Patrick O’Neill, author, consultant and mediator, joins the program to reveal his diversity story and shares insights about the need for greater wisdom and inclusive thinking in the workplace and beyond. Discover the two forces needed for bridge-building, and a hidden opportunity for transformation.
In this episode you’ll discover:
- The laws of nature and the connection to diversity (4:00)
- Why we are all “original medicine” and what that means (7:30)
- Patrick’s “dark night of the soul” and how it led him to his current work (11:00)
- The unsustainable current model of corporate culture (19:00)
- Some of the trends that Patrick finds encouraging (24:00)
- How we can build bridges between communities (33:00)
- Some of the key qualities needed for bridge-building (37:00)
- How to deal with those resistant to change (44:00)
- A hidden opportunity for transformation (48:00)
Listen in now, or read on for the transcript of our conversation:
JENNIFER BROWN: Patrick, welcome to The Will to Change.
PATRICK O’NEILL: I have to thank you. It’s a real pleasure to be here with you.
JENNIFER BROWN: I first heard about you from a presentation that you did at a Working Mother Media event. You made such an impression that my good friend who programs those conferences says, “You must meet this man. He’s just incredible.” I have to say, I felt seen and heard in our first and only conversation before this in a very rare way.
I certainly wanted more of it, and since then, I read some of your thought leadership, your books. I have really done a deep dive into your multi-faceted life that you’ve had, the teaching that you engage in now, and really particularly inspired that you had a mentor that was really, really meaningful to you, and I’d love to hear about her over the course of this episode, too. I’m very excited for this conversation. It’s going to be restorative I think even for me in the moment today. I’m thanking you in advance for holding so much space for all of us to feel seen and heard and to put things into this context where we don’t feel so alone and where, fundamentally, we feel that we have – and we know that we have lots of choices. We really do.
I always start The Will to Change with our diversity stories. We like to say everybody knows the feelings of exclusion deeply, sometimes we experience that in our families, sometimes we experienced it in a sort of dark night of the soul in our lives and really challenging bottoming-out experiences where we had to resurrect.
Patrick, what would you share as what you would consider to be that diversity story for you?
PATRICK O’NEILL: Well, Jennifer, thank you first of all for acknowledging an old practice that I think is really, really important, which is the extension of honor and respect. And because your work is focused so much on diversity, I think at the heart of diversity is a real – an old-world practice of extending honor and respect to whoever we’re with and honors the capacity to extend respect. And respect is the ability and the willingness to look, again, past our fixed perspectives at another person and not categorize them or place them in a box, but really bring a great curiosity and a great desire to enter a mysterious world for the purposes of greater familiarization, greater dialogue, and greater connection.
So if I accomplish that in our first meeting, I’m happy to know that because I’m living up to the training that I received from my mentor, Angeles Arrien, who wrote The Fourfold Way. I taught with Angie for over 20 years.
And basically what she did was she trained me in the perennial cross-cultural wisdoms. And at the heart of that work is recognition that we’re all original medicine, nowhere else duplicated on the planet. That the planet needs us, needs our medicine, especially now, where we’re in a crisis of fragmentation.
And that diversity is really a power of the natural world. There are basically three natural laws. Nature is always creating and diversifying is the first one. And the second one is nature is always interdependent. Nothing in nature survives being ruggedly independent and nothing survives being overly codependent.
Thirdly, everything in nature has a purpose. And if you subscribe to the notion that we’re all original medicine, then it’s important that we begin to look for how we fit together because when we can discover how we fit together, then we begin to work together in more collaborative and less divisive ways. That’s a long-winded answer to a very good question.
JENNIFER BROWN: My goodness, that was beautiful, that we are all original medicine and that we all have an opportunity to bring our unique lens and our stories, which are all different, and that we’re all needed, is just a beautiful and timely reminder. Also, I find it so soothing. These conversations allow me to realize that we are all part of this long, long history of humanity, and that we are the latest incarnation. There have been people like this and doing this kind of work and caring as much as we do for so, so long. We’re continuing a tradition that is so honored, so important, and so indelible to the human experience.
