Victor Lee Lewis is a progressive life coach, trainer, speaker, and Founder of the Radical Resilience Institute. As a social justice educator, Victor brings a unique, socially progressive vision to the work of personal growth, personal empowerment, and emotional health.
He addresses the question of “What Could Possibly Go Right?” with thoughts including:
- That many esteemed institutions and structures that we deeply believe in are counterfeit to what we really want and need.
- That humanity and life can’t bear another century of white supremacy, patriarchy, and Western enlightenment-based education.
- That “we need to unpack and detox our notions of freedom and liberty”, which has typically been construed in racial terms in the United States of America.
- That liberation is a nonlinear process and much has changed, even if progress isn’t always obvious.
- That this is an infinite game. “We’re not trying to win it, we’re not trying to complete it. We’re in an infinite game that we want to keep going. I’m not trying to live forever. I’m trying to see that life lives forever.”
- That “as things fall apart, opening our hearts as well as our minds, and taking courage may yet carry us through.”
- Book: “I Seem To Be A Verb” by Buckminster Fuller
- Blog post: “An Easter Sermonette” by Vicki Robin https://vickirobin.com/an-easter-sermonette/
- Current Conversations Episode #307 with Victor Lee Lewis https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=egZ9n7wtSxY
Connect with Victor Lee Lewis
On the ground, I’m fighting for life all day long as best I can, but not in a way that sacrifices my joy because I think we need that too.
Hi, I’m Vicki Robin, host of What Could Possibly Go Right?, a project of the Post Carbon Institute. Today, my guest on What Could Possibly Go Right? is Victor Lee Lewis and he is the founder and director of the Radical Resilience Institute, and Radical Resilience Coaching and Consulting. He is a progressive life coach, trainer, speaker and social justice educator, who provides individual and group life coaching, creates anti-racism educational communities, and delivers keynote lectures. Victor brings a unique socially progressive vision to the work of personal growth, personal empowerment, and emotional health. His work is the fruit of a 30 year search for personal healing and social justice and nearly as many years of innovative practice and using liberatory educational approaches to bring healing and justice to others. He’s best known for his inspiring leadership role in The Color of Fear, an unusually powerful video about racism, which received the Golden Apple Award for Best Social Studies Documentary of 1995 from the National Educational Media Association. He’s also done extensive postgraduate studies. He’s a neuro linguistic programming master practitioner, an NLP health practitioner, an EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique) advanced practitioner, etc, etc. Such a pleasure to talk to Victor. He lives in such a huge, spacious world and such a truthful world. I think you’re gonna find this inspiring and expansive and maybe confronting, if there’s some work that you haven’t done. So here’s Victor.
Welcome Victor Lee Lewis to What Could Possibly Go Right?, a project of the Post Carbon Institute. I started this inquiry a year ago about the structures of normal as they crashed around us. You know, COVID, George Floyd, Stop the Steal, January 6, political polarization. Man, you name it; our chickens started coming home to roost. But here we are in 2021 and there’s a trial of Derek Chauvin. Vaccinations are happening. A surprisingly progressive centrist president is in the White House. Back to school, back to work, back to play. But we are not out of the woods. So surveying what is happening now, reading the tea leaves of this moment, looking at what is, not what we wish; how would you answer our question? What could possibly go right?
Victor Lee Lewis
First of all, thank you for the invitation, Vicki. It’s a real honor and a pleasure in my life’s work to respond to deep questions that I don’t hear asked very often. That has been my obsession since elementary school. I wanted to understand the world as a sixth grader, and I saw this book over in the corner; it was actually several volumes. It was called The World Book. I thought, That’s it. If I read that book, I’m going to understand this world. So reading The World Book encyclopedia during free period, I guess when I was 11 or 12 years old, gave me a broad interdisciplinary frame for thinking about anything and everything. I noticed the little, what they call the isomorphisms, or the resonances between the nuclear protons and neutrons and the orbital electrons; and the central Sun and the orbital planets; or the planet and the orbital moons; or the central mass of a spiral galaxy and the arms spinning around it in the cycle of a cyclone. Or is it a bathtub drain? So those were the kinds of questions and wonderings that obsessed me as a child and consequently I had very little use for school. This background prepared me very easily to accept some assumptions and presuppositions from the Club of Rome, whose book I started reading while I was a teenager, 15-16 years old. “I Seem To Be A Verb” and other works by Buckminster Fuller. Of course, finally somebody’s making sense! Why didn’t they teach me this in junior high school?
