Skeena Rathor from Extinction Rebellion on paradoxes and transformation

An interview for the Leadermorphosis podcast

Skeena Rathor has played a key role in developing the Extinction Rebellion DNA and co-leads the Vision Sensing Circle. I talked to her for the Leadermorphosis podcast about how the movement is evolving, the work they’ve been doing structurally (using Holacracy and Sociocracy) and relationally (working with Miki Kashtan), and XR’s AloneTogether campaign in response to the Coronavirus outbreak.

Here are some highlights…

  • In response to the Coronavirus outbreak, Skeena is experiencing for the first time visioning as something that is also about “contextualising and re-contextualising what the present moment is.”
  • She also shared the challenge of a community of activists who want to “reflexively respond…but we’re also being asked [because of, for example, lockdowns] to stop and rest… Extinction Rebellion is about the call to action, and as an activist a lot of your identity is wrapped up in that. Who are we if we can’t act?”
  • Inspired by author Parker Palmer to “embrace the paradox”, Skeena is energised by the question: “What is our spiritual intelligence calling us to be in this moment of collapse?”
  • As for XR’s role now, she shares: “I think we can go deeper into some truth telling…As humanity starts to work in a different way, we are going to be challenged to ask new questions and reveal more truths, new truths. It’s about putting our ears to the ground — what is happening? What is possible? I think we’ve got a lot of listening to do, paying attention to where harm is continuing and the Shock Doctrine…”
Check out Extinction Rebellion’s Alone Together resources in responses to the Coronavirus outbreak.
  • “We have ten principles and values that we ask people to fully consider when they ask to work in the name of Extinction Rebellion. For example, we have a no blaming and shaming principle.”
  • Skeena shared that recently they’ve been referring to creating healthy and regenerative cultures — plural — because Extinction Rebellion is “a rich, diverse group where many cultures will need to exist together.”
Photo by my talented friend Steven Tiller
  • She talked about “needing a theory of change that is about the self.” Much of this work gets done in what are called Grief Circles, and she’s hoping there will be more Truth and Reconciliation Circles.
  • “It’s not perfect,” she says, “there’s so much work to do…Our Feedback and Learning Culture team is needing to do a lot of harvesting around what inner conflicts are causing conflicts between people and circles — there’s a heap of work to do. It’s very, very hard because we are humans who are in our trauma. We have suffered the pain of The Separation Story, we are in our mourning and our sorrow and our vulnerability and it’s showing up all the time and it’s really painful. But I suppose it fits with our first demand — Tell the Truth and Act as if the Truth Were Real — actually, that requires us on individual person relational levels and systemic levels [to do this work] — it’s all got to line up. We’re tripping over all the time, but we’re trying.”

“Brené Brown says: “Pain that is not transformed is pain that is transmitted,” and I think we are transmitting pain all the time, but we are also trying to transform it…”

  • “Our decentralised, Holacratic and Sociocratic ways of working…are trying to live and breathe in a way that is respectful to humans as activators and as humans that can hold real purpose, their own unique purpose, AND meet a collective purpose. There’s a lot of respect and trust that that allows. When you have a structure or a system that asks people to be the fullest expression of themselves, but to work in relation to others in a way that that respects that too… and also then as a movement to create systems that respect a ‘power-with’ model and ‘leaderfulness’, then you have a really juicy, transformative movement.”
Gail Bradbrook, co-founder of Extinction Rebellion, talking to Russell Brand about a paradigm shift in consciousness
  • “It’s very tricky because there is social, relational, structural power and privilege within Extinction Rebellion, of course there is. And of course we are, by and large, a white, middle class movement… and so how is it that we ensure, enable, create a space for oppression to transform itself so there is a ‘power-with’? How do we understand that none of this is going to work unless we are in co-liberation together. So I am not safe until you are, I am not thriving until you are, and you are not thriving and safe until I am. And you are not free until I am free.”
  • Skeena believes there is deep reconciliation work that needs to happen in order to move “from a paradigm of domination, power-over, solutions-focused… to this model of care and collaboration and co-liberation.” Yet the paradox is that you do need to make space for leadership, and leaderfulness. And at the same time, humility is needed. Skeena adds: “Every time we lift a face or aspect of leadership, how at the same time are we meeting the tension and the trauma of where oppression has its breeding ground?”
  • This, for Skeena, comes back to this idea of personal, transformational theory of change. “I think you have to have a look at your internalised oppression, and then it’s trying to figure out how oppression shows up. How has it shown up, systemically? Where have we made agreements without understanding the impact that has on our own unconscious bias but also then on people that have, historically, had less power? How do you lower the threshold for people who are really less used to having real power? How do you speak to them about that without recreating some kind of “I know better, and I can help you”…? It’s just so difficult.”
  • Skeena shared:

