A Talk with Dr Harding

The other day I was invited by my wife to attend with her a discussion on peace with Dr. Vincent Harding. She mentioned that he’d worked with Dr Martin Luther King Jr and so I thought, if nothing else, I could see a person who was close to an intense time in history.

Dr. Harding began by saying that he did not see himself as the primary figure for the day’s gathering, but instead it was the participants, including the five or so young people who gave short presentations on how they promoted peace in their lives. He said that he wanted to have a dialogue with the people in attendance. Right from the start, from the way that he talked, I got the distinct feeling that there was no superficiality.

We were broken up into smaller groups of 4-5 and invited to talk for a few minutes on the discussion questions handed out on a piece of paper. Then the groups got back together and members were was invited to put themselves forward and talk to Dr. Harding. It was evident that all of the questions were close to the hearts of the persons asking them. Each answer by Dr. Harding was straight and simple. When I think back on it, if I were to summarize what he said, they were all well-known responses, even cliches, such as be present for others, let yourself feel what you’re feeling, etc. But it was the way he communicated that struck me and I believe made an impact.

My wife told me I looked very intense during the Q&A discussion. I was probably taking in, intensely, how Dr. Harding was present and interacting with the members. I walked away from this gathering with a revitalized notion of how I would like my future dojo to be, how I would like to be as a therapist, and how to be a leader in general.

How to draw out such true and congruent expression from people? That bearing of Dr. Harding is not something that is acquired in a day. Yet there is something to be said of “stepping up” and filling the role of a leader. On a superficial level, a person’s credentials can draw out kept-away parts of people. You may open up to a therapist or Dr. Harding just because you know his credentials and believe in their weight. However, the superficiality can beget superficiality. The questions and expressions drawn out by a superficial reason could be demands for “magic bullets” to problems or complete sympathy. How one in the leader’s role deals with the superficiality can add to one’s bearing, though it might be difficult.

One way to draw out true and congruent expression is to share from oneself true and congruent expression. If one is more true and congruent than not, then the relationships that will arise around oneself will likely be influenced accordingly. The trick (for me anyway) is to not demand that others relate to me as I deem “true and congruent”; it’s easy to be lazy and disinterested if someone doesn’t talk about something I’m interested in. Whether one is coming from a problem-solving perspective or a perspective of empathy, to share questions and insight that are true is crucial. Depth is relevant here. Sharing one’s own true and congruent perspective even (or especially when) it may differ from that of the other person – this can be impactful as it is a way of conveying that one is really seeing, hearing, and understanding the other person. If the other person wanted to know how to comfort others over a loss they’ve suffered, I might be true and congruent by saying I don’t think there’s anything in particular one can do to comfort others, but that it’s more important to do be there for them, stay in the room near them, get them some tea, etc.

Dr. Harding spoke of allowing ourselves to feel, and not apologize for feeling sad or angry. Instead, let yourself feel it and share with others that you’re feeling it. Some of the group separately shared with Dr. Harding about the frustration they felt regarding their peers’ apathy and inaction. Dr. Harding’s response included the above as well as the implication that one should convey to others what is important to oneself.

He spoke of the three c’s needed for peace-work: courage, creativity, and compassion.

  • In summary I believe “courage” is to see oneself truly and wholly, to be as one truly is in relation to others and in relation to situation, which includes taking initiative and action, to strive to respond to others and situations to the best of one’s capacity rather than at one’s lower, easier levels;
  • “creativity” is to try different ways of seeing oneself and outside, to see and try different ways of being and interacting with others and situations, to exercise one’s imagination in being and expressing oneself, to exercise one’s imagination and utilize inspiration that one has experienced in becoming a person with greater capacity;
  • “compassion” is to accept the prospect/fear/expectation of what one might see and what one actually does see when one observes oneself, to understand that there are parts that one does not want to see and that there are reasons for not wanting to see, and accept those possible reasons, to grasp the limits of what one is and can do, despite the possibility that others may expect differently, to recognize and exercise the capacity to accept the limitations of others whether those are limitations in your view or others’.

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