And so the collapse, or the beginning of the unraveling of our esteemed institutions, these economic and political and national structures, these racialized structures that we deeply believe in and are entirely invented, are fictive. They actually often provide a counterfeit to what we want and need, while we are believing, Oh no, this is absolutely what I want and need. What I’m getting at is that it has always been necessary that these things fall apart. It is adaptive to welcome the collapse of structures that are already dead, or are headlong in the throes of killing us. The human fabric, and the community of life can’t bear another century of white supremacy. We can’t bear another century of the nation states, not in the forms that we have now. We can’t bear another century of patriarchy. We can’t bear another century of Western enlightenment-based education. As you no doubt are aware, in every major failing institution – whether it be government, whether it be the professions, whether it be religion, whether it be economics – we find that the best and the brightest minds in all of these areas of leadership are trained at hundreds of universities all over the world in their best effort. Not as a bug, but as a feature, the best efforts of the cumulative order of knowledge represented by these networked temples of the same, are leading the entire human family and the community of life over a cliff.
Again, I have no use for formal education, and in fact, I have contempt for it. I’m like, No, look at what you did. You produced nuclear weapons. I’m sorry, I’m not impressed. I’m appalled. Any child knows better than that. But grownups with formal education? And these institutions are our machinery of domestication for the wild human soul and the wild human body and the wild human body politic. To be collective and attuned and responsive doesn’t mean that we have to be homogenized and domesticated. There are social animals in the insect world and the mammal world and the bird world that clearly work together and are also clearly wild, meaning that their locus of action is what their insights tell them to do in response to what they see around them, or what they sense in their immediate or if not remote environments. Human beings are having a hard time adapting to the world in that way. We have a tendency to fall in love with our maps. Even when those maps become less and less useful, and more and more problematic and eventually downright destructive; we start trying to beat the world into the shape of our maps rather than allowing our maps to adapt to conditions on the ground so that we can navigate in a generative and life-giving away, in a communally loving way.
Victor Lee Lewis
I believe that, for example, what could go right with voter suppression and the laying bare of the fact that the old Jim Crow never went anywhere. It is a national phenomenon. The old Jim Crow did not only exist in the south; it existed from sea to shining sea, and still does today. It is again one of those map mismatches with reality that allows liberal Northerners to imagine that racism as we know it, that’s a southern thing. Well, Derek Chauvin’s lynching of George Floyd was not a southern thing, was it? So when I think about what could go right in Jim Crow 2021, I realized that the amount of organization that must go into yet again overcoming the in transition, calcified, dead and deadening, win-lose discourses of white supremacy in our racialized democracy, in which it’s becoming abundantly clear freedom has always been construed in racial terms in the United States of America.
I never ever realized that liberty and freedom meant liberty and freedom to enslave other human beings; liberty and freedom to grab the lands of indigenous people while enacting an informal policy, and eventually a formal policy of genocide. So we need to unpack and detox our notions of freedom and liberty. Oh, and there’s also this racial contract, that means that it’s a binding mutuality between agreed upon subjects and citizens and selves. Again, women, queer folk, people of color, Black people, racialized others, be they Jews or Italians or Poles or Slavs; all of these people are being caught up in a paradigm that inspires a reflex to embrace winless solutions as if our lives depend upon it, when in fact, win-lose solutions will guarantee our demise. We are clinging to exactly what could kill us and whiteness as property is included in that.
But in Georgia in particular, I’m excited because the movement to overcome Jim Crow, naked Jim Crow and naked Old Jim Crow in Georgia is exactly the kind of mutual self-giving compassion and love-based solidarity that we will need to have anyway. It’s not as if we weren’t going to have to work that hard already just to survive as a species. I believe that if as an attuned national community, if we can recognize the interdependence of our lives with the voting rights of Black and brown people – and whether we are able to do that or not, if we’re willing to say it’s just not fair and it’s not good for democracy, and we’re gonna go ahead and produce whatever relational infrastructure, whatever networks of solidarity, whatever channels of financial or human resource that needs to come to bear in that state, in order to break them back of Jim Crow there – I believe that it will have a cascade effect that will break it everywhere, despite the horrific stacking of the courts all the way up to the Supremacist Court.
I kinda like how you refer to that. A terrible phrase, to say “call a spade a spade”. That’s a terrible phrase, but it’s just like…
Victor Lee Lewis
But there it is. It’s a duck. It’s quacking, it has feathers, it has a flat bill and webbed feet.