I don’t know why, it feels very grounding for me. Sometimes it can feel, “Why am I doing this? Am I having an impact? What is the point?” We get into that negativity and the futility. I think that’s really the feeling. Are things going to change? Why does my voice really matter? Am I just saying the same things others have said? What do I really have to bring? What is my original medicine? It’s such an interesting way to think about all of us.
I see practitioners in the diversity world of all shapes and sizes, all identities, and yet we do not have this ability to truly perceive all about a person that we are working with, that we are supporting. I’m reminded of that all the time. Just being able to look into the depths of someone and to enable the trust, whereby you might be actually able to see more parts of them is such an honor. It’s very holy work sometimes. You feel very humbled by it.
PATRICK O’NEILL: I think that’s really a good word, “holy.” It’s derived from the word “whole” and “wholeness.” I feel that a lot of the pioneering diversity work is about the restoration of wholeness – recognizing that alone, we can only do so much, but together we can do quite a lot.
I find myself very inspired at this time, especially as I look at the modeling of young people and the modeling of women and the modeling of elders in facing one of the most challenging calamities of our time, which is the degradation of the environment and really a campaign for the soul of the earth.
That needs every person, whether we’re doing something that is similar to someone else – you know, if we’re in our self-esteem, if we’re in right relationship with ourselves, then we have a possibility of walking a unique road that only can walk.
In the old traditions, people believed that you’re being dreamed into being. And the only reason that you need a body is because you’re here to manifest the good, true, and beautiful. And it’s the road that only you can walk because you’ve been given a unique configuration of gifts and talents and knowledge and experience and resourcefulness and creativity. When you’re walking that road, you don’t look left, you don’t look right and compare yourself to what other people are doing. You look for the places of connection and you look for the places where you can assist each other.
And I love that word, “to assist,” it’s to help each other on this journey. Because if we’re sane, then we’re looking for ways to make the world a better place and looking for ways to make the world work for everyone. So that’s not a singular journey, and it’s not a new journey. This is an ancient journey that people have been walking forward toward from the beginning of time.
I take groups every year to the paleolithic painted caves in southern France. And we go into some of these old caves, these ceremonial caves, that were painted 30,000 years ago by people just like us who were really trying to create a world for themselves that was respectful. A world that was respectful of the animal, intelligences in nature, and one that was codependent. And you get to really experience that this has been a long journey. It’s been a good journey, but we’re at a point in this journey where we need each other more than ever.
JENNIFER BROWN: Yeah. It’s hard to imagine – I’ve read your book and your personal story, and it’s hard to imagine the person in speaking to right now in the form of your younger self.
You had a very different early life. You had that dark night of the soul where you went into the belly of the whale, just like Jonah, and you hit rock bottom. You were a PR hack, you were a globetrotter living the life.
PATRICK O’NEILL: I was.
JENNIFER BROWN: And your boss was literally murdered in a hotel room.
PATRICK O’NEILL: Murdered by a jealous husband in a hotel room.
JENNIFER BROWN: Yes, what a story. You were heading down this road – not that part, but just this super unhealthy, toxic macho archetype that was very success minded at any cost and ruthless in your way. Tell us quickly, I don’t know how you can sum it up, but you literally went through what we call that “hero’s journey.” I’m curious, quickly, if you could describe who were you? What happened? And how did you come out the other side? I believe we all have these moments. We all end up in that place at some point, maybe multiple times in our lives. Is the dark night of the soul, how is it the most restorative thing that can ever happen to us? I know you say it is, and I really do believe it is, and it was in your case in this magical way.
PATRICK O’NEILL: Yeah. I don’t know about magical, but I do think it was redemptive for me. Yes, I got out of university and I had very few skills and very few prospects. At that time, it was during one of the worst recessions that we’ve had in generations.