“My dream, my vision for Extinction Rebellion would be for Extinction Rebellion to become a touchstone for the work of co-liberation. And if I could only choose one dream to have for Extinction Rebellion it would be this because I think it’s the work most worth doing.
Because I think humans who can feel their liberation with others, humans that can feel a reconciliation with others, could change everything. Humans that can be in collaboration, they can do the repair work, they can do the regeneration, they can do the restoration…
Everything is possible if you and I feel free to do it and feel that we matter and that we have a right to be here, together, in it. As soon as that dynamic happens between two people or a group of people, it’s a Margaret Mead “It’s always a small group of people that change the world.” If we can scale that up, then oh my goodness…what can we do.”

“Francis of Assisi said to his disciples: ‘Now go out and spread the word of the lord and only sometimes, and really only sometimes, you may have to speak.’”

  • A key moment for me was when Skeena announced: “I’m interested in how do we need to be…because I feel the limit of words in this current moment. I really feel the limitation of words.”
  • We talked about how we are living in a post-truth era where even science doesn’t seem to mean enough for people to go from caring to acting. “I really think it’s about how we show up and with literally the love in our eyes and our hearts that we show up with. When we talk about being in an era of post-truth, I think words now are being lost on people. So if words don’t mean what they used to mean, then what is it? How is it that we need to show up?”

“Hold your sorrow to a degree of eloquence whereby everyone around you will be fed by your efforts to do so.”

— Stephen Jenkinson

Photo by my wonderful friend Steven Tiller
  • “I just have this really deep instinct that our lungs are so stuck. We are the most sedentary generation ever and we are the most removed generation ever from grieving — the breathlessness of grief when you’re sobbing and the lungs are working really hard. And the Coronavirus is about your lungs and our climate breakdown is about the collapsing lungs of this earth, it’s about our suffocating, acidifying oceans which give us more oxygen than any other organ… of the earth. And our forests that are the next, probably, greatest providers of the oxygen we need — the deforestation. The earth’s lungs are in erosion and collapse and the air pollution is also directly suffocating, physically, our lungs. But also I think our unspent emotions are suffocating us. And I think the one that’s really suffocating us is our grief, that we just haven’t connected to how we grieve. That enormous grief of feeling separated or disconnected from each other which starts as a baby. We’re told not to cry. We’re all conditioned! And I just feel this is the moment for us to restore our breath and listen to our lungs and just grieve.”
  • Skeena feels grief is a gateway because “I feel like what we’re yearning for… is infinite joy and feeling fully alive, and I don’t see how that happens without addressing, confronting, allowing our grief.”
  • “For me, being with the trees and being in nature is connecting me with my human nature and I would say that we can take this time… when I’m stepping outside, the sound has changed. Wow. The sound of the earth is changing. I would say: step outside, and listen to the change in the sound. And step inside and listen to the change in your sound. And in listening, allow what comes. Allow what comes. And in allowing what comes, know that you are loved. Know that you are loved.”

You can listen to the full conversation with Skeena Rathor on the podcast here, or on Apple podcasts here, or on Spotify here.

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Founder of Reimaginaire, trainer and coach with Tuff Leadership Training, host of Leadermorphosis podcast.

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