None of us can change everything. But we can all change something. A good place to start is with ourselves.
In this chapter, you will discover a new way of looking at who you are and how you became that person. Broadening your awareness will help you break free of limiting assumptions and stressful habits, enabling you to discover new ways of relating to yourself that are more satisfying and fulfilling.
COMMON SENSE WOULD SAY that your relationship with yourself should be one of partnership. Unfortunately, it probably is not.
Many of us treat ourselves less as a partner than as someone to bully and manipulate. We push our bodies around whether they are tired or not. We get mad at ourselves. We criticize ourselves unmercifully. And most of the time we aren’t even aware that this kind of treatment is something we learned and don’t have to put up with.
Do you find yourself going over things you did, focusing on what an inner voice says you’ve done wrong? Do you have a secret inner tyrant who keeps saying you’re not good enough? Do you carry a load of floating anxiety so that you shift from fear of one calamity to another, stifling your creative and spontaneous juices?
Maybe you don’t have these particular habits. But chances are you have some dominator habits that you aren’t even aware you use against yourself. Like many of us, you may carry resentments that leech energy you could channel into constructive actions. And like most of us, you were probably taught to suppress important aspects of yourself.
Some of us focus on our minds, on our intellectual achievements, and ignore the wisdom of our hearts. Some of us dedicate ourselves to exercise and beauty programs, and devote far more time to the physical body than to the heart, soul, and spirit. Many of us are trapped in stereotyped gender roles that deny and distort our full humanity. If you take a moment to look, it becomes clear that we often let one part of ourselves dominate the other parts, instead of letting all parts function fully.
Health and happiness are a question of balance, and this is exactly what the partnership model leads to. By respecting all aspects of our being, we express our full range of needs and possibilities. We become aware that what we label body, mind, and spirit are interconnected parts of a multifaceted, miraculous whole. We are healthier, wiser, and happier, and have more energy to be co-creators of our personal and collective lives.
SETTING THE STAGE
I HAVE ALREADY TALKED about how I made changes in my life that enabled me to become a much better partner with myself. Now I want to tell you how my discovery of the partnership and domination models made it possible for me to untangle what happened in my early life, and beyond this, to begin to untangle what makes it so hard for many of us to move forward.
On November 10, 1938, a gang of Austrian Nazis came for my father. It was “Crystal Night”: the streets of Vienna were bright with the fires of burning synagogues and littered with broken glass from
Jewish stores and homes. The Nazis banged on our front door yelling, “Gestapo!” We knew they would take my father away, so he was hiding in the attic. My mother had no choice but to answer or they would have kicked the door down. The men burst in and began to loot. They found my father, dragged him from his hiding place, and shoved him down the stairs. My mother left me with a neighbor and followed them to Gestapo headquarters. By some miracle, she got my father back.
The next weeks were a time of terror — but we eventually managed to escape. My parents and I were on one of the last refugee ships admitted to Cuba before the St. Louis
was turned back and the 936 Jewish women, men, and children on board were forced to return to Europe, where most died in concentration camps.1
I was seven years old when this happened. So at a very young age, I began to ask questions you too may have asked — questions that haunted me for decades. Is all the cruelty, violence, and suffering in our world inevitable? Is there an alternative? What is it? And what can we do to get there?
AS I GREW UP, I looked for answers to these questions in books. I tried to find them in universities during my undergraduate and graduate studies. But I couldn’t find any that were satisfactory. One problem was that I was still a captive of the conventional one-subject-at-a-time approach. When I studied sociology, psychology, anthropology, biology, law, and other disciplines, they were taught as if they had nothing to do with each other — and often, as if they had nothing to do with real life.
Then I took a job as a social scientist at the Systems Development Corporation, an offshoot of the Rand Corporation. That was my first introduction to systems science, an approach that analyzes how different parts of a system relate to each other and to the larger whole. I soon found out that the focus at the Systems Development Corporation was
on weapons systems, and what interested me was totally different. Nonetheless, it was an invaluable experience. I didn’t know it then, but it was my first step on the road that eventually led to the findings on which this book and my other works would be based.
That was in the 1950s, and many things happened in my life before I returned to the fundamental questions I had never answered. By the time I did, I had developed an approach that is very different from most studies of human society.
Instead of studying one period at a time, I looked at the whole of our history — including the long period before written records that we call prehistory. Unlike conventional studies often aptly called “the study of man,” I took into account the whole of humanity—both its female and male halves. Rather than focusing mainly on politics and economics, I looked at the whole of our lives — including our family and other intimate relations.