I drifted into the public relations world. What I found doing that work, and I was a young vice president in a multinational PR firm, the world’s largest PR firm at the time. What I found was the values that I had been brought up with, I quickly lost in the world of spin and the world of getting hits for clients in a very ruthless, blood-thirsty organizational culture.
I hit the wall. I had a young family. I was on the road so much, I never really got to bond with my first daughter after her birth. And my boss was murdered by a jealous husband in a hotel room. And one day, I woke up and looked at myself, I was shaving for work, and I actually caught a glimpse of the killer that I was becoming. And that was enough to shock me into a reflective process around what’s most important to me in my life.
Now, it wasn’t quite as instantaneous as all that. It took a couple more upsetting situations before I really came to grips with the fact that I was unhappy and that I was drowning and that what I really wanted in my life were more founded in the love of my family and being with my family and doing well, but doing good at the same time. And that’s where I began to search for a new model for myself and business for myself.
Eventually, I created my own company. I left the agency I was working in. I created a management consulting firm for myself and I started to do the work that I do today.
JENNIFER BROWN: Thank goodness. What a gift.
PATRICK O’NEILL: Thank goodness. And met my mentor. I met Angeles Arrien, who was a Basque-American cultural anthropologist who did a lot of research into perennial wisdoms from across cultural perspective. And I began an over 20-year apprenticeship with her and also a teaching partnership with her, which I continue today.
She wrote a wonderful book called The Fourfold Way, and I continue that work under the Four Directions. And it’s really about the medicine wheel from a cross-cultural perspective, because it exists in virtually all of the major wisdom traditions, including the Basque mystical tradition, and it’s really about finding our way through a very confusing, very challenging, very fast-paced world, without letting go of our values. And by embracing original medicine and developing our original medicine and applying it in support of the good, true, and beautiful.
JENNIFER BROWN: And I know you do corporate work.
PATRICK O’NEILL: Yes.
JENNIFER BROWN: I do, too. I can imagine they are a skeptical bunch.
PATRICK O’NEILL: You know what I discovered about pain? It’s the great equalizer. If an organization finds itself in enough pain, it will adopt new ways of addressing whatever is underneath the pain that’s creating the symptoms. I find that I don’t really have to talk about the medicine wheel to bring people to the notion that healing in our organizational lives is a good thing.
Now, there are four archetypes: the healer, the leader, the visionary, and the learner. And every organization wants to embrace those things. You know, how do we become better learners? How do we become better visionaries, more creative? How do we govern in a values-based way? And how do we heal from the traumas of the past? Everybody wants to talk about that.
JENNIFER BROWN: I totally agree. All those things are universal. I think the definition of good leadership and what leadership looks like is really shifting. Have you seen – and perhaps this is the influence of younger generational talent, bringing in a different expectation, different values, different appreciation of themselves, frankly, and their own journeys. How have you seen most recently more attention, perhaps, being paid to some of the things that maybe you never thought you would see or be talking about with leadership in the corporate world? Certainly, the world must be very different than when you were in the PR world years ago.
Is there something shifting, do you think, that’s really profound in that space?
PATRICK O’NEILL: I think that there is a great questioning going on about what constitutes value and what constitutes sustainable value. And I think that that flies in the face of a quarter-to-quarter mentality, where shareholder returns have been the driving force in decision-making. And the unsustainability of that model and the wear and tear on people.
So we’re at probably a stage in corporate history, in organizational history, where the average tenure of a CEO is four or five years. It’s hard to create a stable culture and a stable pathway to productivity when there’s so much upheaval in the leadership.
The other difficulty is that with a premium on youth culture, the elders have been forgotten. They’re the wisdom keepers. They’re the ones that carry the history and the knowledge and the wisdom to recognize what works well over time and what doesn’t work so well over time.
I think that the velocity of modern life is calling us to a very different way of seeing the world and a very different way of organizing and a very different way of understanding what value is and what sustainability means and how to be more conscious consumers.
