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  • Writer's pictureJennifer Bullock

The Power of Yes, And

Updated: May 10, 2020

Yes it’s mean to give you the cold shoulder, but you deserved it for what you did to me.

Yes my performance was not up to par, but that’s because you're a lousy team leader.

Yes it's horrible to drop drone bombs on civilians, but we have to get the bad guys.

You get the gist. We can add to the example list forever. Let’s do something more productive: Yes, and.

As a social therapist, I help people by utilizing a group therapy approach that focuses on our relationality, meaning our social connection with one another: How are we doing together? What are we doing together? What do you want to be doing together? The us, the we is the unit to see, care for, and strengthen. This approach is a fresh and important counterbalance to our individual-worshiping culture.

As a student of Buddhist inspired psychology, I appreciate the focus on compassion and not being attached to any of our thoughts and feelings that come and go.

The focus of these two practices are different. Buddhist psychology tends to spotlight ‘internal’ life and interventions –i.e., meditation to train the mind, whereas social therapy spotlights that life is social and challenges the pervasive belief in internal (there is a life inside of me) external (there is life outside of me) dualism; rather that there is no separation between the ‘two’.

However, what both practices have in common is a profound commitment to process. Life is constantly changing, not fixed or static. Life is not a picture; it’s a moving river.

Traditional approaches to helping are all about life as a static picture (I am bi-polar, you are an abuse victim/victimizer, here’s the script on how things should be or how to generically fix this or that problem to be more stable and consistent). This cleaned up; picture-in-a- frame approach is not working, because life is not clean, consistent, stable or fixed. We need skills to respond to all the ups and downs, sadness, confusions and joys of our lives and relationships.

Pema Chodrin, a famous Buddhist teacher and author, talks a lot about how we get hooked into reacting to our life experiences and emotions. We react to our fear and anger, for example, in a habitual manner, in an attempt to get rid of discomfort. The more we temporarily get away from dis-ease, the more we create misery. She calls our justifications for our habitual behaviors as a posture of Yes, But. “ Yes, I am having a drink or two to ease my anger, but you are the one who made me angry and drinking is the only thing for me to do right now!”

Yes, but keeps us stuck and lacking compassion towards ourselves and others. Buddhists have practices to help ourselves, like slowing down, pausing, breathing, observing thoughts and feelings, not being attached to righteousness.

So those are the individual practices that are offered; Social therapy offers the relational practices, i.e.) what do we do instead with others? We can practice Yes, And. Yes, and is a basic tenet of improvisation. Social Therapists practice the tenants of improvising to help us live with and move forward in the ever-changing world, and to create something new together.

Yes, But: Yes I hear you, but I feel justified in being mad at you and yelling because…(here right-wrong is still paramount and we are separate from one another, still you versus me)

Yes, And: Yes I hear you, and I am sorry I hurt you. Can we find another, a new way to talk about this? (Right-wrong not as important as compassion and care for the relationship)

Practicing a posture of yes, and liberates us from having to know before creating it, from the posture of right-wrong or me versus you, and the argumentative, defensive styles of interacting with others and ourselves that keep us stuck at best and are destructive at worst.

Thank you for letting me play with meshing the teachings of Buddhism and the practice of Social Therapy that can, together, give us a rich, powerful package for healing, growth and empowerment for our communities and ourselves.

I would love to hear from you! What do you think about what I am offering here? Start with Yes, and…. And let’s see where we can go together.


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