I’ve been wondering how to apply the Law of Three in the larger social arena. A series of events this past week showed why it is so much easier to keep it on the very personal level and leave it at that, though I am not really satisfied to do so.
I was one of the thousands (millions?) who weighed in on social media about the kerfuffle on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, the confrontation between the Catholic white boys and the Native American elder. I missed the initial video and the elder’s comments after the incident but saw these in numerous reposts, and because many people were commenting by then, I did not. But when the longer video appeared, along with the (condescendingly smirking or uncomfortably smiling, depending on your viewpoint) white boy’s explanation of his side of the events, I thought it worth drawing attention to the fact that the situation might have been more complicated than it looked at first. So I posted a link to that. Of course, many others and the larger media soon followed suit.
I am trying to cultivate the ability to see beyond the duality of all right v. all wrong, hero v. villain, us v. them. And in so doing, I set myself up for looking naïve and getting criticized by people whose opinion matters to me. After posting the “mitigating circumstances” link, I was told that I was defending people who didn’t need defending (just look, the president is calling them heroes) and that we should know the kids were in the wrong because of what they were doing in DC in the first place and what we know about people like them and what we can tell about the expressions on their faces.
I didn’t intend to defend anybody, but I have not responded to these criticisms of my attempts to see nuance in the situation or question the initial narrative because it seems, well, just too complicated. And I feel like those of us who were not there are already saying way too much. It’s easier to back off. I wish everybody else would, too, but free speech means we are all entitled to have and express our opinions.
Nevertheless I am going to wade in and say more about what this event and the response to it says about the patterns we get into and how we respond; about what helps and what doesn’t.
The pattern is a dual one: right v. wrong, perpetrator v. victim, our side v. their side. This pattern is easy to see and it is easy to follow (and repeat). We know what is right, and if we, who know the right, oppose what is clearly wrong, we will overcome the wrong. Justice is served by calling out injustice.
Yes it is. And. But. The Law of Three says that the simple application of energy in the face of opposition is not how things change. For permanent change to take place, a third force must enter in. One that reconciles, neutralizes the opposition, and lifts it to a new reality. It’s not compromise but transformation. Finding that third force is the challenge.
I think the elder, Mr. Phillips, was trying to be a third force when he waded into a situation in which there was an apparently escalating conflict, but his efforts apparently backfired. (I say apparently because I wasn’t there.) The outrage of some has focused on, read a lot into, and made assumptions about how and why his efforts failed—the kids were bad actors. But the situation was such that poor judgment, confusion, and downright miscommunication certainly contributed to the escalation. If so, the key may be further communication in a calmer setting.
Therefore, in offering to go to the Kentucky high school and talk to the students, Mr. Phillips continues to show Third Force instincts. That may continue to backfire if the ground for this next encounter is not well prepared by adults who are themselves well prepared, and if it doesn’t include a lot of listening and learning. Is this a teachable moment? If so, those of us outside the situation will not help it by making assumptions and assigning blame.