JENNIFER BROWN: I can relate to what you’re talking about, and asked more and more to comment on sustainability and what we call “corporate social responsibility.” I always have thought about the sustainability of the people in your organization as a point of failure. From where I sit, I see people disengaged or leaving the organization because of, often, not always, but there are a lot of diversity issues that are getting in the way and breaking that relationship between employees and the employer and the individual leaders in that employer.
To me, that is a talent emergency. It’s a competitiveness emergency, obviously, because how can you build products and services for the world when you’re leaking out certain communities of people because they don’t feel welcomed, valued, respected, and heard?
PATRICK O’NEILL: Right.
JENNIFER BROWN: It’s on fire in my mind, but I sometimes feel like leaders aren’t really taking it very seriously when really it is a sustainability issue. Just like you burn through the natural resources of the world, you burn through your people. You have that short-term mentality, win at any cost, the alleged meritocracy – which is a myth.
PATRICK O’NEILL: Right.
JENNIFER BROWN: The sort of people as expendable, it’s particularly destructive to those who have already been marginalized and underrepresented, because then they need to actually fight so much harder to stay in the game. That game is constantly ratcheting up and getting harder and harder to run that gauntlet of employment and advancement – forget breaking through to the C-suite. My goodness, you have to be – I don’t know, a superhuman individual to do that, according to the numbers I look at every day.
I couldn’t agree with you more. It’s really a sustainability question. We’re really dealing with some tricky and difficult subjects in the workplace, too. You and I chatted about – well, and in other workplaces and organizations, like the Catholic Church we talked about what the clergy are going through. And I know that you specifically had the opportunity to work with some clergy, both priests and also nuns and those in convents. I found it so interesting to hear. What do you speak to about them? What is the healing that you think needs to take place in those communities and also in this particular time? What do you find inspirational amidst all the difficulty that those two populations in particular are facing?
PATRICK O’NEILL: Right. Just before I speak to that particular population, your observations about some of the challenges in the workplace, especially for those who are marginalized, I couldn’t agree with you more. It is not a sustainable philosophy around how to engage people. The good news about it is talent. Talent basically walks in and out of the building every day. We’ll find right placements. Talented people will go to organizations where they feel they can do their best work. And one of the biggest complaints I hear from organizations is: We can’t find good people. We can’t find enough good people.
Well, the answer to that is pretty simple: If you make the environment conducive to attracting talented and good people, you will find them and you will retain them.
I think that there’s some slow learning in organizations in the west at this time. I’m also very heartened by the spirit of entrepreneurialism that is traveling from community to community and people, if they can’t find right placement in some of these behemoths, will go out and start their own thing.
JENNIFER BROWN: That’s right. I did that, so did you.
PATRICK O’NEILL: That’s a very encouraging sign. I am very encouraged by women entrepreneurs and the rise of women entrepreneurs and the success of women entrepreneurs.
I am very encouraged by those corporate leaders who are recognizing that change has to come and building pathways for that change to happen.
Now, as far as the church goes, I’ll tell you a little secret. I’m a pagan. Pagans traditionally have not done very well with the Catholic Church. Having said that, I have been working with women religious for almost ten years. Last year, did some work with priests, especially in the deep south of the United States around the sexual abuse crisis and convening opportunities for men to talk about the impact of the crisis on them individually and on their mission and on the church in general.
It’s a humbling it was a humbling experience to listen to people talking about what’s important to them. I love women religious. The group that I work with, they’re about 600. Their average age is now in the low 80s. They’re dying. Their order is dying, and that’s pretty much what’s happening with women in religious communities around the globe. They’re aging out and younger people are not joining. But they have lived a life of deep service and deep commitments. They’re lawyers, they’re doctors, they’re school principals, they’re social workers, they’re activists and they are joyous. And I think that even with the prospect of the end of a way of life, they meet every day looking for ways and means to bring justice, bring healing, bring humanity, bring spirituality into the world.
