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OPINION: Healing Communities from Within: How to Survive Tough Times Together

Columnist Kevin Fong argues that emotional wounds are deeper, longer lasting and more toxic today, and they require more intensive work. He calls it Radical Healing. Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash

Columnist Kevin Fong argues that emotional wounds are deeper, longer lasting and more toxic today, and they require more intensive work. He calls it Radical Healing. Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash

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Kevin Fong

"What time is it on the clock of the world, and what are you doing to make it a better place?"

Grace Lee Boggs was fond of starting her conversations with this question. In my encounters with individuals and communities, I have continued her practice of asking these salient questions. And since the start of this new year, I have received answers from a wide range of folks—from a university president, to a group of Somali refugees, to foundation executives, to law enforcement staff, and even my own friends and family.

The answers sounded something like this:

"We're three weeks into 2020, and anxiety is already high. We started the year on the brink of World War III, and no matter who wins the election, people are going to be on edge throughout the year. And what am I doing? I'm trying to prevent folks in my family, community, and organization from emotionally and perhaps even physically harming themselves and each other. The new normal is to cut each other down to the point where we're a bunch of walking wounded trying to make it through the day."

And when I ask them what they need, one community leader said, "Kevin, we need Radical Healing. Can you just come in and repair the wounds so we can carry on with our work and lives?"

My initial answer was yes. My partners and I have been facilitating healing circles (The Second Circle), in communities and organizations for the past 10 years. But these times are different. The wounds we encounter are festering in many cases. They are deeper, longer lasting, more toxic, and they require more intensive work. We have had to revisit our approach to reach the level of Radical Healing. In order to get there, I have taken to heart a deep lesson I learned from the radical-healing journey of one of my own family members.

In December 2018, Frankie experienced complications during a surgery. Frankie was hospitalized for a month, with two weeks spent in intensive care. The incision was so wide and deep that the doctors elected to not stitch it up, but leave it open in order for it to heal from within. While it seemed crazy and counter-intuitive to me, I learned that this approach has been practiced for millennia.

Several times each day, we received a visit from Liz, a nurse practitioner whom we dubbed "the wound whisperer." As Liz lifted the gauze to expose Frankie's open wound, she explained four things to us.

When the wound is deep, it's best to leave it open. If the doctors tried to stitch it up, the likelihood of tearing was high. In addition, if the wound was closed, we wouldn't be able to monitor the healing process, remove any potential infections and tend to the areas that are doing well.

In similar cases where a major trauma has occurred in a family, community, or organization, there may be a tendency to take care of it quickly, patch it u and pretend nothing happened. If we patch it up too quickly, the wound itself may never heal. Even worse, it might fester and become toxic without our knowledge, and we won't be able to do anything until it's too late.

The wound requires constant tending. At the beginning, Liz and the nurses tended to Frankie several times each day. At first, cleaning and dressing the wound was time-consuming and meticulous. As the wound healed, the visits decreased to twice, and then once each day. And after watching this process a few dozen times, Liz trained several family members to become wound whisperers once Frankie returned home.

It is important for families, communities and, organizations to understand that healing may be resource-intensive at first and require a particular type of expertise. However, over time, people from within can be trained to facilitate these processes. In the past two years, we have trained more than 100 Second Circle facilitators who lead circles in their own communities.

The secret ingredient is honey. Before she finished, Liz would squeeze a generous amount of medical-grade honey (yes, honey) into the wound, which helped the regeneration of healthy cells. "It never hurts to add a little sweetness to the mix," she said.

During those in-between times, it is essential to add generous amounts of community-grade honey—kindness, compassion, celebration, generosity, empathy, hope, laughter, joy, art, singing, dancing, food and love—into the mix. This requires folks to envision a reality that does not center on the wound, as well as understand that honey in the midst of the painful healing process is the best medicine.

Trust your body. It has everything it needs to heal from within. This was the last thing Liz would say to us before she left. And sure enough, as she and later we tended to Frankie, we could literally see the wound heal from the inside out. And even though the wound closed within weeks, the return to normalcy was still a long way off. Over the next 10 months, Frankie worked hard to rehabilitate her body, and she is now back to full vitality. In the process, she has established a new and healthier outlook and vision for her life and acknowledges that this experience, however painful and difficult, made her stronger.

Trust that when each person in your community can bring their best, you have everything you need to heal from within. The key is creating and maintaining conditions for people to bring their best (see No. 3 above). Take time to celebrate, appreciate and, yes, heal. You will find that you will be more healthy and productive as a result.

With thanks to Frankie and Liz, I believe I have a way to offer radical healing to the folks who are asking for my support. In addition to asking them what time is it on the clock of their world, we will also talk about wounds and how deep they are. Once we are clear on the depth of those wounds, we can determine a path of healing from within.

Here are several questions for reflection and consideration:

  1. What time is it on the clock of your world, and what are you doing to make your world a better place?
  2. Consider your wounds—both past and present_and how deep they are. Can they be healed with a bandage or a few stitches? Or are they so deep that they need a "four-step Liz" approach?
  3. How can you create conditions in your home, community and workplace to bring more honey?

Kevin Fong, who lives in San Francisco, is a nationally recognized and respected facilitator, trainer and speaker in leadership and executive development and organizational systems, philosophy and design. Visit elementalpartners.net.

This essay does not necessarily reflect the views of the Jackson Free Press.

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