By Kelly Chapman, Certified Authentic Leadership Coach and Owner of Meredith Whole Living Center
Regardless of where you stand on a number of issues, there’s no denying we’re currently moving through a time of heightened social tensions. While this may feel uncomfortable at times, by intentionally shifting our locus of control, even for a moment, from external to internal, it is possible to stay connected with our inner peace and authentic, core values despite these external circumstances. While this in no way means that we should disconnect from causes that are dear to us, it does allow us to engage from a more grounded and centered inner world.
One of my favorite ways of challenging ideas such as this is to think of extreme examples, and then consider if they still hold weight. In this case, a story I turn to time and again is the story of Ilse, a young girl who lived in a concentration camp and who I learned of while visiting Boston’s Holocaust Memorial several years ago. She changed my perspective on personal power forever, and I believe hers is an example we can continue to draw upon today.
At the memorial, Gerta Weismann Kelin recounts:
“Ilse, a childhood friend of mine, once found a raspberry in the camp and carried it in her pocket all day to present to me that night on a leaf.
“Imagine a world in which your entire possession is one raspberry and you give it to your friend.”
I’ll never forget the impact those final words had on me. What struck me was the immediate realization that, no, I did not need to imagine this world. I was living in a world where this possibility had occurred because of the choice a young girl had made in the most dire of circumstances. Nearly every form of dignity, safety and autonomy had been stripped from her, and yet she still chose to use her personal power to make this generous and loving decision with a single raspberry and leaf.
The contrast between her experienced reality and how she chose to show up within it was so incredible, that I can honestly say there has never been a time since that I’ve felt completely powerless. I have never been unable to ask myself- what is my raspberry here?
What I believe Ilse teaches us is that no act or offering is too small to change the world, and also that there are no circumstances in which we are truly and completely powerless. If you were to ask yourself, in this moment, “what is my raspberry?”, where does your power lie?
This is what is meant by shifting our locus of control from the external to internal. If we wait for a moment for our external world to be at peace before connecting to the most loving and gentle parts of ourselves, it might never come. But if we can look inward, even for a short time, we can always identify ways to offer the best parts of ourselves to the world around us.
Even in the most extreme cases, we always get to choose how we show up, and through intention and practice build a life of our own design, moment by moment. This does not mean that we accept injustice, or stop advocating for the change we wish to see in the world, as the circumstances in which Ilse found herself were unconscionable on all accounts. It simply illustrates that the power of the human spirit and our capacity for kindness, generosity and connection truly does remain a choice in every moment, regardless of the discord around us.