And so I’ve learned a lot from them. I learned a lot from listening to their stories. I learn a lot listening to the dreams that they have for the world, the legacy that they want to leave in terms of the values that they’ve held. That’s quite a delightful engagement.
The men, it was more difficult. There was one group of men that I worked with, there were over 300 priests in the room. And this was the first opportunity they had to talk about the systemic abuse, the coverups together. And it’s not a homogenous group by any stretch of the imagination. It’s probably a holograph of our modern divisive society. You have conservatives, you have liberals, and you have straights and you have gay. You have people from diverse backgrounds, from other countries – with one thing in common, which is an existential loneliness.
To me, that is at the heart of the matter. That is at the heart of the behavior. It’s a very difficult life. It’s a very difficult lifestyle. And it’s an isolating existence. I think isolation leads to all kinds of difficult mental and emotional states. And this is a problem that I think is fundamental within how these communities are organized.
Now, the women don’t have that same situation. They live in community, and I think that that has been life-giving and life-saving. But that is not the model for the priesthood.
JENNIFER BROWN: Right. I think we’re going to look back on how unhealthy that structure was and understand it in a more nuanced, deeper way in the future than maybe we can right now. It’s such a heightened topic, but that’s incredible, the differences between the two communities and the women of the religious communities, all the hope that they have for the future and how they’re planning for their legacy and how their order is literally dying and they’re speaking about how do they make sure their values continue to be represented in the world is such a beautiful thing.
PATRICK O’NEILL: Yes. Don’t get me wrong, they’re deeply disturbed by what’s in the world.
JENNIFER BROWN: Sure.
PATRICK O’NEILL: They are not afraid to voice that. But even in that community, they are still working under a patriarchal model.
JENNIFER BROWN: Right.
PATRICK O’NEILL: It’s a model that has some teeth to it. So that creates some tensions and some politics.
JENNIFER BROWN: My goodness, yes. I can imagine. Patrick, it strikes me you have some wisdom for those of us who are trying to hold space or a way forward for as many of us as possible, for more of us than have been included traditionally.
We envisioned together when we spoke, a bridge.
PATRICK O’NEILL: Yes.
JENNIFER BROWN: We talked a lot about who thinks they can’t cross the bridge? Who’s stuck on one side? Who’s afraid to walk the bridge? Who’s standing in the middle of the bridge trying to ensure that it is a safe place to be? It really resonated with me vis a vis my role specifically and the role of so many others in my field. Which is that the polarization right now can feel so intense.
PATRICK O’NEILL: It can.
JENNIFER BROWN: Even among communities, like you know, that are similarly minded, or perhaps you would think they would be on the same side of the bridge. However, there’s even some polarization within some of us who are going after the same things, perhaps from different personal experiences and lenses.
PATRICK O’NEILL: Yes.
JENNIFER BROWN: Tell us about – what does a good bridge do? How is it built? When we walk bridges, how is that a metaphor for what we need to do in this time to actually make progress, versus feeling stuck on the banks? Or for some of us to feel stuck on the bridge, and being pulled in a million directions, endeavoring to weather that storm and continue to remain on the bridge, so to speak. It worries me – we talk a lot about self-care. It worries me a lot for our practitioner community that we are out there, maybe we’re alone, sometimes we don’t want to be on the bridge trying to figure out how to get everybody across and crossing with each other. It’s really tough work that I think can lead to some burnout in our community.
Yet, without bridge holders, space holders, we’re never going to get anywhere, too. How do we sustain ourselves as we try to inhabit that space?
PATRICK O’NEILL: Jennifer, I’ll try and answer your question because it’s a really, really big question. I think it’s maybe one of the most important questions of the 21st century.
I really believe that this is the time for bridging differences. I really believe that it’s the only way of sustaining life on the planet. It is a difficult job, I think, because there is so much injury and so much trauma. There has been so little healing work done with those that have been injured. There is so little patience for it and so little practice of it.
