Leading with Her Heart

Carla Llanos Illustrations

I once had a teacher who offered the following exercise to our class of student yogis and healers, a lesson in “opening your heart.”

            We teamed up in pairs, standing close, facing one another. For three minutes, one member spoke a litany of made-up criticisms and insults to the other member. It was a very long three minutes.

            When the criticizer was finished, there was a moment of silence. Then the opposite member of the pair looked their partner in the eye and responded simply: “How can I love you more?”

            Of the pair, which person, do you think, broke down and cried?

            Today I am sitting on the lawn outside of the Riverwalk Center in Breckenridge with Alexandria Nicole and a group of four other people. It is the second casual conversation like this I have been a part of.  Alexandria is the founder of Solidarity Nation, and the organizer of the Solidarity Talks that began in June and will continue this Sunday July 19.

            There is no particular agenda to these conversations, except to allow people to get to know one another and to talk about how the current Black Lives Matter movement is impacting them.

            Before meeting up with us, Alexandria had been dealing with a hostile comment on the Solidarity Nation Facebook page.  “I know some of my friends were upset when they saw this person’s comment. They expected me to respond like an ‘angry black woman.’”

            Instead she responded with compassion. And again, when her commenter had more to say, with compassion. “Maybe it will make him think about his position. If I got angry, shut him down, that wouldn’t change his mind. Maybe he will see that a conversation is possible.”

            Alexandria is a mom and a daughter, a student of spiritual counseling, and the owner with her husband of a successful Breckenridge business. She says she is part of a movement of people who are convinced that, on some level, we are done fighting.

            “Love is the message,” she says. “I have to believe that. Because otherwise there is no point. It is just too exhausting and depressing. Through conversation, we have to find our way together to a better world.”

            I ask her if part of the conversation is around recognizing that with any social change some people will feel loss, will want to hold on to what they know. They can’t yet imagine a future where things can actually be better for everyone. They’re afraid.

            “I understand the reluctance. I went out on a limb and challenged my own perceptions with starting Solidarity Nation and holding the Solidarity Talks. I wasn’t sure how I would be perceived or if the talks would be embraced the way they have been. But I did what I knew I had to do. Bravery, being vulnerable and simply trying has worked out.”

            All of us have to take risks, have to try, to let go of preconceived notions if we want to get to that better future.

            In both of the conversations I’ve attended, the discussion has returned again and again to the Summit County stereotype, especially designed to attract tourists—everyone is white, beautiful, happily coupled with spouse or partner, and relentlessly athletic. The truth of the matter is, those of us who live here come from all walks of life: we are single parents, mixed-race families, some of us struggle with mental health issues, many of us struggle with finding a decent place to life. Not all of us ski.

            Are we brave enough to see beyond the stereotype in order to reach a better place? How do we make Summit County better for everyone—now, and for our kids? That is part of the conversation Alexandria wants to keep having.

            Which brings me back to the lesson of opening your heart, and why I think Alexandria may be right: that we are done fighting—or let’s say, that we are done believing that fighting is going to get us anywhere.  In the lesson, the true transformation took place when each individual took a turn experiencing what it was like to lash out at someone else in anger—and then, despite that angry outburst, what it was like to receive the response of love, of compassion, of a willingness to try to understand.

            “This community is open to conversation and to finding solutions, which is why I love it here,” she says.

            And she intends to keep on leading with her heart.

This essay ran in the Summit Daily News on July 16, 2020

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