Outsider or Insider?
Are you an insider who works within the system?
Or an outsider who wants to smash it all and start again?
Are you an insider, recognising flaws in the systems you serve, who feels you can do more good working to reform things gradually? Or do you think those who work inside a flawed system are complicit in it, ensuring its continuation when what’s needed is to tear the whole rotten edifice down and start again?
Are you on the inside of the tent pissing out, or the outside pissing in?
Whichever you are, for whom do you reserve most of your anger, and to whom do you spend most time justifying yourself?
Outsiders hate insiders and insiders hate outsiders. So much energy is expended on mutual disdain, distrust and disrespect, not much is left actually to change anything.
Way too often the most vitriolic invective passes between those who want progress through reform, and those who want progress through revolution — both sides forgetting they’re both (allegedly) committed to progress.
I’ve always been an outsider. Not in some Marlon-Brando-in-leather-on-a-motorbike sort of way (I wish) but in the sense that I wonder if many of the institutions that make up society ultimately do more harm than good. Do schools educate or indoctrinate? Do they nurture individual excellence or crush innate creativity? Does ‘democracy’ offer unparalleled levels of freedom and choice, or put a glossy veneer on the eternal despoiling of the earth by the oligarchy?
Others whom I know and respect identity unequivocally as insiders,
Like most people, I get trapped in ‘either/or’.
Most of us like binaries. It’s not a sophisticated insight to point out that, despite the binaries we rally around, there’s truth on both sides.
Schools are not either/or, they’re both.
Democracy is not either/or, it’s both.
Technology is both.
What’s more troubling though is how any debate about ‘ideas’ and ‘methods’ (as we face the (literally) species-threatening mess we’ve created on our earth), becomes a battle between people who, though they may share objectives, have different priorities and methods.
Some years ago a friend gave me a book about how to recognise the moral and ethical frameworks of people we disagree with. All my books are in storage as I’m ‘between’ houses at the moment, but I feel a strong urge to dig it out and read it again. It was powerfully and uncompromising in its assertion that those who we think are ‘wrong’, ‘bad’ or even ‘evil’ are frequently just as moral and compassionate as we think we are, they’re simply working from a different ethical or moral foundation.
It suggested we move beyond binaries and realise we combine commonalities of intention with differences of approach.
Yet still I find myself falling into condemnation.
I want to condemn those who are insiders in ways that I’m not.
I condemn those who are outsiders in areas where I choose to belong.
Why this need to create binaries and hostilities?
As so often, facing this question, I need to pause and look inside.
Perhaps the most fierce battle we any of us fight (though many do not even realise they’re fighting it) is the battle with the complexity of our self.
Decades of training professional performers and using performance training to guide and nurture non-performers, has shown me how powerfully we block ourselves — and how empowered we become when we lay blockages aside and access joyous, creative potential.
It’s also shown me how ruthlessly we resist laying aside — or even acknowledging — our blockages. We’d rather stay stuck than risk reconciliation with a voice we think is ‘opposed’ to us — even if that voice is our own.
The last couple of years — since a heart attack in 2019 and the pandemic in 2020 — I’ve spent time looking inward to see why I’ve spent much of my life so unforgiving of myself. I always taught through processes of kindness, acceptance and forgiveness, yet seldom extend those redemptive qualities to myself. Though I know I was damaged — deeply — by experiences of bullying and exclusion at a residential school from which there was no escape, I blamed myself for the consequences of my damage.
It’s as if I wanted — needed — to be an outsider to my own life.
At the same time I wanted — needed — to be an insider to my life.
So I made myself an outside to the structures of society instead.
An outsider to my culture.
Marlon-Brando-on-a-motorbike, though without the good looks ……
Healing requires reconciliation.
Reconciliation starts with a reconciliation to oneself.
I cannot be an outsider to my sense of who I am.
I cannot be an outsider to my lived experience.
Nor can I afford to be an uncritical insider of my own experiences. That’s where self-acceptance becomes complacency and self-satisfaction.
Reconciliation with the self asks that I both see myself from outside, observing my flaws, and see myself from the inside, seeing how I’m a work-in-progress — how all that I am, needs space to grow, evolve and flower.
To achieve that, I need to understand that ‘who I am’ and ‘who I aspire to be’ share a single goal — to live the best life I can and serve my world as richly as I’m able to.
Can I extend this outward? Can I see the choices others make as differences of approach and attitude, rather than as challenges or attacks? Can I realise that insiders and outsiders both aspire ultimately to the same thing — to enable themselves and those they care for to live lives of happiness and decency?
Can we move beyond the binary of insider/outsider?
Might we extend this beyond the human? Could we understand that all living things share the same desire — to live out their lives in ways that accords with their nature? Though sometimes there’s conflict — with other species, with other people, with ourselves — might we understand most differences to be differences of approach, not of fundamental intention?
Could we learn to be kind?
It sounds so soft — ‘be kind’.
It might be the hardest thing of all.
It starts with kindness to the self.
I’m not an outsider.
I’m not an insider.
I’m a complex of responses to the simplest of desires — the desire to live well and with kindness.
I coach people through processes of personal and career change. I walk with you as you refind your passion, refocus your life, and recommit to being the best version of you. If you want to find out about my MOMENTUM Coaching Package, drop me an email .