Recall that in Step One we noticed our feelings of powerlessness over being oppressed and identifying ourselves as a victim. In Step Two, we opened the possibility of an alternative path to freedom. In Step Three, we confronted the paradox of the source of victim identity coming from within ourselves even though we did not choose it to be so. In Step Four, we took a balanced look at our contribution to our own toxic shame. Step Five led us into exposure of feelings as a tool for improving our self-respect. In Step Six, we let go of our defiant attachment to looking good in order to be an ordinary, natural and more understanding person.
Do these steps bring us into a felt personal power that can actually defeat plutocrats, dictators and other oppressors? Yes! That personal power is reinforced by bonding with others who suffer from the same oppression, and those bonds become the basis for an unstoppable movement of strategic nonviolence campaigns.
Can this all be done by simply reading and agreeing with the steps? Absolutely not! Effective nonviolence is a demanding practice in which suffering becomes a tool for transformation, and conflicts are not avoided, they are approached with curiosity. Recovering from a culture of domination, control and violence is also not much different than recovery from dependency on mood-altering chemicals. Relapse is a constant threat, and a complete cure is impossible, but remission is possible with constant maintenance.
We can never do this alone. We need mentors and groups of supporters who share in the struggle. They will interrupt our false reasoning, keep us enfolded in empathy, and learn from our failures and success.
Questions for Step 7:
- Who has been a lifestyle problem-solving role model for me?
- How often have I had conversations with that person?
- Would I prefer to have conversation with them more frequently?
- Am I willing to listen compassionately to someone else’s problems?
This step is incredibly important. We honor our brokenness with all the honesty that we can muster. We open the possibility of restoring right relationship. Honesty and transparency become important replacements to the false pride and isolation of our prior lives, and integrity becomes a primary value for us.
We have harmed ourselves, perhaps most of all, by betraying the gifts with which we were born and failed to develop, feared to expose. It is time for us to own our journey, to take back our ability to respond to our own needs and the needs of others.
We realize that we reacted to the traumatic events in our lives with confusion and anger that we redirected into the lives of other people because we were simply not mature enough to do otherwise. Now is the time for us to step outside ourselves and see our wounds as precious, golden cracks in our being, our opportunity to step into a life of contribution and service. We become our own source of understanding and forgiveness.
“Harm” extends not only to our verbal and physical acts of violence, it also includes being financially irresponsible, using sex and money as a substitute for love, and a long list of crimes of arrogance, intimidation, dishonesty, blame, gluttony and hatred.
Our greatest struggle here is to keep our distance from our residue of shame, to remember we cannot undo the past, but we can create a new future.
Here are some questions with which to open our list:
- What incidents in my life cause feelings of guilt and shame around my lack of compassion with:
- animals, plants, natural resources, the planet?
- Am I willing to grant myself the space and time to do what I can to respond to the damage with integrity?
This is where the 180-degree turnaround from victim to co-creator gets real. Empowerment starts to sink in, and the horizon for potential action stretches into the distance.
Having made our list of people to whom we feel we owe an amends, we may cautiously at first and then more vigorously restore our relationships to true equality by not just asking for forgiveness, but providing whatever material or behavioral restitution is needed. Some of the harm that we inflicted may have been unintentional, but we make amends anyway. We make this path by walking upon it, by taking our heart on an adventure to find the courage we never thought we had, just like the Cowardly Lion in the Wizard of Oz. Yet this is exactly what our hearts have been aching to do, to contribute to the lives of other people, to serve them.
Some of those we harmed may have hurt us far worse than what we did to them. You may wish to reserve those amends until last, or avoid them altogether if it seems likely that old wounds might break open. Keep in mind that making amends is primarily for our own benefit, demonstrating to ourselves that we are capable of much more vulnerability and humility than we ever thought possible, and discovering the security and joy of belonging. We are taking the initiative, stepping up and into the role of compassionate friend, resonating with the high value of connecting with other people’s needs. We are also intervening on the old behaviors of our own vengeance-seeking, hurt child.
How we give ourselves away, how we use our energy in relationship with others, determines our true wealth. Our experience of serenity and satisfaction becomes more unshakable in direct correlation with the growth of our investment in our relationships, which will quickly multiply exponentially in quantity and quality. The boundaries of the group that we consider to be family will include almost everyone that we encounter until the nearly 7 billion people on this planet whom we will never meet become our extended family.
- How will you provide amends to yourself for the harm you have done to yourself?
- Explain how your willingness to make amends could release you from guilt and painful memories.
- Who can you ask for support concerning your fears around accepting consequences for your behavior?
- How will you handle a refusal to accept your offer of restitution?
- For whom is it best for you to make an indirect amends by writing an unmailed letter or simply living your life differently?
- How will it change your self-respect to make reconciliation and service a permanent part of your lifestyle?