Exactly. So what I hear you saying is that it’s almost like we have to keep going back into our addiction, and keep screwing up and keep spending the rent money. Like, we have to keep hitting bottom. Well, that’s not bottom yet; okay, we have to… And basically, this white supremacist society has to hit bottom. You have been at this for so long, and you’ve been knocking on the door of consciousness for half a century, really. And yet, here we are again. So what lets you get up, dust yourself off and ask again: What could possibly go right?
Victor Lee Lewis
Liberation is a nonlinear process. The story of the earth, the story of the human family, the story of the democratic experiment on Turtle Island, in these United States so called. It is nonlinear and I think that we do ourselves a disservice by saying things haven’t changed. Much has changed. It’s like the bottom is getting nearer. That’s a change. The bottom is rising up to meet us. That’s a big change. We won’t have to keep arguing about global warming much longer. I’m sort of a Buckminster Fuller-arion, in that I have lost the will to get us to recognize the urgency of our situation and advance. It’s like, Well, if the feedback is not clear enough for you yet, then I guess we’ll just wait in sort of poised readiness for when… Is this fire clear enough? Or is that flood clear enough? Is this horrific ethnic cleansing war clear enough?
I’m remembering the Talking Heads tune. “You may say to yourself, this is not my beautiful house, or this is not my beautiful life. You may ask yourself, Oh, my God, what have I done?” And I think we may be just as young and immature and wilful a species that we won’t be able to make adaptive changes, even if it’s too late by then, until we hear ourselves saying, Oh, my God, what have I done? And I’m not mad about that. I’m developing a sort of a Taoist approach to social change. I’m just in the river, I’m in the flow. This is an infinite game. We’re not trying to win it, we’re not trying to complete it. We’re in an infinite game that we want to keep going. I’m not trying to live forever. I’m trying to see that life lives forever. I don’t expect that it will happen all on this planet. When the sun becomes a red giant, we’re gonna be inside of its body; there’s gonna be nothing happening here that’s not about the red giant sun. I’m looking in deep time, deep history and in a broader frame of time and space as well. But on the ground, I’m fighting for life, all day long as best I can, but not in a way that sacrifices my joy because I think we need that too.
I am so on that same page. As matter of fact, I’ll send you a link to a blog post I just posted which the end says something about, life always looks at messes and says, What could possibly go right? Life is a shanty town. Life is a rag picker. Life goes on.
Victor Lee Lewis
Life is busy sucking carbon dioxide and sending out this toxin of oxygen until the atmosphere gets so saturated, that some clever creatures decide we need to figure out how to use that, instead of allowing ourselves to be poisoned by it.
One more question, just trying to keep us in our timeframe. You use a word that I use. The hook I’m hanging my hat on, if you will, is maturation; that this is a process of learning the limitations of your extraordinary powers and learning how to channel the extraordinary gifts you’ve been given in a way that conforms to life. That’s maturation.
Victor Lee Lewis
Yeah, it’s kind of a childhood’s end, but I think it’s more like the end of life in the womb; in the womb of self-centeredness and win-lose thinking and self-seeking, rather than stewardship of the whole. What’s happened billions of times just since we’ve been alive, it is always a high stakes process in which everything is on the line. And we have the deep intuition that everything that life is about and everything that is important, somehow is summed up in this process of some minutes to some days. It may not work out well. It often works out quite well. Sometimes it’s messy, even when it works beautifully. Sometimes it doesn’t work at all, but we lovingly and courageously insist upon engaging in the generation of new life at whatever cost.
So I’m like, we are crowning right now. This is where Mom might say, Oh, screw this, I’m not doing it. This is ridiculous. All of the Carol Burnett jokes about what giving birth is that I enjoyed as a child, but thought she was just kidding about, until I heard those things come out of my partner’s mouth. And I’m like, It’s real! The mind goes to a place where it reaches its limit and starts being ridiculous, but thank God, the birth process is not governed by the human ego. That’s also where my settling is, that the adaptive potential of the life community is not exhausted by the imagination of human beings. Or else, well, most of us wouldn’t get born, especially in the West. So I think that’s where my hope lies, that if we can wake up enough to cooperate with the inevitable, which is, choose life or leave the stage.
That’s a good nostrum to wind up on. Choose life or leave the stage, in every moment. It’s always, every moment, is always the leading edge. Choose life or leave the stage.
Victor Lee Lewis
And what can go right is the invitation to choose life more deeply, more concretely, in more consequential ways. As things fall apart, opening our hearts as well as our minds, and taking courage may yet carry us through, as it has in the past.
Thank you so much, Victor Lee Lewis. You’re singing my song.
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