Being a victim in life is far too easy.  Feeling victimized carries with it powerlessness.  Taking responsibility for the outcomes of our love or business relationships is a stance of power and personal responsibility.  I am endeavoring to stand in this place even in the midst of disappointment, loss and financial difficulty and dust myself off.  I need to embrace my tendency to believe in only the best in a person and not see other signs that I might act upon to protect myself or create clearer contracts in life.  From this vantage point the loss of this amazing project is simply “a day in class”.  A master’s level course in knowing myself and standing up for what I know to be true.  In this case I can be grateful for the learning so it may not happen again. I have become sensitive to the signs in myself and around me that I overlooked before.

And what I know is that the betrayals, especially in the entertainment business, are inevitable.  I am stronger and more prepared in myself to do a better job of taking care of myself and seeing the industry for what it is.  So, in the end I can thank my friend for all I have learned that I would not have without him and my future involvements will be clearer and more tuned to my own needs and knowing. I can only wish him well and will be the first in line to see the movie if it comes to a theater.

The post script in all of this is a silver lining.  As this project that consumed most of my life slipped away, a space was left, and experiences and opportunity that could not have come my way have.  Projects much closer to my heart and more tuned to the person I am are now available.  And I have finally started to do my own project, a story needing telling that I would not have gotten to for a long time if there had not been room made for me to fill.  I learned that what I am even more passionate about than writing for film is producing.  This is a new awareness for me as it is unbelievably exciting.

So, before I sat to write an answer to all the questions I have been receiving, I thought long and hard about what to say.  Knowing the subject of betrayal is a sore one for most of us.  And I knew I needed to be very candid about myself…publicly.  But, I think that what has come with age is my deep awareness that living a life un-clothed is far more interesting, invites far richer and real engagements with people and allows me to find the honest answers in myself to share with you.

Thank You.

6 ways to Empower Others

Starhawk has been teaching all of us about the nature of Spirituality for years.  She has a new book entitled, The Empowerment Manual.  Here are six ways to empower others.  In understanding about being a true leader or teacher and empowering those around you, you empower yourself.

An empowering leader holds and serves a vision broad and deep enough to inspire others and allow them to take parts of it and make it their own. When Rob Hopkins founded the Transition Town movement, his vision was to take the insights of permaculture and ecological design and apply them on a local community level. That was a big vision, far too big for any one person to realize alone. Within it, there was room for many people to step up and realize their own creative ideas and pursue their interests—how to transform a vacant lot into a community garden, how to plant forest gardens in city parks, how to influence policy around water resources or investment in renewable energy. Rob’s original vision called many people into their own power and leadership.

An empowering leader helps the group develop a strategy—a plan for getting from here to there, with milestones and goals along the way.

An empowering leader rarely uses Command mode. Most of the time, she leads by example and persuasion. But when command is called for, an empowering leader will step forward and then step back into a more democratic mode once the need has passed.

An empowering leader also steps back. He doesn’t hog the center or the spotlight, but is always looking for ways to share.

An empowering leader puts the needs of the group first. He thinks about how each of his actions will affect the group.

All of this is, of course, the ideal. We can strive for it, but most of us will fall short in one way or another. An empowering leader makes mistakes. If she doesn’t, she’s probably not experimenting enough. An empowering leader is also a good learner, an experienced and willing apologizer, someone who can make amends and move on.

Keep Power Circulating

The Empowerment Manual Book Cover

Power tends to concentrate, and even the most benevolent and empowering leader may unconsciously begin to hoard power over time. When power becomes permanent and static, the group often stagnates.

Collaborative groups need strategies for sharing power and developing leadership in all group members. To keep power circulating and flowing freely in the group, we can adopt a few key elements in our structure.

1. Limit the Accumulation of Power

We can make agreements that limit how much responsibility any one person can take on, how many committees they can join, for example, or how many aspects of a project they can coordinate. We can break big tasks into smaller roles and share them.

2. Share Roles and Responsibilities
Meetings typically are co-facilitated, so that a powerful role is shared. When roles can be shared, we can also reinforce one another’s strengths and compensate for our weaknesses. A born Grace whose strengths are affiliative might look for a partner who is more of a boundary-setting Dragon.

3. Rotate Roles and Responsibilities
Many roles benefit by being rotated—for example, meeting facilitation. Some roles put people in center stage—media spokes, for example, or convener of a gathering. People who take on those roles get more attention—both positive and negative. Rotating them can spread both the praise and the blame around more fairly.

Other roles are more in the nature of chores that must be done—taking notes at meetings and distributing them, turning the compost, doing the dishes after the potluck. When they are shared, no one person is stuck with an unpopular task.

4. Train and Apprentice
Some roles require training and preparation: facilitating big meetings, keeping accurate books, propagating cuttings in the greenhouse. For the long-term growth of the group, we can create ways that people can learn, apprentice, and be mentored in those skills. And when skills are needed by the group as a whole—for example, communication skills, consensus process skills—the group should devote resources to provide overall training for all its members. It will be well repaid over the long term by improvements in function and by hours and hours of fruitless arguments avoided!

5. Pass Power On
Because roles of power are fluid in collaborative groups, part of a leader’s job is to sense when and how to pass the power on. Power circulates, and we can trust that, when we let go, others will take on the tasks and responsibilities, freeing us up to find new areas of interest and new challenges.

6. Let Go Gracefully
In a ritual, we often drum up a cone of power, bringing the group to a peak of excitement. Drummers, of course, love to speed up and go into a dramatic drum roll—but we discourage them from doing so because then they control the pacing and the buildup of energy (and often get it wrong). Instead, we teach them to hold a steady pace, listen to the group and follow the energy instead of driving it. As the cone rises, the drummers fade back until only voices are left. The voices raise the cone, because everyone has a voice, though not everyone has a drum.

Starhawk is the author or coauthor of twelve books, including The Empowerment Manual: A Guide for Collaborative Groups, from which this article was excerpted. An influential voice for global justice and the environment, she is deeply committed to bringing the creative power of spirituality to political activism.