A Deeper Inquiry And Reflection

Posted by Nipun Mehta on Jun 8, 2020
Dear Friends,

We recently received an “open letter for the collective healing around Pancho Ramos-Stierle’s behavior towards women” on this website. It has been difficult to process, especially given his years of service work in the Bay Area, including in ServiceSpace and other communities.

We feel deep grief and sadness for the suffering expressed by the women, who courageously came forward in the letter to share their stories. We began hearing indirect reports about efforts underlying this letter about two months ago. At that time, apart from knowledge of a couple of longer-term relationships over many years, we had limited background on Pancho's intimate life. The released letter offered an understanding of the perspectives, hurt, and pain of many affected women. The overarching patterns described in it are deeply disturbing, and in profound misalignment with our values.

Recognizing and honoring the serious nature of what the women shared in their letter, we initiated several immediate steps in terms of Pancho’s participation within ServiceSpace, to help ensure the integrity and emotional safety of our community spaces. Pancho holds no formal role in our community and does not currently anchor any projects, and so our immediate action on this topic has involved safeguarding our community spaces from his involvement at this time. At the same time, we have continued a dialogue with him, urging deep self-reflection and responsiveness on his part to the pain and behavior expressed in the letter.

We also reached out to the women signing the letter to share our deep feelings together with the actions that we've initiated. Our note to them spoke about the personal responsiveness and accountability that we're asking of Pancho, as well as the actions and deeper inquiries we ourselves are undertaking as an organization.

We have been sitting with many important and complex questions. Could we have connected the dots sooner? As an organization, what clear processes can we put in place so that we're alerted to claims of harmful behavior in the future? What are our blind spots as we attempt to amplify the good we see in the world and in people? What is our (or any organization’s) role to inquire about a participant’s personal relationships? While we explicitly state in the design of our Awakin circles that there are no teachers, and we seek to create a community where each person is encouraged to be guided by their own inner wisdom, how can someone like Pancho, a grassroots activist and volunteer in our community, be viewed by some as a spiritual leader? And what is our role and response-ability in recognizing that misperception or positioning and allowing it to go unquestioned?

At a personal level, do claims of deeply harmful behavior, no matter how reprehensible, negate all other acts of service? Given the public nature of this situation, many communities may outcast Pancho. How do we do our part in helping hold him accountable to truth (to himself as well as to others), without simply disengaging, outcasting or propagating the same patterns of power-play at hand? What do healing and restoration look like for all in this situation? We each have unique forms of power, and unique conditions of disempowerment. Yet all too often, as we've seen so tragically in this situation, we can use our power to dominate the other, instead of becoming a responsible steward of our gifts to support the unique strengths inherent in the other. What systems and actions will help transform these power-over tendencies, rather than allowing them to repeat elsewhere?

No doubt, this is a learning moment for all of us. We are moved, humbly but hopefully, to continue to dig deeper, and be a genuine ally of truth, justice, and compassion -- in ways that are small, and big; and in ways that respond to the very real systems of domination and oppression in which we each (and some more than others) suffer.

In all our actions, we aspire to stay rooted in a deep conviction that there is, within the individual human spirit and within our deep-rooted communities, far and away enough wisdom, strength, dedication, and love to work through challenges with transformative togetherness. In the past week, as we tried to process this individually, we also did our best to support others cycling through a wide range of emotions from disbelief to anger or grief. Perhaps the most saddening has been seeing how this episode re-traumatizes the wounds of those who have experienced sexual and other trauma in the past. Having been a first-hand witness to the devastating effects of unconscionable abuse towards someone very close to me, it breaks my heart to hear such deeply ingrained, systemic and personal patterns of abuse resurface in this way.

Over the next couple of weeks, we are holding space to come together as a community. If you would like to join fellow volunteers to reflect and to process what’s coming up for each of us, please sign-up here. For those of you that prefer to share any thoughts directly, please don't hesitate to reach out.

Since our start, ServiceSpace has always been an experiment in fostering our personal and collective transformation through shared acts of service. We have no doubt that the wisdom channeled from each of you in this values-based ecosystem will continue to guide the path forward. Amid the devastating polarities that divide our world today, a quiet force calls each and all to navigate step by step, and with profound integrity -- the potent and thorny terrain of our very real limitations, reactivities, and ragged edges -- towards that place of true belonging that is so needed in our world.

May we all continue to walk on the path of service and grow in compassion.



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