I believe that it’s holy work to create bridges between the differences that we hold and sometimes for very, very good reasons, because there has not been the reconciliation necessary to rebalance the relationship lines.
I did a little bit of work in truth in reconciliation process here in Canada between indigenous and settler communities. One of the things I noticed is that the settler communities cannot stay with the pain that has been inflicted on indigenous people very long.
JENNIFER BROWN: That’s so important.
PATRICK O’NEILL: It’s a strengthening that has to happen. That we can be with each other and take responsibility for the pains that we have either consciously or unconsciously participated in so that there is an opportunity to heal. And in the healing process, to reconcile.
So, it’s very challenging individual work. It’s also very challenging collective work. You asked how do bridges get built? Well, they often get built through a lot of listening. And in our culture, the bias is to action. It’s not to receptivity. It’s not to holding. It’s not to creating space for healing to happen.
And you cannot go into a creating process until the healing work has been done. This is something that I think we need to get our heads around.
Whenever we’re bridging between worlds, we have to begin by being respectful. One of the largest practices of respect cross-culturally is the willingness to listen past our fixed perceptions, past our fixed perspectives, past our own embarrassments, past our ignorance, and hold a space open for the other person to enter.
And we’re not good at it. We’re not very good at it at all. The other practice is to acknowledge. We do not recognize in our culture our own impact unless it’s positive. We do not take responsibility for our impact unless it’s positive. So we’ve got some real maturity work to do.
On the bridge itself, you’re hit by two basic forces – creative tension and compression. Creative tension really is about stretching to remain open while you’re holding the current reality and the new possibility simultaneously. It’s hard work. It’s hard on the body.
Compression often shows up as a lack of time. So we get expedient with each other or we try to rush through things that we should be moving at a slower pace. The rhythm of nature is medium to slow. The only thing that goes fast all the time is human beings, and we do it at our own peril. You wouldn’t drive a car in terrible conditions with your foot to the floor, you would drive carefully. We have a tendency to drive through our conflicts and to drive through our differences and our disagreements at breakneck speed because we’re being fueled by fear and we’re being fueled by expediency. We want to get it over with. That’s not going to hold the bridge.
So it takes a fair bit of commitment to face those forces and to meet those forces in a good way and to be a good partner for other people who are also trying to find their way across the bridge, maybe from a very different direction with a very different set of histories and with a very different set of needs and a very different set of traditions and experiences. But I think the intent is common. How do we find each other in the confusion of how we’ve been living? Which is not really very holistic and not really very sustainable and not really very healthy. And how do we share? How do we learn to share with each other in a way that doesn’t diminish us, but actually replenishes us?
I think we have a lot to learn about these things from other cultures. So when we don’t hold the bridge, it either implodes or explodes. Those are the two things that blow out containers. They either implode or they explode. And they explode when we don’t manage our feelings or we don’t work with them in responsible ways. They implode when we withhold and we don’t bring forward what we need to say when we need to say it.
We all have personal work to do. We all have strengthening work to do. We all have stretching work to do. We all have intimacy work to do – intimacy – “into me see.” We all have collective work to do. Those are the three great containers.
And the alienation that we’re experiencing is also – we hold it as an affliction, but it’s actually a call. It’s actually a calling to recover. I think that’s really the next phasing, is to put our collective lives into reconciliation work, into recovery work, into diversity work, into bridging work.
JENNIFER BROWN: The corporate world is so fast paced, like you said, that bias for action is such an impediment for the kind of things we teach. It’s not even like you have to slow way down, you just have to take a moment to notice something, to say something, to interrupt something – it’s like brushing teeth with the other hand. It feels uncomfortable. But over time, it becomes more comfortable if it’s something that’s practiced.
