How to create a culture of consent and respect?
(this is part two in my series on looking for integrity in teachers, coaches, and other “inspirational authorities“.)
To say stop can be uncomfortable for many reasons – it can trigger a fear to wake up the others’ anger or disappointment, it can imply that I’m not tough enough if I need to say stop, or that I’m in some other way not as strong, smart, relaxed… as I’m supposed to be in this moment. And in the case of being in a learning environment: that I cannot live up to the apparent expectation of my teacher, coach or parent.
So, both saying stop or giving consent are based on trust and courage, when I express how this situation is for me.
When I enter a learning process with my students or clients, I assume and clarify that we’re working together. Even though for me it is obvious, I explicitly mention, that I learn about their body just as they do and we are finding a language together, that makes sense for us.
I respect them very much. Most of them are adults, living their lives, in many cases having responsibility for other people as well and no matter what they went through, they found a way to live. I know that they’re able to take care of their lives and find ways to cope, even if they might be in a moment of challenge or frustration.
A couple of years ago a client asked me to stop,
because something was hurting too much, and I reduced the pressure until she said it was ok. A short moment after she asked me to go a bit deeper again, then said stop again and so on. Slowly we managed to work with a muscle that had been very tense for a long time and it became soft. She left very looking very happy.
Early in my practice, I had learned that I need to be able to touch pain and that people can deal with more than they think. And I think, very often this might be true, but it still depends on consent and is a movement along a fine line.
Some will then say stop at a point where they’re afraid that it will be too much, rather than actually feeling the pain is too much. But that allows us to then discover this fear and move at a pace that they can follow, without feeling panicky.
Some people still don’t say stop. And I actually practice with them. We do a couple of „rounds“ where as soon as they feel my touch they voice the word „stop“ or „enough“ or something that makes sense for them. And just this exercise is incredibly powerful for many of them.
To hear their voice and to notice, that what they say matters. When they say stop, I stop.
I have had full sessions with clients, where we work with this. Where they learn to stop me, – someone who they know has good intentions, who they know they trust and who still might have a different perception of the situation.
Secondly, when I ask my clients to describe a physical sensation, I can see them looking for ways to describe it in a way, that matches my expectation. Or when I ask them, what they mean when they say they are sad or frustrated – I can see them looking for a description of frustration or sadness, that matches my „expert book on feelings“…
In the beginning of this practice, I noticed, that it felt „wrong“ to ask them because I was supposed to be the expert. And I was supposed to be confident and trust my own sensation. And, of course, I work only with their consent and don’t force anything on them…
But after a while, I realised that there is no conflict with that at all. I can have experience with bodies, many different ones even and flows and processes of the body. This offers me more ways of paying attention and angles to approach my client and their learning. And I can be confident in my experience. But how my client experiences something is the relevant aspect for adapting the learning process. And if someone hasn’t experienced, how to fully say yes, because they didn’t know they are allowed to say no – how could they give full consent?
If I’m honest about wanting to teach them, I need their perception and to offer them something they can connect to. Confirmation of my personal sensation irrelevant in this context.
I understand because I have also had this experience of relief in my own way. And of course, I am happy that my clients feel safe with me and that I manage to teach them something that changes the way they approach challenges and even pain.
But why is it so special, that we can say NO to someone who we trust and who we want to learn from? Why is that not the normal thing to do?
Looking at the kindling politicians in this world, I have these same questions…
But to start with… Looking at my field of expertise, my community of colleagues, who are working towards a more healthy and sustainable world… I want to raise that subject, as it is larger than my working room. This is beyond an individual experience. We can each do our thing and we can each work with high integrity… But is there a way that we can become stronger? So that the approach of consent and acknowledging what can happen when there is a power- or authority-asymmetry, strengthens those who work ethically.
I would be happy to be “a hub“, collecting and connecting people with similar interests for action. So if you’re interested in this kind of thinking process, please write and let me know. I have no plan, I just have questions and will continue exploring. (And if you know someone, who I should talk to, because they’re doing a similar thing already, I would be happy for a connection!)
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