I recently graduated from the Caring Economy Advocate program.
A key motivation to join the program in the first place was to gain skills to be able to conduct challenging conversations without creating upset or disconnect. I want to be able to question motives and expose the real costs in a way that joins with the tide of cultural evolution and transformation - to positively and productively influence our underlying beliefs and norms to become more caring and value based.
I have been struggling to understand why it is that so many of the mothers of young children I have met in the US are reluctant to show any vulnerability, or say "no - sorry I can't / won't do that, I have my family to take care of" - lest they display any weakness or are seen to be letting the side down, or themselves down.
In the article "When last did you cooperate without asking questions?" Wendy Addison uses the theories of social heuristics and 'cultural evolution' - to explore our predisposition to cooperate. And argues that cooperation without deliberation and without questioning motives and benefits is not necessarily a good thing as it can reinforce unethical or biased practices that carry a cost for society. It can maintain costly systems, inequality, and oppression.
The analysis Addison gives of 'social heuristics hypothesis' and whether we are cooperators or accomplices has helped me gain perspective and expose some of the dynamics that lie behind the difficult choices American women are forced to make - between caring and investing in family or pursuing a career. I call them 'false choices' - when the penalty for not making a certain choice is very costly, there really is no choice. It is no coincidence that women significantly outnumber men living in poverty in the US (22% of women over 65 live in poverty, 16% of men). It is because they have worked as unpaid, unsupported, un-valued carers and have also been paid less for the paid work they do (women still get paid 77cents on the $1 and this wage gap is not shifting). I say "forced to make" these choices, as it is a hostile system and zero-sum game that demands such 'choices' of anyone - a system that is certainly not aligned with the quest to realize human potential.
SpeakOut, SpeakUp provide training in 'courageous conversations' for those wanting to speak out against unethical or harmful practices, or gain better skills in managing people, conducting difficult conversations whilst maintaining principles and values (rather than blindly cooperating) - using the Social Fitness Training (SFT) evidence based model from Stanford University. They support and train whistle blowers and anti-corruption campaigners.
"Individuals are then cognitively supported to act according to their values when stress is running high and fear is creeping close." (taken from SpeakOut, SpeakUp website training page)
It looks like there is much common ground between the work of the Center for Partnership Studies and of SpeakOut SpeakUp - Wendy Addison and Riane Eisler share a similar passion to facilitate conversations that lead to positive cultural transformation in practical and courageous ways. The Social Fitness Training model could be a valuable addition to the 'caring conversation' tool box.
However, I still find it hard to strike a balance when having a 'caring conversation' with an American woman with a young family. How can I stand outside the 'business as usual / this is the way it is done' status quo and ask questions in a sensitive manner that are not construed as judgmental, or give rise to guilt or upset.
When asking an already stressed and over-burdened mother about the very difficult choices she is faced with, it can be hard to get reflective, deliberative conversation. There is so much at stake - the woman's ability to maintain her career, social standing, independence and visibility - the quality of life for herself and for her children. These things become a matter of survival in the world as we know it. Mother courage guides us all, whether we stand against the tide or go with it.
So why would a woman choose to enter the realm of invisibility and dedicate herself to care in a country whose cultural norms are so punitive towards those that do? Even those fearless warriors fighting on the front lines for women's rights and human dignity, working to care for the most vulnerable amongst us and to invest in human capital, are more often than not unable to model a family/life work balance that gives the space and value to the work of caregiving in their own families, households and communities.
Peggy Orenstein, (Writer, Author) said in the 'Alliance for Girls' bay area conference yesterday "Women are leaning in all over the place," meaning that we are doing everything we can to be competitive and successful. But in doing so, are we moving the needle towards cooperation for mutual benefit, or are we accomplices in maintaining the status quo?