I find that bias for action, the immediacy, the short-term thinking – all of it is a tension that we navigate – we almost never have enough time to really even explain a lot of what we’ve been talking about here and in our training programs. And for the participants to create enough space to sink into this larger significance of what we’re talking about and their place in it. It’s more and more difficult to get that focus on this incredibly important topic.
I know you’re probably constrained in the same ways that we are. You’re asked to communicate what’s most important in the last amount of time. I know it makes you a very good communicator because you have to constantly be thinking about what is most expedient to communicate, what’s most powerful to communicate that’s going to somehow create an awareness or an ah-hah for someone that I’m trying to influence and I don’t have any time to do it and I’m so limited. I’ve got to cross the bridge and I’ve got to bring them with me. Some of them don’t want to go. They’re an unruly bunch, usually very distracted, maybe even resistant to the kinds of things that you and I talk about. Have you found anything that’s worked that unlocks that?
PATRICK O’NEILL: Old age. Old age really works. (Laughter.)
JENNIFER BROWN: Because you don’t give a crap anymore, that’s what you told me. You’re like, “I just don’t care.” I want to get there. (Laughter.)
PATRICK O’NEILL: You earn your way there. It’s a joke, but it’s not. I think that one of the opportunities that we have right now is with an aging population, values change. And because the largest segment of the population is in an aging process, I think that the second half of life is very different from the first half of life.
In the first half of life, you’re focused on ambition and acquisition. The second half of life is very different. You’re focused on leaving a legacy. And I think that one of the big opportunities that we have in front of us right now, whether it’s at work or it’s in the community or it’s in the home, is that we have a large segment of the population thinking about how am I leaving the world? How am I leaving the workplace? How am I leaving the family? And that is a wonderful place to stop.
You know, we talked earlier about the whale as a metaphor for transformation. Jonah was swallowed by the whale. What does that actually mean? Well, it means you’re being stopped in your tracks so that you can reflect on your actions. I believe we’re at a point in our history where everything that we’re doing is interconnected. We can’t just make decisions in one container because it has an impact on another container.
The workplace – work is a social contract. Businesses operate from a social contract. If they don’t keep the social contract in good working order, the business is shut down. We see this happening every day. Consumers will stop purchasing their products or governments will legislate them out of existence. We really have to take this inflection point to examine the values that are driving our choices. All choices are driven by values. And this was one of the great discoveries in my personal journey. The values that were driving me were killing me. And I’m so grateful to have had that lesson at 30 years old.
At 65 years old, I’m worried about the values that are driving our society. And what is the lasting impact of those values if we don’t stop and replace them with something more healthy, more holistic, more inclusive, more respectful, and more human?
I believe that people do want to talk about that. People ask me to come and talk to them about that all the time. I do believe that people are tired of feeling stressed out at work and then stressed out at home and have no access to peace in their lives and no access to fulfillment or satisfaction. And then have to encounter angry neighbors and angry communities – no one wants to live that way.
So if we don’t want to live that way, we’ve got some work to do that’s growth work. And that’s really what I’m promoting. I think that there’s an opportunity for transformation hidden in the dysfunction – whether it’s in your personal relationship or your workplace, I think that we need to grow into the challenge. I think we need to use our values as a compass to navigate by. And that’s, really, advocating a return to some very, very old principles.
JENNIFER BROWN: I hope that folks listening to this feel, like I said earlier, the comfort in being part of a long tradition and being truthtellers in organizations. You just said the opportunity for transformation in the dysfunction. We are transformation agents.
PATRICK O’NEILL: We are.
JENNIFER BROWN: When we sign up to do this, we’re that spark, we’re the bridge holder, bridge builder, truthteller.
PATRICK O’NEILL: We’ve got to get very good at truth-telling. Here’s my beef around truth-telling. A lot of times we use truth-telling as a scorched-earth practice. Can we tell the truth without blame or judgment? This is, to me, a transformational crucible. How do we bring the truth forward so that people can actually listen to the perspective without getting defensive or changing the subject? That’s practice, practice, practice.