We all know that when we look at only part of a picture, we can’t see the whole, and we certainly can’t see patterns — relationships between different parts of the picture. If you pick up a newspaper and look very closely at a little segment of a photo, all you see are tiny dots. In order to see the whole picture, you need to connect the dots. The same is true when studying human societies.
As I examined this larger picture, I began to see connections between different parts of the picture: patterns that kept repeating themselves. Some of what I saw I recognized from earlier studies such as the work of psychologist Else Frankel-Brunswick, who saw a relationship between the family backgrounds of “authoritarian” versus “democratic” personalities and religious and racial prejudice. But what I was discovering were even larger patterns that hadn’t been identified within the scope of modern science — patterns that began to answer my questions about viable alternatives to chronic violence, insensitivity, and suffering.
I realized that I had identified two contrasting blueprints or
models for molding and organizing relationships. Since there were no names for them, I called them the partnership model and the dominator or domination model. Later, I also began to call them the respect model and the control model, because these two words describe their essential qualities.
These models take us beyond familiar categories such as capitalist or communist, religious or secular, Eastern or Western, technologically advanced or primitive. For example, as I looked at some of the most brutally violent and repressive societies of the twentieth century — Hitler’s Germany (a rightist society), Stalin’s USSR (a leftist society), Khomeini’s Iran (a religious society), and Idi Amin’s Uganda (a tribalist society) — I saw that, despite obvious differences, they all share the same dominator blueprint.
One core element of this dominator blueprint is authoritarianism — strong-man rule in both the family and the state or tribe. A second is rigid male dominance — the ranking of one half of humanity over the other half. A third is socially accepted violence, from child and wife beating to chronic warfare. A fourth core element is a set of teachings and beliefs that dominator relations are inevitable, even moral — that it’s honorable and moral to kill and enslave neighboring nations or tribes, stone women to death, stand by while “inferior” races are put in ovens and gassed, or beat children to impose one’s will.
As you move to the other end of this continuum — from domination to partnership — you find a very different type of culture. In the partnership model, you find a democratic and egalitarian social structure, equal partnership between women and men, and less socially accepted violence in all relations—from intimate to international — because violence is not needed to maintain rigid rankings of domination. You also find beliefs about human nature that support empathic and mutually respectful relations. And you see that qualities denigrated as “feminine” in the domination model, such as caring and
nonviolence, are valued in men and
women, and guide social policy. (For a summary of the core elements of these two contrasting blueprints, see “The Partnership/Domination Continuum” charts in “More Partnership Tools” at the end of this book.)
Societies modeled on the partnership blueprint can be very different from each other. For example, this configuration — a democratic and egalitarian social structure, partnership between women and men, and less social acceptance of violence — is found today in some tribal societies and in the industrialized, technologically advanced Scandinavian nations. You can find this same pattern in many Western and Eastern prehistoric societies, as described in my work and in the work of scholars at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.2
And if you look around, you can see movement everywhere toward family and social structures that are closer to the partnership than domination blueprint.
In short, as I began to see the world through the lenses of the partnership and domination models, blinders I had not even known were there began to fall from my eyes. I now understood that I was born into a time of massive dominator regression — the rise of the Nazis in Europe. I also realized that much of what I was struggling against was not unique to me but the result of traditions of domination. And I saw how profoundly all our relations have been influenced by the degree to which a society, family, or other organization orients to the partnership model or the domination model.
DOMINATION FROM BIRTH
IF YOU TAKE A LOOK AT YOURSELF,
you will probably find ways that your own relationship with yourself has been affected by the domination blueprint we’ve inherited. When societies orient mainly to the domination model, families instill in children habits of domination and submission from birth. Most of us were taught some of these habits. And, unfortunately, all over the world today children are still
being raised under this model, which not only causes enormous pain and suffering but also perpetuates the system that continues to cause pain and suffering across the globe.
A basic lesson children learn in dominator settings is strict conformity to orders. One of the ways this is taught is by demanding rote, mechanical obedience.
Of course, we all learn physical skills through repetition — whether it’s to use a fork and spoon, play the piano, or perform surgery. But how we learn these skills is markedly different in a partnership or dominator context.
If as children we are forced to strictly conform to orders when we practice new skills, we have little leeway for finding our own way. We become accustomed to directing our attention outside ourselves, to focus on what authorities tell us to do, and to become disconnected from our own experiences. When this training is severe, the naturally experimental infant is slowly turned into someone who will docilely obey “superiors.”3
A SECOND LESSON CHILDREN ARE TAUGHT in dominator settings is never to express anger or frustration against the adults who cause them pain—out of fea...