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Reflecting on Collective Trauma

And the Current Summit conversations with Thomas Huebl

· trauma,collective trauma,Thomas Huebl,trauma summit

I’m watching the online summit on Collective Trauma organised by Thomas Huebl. We’re now into the fifth day of this series of fascinating conversations between Huebl (assisted by three co-facilitators) and a variety of experts from different fields who all, in their own way, deal with trauma.

I’ve just come away from listening to Huebl’s interview with William Ury. Ury is one of my long time heroes. Years ago I was entranced by his ‘Getting to Yes” and his concept of the ‘third side’ that could play a key role in de-escalating conflict of all types. But I had never before seen him in the (virtual) flesh. Wow! What an engaging personality. It was a real joy to see Ury and Huebl engage with each other. The energy was of dropping in to eavesdrop (and perhaps join) a long-standing conversation between familiar and respected friends. And deeply positive despite the grim nature of subject and many of the examples mentioned.

Before that I was captivated by the interview with Jack Saul, whose name I had heard but whose work on Presencing I was not familiar with ( Saul is doing amazing work to heal collective trauma with large groups throughout the world through his practice of presencing. You can go to his website and sign up to become a member as I have done. Not sure yet how all this will pan out but I was tremendously impressed with his analysis of what is currently happening in the world and how understands and goes about the collective healing process.


One thing that has struck me in tuning into this series on dealing with collective trauma - and particularly in this latest interview with William Ury - is that the clinical intervention process of addressing collective trauma parallels much therapeutic understanding of how to address individual trauma. As I have learned, particularly from being a member of Diane Poole Heller’s Therapy Mastermind Circle, people entangled in the pain of trauma need to feel safe and resourced before they can begin to think about tackling the existential issues that block their energy flow and prevent them from moving on in their lives.


Providing this safe resourced space an important part of what William Ury has in mind with his concept of the ‘third side’ or - as he explained in the interview - encouraging people to experience a ‘view from the balcony’ rather than the full frontal view one has when immersed in the details of a conflict. What we are looking for is not less conflict but better means of dealing with our conflicts. Research has shown that diversity in thinking adds richness and strength to organisations. Conflict of ideas can be positive and creative when we have mechanisms at hand that empower us to take action to find solutions. Bring on the conflict and at the same time, bring on our expertise and processes for successful resolution. Life can only improve. As the Open Space saying goes: Be prepared to be surprised!


In conclusion, the message I would like to leave you with is that we can all usefully explore how collective trauma impacts on our personal lives. Because it does. And much of the time we have little or no awareness of what is going on.


As a personal example, I have often wondered why I held the views on child rearing that I did when my children were young. Reflecting on the unconscious impact that collective trauma can exert made me aware, in a very visceral way, that when I arrived in Australia as an immigrant in the early 1970’s, I likely was in a severely traumatised state. Unconsciously, I was in shut down and highly defensive mode and could see no possibility of asking for help in this new environment.


In contrast, many decades later, I see the value of acknowledging trauma and the need for all of us to band together to address the pain and suffering we all face. There is hope and together we can write a new chapter in the book of our collective lives.