JENNIFER BROWN: My whole next book, which is out in August, is exciting. But the practice piece, Patrick, I really believe we need to – instead of shrinking away from dialogue, which some very disturbing research is showing that in particular male leaders are withdrawing from work relationships with female colleagues that need that – whether it’s mentorship, clearing of challenges, putting in a good word for someone – all of the things that add up to opportunity in our business world. Yet, many are shrinking away from those relationships out of fear.
Again, we are polarizing, but dialogue is really shutting down because of this fear. And yet, there’s no way forward but through, like we always say.
PATRICK O’NEILL: Yes.
JENNIFER BROWN: We’ve got to stay at the table. We can’t slink away. We can’t give into the fear. We’ve got to transcend our basic instincts of self-protection. We’ve got to walk that bridge. We’ve got to leave the banks and get out on the bridge. We also have to create a safe passage on the bridge for those who haven’t had access to the bridge, too.
I just loved this metaphor, as I thought about it more and more. Who feels like they belong there? Who doesn’t? To me, those are really the important things we’ve got to dismantle. There have been the “haves” and the “have-nots.” Perceived or real, and both I would say, in workplaces and in any organization of any kind or communities, that we’ve got to be honest enough to face that.
What did you say? We only like things that are a positive reflection on ourselves? You said we don’t acknowledge or take responsibility for our impact unless it’s positive.
PATRICK O’NEILL: Yes.
JENNIFER BROWN: Boy, is that true.
PATRICK O’NEILL: To your point about alienation, the other thing that we have to learn to work with in good ways is power. And power is the dynamic agency of leadership. We have had a history of abuse of power by people in all walks of life. I think that that has contributed to a greater alienation around leadership.
It’s interesting to me that the archetype of the leader, which is often associated with the north, faces the archetype of the healer in the south.
JENNIFER BROWN: Oh, boy.
PATRICK O’NEILL: The lesson here is: How do I work with power in a heartfelt way? How do I hold power and hold power from a place of character and integrity and how do I balance it out with compassion? If we can learn to do that, then we begin to make the spaces safe again.
This is our work. We can’t run away from it because there’s a condition in the world that we don’t like. We have to make change and we have to have the courage to do that. Courage, the word courage, the root word is “coeur,” which is the French word for “heart.” And leaders is always an initiation into courage because we’re being asked to step into situations for the first time. And we’re being asked to step into those situations with our gifts and talents, with our knowledge and skills, but with our character. And this is the place that I think a lot of us go wrong. We have not balanced our gifts and talents with the strength of our character.
So you see very gifted people doing horrible things they think they’re entitled to. It’s not a sustainable way of leadership. They always get caught. It always ends badly – even the bullies end badly. But then we have an imprinting about it’s dangerous to be in those positions. It’s not dangerous to be in those places of power if we’re working with power in good ways, and that we’re conditioning the next generation of leaders to work with the power for the common good – whether it’s the good of the family or the good of the community or the good of the organization or the good of the world.
There are ways and means to overcome the dysfunctions. The bridge walkers, I think, are on the ground trying to create the conditions for these new old ways to seed themselves.
JENNIFER BROWN: I just love that. I feel that that’s the dance that so many of us do every day with power – speaking truth to power, but also using our own power for change.
Patrick, I have just enjoyed this so much. Where can people read more about your work, get involved with your teaching, where can we find out more about you?
PATRICK O’NEILL: Well, Jennifer, thanks for asking. There are two places you can find me: TheFourDirections.com, and that’s where I continue the work of Angeles Arrien, walking the path of the warrior, teacher, healer, and visionary. Or ExtraordinaryConversations.com. It’s my business-to-business, my corporate organizational work.
JENNIFER BROWN: Beautiful. Patrick, thank you so much for all the wisdom today. I feel restored, as predicted, and as every time I speak to you.
PATRICK O’NEILL: It was great. Really enjoyed it. Thanks very much.
JENNIFER BROWN: Thank you.
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