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Where Do You Stand?

man stand in front of tanks at Tiananmen Square

One of the most iconic photos of a person taking a stand is the image of a young Chinese man confronting a column of tanks in Tiananmen Square during the 1989 popular national uprising. Simply dressed in black pants and a white shirt, and carrying two plastic shopping bags, he's an everyman. In the video footage, we see him stepping to the left and then the right as he seeks to block the lead tank as it tries to maneuver around him.

What is so moving about this image is the young man's absolute and steadfast commitment, even in the face of obvious risk and seemingly impossible odds. We cannot help but wonder if we would have a similar degree of clarity and courage when push really comes to shove.

Whenever the status quo is challenged or is in flux, we have a unique opportunity to re-examine where we stand. By having to deal with things which run contrary to what was, we are presented with a chance to redefine who we are now. Just as a tree buffeted by the wind develops a stronger trunk, people buffeted by challenges can develop a stronger stance around what is truly important to them.

tree bent from the wind

(Of course this is not always the best or most useful way to develop as a human being. Love is a much more nurturing ground for the growth of the human spirit. But challenges do help to define and test us in ways that familiarity and safety do not. Obviously the hope is that people receive tons of support throughout their lives, and are spared a crushing amount of adversity.)

So how do we realize this silver lining in challenging times and use the blustery forces swirling around us as an opportunity to update our stance?

We begin by welcoming the challenges and saying "yes" to the opportunities. We must be present to play, let alone win. Facing into the salty spray of the storm may not be our first impulse, but being open to engaging with its inherent trials and tribulations is essential.

If we are not willing to embrace even some of it, well, that is useful information. Maybe we aren't resourced enough (e.g. time, energy, space, money, skills, etc.) to take it on at this time. Knowing our limits is actually part of knowing where we stand. It may be that for whatever reason(s) this is not our time or our set of circumstances, as our priorities, agenda, needs are elsewhere. That too is a clarifying and worthy realization. We may discover that our stand is way over there, past the tanks and the immediate battleground. Welcome that information and trust in its wisdom.

hands raised at a rally

But say this is our time, what then? Discovering where we stand involves a commitment to both thought and action. Without reflection we fall into simply reacting, and not always from our highest and best self. Reflecting can come in many forms: talking, reading, writing, thinking, meditating, etc. The other gift of the challenge is the very real chance to take a stand and in so doing experience the world and ourselves differently. What changes? What seems to be the impact of our taking a stand, and what do we see, understand, feel differently? Undigested experiences are not very useful, so take the time to chew and digest them well.

   When I took a stand and said "no" to my boss' request for a last minute change, she dropped it.

What's different?
   My boss has stopped asking me to do extra work and I feel more enthusiasm for my job.
   Perhaps my earlier perceptions of my boss' inflexibility were not accurate.
   Expressing my boundaries can work!
   I feel more empowered to negotiate my workload.

Taking a stand is empowering. By engaging with the world and acknowledging on a deeper level who we are and what is important to us, we and the world are both changed. Inevitably the tanks will shift their positions, and we will have yet another opportunity to figure out where we stand. But for a moment, we know, and that is enlightening and makes a difference.


When was the last time you consciously took a stand? Replay that moment in your mind exploring how you felt before, during and after taking that position. What was different?


What is calling to you in terms of taking a stand? Where is it ripe for you to engage?

Wishing us all courage and strength as we learn where we stand now,

Beth and Eric

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